Christ the King: preaching the parable of the kingdoms

My kingdom, says Jesus, is not from this world.

We pray, constantly, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, because the kingdom of Christ is not from this world, but this world needs it, badly.

If my kingdom were from this world, says Jesus, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.

If my kingdom were from this world, Jesus says, then it would be business as usual: divine drones and angelic airstrikes, uprisings and revolts armed with pitchforks and swords, and always in the background the fear of a final solution, a nuclear option. But as it is, says Jesus, my kingdom is not from here.

There is a small problem, hidden in plain sight in the middle of this passage: three little words: “to the Jews.”

If my kingdom were from this world, says Jesus, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.

Leaving aside the crucial detail that Jesus is himself a Jew, that his disciples all at this point were Jewish, too, history has used these three little words to wreak havoc on the people from whom Christ came. He was the king of the Jews, branch of Jesse, Son of David. It is the hope of the Gentiles that his kingdom, coming not from this world, encompasses all. It is the despair of many that we have made our hope into a denial of the humanity of others.

We forget the breadth and scope and capacity of Christ’s redemption and merciful love. We forget the way in which Jesus took an enemy even like Saul, who looked on approvingly as the martyrs were murdered, and turned him into the chief apostle, Paul. We forget the power of God, while we are protecting our own.

In the kingdom that is not from this world, things look a little different.

In the kingdom that is not from this world, these is no Jew or Greek, male or female, cis or trans, slave or free. There is not Christian or Moslem, Syrian or Serbian, refugee or naturalized citizen. In the kingdom that is not from this world, online comments offer hope, not judgement; pundits pontificate on love, not on fear.

There is another small difficulty that we encounter with this gospel of Christ the king, whose kingdom is not from this world, and that is this: that in this world, and in its empires and its order, he is sentenced to death, and he his crucified. And his followers, the ones who do not fight to stop him from being handed over; many of them are martyred. This is why we pray constantly, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth; because in the kingdoms of this world, violence is cruel and conflict persists.

Jesus says, My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting … But as it is …

It is difficult to live in the kingdoms of this world as citizens of a kingdom that is not from this world. It is so hard not to fight: the fight and flight reflex to difference and danger is pretty deeply set within us. It is risky, to live as followers of a king whose kingdom is not from this world. But honestly, we have it easy here. It should be easy to be a Christian in America, where the threat level is low, and the culture commends us for gathering like this on a Sunday morning to share the gospel and the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. It has to be much easier to live as a Christian here, today, of all the kingdoms of this world, than in Paris or Brussels, or in Mali, or the north of Nigeria, or, God help us, in Syria or Iraq; and that makes our responsibility all the weightier, to do it right, to bear up the cross to which we bear witness, the cross that bears witness to the cost of that crown of thorns. Because that is a cost which Jesus has already borne. The Revelation describes Him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom. And the cross which we bear is empty, and light, having been freed of its burden by his resurrection.

He has made us to be a kingdom, Christ whose kingdom is not from this world, whose kingdom looks a little different, where there is no Jew or Greek, Syrian or Serbian, Moslem or Christian, slave or free, where enemies are loved and persecutors prayed for, and resurrection prevails over all.

He has made us to be a kingdom, and they shall know us not by our banners or our battle hymns, but by our love.

If your dinner table conversations stray this Thursday into the forbidden realms of religion and politics, it is worth remembering that Christ’s politics are not conformed to the kingdoms of this world, and their cycle of fear, and war, and revenge. Jesus was not a Republican, nor a Democrat. Christ’s kingdom is not from this world, although we need it badly, which is why we pray constantly, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.

As Advent approaches, we look forward to that kingdom come, to Christ’s new coming upon the earth. At the same time, we cycle back to a time when Christ the King, Jesus the Word of God was born, a wordless child, in Bethlehem. We remember the moment not long after when his parents fled persecution, stealing away as best they could to whatever neighbouring country would give them shelter, which turned out to be Egypt, Israel’s old nemesis. Irony abounds when kingdoms collide.

