Friday, December 25th, 2015 – A Christmas Sermon on John 1:1-14,16

John 1:1-14, 16
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

I can remember back in high school in anthropology class learning about the theory of evolution. And there was always that classic picture of what looked like a hunched over ape that then with each new step progressively became an upright human being. And there were those Latin names for each stage of the evolution of humanity – homo habilis, homo erectus, Neanderthal, and then finally, for us, the modern human being – homo sapien. Homo sapien is the Latin phrase for “thinking being” or “one who can think.” For so long now, humanity has been described as the “thinking beings”. Which is a bit arrogant if you ask me. As if my compassionate cat who comes running any time my child cries doesn’t have the capacity to think.

But more recently, some are making the argument that we, as human beings, are not best described as beings that can think, but rather as beings that tell stories. It has been suggested that perhaps we should start going by a different term – homo narrans – meaning “story-tellers.” We are storytellers – our stories are the foundation of our culture and our stories are at the very heart of who we are.

Which makes sense to me: when someone dies, we don’t sit around simply thinking about them. No, we tell stories about them. Because when we do, in some way, they still feel close to us. And not far off. Or when a child comes into your life, you don’t simply think about the fact that you have a child now. No, you tell the story, about where you were when your water broke and how awful the hospital food was. Or what you were doing when the adoption agency called. We are storytellers. And the way we tell a story is crucial.

It is crucial, because the way we tell a story has a way of highlighting what is most important to us. If you listen to two lovebirds tell the story about how their relationship blossomed, you’ll often hear them tell different stories. Because often the defining moment in the relationship was different for each of them.

Well, something similar is going on in all four of our gospels. All of our gospel writers are storytellers. They all tell the story of Jesus, but they disagree about how to tell the story. Where the story should start; about what’s most important. For the gospel of Mark, the story begins when Jesus is in his 30s and being baptized by John the Baptist. The gospel of Luke says, “No, you can’t start when Jesus is 30. You’ve got to start with Jesus’ birth. And John’s birth story too. That’s where it all begins.” But then the gospel of Matthew says, “You can’t start with Jesus’ birth. You have to go all the way back to Abraham. That’s where Jesus’ ancestry started. That’s where it all begins.” But then in comes the gospel of John. And John says, “No. No. No. Where it all begins…is where it all begins.”

In the beginning…

At creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Only John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It is this heavenly poetry about the beginning of the Jesus’ story.

Which makes this the gospel of John’s Christmas story. If Christmas is the beginning of the story of Jesus, then this is where the story begins for John. All the way at the beginning with the Word. And the Word is Jesus. So what John is saying is that Jesus’ story doesn’t begin at his baptism. It doesn’t begin at his birth. It doesn’t begin with his ancestors. No, Jesus’ story begins all the way back at the beginning of all things. At the beginning of creation.

And through this opening, John makes a startling claim. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him. Without him not one thing came into being.

Notice that in this Christmas story, it isn’t Mother Mary who is giving birth, but rather it is Jesus. Jesus is the one who is giving birth as John says, “All things came into being through him.” All things came into being through him.

What is most important to John, this storyteller, is that the Word, Jesus, has given birth to all things. To the world! To you. To my cat.

 If that is true, then just how a child carries the genetic make up of his or her parents, all of creation carries the DNA of Jesus.[1] All of creation is infused with the Word of God, John says.

So, according to John, today isn’t Jesus’ birthday, it is ours. The Word of God has given birth to all things, which makes it our birthday and a day in which we are once again born and claimed as children of God.

But then John’s story doesn’t stop there. Because this isn’t just about birth. He goes on to say, and I never noticed it before – This Word of God, this light of all people that shines in the darkness, this true light (Jesus) enlightens everyone.

Jesus, the true light of the world, enlightens everyone, John says.

Jesus.

Enlightens.

Everyone.

Which is simply remarkable. Not only does he give birth to all things, but he illuminates all things as well.

Today is our birthday. And the light illuminating our face doesn’t come from a cake full of candles, but rather from the light of Christ shining upon us and within us.

