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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