And there they waited as refugees from the kings of this world, until the time was right for Jesus Christ to return with his kingdom, which is not from this world.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

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My kingdom is not of this world

A pre-Advent poem for Christ the King

The flag

I did not come with fire and flood,
but with tender fingertips,
in flesh and squalling hunger
biting through your resignation,
splitting hearts and breaking glory
down into its humblest parts,
to clots of water; born in blood,
I came wrapped in a caul, torn
shadow of that crown of thorns,
no weapon but humility,
a hostage to humanity,
no slogan but a baby’s cry,
no banner but a swaddling cloth
hung out in the sun to dry.

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Dear Governor Kasich

Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

November 18, 2015

Dear Governor Kasich,

I write to you as a priest and not a politician; I write to you as a citizen of the United States, of Ohio, and of the world that we share, the world created of God and given into our hands to tend and to care for.

I am disturbed by the rhetoric that I have heard from you recently regarding “pausing” the settlement of refugees from Syria. I hardly need to remind you that our most recent acts of domestic terrorism have come not from extremists from the Middle East but from young men disaffected and suffering from mental illness; from an over-availability of deadly weapons; and from a culture that fears difference and fails to see the beauty and strength of our diversity. I am thinking of Mother Emanuel church in Charleston; the Jewish centers in Kansas City; the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Ideologies of exclusion, fear, and our own superiority and dominance have already proved our greatest danger. Rhetoric which increases fear and promotes exclusion, does not, cannot make us safer.

I have heard, too, that you are interested in promoting Judeo-Christian values around the world. Of course, I am interested and invested in those values, too. I will not quote to you from the myriad Bible passages that speak to the fundamental values of hospitality, care for the stranger, relief for the poor and the alien among us. I am sure you know them already. In fact, I believe that even as you speak, you can hear, if you listen, that angel knocking at the back of your mind: the one that we risk entertaining unawares when we welcome the least and the lost; the one that we risk locking out when we fail to open the door to them.

It is my understanding that the aims of politics and religion, when practiced purely, have many of the same ends in mind: the welfare of the world that God has created; the good of the people with whom we share it; the peace that passes understanding. Terrorism perverts that understanding and those aims. Let’s not let it change our religion, nor our best policies.

I can barely fathom the depth of need and of despair of those parents, families, children fleeing war and hatred in Syria. I know that there are much easier ways to come to the US; I say this as a relatively recent immigrant myself from Britain, the homeland, lest we forget, of the “shoe bomber”, Richard Reid.

I urge you to reconsider your use of Syrian refugees, already tormented to the point of risking death at sea, exiling themselves, tearing apart families by ISIS, as pawns in the political machinations against terrorism, and in the rhetoric of politicians for their own purposes. Such rhetoric is an attack on our own way of life, our own values, our own righteousness.

Yours most sincerely,

The Revd Rosalind C. Hughes

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this; to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:26-27


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Year B Proper 28: apocalypse, now and then

This chapter of Mark’s gospel is known as “the little apocalypse.” The question that the disciples ask – how they will know when the end times are upon them – is one that has resonated through the centuries. You have heard tell that in the earliest churches, the Second Coming of the Christ was expected imminently. The followers of Jesus expected to see the end of his story in their lifetime.

And then, you have heard, the churches had to begin to take account of the generation that was dying, and to understand that this story was longer than they realized, that this was indeed only the beginnings of the birth pangs, and that they, and we, would be in this for the long haul.

[See the letters to the Thessalonians; the first, dealing with worries over those who have died already while waiting for the Day of the Lord; the second, worrying over false prophets declaring that the Day has been and gone, and we missed it.]

Most of us in this room do not believe that we can predict the end of the world, although some still do. I have lost count of the number of times even since I moved to America, that the world has been supposed to come to an end on a specific day. We still struggle with wars and rumours of wars, wondering how to read the signs of the times.

