The True Kingdom

"Royal Palace, Stockholm." Image by Kah-Wai Lin; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Dear Working Preachers, many of you also listen to Working Preacher’s weekly podcast, Sermon Brainwave. As a result, you know that I am an adder. That is, add a few verses to the reading if it makes sense to do so. It is the preacher’s responsibility and prerogative to reevaluate the boundaries of the passage set by Revised Common Lectionary. More often than not, the pericope parameters have been determined by chapter and verse designations, which, of course, were not present in the original manuscripts of our Scripture. Or, the noted textual margins are dictated by the day and the liturgical season. As a result, adding verses is not to make all y’all crazy. It’s to acknowledge and remember that the borders of our chosen lections are far more permeable than we might want or wish.

For Reign of Christ Sunday, therefore, I am adding verse eight, Pilate’s response to Jesus’ reference to truth, “I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate then answers, “What is truth?” Of course, “What is truth?” has everything to do with Jesus as king, for Jesus is the truth. His Kingdom is not, therefore, about determining the truth but is the truth. His Kingdom is not content but character. His Kingdom is not ruled by a king but by commitment. His Kingdom is not a thing, but a person.

That’s the point. Kingdoms then and even now are established and verified by certain criteria of perceivable splendor. Case in point, last week’s acclamation of the disciple upon seeing the temple, “What large stones!” There are nameable and perceivable manifestations of what kingdoms should look like, based mostly on wealth and grandeur, privilege and power, authority and majesty.

And yet, Jesus’ Kingdom can be anywhere, anytime that Kingdom behavior is exemplified. That Kingdom character is lived out. That Kingdom witness can be heard and observed.

That’s what Pilate misses, what most of the world misses, and what potentially might pass us by. That Jesus’ Kingdom was never a place but a perspective, never an established rule, but a stated reality of how to live life, never a fought for hierarchy, but a forever hermeneutic, a way of interpreting the world and embodying such a hermeneutic in everything that we do.

I suspect a sermon that talks about Jesus’ Kingdom as not a domain but a determined mode of being in the world just might catch people by surprise. We are socialized to imagine kingdoms as nations rather than a kind of reign, as territories rather than enfleshed commitments to love and liberty, as landlocked empires rather than a persistence in justice and freedom for all.

The hard part will be to name the motivations behind our acquiescence to the kinds of kingdoms we have let control our communities, our nations, our governments, and our worlds — those not interested in the Truth at all but who tell half-truths, false truths, fake-truths that tap into our insecurities and our fears.

What are those motivations? Well, it is an easier life to live, perhaps, to live under authority instead of fighting for something different. It is a more direct way of being in the world when decisions are made for you, when rules and regulations are clearly defined, when expectations are known and assumptions can be accounted for. And it is a simpler life, a less challenging life, and a less risky life to accept the machinations of monarchies instead of rising up in resistance.

After all, we know what happens when kingdoms are confronted for their wrongs, defied for their abuses — you end up like Jesus. And most of us are just fine letting Jesus do the heavy lifting than imagining that he really meant for us to bring about his Kingdom here and now.

It doesn’t take much effort to see the consequences of daring to dispute power and one need not look long or hard to acknowledge the results of facing off against authority.

So we stay quiet. We play it safe. We ignore the obvious Truth for the sake of self-preservation. Because we know, all to well, that when you stand up to privilege, you can expect to be shut up. When you stand up to the workings of the world’s kingdoms that rely on sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, able-ism to survive, expect to be silenced. When you stand up to the injustices of the kingdoms at hand that survive because of and thrive on fear, expect to be discredited and disregarded.

The kingdoms of this world bank on sowing suspicion and authorizing autonomy. The kingdoms of this world depend on individualism and everyone for themselves alone. The kingdoms of this world insist that hierarchy will establish successful rule and that a ladder mentality, that keeps people in their proper places, is the mark of achieving and accomplishing leadership.

Not so with the Truth. For Jesus’ Kingdom chooses relationship. Jesus’ Kingdom chooses the perils and predicaments of flesh. Jesus’ Kingdom tells the truth about the Truth — that God so loved the world.