But, get this, John’s story doesn’t stop there. He takes it a step further. The true light, Jesus, enlightens everyone and is coming into the world even though the world did not know him.

Jesus enlightens us and comes to us even when we do not know him.

Which is good news.

It’s good news for those of us who struggle to know Jesus. Or for those of us whose family members struggle to know Jesus.

So Christmas for John is not simply when we celebrate the birth of Christ, but when we celebrate the birth of all things. All of us. It is when we are reminded of where we come from. And to whom we belong.

That is the promise that gets proclaimed today for Duke. That God has claimed Duke as God’s very own. That God will never leave Duke alone, but that God will illuminate his life and be with him always. Regardless of whether Duke knows God or not. That’s the promise.

And now, like a loving parent, Jesus, according to John, has come to be with us on our birthday.

The Word became flesh and lived among us.

The Word became flesh. Flesh that bleeds and blesses. Flesh that touches and tears. Flesh that thickens through hard work and flesh that grows paper thin when the work of life is done.

The Word became flesh.

Such a fragile thing, this incarnation. Such a risky thing, this love of God for God’s people.

That God would put God’s own life and flesh on the line just to be with us. By actually becoming part of us. In the fleshy-ness of life. Into this everyday stuff.

So what does this mean? As preacher Tom Long puts it, it means that “all of human life and history is infused with holiness.” Which isn’t to say that everything in life is just perfect and wonderful. “Anyone who has seen the torture chambers of the Nazi regime, any surgeon who has removed a malignant tumor, any reformer who has tried to clean up government, (any parent who has been given a diagnosis for their child) knows that everything is not (perfect). (To trust in this Word of God) does not mean that people do not waste their lives, get hurt or hurt other people. It does not mean that there is no hardship…no evil, no tragedy. (But) what it does mean is that there is no corner of (this life) so hidden that (God’s presence) cannot find it…There is no moment so dark that it can extinguish the light of God which even now shines in it.”[2]

It means that there is no God-forsaken place. None. For God is everywhere, seeking to bring grace upon grace upon grace. It means that God is at work in every place at every single moment, no matter how dark it is, bringing light to this world. That is the story that John is trying to tell.

Friends, you are the offspring of God. Each and every one of you. You came into being through Jesus – born out of God. And God is with you. In our Hebrews reading, it says that the Son of God is anointed with oil of joy. As sons and daughters of God, you too will have a chance to be anointed with the oil of joy this morning during communion. As we place oil onto your fragile flesh, know that it is there to soften your skin and your heart, so that there will be no doubt in your mind who you are – you are the children of God.

And as children of God, we are called to share in the risk of incarnation. In the midst of heartache and fear that life can bring, we too are asked to embody the Word and words of God – to allow words like love, mercy, forgiveness, grace to be enfleshed in our bodies.[3]

Now, I’m not one for giving homework during my sermons– especially over the holiday. But today, I will. I don’t know where you go from here. Maybe you go back to a quiet home. Or maybe you jump in the car and hit the road. Or maybe you simply walk across the commons and join us for a meal. Either way, your homework – your spiritual practice – is to see everyone you encounter today and this weekend as beloved children, born of God. Meaning worthy of love, forgiveness, and grace. That includes siblings, parents, in-laws, strangers. And yourself.

We are storytellers and we have a story to tell. The Word of God, Jesus, gave birth to you, which means you are his descendants. You have his DNA coursing through your veins. So do the world a favor and be the storyteller that you are, and tell his story. The one about how he is God’s Word, God’s promise to us to never leave us alone. And I promise, when you tell that story to another person, it will feel like Jesus is right there in the room with you. In the flesh. He will feel close. And not far off.

With that, happy birthday. And merry Christmas.

Amen.

[1] I am indebted to Alan Storey for this insight.

[2] Tom Long, Shepherds and Bathrobes, pg. 56.