I think that part of the modern problem is that we confuse and conflate the biblical apocalypses, the prophesies of the Second Coming, of God’s consummation of creation, and the new creation, with the end of the world as we know it.

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann writes that our modern perceptions of apocalypse are out of step with the ancient and traditional expectations and prophecies, because,

“Earlier, people expected the end to come from God, and hoped that from God the new beginning would come. But today we have to do with self-made apocalypses, for which human beings have to take responsibility, not God.”

Like nuclear Armageddon, or the threatened cataclysms of climate change, the human-made apocalypse that is imagined as the modern end of the world undermines the expectation of a gracious act of God, a new creation.

More immediately, those human apocalypses, these human ends are what came roaring through a Parisian café, blasting through the speakers at a music venue; which changed a friendly football match into a field of war.

Too many people, in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad saw the end of the world this week. But these are no birth pangs, but death rattles.

Moltmann continues,

“The meaning of terrorism is – terror. The meaning of murder is death. After that nothing more is to follow. No Jewish or Christian apocalyptist believed that such a destruction of other people and oneself would be followed by a new beginning, a reconstruction, or even a redemption.”

No faithful, God-fearing apocalyptist, of any religion in fact: Jewish, Christian, Muslim; no religion expects God to set us against one another in order to realize the peace that passes understanding, God’s perfect creation.

The ends to which we as humans subject one another, especially these acts of terror; these ends come out of no religious feeling, no devotion to the divine. These terrorists pervert the prayers of the people, and they stain them with tears.

They will not defeat the will of God, which is not destruction, but creation; not devastation, but resurrection. They are not the ending to the Jesus story.

When Luke reports Jesus’ speech about the End Times that we heard from Mark’s gospel today, Luke hears Jesus say,

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)

Stand up and raise your heads. Take courage and take the kingdom of God in your hands, because redemption is near.  God is not far from us in times of danger, nor in the valley of the shadow of death. Those are the very times and places that God draws us closer, drawing the Hebrews out of the waters of the Red Sea after their oppression by Egypt; lifting Daniel from the lions’ den; raising up Jesus after the Romans’ act of terror and torture against the Son of God.

Since the days of the stories of the Flood, our scriptures have taught us that that God has promised never again to let God’s sorrow over our wickedness overcome God’s love for what God has created; that no matter the wickedness and violence of the world, God will bear with us, bear for us the suffering born of sin; overcome for us the chaos; bring us out of death into life. The biblical apocalypse is not the work of the evil and indolence of humanity at its worst, but of the long-suffering goodness of God at its best; God’s labour towards a new creation. The apocalyptic promise is a promise to upend terror, and restore justice. It blasts evil. It roars mercy. It redeems grace.

That, for Christians, is the only end in sight; the new creation of God. We will not accept any false starts, false prophets, false prayers, false alarms. Jesus has told us, “Do not be alarmed.” Daniel promises us the protection of archangels.

God labours on, and we will labour too, and push for the upending of terror, the astonishment of peace, the cry of justice that will herald God’s kingdom come.

On Friday, the news was breaking as we gathered at the Cathedral for Convention. Dean Lind was texting with her friend, Dean Laird, of the Episcopal Cathedral in Paris. By the time we gathered to process into the church, the count was up to sixty dead, and the borders were closed. Then we went in to worship God, because that is what we do.

When we got home that night, we learned the rest, such was available to learn, and when we came together in the morning, we began with prayers for the terrorized, and then we got on with the business of the church, because that is what we do. It wasn’t all budget approvals and electing Cyrus to the Commission on Ministry; we talked about racial reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding. We heard stories of the saints among us, and took inspiration from them. We got on with the business of organizing as followers of Jesus, the body of Christ, whose story has not ended, whose labour is not over.

