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Of Kings and Kingdoms

November 24, 2018

During our week in Florida, we would be visited by four Cormorants each morning. They were fun to watch and this fellow gave me a good angle for this picture. He appeared to be the Alpha who ruled the roost amongst the four of them.

Ruling the Roost… an interesting thought as we approach the last Sunday of the Church year. Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday in the Lectionary cycle. The Sunday following will be the First Sunday in Advent and the start of a new cycle. To be honest, Christ the King Sunday is always a challenge for me to deal with in the world of sermon preparation and preaching.

Ruling the Roost… Master of the Domain… the King… the Emperor… Kingdoms and Empires… they can easily leave a bad taste in your mouth. The first image I have surrounds the American Revolution, or as my English friends would say, the late unpleasantness between our two nationals! Taxation without Representation was one of the rallying cry’s of the Revolution.

When I was stationed in England from 1994-1997, I remember vividly a tour we took of Bath. One of the big attractions in Bath was the architecture. Someone on the tour asked why some of the windows were fake. The tour guide told us about the importance of symmetry in Georgian (yes, King George the Third… yes, that ONE!) style of architecture. The style was symmetrical without overburdening the owners of the buildings. You see, there was a tax on windows… because the people had to pay for the use of the King’s sunlight! There were an insane number of taxes in England at that time… there was a tax on rooms in a house, so the houses didn’t have closets because a closet was considered a room! That is why wardrobes of the sort from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are a part of most every home.

So, when you add stories like that to Dictatorships and Authoritarian leaders, perhaps you can understand my issue with Kings and Kingdoms. We can even go back to the Hebrew Scriptures and the transition from Judges to Kings over Israel. The people came to Samuel (1 Samuel 8) and said they wanted to have a King so they could be like everyone else. That was the beginning of trouble for the people and their descendants. Think as well about David taking advantage of his position and having Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he could take her for his wife… after he had already abused his position to have sex with her!

In the Revelation reading (Revelation 1:4b-8) we see some of the trappings of kings and kingdoms. Yet in the reading from John when Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews, Jesus gives a glimpse into a Kingdom that is not like a typical earthly kingdom. Plus, if you look at Jesus’s ministry and stories, you get the clear idea that this Kingdom was not like the world’s kingdoms. I often talk about the upside down economy of Jesus. It isn’t an original thought, but it makes sense to me. The last shall be first and the first shall be last… the poor, the leper’s, the Samaritans… the outsiders are welcomed by Jesus with open arms while the religious authorities who were in bed with the Empire were challenged to make some changes in their lives and they way they lived their lives.

When I was a Commissioner to the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I gained some particular insights into this whole issue. Social Justice was a huge part of the Assembly. The focus on being the hands and feet of Christ helped when I would get bogged down in parliamentary procedure and some of the business of the Assembly. It helped me to realize that much of the work of the Assembly was to guide the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency along with our Congregations to be the Hands and Feet of Christ.

Besides the Hands and Feet focus of our Assembly, there was another focus. We are called to be about Kin-dom work… not Kingdom work, but KIN-dom work! The emphasis is not on power and authority, but on our kinship as Children of God.

Let’s return to Pilate’s question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus’s response turns the question from Empires to another way: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” In the end, poor Pilate didn’t get it… sadly, even today many who say they are Christians don’t understand the sort of “kingdom” Jesus is talking about.

As Christ-followers, I believe we are called to live differently from the Empire. We aren’t called to buy into the lies of the Empire, we are called to live differently and be a difference. Christ, our Kin, calls us to be his hands and feet in this world as St Teresa of Avila says. Christ calls us to be a part of the Kin-dom of God where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Where walls are torn down and the table is made larger… large enough for all to join in the fellowship as Kin… children of God, made in the Imago Dei, the Image of God.

Dear reader, will you join me in being a part of that Kin-dom? To be the Hands and Feet of Christ?

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