[3] http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-when-words-become-flesh-risking-vulnerability-in-a-violent-world/8281

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Sunday, December 6th, 2015 – Sermon on Luke 3:1-6

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 3:1-6
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ “

As the parent of a 3 and a half-year-old, I’ve been watching a lot of children’s movies lately. We’ve recently instituted a new family tradition at our home – family movie night. A couple of weeks ago we watched that seemingly classic film Shrek.

If you haven’t seen it, it is an animated-comedy about a big green ogre, an annoyingly nagging donkey that talks, and their journey to rescue Princess Fiona from a castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.

On the way to this castle, the talking donkey wants to know why Shrek isn’t more like a typical Ogre. You know, monster-like. Violent. Destructive. Frightening.

To which Shrek says, “There are more to Ogres than you think.”

“Example?”, the donkey asks.

 “Okaay…Ogres are…like onions. Ogres are like onions.”

You mean they stink?

 No.

They make you cry?

 No!

Oh! You leave them out in the sun to long and they get all brown and start sprouting little white hairs?

 NO! Layers! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. You get it?! We both have layers.

Ogres are like onions. They both have layers.

Call it a pretty lame example if you will, but it dawned on me this week that Scripture too is like onions. Because they both have layers.

Part of the beauty of Scripture is that there are layers upon layers of meaning. We say that Scripture is the living Word of God, which is to say that it has layers of meaning that can speak to each one of us wherever we are at this moment in life. Which is a great gift – because the truth is we all come here to worship from very different places in life.

Some of us, today, come to worship full of joy. Perhaps at the birth of a new grandchild. Or set free by retirement now to do the things in life you have waited so long to do.

But some of us come to worship furious and heartbroken by the state of our country and world – caught up and bound by the debate around guns and race and immigration. Feeling powerless to do anything about it but also convicted that something must be done.

And today, for some of us, it can be hard to have much passion for gun control or race or immigration discussions when you are just trying to hold your own life together. When you are just trying to make sure your kids grow up okay. Or that your marriage holds together. When you are just trying to find a job before the savings run out, or to stay sober, or to keep your aging parent comfortable as life slows down.

Part of the beauty of Scripture is that there are layers upon layers of meaning. Layers and layers of meaning that can speak to each one of us wherever we are at this moment in life. And today’s gospel reading is no different.

This morning, I just want to share with you the three layers of meaning that have stood out to me this week, in hopes that they might give you something to hold on to this week as you step back into the life from which you came.

Layer #1 – The Word of God Shows Up.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I read or hear Scripture and a long list of names and places come up, like the ones we just heard in our gospel reading, I can feel this slow glaze start to creep over my eyes and my consciousness starts to fade.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of….

Can you feel it? Can you feel your mind start to fade?

It just sounds like boring historical introduction and the temptation to skip over it and get to the meat of the passage is really high. Which is unfortunate. Because when we do that, we miss a layer of meaning. These names and places are meant to instantaneously transport you back to the feeling of the time and space.

For example, if I said, “In the days of Hitler…” I suspect all of us are transported back to a time of great terror. Some of us a little more viscerally because we lived through that time. Or the great example of my day, “On the day of 9/11…”

You say, “On the day of 9/11…” and almost all of us are immediately transported back to that day and where we were and what we felt. 9/11 – Lion’s Pause. St. Olaf College. Watching the second tower fall in fear and disbelief.

To Luke’s audience, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…” would create that same reaction. Immediately transported back to a time of terror. They would remember that Tiberius forced some of the grandparents to serve in the Roman army – the very army oppressing them. They would remember how Tiberius enslaved some of their people.

To glaze over those names would be to miss Luke’s point, and punch, and promise that… In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came.

It is a promise that in the midst of all of that, the word of God showed up.

A promise that in the midst of dark days and terror and chaos and fear that will weigh you down, in the midst of rulers who rule over and priests who profit, the word of God shows up.

And that alone is enough good news for one day. That the word of God, the voice of the Lord will not be silent, when fear and terror reign, but rather it will show up.

