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Syria, Paris, Mali, and Christ the King (John 18:33-37)

 

This text for Christ the King Sunday reveals a clash of two kingdoms. Make no mistake, they are distinctly different, but they are both present. Each kingdom has different rules, and each one operates differently. And they are both operating among us now.

These kingdoms aren’t places, like one is earth and the other heaven. No, both of these kingdoms function here and now, side by side. Both are seen in our everyday lives, and both are vying for our loyalty. Each one uses different tools to try and win us over.

Jesus shows us how one kingdom works and what it looks like, and Pilate shows us the other. Each kingdom proclaims similar goals sometimes, but they couldn’t be more different.

Pilate understands that he has power; with a word he can condemn Jesus to death. He knows how one kingdom works. And he is in a position to take advantage of that. The kingdom he affiliates with runs on power and the things that give a person power. So strength, position, recognition, and money are important tools of Pilate’s kingdom. Weapons and force and control are some of the things at Pilate’s disposal. One belief of his kingdom is that if you have enough power, you can bring about peace, because those who are threats to his kingdom are eliminated. Pilate is working toward peace through intimidation, through fear, and through brutality.

If Jesus is a king, Pilate wonders, then Jesus is a threat to the emperor (you can’t have two kings!). He would be a threat to the oppressive, forced peace of Rome.

If we can get past the fact that this is Pilate here–the one who condemns Jesus to crucifixion–we’d likely admit that this is the way the world works. Those with power win. Those with money win. Those with position and strength and backing and friends in high places win. The prize goes to the biggest, the strongest, the mightiest, and the smartest.

We know this kingdom. Because to move up, to get ahead, to win in this world–perhaps even to survive–these are the things we must do. We don’t even think about it, because the ways of this kingdom is so prevalent, so common, so every day. Everyone operates more or less in this way.

And then there’s the kingdom Jesus reveals. Way different. While Pilate uses strength, Jesus uses weakness. Pilate uses intimidation, Jesus uses vulnerability. Pilate uses force, Jesus uses mercy. Pilate uses power, Jesus uses forgiveness.

Jesus points out how different these two kingdoms are when he answers Pilate. Jesus says that if his kingdom were of this world, you’d know it because there would be fighting and a struggle for power. But, since his kingdom is not of this world, those things aren’t happening. Instead, Jesus’ kingdom is about something deeper and more significant than strength. It’s about truth. You can tell the people who affiliate with Jesus’ kingdom, because they listen to the truth of mercy, the truth of compassion, the truth of forgiveness, the truth of loving others. These are the principles by which they operate.

And we know this kingdom too. Because the Spirit keeps filling us with with love and forgiveness. God continues to forgive us and show us compassion. We sometimes experience the truth of divine mercy when we experience compassion; someone going out of their way on our behalf. We can the truth of that, and we can live the truth of that.

Never is the battle of these two kingdoms seen more clearly than right now in the argument about Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. One kingdom says there’s a threat there. Let’s not be stupid and take unnecessary risks. The other says showing compassion to our neighbors compels us to make sure they have safety—even if that means some of them come here.

We are pulled by the lures of both kingdoms. Power and force might impose a superficial and temporary lack of conflict, but do so based on fear and intimidation. Love and mercy appear weak in the world kingdom and leave us vulnerable, but are the ways Jesus reveals.

Today, we confess Christ as King. Which means we defer to his kingdom as his disciples.

The kingdom of force, of violence, of power, of fear, of intimidation may be able to put Jesus to death. It may be able to put 129 to death in Paris, take hostages in Mali, and wreak havoc all over the world.

But the kingdom of violence, fear, and power has already been defeated. Christ the King took the worst threat this world’s power could throw at him. And then he rose from the dead. And he breathed the ways of his kingdom of compassion into frightened disciples. And he inspired them to live and reveal his kingdom of mercy and love. Right in the face of fear and oppression.

Jesus came not just to bring mercy and grace to us. He came to show us the truth of mercy and grace so we can live it in the world. May we hear the voice of Christ the King. And may we follow him.