We wonder, in the face of the end of the world as we know it, when the stones are thrown down and the earth is cast upon the casket; we wonder what we should do. I would suggest that we remember that we do not write the ending to God’s story; that the End Times are always upon us, and God remains faithful throughout. Our response, then, is to remain faithful to God, and to continue to follow God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, whose new creation we await with eager patience.

How do we do that? Pierre Whalon, the Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, who lives in Paris, who lives in Paris, urges his people, his flock,  to continue to pray, faithful to Jesus’ commandment; to pray for our enemies, and for ourselves.

This is our labour; and God labours with us, as we push on to pray with the people of Beirut, of Baghdad; with the staff of the Dollar Bank at 228th Street; with the people of Paris:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer)

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


Jürgen Moltmann, In the end – the beginning: the life of hope (Fortress Press, 2004)

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She will not lay down
’til besetting rage, undone,
stoops to kiss the dead.

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Lullaby for the end of the world

This Sunday’s readings are a little apocalyptic; whether one reads Daniel and Mark, or Hannah’s proto-Magnificat, change is in the air, and much of it alarming. Jürgen Moltmann believes that the Christian should not be afraid of the end of the world or its order, since, “Whether this world will come to an end, and whatever that end may be, the Christian hope says: God’s future has already begun. With Christ’s resurrection from the catastrophe of Golgotha the new beginning has already been made, a beginning which will never again pass away because it issues from the victory over transience.” (Jürgen Moltmann, In the end – the beginning: the life of hope (Fortress Press, 2004), 48)


In the hospital where I used to make my rounds, they would play a little piece of Brahms’ Lullaby over the speaker system whenever a new baby was born. It was a reminder, a necessary reminder in the face of pain, and in a place often of deep suffering, that new life was among us, and promised another, more hopeful narrative for this day.

When the music would play, I saw nurses stay their foot in midstep, and smile for a moment. I saw patients who were in on the “secret” snuggle themselves a little closer. I saw orderlies and relatives, too busy and too anxious to take a whole moment glance up at the speaker, in passing, in understanding. I saw doctors too frantic with the pain and the panic before them purse their lips, tense their backs against the onslaught of hope – “Not now!” – and the release, the relenting that followed, more often than not. Of course, it was harder when the death and the life were in the same place, balanced on the plane of existence that wavers between them, but cannot hold them together.

I watched our chaplain supervisor tell a wiped-out intern, “Go bless a baby;” her own medical practice.

The Lord said to Daniel, “There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.” Jesus warned, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” And he himself went through such anguish as bad as any imagined – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – and yet from the tomb was delivered.

And when he, at whose birth angels sang “Glory,” was once more drawn forth, what music did they play, and do we still hear its echoing?

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Year B Proper 27: the widows and the stewardship sermon

What a gift these readings are in the season of stewardship campaigns! They have a lot to say to us about trusting in the providence of God, about sharing, about giving, about the rewards of a faithful offering. What a gift!

The problem that I kept coming back to, reading these stories this week, with elections going on and election campaigns going on and on and on, with four full seasons to go before an end is in sight – anyway, the problem that I kept coming back to is that we recognize well enough the scribes who devour widows’ houses; we know that our systems are skewed towards the rich and powerful as much as ever, and we know that it is easy for those removed from poverty to overlook the individual stories of loss, destitution, and despair that those systems promote. We know that this is not the way that the kingdom of God needs to be organized. We have heard Jesus time and again promote the least and the last above the important and the rich. We hear his commendation of the poor widow and her mite-y gift. We know that this is not how we tend to respond in our everyday lives.

I’m going to say this, even though it might get me into a little bit of trouble, but it has been bothering my mind: nowhere in the Bible, that I can find; nowhere in the prophets or in the teachings of Paul or in the sayings of Jesus has the kingdom of God ever been described as a trickle – those with ears to hear, let them hear. The justice of God, the providence of God, the grace of God does not trickle down, so that no one even notices the difference. It comes like a rushing flood, like a thundering flood. It changes everything. I could quote from our new Presiding Bishop’s sermon from last Sunday; that this movement of God, in Jesus Christ, turns everything upside down, which is really right-side-up.