There is a layer of meaning here that promises that in the fifteenth year of the 21st Century, when ISIS reigns in our nightmares, and mass shootings over flow the days on our calendars, in the year when a spouse dies much too soon, when an addict relapses, when parents collapse from exhaustion, the word of God will come. The voice of the Lord will not be silent. And sometimes, like in this season of Advent, we have to wait for it. But we wait with hopeful expectation trusting that the word of God will comes to us in the midst of whatever chaos we are living in.

Layer #2 – The Word of God Comes to Unlikely People in Unlikely Places.

In that list of rulers and emperors and high priests, Luke names 7 of the most powerful people in the world.

In one sentence, Luke makes sure we all know who all the big deals were in that part of the world. Luke has named everybody who is anybody. There is this great build up of suspense and expectation…who’s he going to name next, who’s he going to name next…who could be more powerful and a bigger deal than these guys…and the word of God came to….

John.

Son of Zechariah.

In the wilderness.

The word of God came to who? Son of whom? Where?

Luke gives us this imposing list of the kind of people who think they make history, and yet God begins a world movement of transformation, renewal, justice, and peace, nowhere near them. But rather through an unknown person in the wilderness named John. An obscure son of an obscure priest.[1]

To make the point, to get to this layer, we might rewrite it this way: In the fifteenth year of the 21st century, when Obama was president of the United States, when Mark Dayton was the governor of Minnesota, when Dana Graham was mayor of Northfield, when David Anderson was President of St. Olaf College, and when Pam Fickenscher and John Quam and Jonathan Davis were pastors at St. Johns Lutheran, the word of the Lord came to…

Billy Jr.

Son of Billy Sr.

At a bar.

In Dundas.

Do you see? This layer of meaning says that the word of God comes to unlikely people. In unlikely places.

The word of God is just as likely to come to you as it is to me. So what is God speaking to you at this particular time in life? Are you listening for it?

Because you just might be a messenger of God for the rest of us.

Layer #3 – The Highway of the Lord Passes Through Your Very Own Life

In the midst of these big deals, the word of God came to a nobody from nowhere named John. And through this word of God, John had a message for the world. A message that was to prepare the way of God coming into the world so that all flesh might see the salvation of God. And that message from John to the world was…”Repent.”

It is time to prepare the way of the Lord. The Lord is on his way and we have to prepare the way. We have to make the road straights. We have to lower the mountains and raise up the valleys. We have to make the rough spots smooth, so that nothing, absolutely nothing can get in the way of the Lord’s arrival. So that nothing, absolutely nothing can block the Lord from getting to someone. But rather so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

That’s the promise. That is the goal. And the way to do that, John says, is to repent.

That word repent comes with plenty of baggage to our modern ears. But it does not mean to feel really, really bad about the things you’ve done. It does not mean to feel guilty or ashamed or small. It doesn’t mean to say you’re sorry. To repent means to change. Which implies that we can change. Which is hope enough. It is to turn around. To change the things that are destructive to your life or the lives of others.

According to John, the way to prepare for the Lord, the way to make the road of God straight and smooth is for us to change the way we live our life.

Might a layer of meaning be that the road of God, the pathway for God entering into this world passes right through your very own life? To say that God isn’t simply coming into the world to you. But that God is coming into the world through you. And your life.

Which is to say that your life is a section of highway upon which God will arrive into the world. And God is headed in one direction. To the place where all flesh can see the salvation of God. And your life is part of that pathway. Which is incredible news. But also, a great responsibility. Because if we are honest, we all have a little highway clean up to do.

So what needs to change in your life so that all people might see salvation, and by salvation I don’t mean going to heaven when they die, by rather I mean so that all people might see peace and freedom and rescue and unconditional love and life abundant. It might mean the way your relate to other people or the way your relate to yourself. Whatever it is, it is important preparation. Because your life is how God can reach the lives of others.

Friends, God is among us. God is active here. In this fifteenth year of the 21st Century. Speaking to unlikely people in unlikely places. And that God is coming into the world, not only to you, but through you, so that you all flesh might see the salvation of God.

