Not Just Any Kingdom

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Think about what rules where you live or where you are from.  Consumerism perhaps (especially around this holiday season).  Violence.  Gangs.  The idea that you have to look or be a certain way to fit in or even be noticed. 

Now a deeper invitation:  Think about what rules your life.  Is it worry, fear, or hate?  Is it another person or money?  Is it drugs and addiction?  Perhaps time or even your job.

Recognizing what or who rules your life is important because then you can approach this question honestly:  How is Jesus inviting you to participate in the Kingdom of God?

 

Christ the King – November 25, 2012

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation
1.4b-8; John 18.33-37

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and peace to you from the One who invites
us to participate in the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Kingdom. 
When I think of the word, “Kingdom,” I think of many things.  I think of castles and people like King
Author.  I think of war and great
battles. Growing up in the United States I suppose I need to admit that I even
think about Walt Disney animated movies where there is a prince and a princess
and a story line that plays out within a kingdom.  The word, kingdom, can invoke all kinds of
images in our minds. 

When I say the word, king, what are some
descriptive words that come to mind for you?…

For me what I think of first and foremost is:
power, wealth, rule, and even corruption. 
History is full of kings that have abused their power, neglected their
people, and made decisions that benefit only themselves.  I’m not saying all kings were like this, but
many were.

When Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “My
kingdom is not from this world,” he is saying that his kingdom is not like the
ones we just described that use fear, power, greed, and corruption to rule.  The kingdom Jesus is speaking of is different
and he brings it with him into this
world where we can experience what the rule of God is like here.  It’s not always obvious, but the kingdom is
among us and if we had the eyes to see, we could also recognize it.

To help us think about what this kingdom Jesus is
speaking about looks like in our world today, I brought along this book.  It’s called: The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to
Change Themselves and the World Around Them
.  Have any of you heard about the book or read
it?  This book has also been made into a
movie.  It is a true story.

The story takes place in Long Beach, CA, where
all kinds of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds live.  Gang violence, murder, poverty, and drugs are
the ugly, everyday realities of where these teenagers in the book call home. 

All they have known before arriving in Erin
Gruwell’s classroom is the unfairness of life that has been ruled by fear and
whoever has the most guns and power in the neighborhood.  They had never been told or taught that there
is a different way to live in the world. 

Their teacher, Ms. Gruwell, builds a community in
her classroom where racism, prejudice and violence are unacceptable.  She shows them a different way to live and
think and she does it through the sharing of people’s stories.  I’d like to share 3 of their stories with you
today.

One boy who lived in the projects gained
popularity in his neighborhood by spray painting.  In Ms. Gruwell’s class the students read Anne Frank: The Diary of Young Girl,
which speaks of the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.  A symbol the class became aware of during the
reading of the book is the swastika.  The
swastika symbols hatred and racism and the murder of millions of people. 

After reading the book, the class, including the
boy who had made his mark by spray painting, went to Washington D.C.
together.  When they were walking around,
the young man saw swastika symbols spray painted on numerous walls right near
the Holocaust museum.  He was appalled,
so he designed a Freedom Writer’s logo and made all kinds of copies of it.  He and a friend then went around and covered
up every swastika they saw with their logo, which symbolized tolerance instead
of hatred.

This is part of a diary entry about the students’
experience in D.C.:

On our way back to the hotel, I saw the swastikas that we had
covered.  Before, if I saw something bad
happen, I probably wouldn’t have done anything. 
I used to think, “If it doesn’t affect me, why bother?” With the covering of the swastikas, and
everything that happened today, I now know that there is not a day that will go
by, when if I believe something is wrong, I won’t do anything about it.  It is better to take a chance and make a
change, than it is to pass and pity (p. 170).

A different way of living in the world is
understanding how actions affect others and also knowing that one can change,
no matter what has happened in the past. 
Life in the Kingdom of God is standing up against injustice and taking
risk for the sake of another.