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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Sermon

 

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When Faith Fails (Mark 13:1-8)

With the attacks in Paris, as well as Baghdad, The West Bank, Beirut, Cameroon Chad, Egypt (just in November), I have to admit my faith is challenged. I am not sure what God is doing in the midst of such violence and evil. And I imagine I’m not alone in that. For each of us, there are times when we discover that our faith just isn’t big enough to wrap around what’s happening in our lives and explain where God is and what God is doing. Sometimes, in the face of new life experiences or new difficulties, we are forced into the realization that our faith isn’t working.

What do you do then?

Sometimes we try to force our complex life into a small faith container. Even though our life matures, our faith remains childish. We ignore life and cling to an immature and unreal faith.

Sometimes we see our faith can’t hold the realities of our life and so we throw out the whole concept of God and of church. We ignore faith and cling to the realities of life.

Sometimes we tweak our faith just enough to allow parts of our life to fit into it. Then both our faith and our lives are unsatisfactory.

But I think here in the church, we need to be honest—sometimes our faith just isn’t good enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems like our faith isn’t trustworthy. And sometimes we’re right.

Our faith in God is really like the stones of the temple in this gospel reading. The bricks and mortar of the temple reveal God’s presence. The temple is trustworthy. We can see it and feel it. As long as it’s there, we trust God is near. Isn’t that how our faith works? As long as we have faith, we can trust God is near. So we depend of the physical temple. We depend on our faith. We put faith in our faith.

But what happens when the temple is destroyed? What happens if our faith no longer works? How do we know God is near? How do we trust what God may be doing?

Like the temple, our faith isn’t the most important thing. It’s not our ability to trust in God that counts—it’s actually God that counts. We can get so caught up trusting our faith is that we don’t realize God is trustworthy, whether our faith is working for us or not.

Our faith isn’t sacred. Our faith doesn’t save us, it doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t love us. God does those things. Faith is merely a recognition of that.

As your life has changed, has your faith changed? Have the difficulties of your life challenged your faith? What was the situation that made your realize your faith wasn’t working?

  • Death/illness?
  • Loss of job or income or financial security?
  • End of a relationship?
  • A church that wouldn’t answer your questions or judged you for asking them?

Wherever it is that our faith in God fails us, the reality of God steps in. If our faith can’t sustain us, God can. Our faith doesn’t conquer death, God does. Our faith isn’t divine, God is. Our faith doesn’t hold us and comfort us and love us, God does.

So if your faith is not enough for you, if it’s failing you, if it cannot provide what you need in your life, good. Quit relying on it. God is there. And regardless of your faith, God is sustaining you and holding you and loving you and walking with you. Especially if you doubt it. Especially if you can’t see it or understand it. Especially if you don’t believe it. Especially if you have no faith in it.

In this gospel text, Jesus goes on to warn the disciples not to get all caught up in signs of the destruction of the temple. Don’t get all excited about wars and earthquakes. Don’t be distracted by people claiming to have truth. How easy it is to focus on that stuff! Because the temptation is to see those things, hear those things and then trust in those things. But they cannot sustain us any more than our faith can. At their absolute best, the most they can do is remind us that God is actually near and is still at work in our lives.

Even if you pay attention to signs and wonders, exciting philosophies and thoughts, new discoveries and ancient wisdoms, that doesn’t change who Christ is or how he walks with you. Even if your faith evolves and changes, is renewed and refreshed, is torn down and built up anew, that doesn’t affect how much God loves you.

If you can’t believe that today, don’t worry about it; that’s OK. There are others here who can continue to remind you of God’s grace and love. They can love you with God’s love, walk alongside you with God’s presence, they can trust God’s mercy for you.

Maybe your life has outpaced your faith right now. But it hasn’t outpaced God. You may not be able to trust your faith, but you can trust that you are loved, you are forgiven, you are not alone. Because Christ is really here for you. Christ is here for Paris, Baghdad, Israel, Palestine, Cameroon, Chad, and Egypt. Christ is with you. We are here with you too.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Sermon

 

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