Revelation 1: 4b-8 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
John 18: 33-37 November 22, 2015
“My kingdom is not from this world.”
Prayer: Holy God, Holy Christ, Holy Spirit, let your kingdom come to us again and again, please. We need your power in our world. Amen.
It’s been over a week since the bombings in Paris and Beirut. I’ve been bothered in my heart and mind about it. It’s too easy to be non-chalant. They’re way over there. The simplest understanding about the attacks in Paris and the day before, in Beirut, is first and foremost, that these are crimes against humanity. They are horrific and appalling. The bombings killed people indiscriminately, irrespective of religion, race, creed, and age, male, female. The group claiming responsibility, of course, is ISIS, the extremist Muslim militant group.
A more complex understanding is that the attacks are symptomatic of a collision of two ideologies crashing together. In the first ideology God is named “Allah”. Militant extremists are practitioners of a radical form of Islam in this ideology. They are the ones who get noticed. Religious rules and rulers are how people are controlled. Infidels are not tolerated. Extremist religious leaders are political dictators, and under the threat of death, everyone must comply. The goal in this ideology is to become a recognized nation/state and eventually the world’s most powerful. They hope to do that by creating enough chaos through violent attacks against humanity, eliminating the “grayzone” between western Muslims and the western nations in which they live. These attacks will not only draw western nations deeper into military conflict, but it will cause Muslims in Europe and North America to become hated by their fellow non-Muslim citizens forcing the western Muslim to either renounce their faith and be subject to persecution and death by ISIS, or migrate to the Middle East and join ISIS, leading to more political power and eventually one world religion.
The other ideology has diversified religious thinking, where people can choose what religion works best for them. All religions are tolerated. Freedom to disagree and learn from each other is valued. God is named “I AM WHO I AM” from the Hebrew heritage, the “Alpha and Omega,” the “Almighty God” and “Jesus Christ” from the Christian heritage. And “Allah” is God’s name for Christians living in the Middle Eastern countries. In this ideology, it’s also the extremists who get noticed, but extreme viewpoints add to a fuller picture and to the diversity. Most of the time, these viewpoints are welcomed. The leaders in this ideology are people, and in theory, government happens by the people and for the people. Government’s job is not to control people, but through compromise and community action, democracy helps society reach what is the common good for all. The goal in this ideology is to have all the world’s societies, cultures, states and nations live together in peace, with justice and fairness available for all. Imperialism and colonialism have been used to achieve this goal, but mostly diplomacy and the practice of acceptance and tolerance are the key methods.
I know, that my description of these two ideologies may be too simplistic and also have some inaccuracies, but suffice it to say, these two ideologies are two worlds colliding even as I speak.
In light of all this, I take us back to Jesus’ day, when he was being interrogated by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Here we have two worlds colliding as well. Pilate represents Rome, which at the time is the kingdom of the world, both politically and culturally. He has no understanding of God; his culture is used to a plethora of gods. Like all political leaders, Pilate is under some pressure. He has to keep the peace in Jerusalem, which at the time was a hotbed for political and religious demonstrations, revolutionary activists, and frequent riots. These happened because the Roman domination conflicted with Jewish way of life and their “professed” allegiance to God.
Jesus represents God and God’s kingdom, both religious and spiritual. He has a deep understanding of God as a Sovereign God. He taught and lived by God’s priorities, namely that God is love… that God’s top concerns are those who don’t experience that love, those who are marginalized, oppressed, poor, disenfranchised… that God is a God of justice and peace and truth. Jesus advocated that these values, these qualities are part of God’s kingdom, and he was ushering in this kingdom.
In the collision of these two kingdoms, Pilate asks Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus neither answers yes or no, instead he says, “My kingdom is not from this world.” If his kingdom is from the earthly world and all its temporal understandings, then he would have an army of soldiers defending him and his “kingdom.”
But, Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world. It’s from God’s world, the eternal world. The world of the spiritual dimension, the world where the word of God is truth. It’s the world where the people who belong to the truth listen to Jesus’ voice.
Fast forward to today’s age, I say to us, you and I are part of that world. We belong to the truth of God. We listen to Jesus’ voice. Christ’s realm is not “from” this world, but I believe it needs to be “of” this world in each of us. It is here, with us now. It can never be stopped in one place because it’s always moving, shifting like the air. It comes at us from different directions. God’s kingdom always calls to us.
Revelation states that Christ made us to be a kingdom, all of us priests serving God. So, this kingdom is always presenting us opportunities to make it real. It’s never too late to say, “Thy kingdom come.”
For example, over fifty years ago, Professor Larry Gara at Grove City College, a Presbyterian college in northwestern PA was fired from his job because he refused to register for the draft during World War II. His views were anathema to J. Howard Pew, then president of Sun Oil and chairman of the board at Grove City College. Mr. Pew accused Professor Gara of being a communist. As a result Mr. Gara spent time in prison as an innocent man. But, last month, a representative of Grove City College, who happened to be the former president Richard Jewell, showed up at the now 93 year old Dr. Gara’s door and delivered the school’s formal apology to him(AP, “Mea Culpa,” http://www.christiancentury.org/news/century-marks, retrieved November 20, 2015). It’s never too late to say I’m sorry...to reconcile, andto bring in God’s kingdom.
But, when we do that, world’s are going to collide. As people made to be a kingdom, as people who pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” I wonder if we have to be the advocates for a vision of a future which upholds our highest social and political ideals without demonizing others with differing viewpoints. You might disagree, but I think that grouping ALL Muslims with the Muslim extremists does more damage to us as people who supposedly listen to Jesus’ voice than it does to the Muslims themselves. And, it may even give more power to ISIS at the end of the day because that’s exactly what they want to have happen!
My encouragement for us is to have fidelity to God’s ways, while recognizing the limitations of our own viewpoints. None of us are foreign policy experts, but we are people of faith, who serve a risen King who spoke God’s word. I encourage us to live with Jesus’ word as the truth we live by. We can’t be what I call CINOs. C-I-N-O. Christian In Name Only.
Last year when ISIS threatened to overthrow Baghdad, Rev. Andrew White, the Anglican vicar of Baghdad (I didn’t even know there was an Anglican church in Baghdad), invited the leaders of ISIS to his place for dinner. ISIS responded by saying they’d accept his dinner invitation, but they’d chop off his head. He didn’t invite them anymore. When questioned about his decision to invite ISIS leaders for dinner he responded, “If you want to make peace, you can’t just do it with the nice people. Nice people don’t cause the wars” (Independent, “Head on a Platter,” http://www.christiancentury.org/news/century-marks, retrieved November 20, 2015). If you want to be a peacemaker you have to be a peacemaker not in name only.
If we belong to the truth of God, if we listen to Christ’s voice, if we are made to be a kingdom, if we say “Thy kingdom come,” we can’t be CINOs. Christians in Name Only.
We can be, with God’s help and grace, reflections of God’s love for the world. We can be, with God’s Holy Spirit inspiring us, active participants in the coming of the kingdom of God right here and now.
It may not be easy. It may be challenging. It may uproot old ideas and prejudices. Worlds may collide. But, at the end of the day, we were made for this. We testify to the truth. We listen to Christ’s voice. God, may Thy kingdom come, through us.! Amen.