So if we are going to make a stewardship sermon out of these two women, these two widows, a byword in the Bible for the last and the least; if we are to take them as an object lesson and an example, let’s begin again with Elijah. We know, we know from experience, that a miracle is not always available. Even Jesus, referring later to the story of Elijah, is given to remark that “there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon” (Luke 4:25-26).

What happened to all of those widows to whom Elijah did not go? What happened to their sons and daughters, when the drought lasted three and a half years and the famine was fierce? We cannot always depend upon receiving a direct and personal miracle of our very own, especially if it must come at the expense of our neighbours. And if it did, what would we do then? Whom would we invite to share in our own, private miracle?

And then there’s that widow at the Temple, a model of faithful giving, of generous dependence upon the providence of God. More proactive than the widow in Zarephath, she doesn’t wait to cook a last meal and die; she actually gives away the last that she has to live on, and walks away. But there is no longer any famine in the land, and she lives in a system where the religious duty of the people; not only the religious duty but the way of life of the people is to take care of widows and orphans. It would bring shame upon her neighbours to see her go hungry. No matter what she has given away; she will be fed tonight. Her neighbours, her temple, her people, all will be Elijah to her, and her oil will not run out.

There are definitely themes that we can pick up from these stories and carry over into our own stewardship prayers and discernment. We can ask whether we are sufficiently trusting of God’s providence. We can look at our abundance and our poverty and wonder out of which do we offer God our treasure and our trust, and with whom do we share it. We may also wonder how we approach the problems of stewardship in times of famine, or dependence, or under the shadow of scribes who devour widows’ houses.

The story of the two women – the one in Zarephath and the one in Jerusalem – both are stories not only or even about money or possessions, but about relationship. The widow to whom Elijah comes makes the choice to share her last meal with a stranger, rather than let him die alone, just out of sight of herself and her son. The widow at the temple makes the choice to add her little coins to the treasury of the many, in order that they might do some good, since they are too little any more for her to live on. Both women look beyond themselves and their immediate situations, even in dire straits and destitution, to consider their relationships with the world around them, the world that God has made for us to dwell in. It is a world in which the poor and needy, the last and the least are not merely the consumers, but they are the chief donors of charity; it is a world turned upside down, which is really right-side-up.

If you want to read a great and accessible book about Christian economics, I recommend William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed. Here’s what he has to say, in a nutshell, about our relationship to our material goods (and they are goods; insofar as all that God has made is good).

In the Christian tradition, the use of material things is meant to be a common use, for the sake of a larger body of people. We do not help each other as individuals but as members of one another. According to Paul’s famous image (1 Cor. 12), we are all members of the same body, the body of Christ. … “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (12:26). The reason that we do not cling to material things is precisely because of our attachment to others. We must constantly be ready to relinquish our claim to ownership, and to use our goods for the common good of the whole body.*

Our stewardship, how we use the time, talents, treasure with which we have found ourselves, one way or another; our stewardship is not about the bottom line, or the budget, or the by-laws. It is not about the electricity bill or the building. It’s not even about the food pantry and the community meal and the people who come in day by day looking for a small personal miracle. I mean, of course it is, but that is not enough. Not really.

Because our stewardship is not about us and our stuff. It is about us and our relationships: our relationships with our stuff, with each other, with our neighbours, with our God. Our stewardship is about building up the body of Christ. It is seeing and recognizing and praying for and working towards and truly desiring the kingdom of God.

What we do here, in our own little temple, is a microcosm of the change we want to see in the world. It is a foretaste of the flood of justice rolling down like a mighty river. If we do it right, it is a sign, a sacrament, a visible, tangible marker of the movement of God, of Jesus, among the people of God, laying the foundations for a movement that will turn the world upside down, which is really right-side-up.


*William T. Cavanuagh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Eerdmans, 2008), 52-53

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