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November 22, 2015, 1:16 PM

Whose Kingdom Are We Building?


 
Revelation 1:4b-8, CEB
Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne, and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and always. Amen.
Look, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. This is so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.”
 
John 18:33-37, CEB
33 Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
35 Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”
37 “So you are a king?” Pilate said.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”
 
“Whose Kingdom Are We Building?”
 
How many of you remember the 1981 award winning film Chariots of Fire? (show of hands) How many of you actually saw it, or most of it? (show of hands) For most who know of the movie, this is what we remember (movie clip). Chariots of Fire is based on the true story of two athletes from the United Kingdom competing in the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris, France—both sprinters. Harold Abraham is a young Jewish man attending Cambridge University. In the movie, we witness his struggles against anti-Jewish sentiments and divisive classism to race and succeed in his education. The other main character in the movie is Eric Liddell, a Scottish missionary recently returned from his work in China in order to train and compete in the games.
 
As Liddell boards the boat to cross the English Channel into France, he learns that his qualifying race at the Olympics, for the 100 meter sprint, is being held on Sunday. Liddell holds very strong views about what can and cannot occur on the Sabbath and suddenly realizes that to be true to his faith, his beliefs, he cannot run in the event he has been training for years to run. He suddenly must choose between adherence to his faith and loyalty to his country. In this clip he is speaking with Prince Edward, prince of Wales, as he shares his beliefs with his monarch. (movie clip, minute 2:20) In the end, despite strong pressure from the prince and others, Liddell chooses not to run, chooses following his beliefs over representing his country.
 
I am sure that many who watch Chariots of Fire were relieved they have never found themselves in such a position, but perhaps they, and we, don’t realize that we are in that same position every day. Daily we must choose between living God’s commonwealth in our lives or giving in to the world’s way of living. Today is Christ the King Sunday, or Reign/Rule of Christ Sunday. We 21st century Christians are often very uncomfortable with this day and this language. We don’t have kings or kingdoms. Very few places in the world operate that way. Most of the royalty we are aware of are now figureheads in their nations. We are a people of freedom, democracy, equality, community. We are living in the 21st century and long for a culture where men and women are equals, where hierarchy and patriarchy are passing away. And yet, we end our church calendar every year with this Sunday that speaks of kingship and rule. What are we supposed to do with that?
 
We are, of course, right to be uncomfortable with hierarchy and patriarchy in this day and age. Early church leaders chose this king and kingdom language to contrast Jesus’ realm with earthly kingdoms, and to lift up the vast differences. However, I argue that we are uncomfortable with this Sunday for a deeper reason than kingly language. We are uncomfortable with the purpose of this Sunday, which is to acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord, the one who ultimately rules our lives. This Sunday sits right here, on the cusp of Advent, on the edge of the hectic holiday onslaught, and demands we answer a critical question: Where does our true citizenship lie, in this world or in God’s realm?
 
The lectionary scholars have gifted us today with a gospel reading that is but a small segment of a much larger and longer encounter between Jesus and Pilate. If we read this encounter in its entirety, we see that Pilate isn’t really interested in Jesus and the conflict between him and the religious leaders. But, when it becomes apparent that the Temple authorities are not going to let this go, Pilate uses Jesus to mock and undermine the Temple leadership. Pilate is a man of the empire of Rome, he understands politics. He understands kingship. Pilate sets Jesus up as king over and against the Temple leaders and tricks them into confessing Caesar as their king on the eve of the Passover where the Jewish people confess God as their king. Pilate dresses Jesus in a purple robe, crowns him with thorns, beats him, and displays him to his people—“Here is your king! What would you have me do with him?” The leaders reply, “Crucify him!” To which Pilate responds, “You want me to crucify your king?” The Temple leadership fall into Pilate’s trap, “We have no king but Caesar!” Pilate nails a sign above Jesus’ head on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He believes he has displayed the weakness of this Jewish would-be king, when actually he has helped establish Jesus as ruler of a kingdom that is unlike any other.
 
Jesus as king embraces the crown of thorns because he isn’t about hierarchy and dominance. Jesus as king embraces the cross as his throne because his realm is about grace and forgiveness and love. Jesus as king creates a realm of abundant and everlasting life, a realm without borders or boundaries. Jesus’ commonwealth is built within the hearts of those who follow him, and springs up wherever those followers live out that commonwealth with their lives. Jesus as king serves first as a witness to God’s truth, the faithful witness as Revelation proclaimed, a witness to the truth that God’s way is breaking into the world.
 
Jesus’ witness stands before us today, on Christ the King, Rule of Christ Sunday. And this witness asks us—whose kingdom are we building? Because each moment, every day, we are contributing to one kingdom or another. The choices we make, the priorities we set, the places where we invest ourselves are either building up God’s kingdom or are strengthening the world’s kingdoms. In how we use our time, our talents, our resources, our energy, and our focus we contribute toward a way of life and we proclaim with our lives where our priorities lie.
 
We are about to enter a brand new year in the life of the church. Next Sunday marks the beginning of a new church year with the start of Advent, and our anticipation of the coming of the Christ Child. Whose kingdom will we be building in the coming weeks? Will we contribute to the kingdom of consumerism? The kingdom of busy-ness? The kingdom of schedules? Or can we choose another way, and build God’s commonwealth around us, shining the true light of Christ over against the glare of holiday decorations? Whose kingdom will we build this year?
 
In the light of international attention, Eric Liddell proclaimed Jesus Christ and his commonwealth. As the world stood stunned at Liddell’s refusal to race, he used that moment to speak of our race of faith, our life with God. It might not be the whole world watching us, but we are being watched, others do look to us as examples. What will they see? The world? Or the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Let us close with Liddell’s words. (movie clip, minute 1:13)

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