Another boy tells the story of when he, his
brother, and some friends were in a car driving.  Suddenly a car full of other guys from a
different race pulled up next to them and started shooting.  The boy’s brother was shot twice in the chest
and the car drove away.  The boy acted
fast and got his brother to a hospital and he ended up living.  As the young man reflected on this
experience, he writes:

It made me realize that a real hero should try to prevent this from
ever happening again.  I want people to
know that they guys with guns were absolute strangers.  All they saw was our color because they were
ignorant.  If they were educated, like I
am, they’d learn to see past shades and beyond exteriors and see people (p.
177).

A different way of living in the world is to not
respond to violence with more violence.  Living
in the Kingdom of God is about seeing people for who they are as people,
created good and in the image of God.  It
is understanding that all life is precious and that forgiveness is real and
powerful.

For one assignment, Ms. Gruwell’s students needed
to share a dream they had for their future. 
One girl said: 

“Growing up, I always assumed I would either drop out of school or get
pregnant.  Like they say, if you’re born
in the ‘hood, you’re bound to die in it. 
But Ms. G. kept drilling into my head that it didn’t matter where I cam
from or the color of my skin.   For the
first time, I realized that what people say about living in the ghetto and
having brown skin doesn’t have to apply to me. 
So when I got home, I wrote this poem (pp. 202-203):

                  They say I am brown

                  I
say

                  I
am proud.

 

                  They
say I only know how to cook

                  I
saw

                  I
know how to write a book

                  So

                  don’t
judge me by the way I look

 

                  They
say I am brown

                  I
say

                  I
am proud

 

                  They
say I’m not the future of this nation

                  I
say

                  Stop
giving me discrimination

                  Instead

                  I’m
gonna use my education

                  To
help build the human nation (pp. 203-204)

A different way of living in the world is to not
let other people define you, but to understand your self-worth and value.  The Kingdom of God is where our primary
identity is a child of God, where race and color of skin are not divisions, but
are celebrated as a gift to the whole community.

We as human beings divide ourselves into
categories and stereotypes, and then fight for power.  We dehumanize and devalue others so that
somehow we can feel more important.

The Kingdom that Jesus brings into the world and
invites us into is governed by the law of love. 
Simply, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  This is not how the world functions and is
why Jesus says that his kingdom is not from this world.

It is a kingdom that is not ruled by violence and
those with the most power.  It is not
ruled by fear or pressure.  It is not
ruled by darkness or addiction or abuse.

Think about what rules where you live or where
you are from.  Consumerism perhaps (especially
around this holiday season).  Violence.  Gangs. 
The idea that you have to look or be a certain way to fit in or even be
noticed. 

Now a deeper invitation:  Think about what rules your life.  Is it worry, fear, or hate?  Is it another person or money?  Is it drugs and addiction?  Perhaps time or even your job.

Recognizing what or who rules your life is
important because then you can approach this question honestly:  How is Jesus inviting you to participate in
the Kingdom of God?

Jesus rules his kingdom with love and mercy.  But lest we forget, Jesus also rules it as a
judge.  Living in the Kingdom of God in
this world is a different way to live and we pray for it all the time.  We pray, “Your Kingdom come,” in the Lord’s
Prayer together every Sunday.  We want
God’s kingdom to be present in this world and to participate in it because it
gives us life.

God’s kingdom is real on earth where you find healing,
where you find forgiveness, where you feel released from whatever holds you in
bondage and darkness, where you truly feel loved by God.  You and I also participate in the Kingdom of
God in Holy Communion, where all are welcome and invited. 

The kingdom first starts in here.  Like the teenagers in the book, they first
needed to let their hearts and minds be changed before they had the courage to
live differently.

When we hear the word, “Kingdom,” from now on,
think about Christ.  Think about a
different way of living in the world that is opposed to violence and fear.  Think about Jesus ruling in your hearts
through love, knowing that you are a part of something great.