May all of our hearts and eyes and ears be opened, this Advent season, to the coming of the Lord, here and now. Amen.

[1] I am indebted to Rev. Peter Storey for his insightful sermon on this text. http://www.cmm.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/peter-storey-sermon-2012-12-09.mp3

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 – Christ the King Sunday Sermon on John 18:33-37 and Revelation 1:4b-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

John 18:33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Revelation 1:4b-8
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

These next few words are not my own, but they are a blessing that is meant for you.

Grace and peace and mercy are yours from him who is and who was and who is to come. And through him, you are an intricate beloved and blessed part of God’s work in this world. Amen.[1]

Friends, today is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday in our church calendar. Next week, we begin an entirely new church year with, as we always do, Advent. So in some ways today symbolizes that everything we do all year long is leading and pointing to this moment – a time when we proclaim Christ as King.

It is hard to know what to preach on a Sunday like this, Christ the King Sunday. To proclaim Christ is the king can seem so triumphant and certain and powerful. Which is not how I feel at all, in light of the attacks this past week in Beirut, Paris, and Mali.

At first, I wanted to come and preach about non-violence and how we shouldn’t respond to violence with violence. I had all these scripture verses lined up to prove my point. Verses where Christ says to his terrorists, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Or “Love your enemy as yourself.” Or to the prophet Ezekiel, where God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone.”

That’s what I wanted to preach. But then I surprised myself. As I was listening to the news on the radio, as I learned that France declared war against ISIS and started dropping bombs, a word came out of my mouth that I was not prepared for:

Good.

Good, I said. And that startled me. It startled me because I am usually pretty good at filtering out those kinds of honest thoughts so that I can still see myself and claim myself as a liberal, peace-maker. But my filter failed. And for a moment, in all honesty, I was relieved to hear of the violence being done to ISIS. I was relieved because I felt less afraid. And more safe.

So how could I preach to you about non-violence when I wanted there to be violence? How could I preach to you about Christ as the non-violent king when Christ wasn’t my king. My fear was my king. My safety was my king.

It is hard to know what to preach on Christ the King Sunday when all too often I do not claim Christ as king.

But then I learned the history of this liturgical day, Christ the King Sunday. And it was born out of a situation in the world that was not unlike ours today.

Christ the King Sunday was started in 1925 by Pope Pius the 11th. It was in-between the two World Wars, but there was no true peace.

Here is what the Pope wrote: Since the close of the Great War individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace… the old rivalries between nations have not ceased to exert their influence… the nations of today live in a state of armed peace which is scarcely better than war itself.

 Pope Pius could see the divisions growing between classes and the divisions growing between nations. People were pledging allegiance to their country over and against their allegiance to God or to humanity. But true peace was not being found. True peace, the Pope declared, could only be found under the Kingship of Christ as “Prince of Peace.”[2]

So the Pope instituted Christ the King Sunday to draw us back together when we’ve become divided. And to give us strength and courage when we’ve become fearful.

And friends, we have become divided and fearful. Not just as a nation, but as a human race.

So maybe we gather together here, at the end of our liturgical year, not because we can claim Christ as our king, but because we need to. We need to claim Christ as our king so that it may draw us back together. So that we don’t let our fear or our nationalism over take us. Over and over again we have to claim Christ as our king and do it together because it is so easy not to.

I looked back at my sermon last year on Christ the king. Do you remember what was going on last year at this time? Our country was debating immigration. And now, here we are, a year later, debating immigration. The only thing that has changed is the nationality of the immigrants about whom we debate.

Pope Pius thought we needed a liturgical day, so that when the world is divided, when chaos and violence is looming, together we might be reminded that our center, our allegiance, our loyalty is not to where we live or to who we vote for, but it is to Christ our King.

So maybe, this day, Christ the King Sunday, is not in contrast to my feelings of fear and uncertainty this week, but rather perhaps it is for my fear and uncertainty. So that I, along with you, may be called back to the Truth. Christ is my king. Christ is my king. Fear is not my king. Safety and success are not my king, Christ is my king. I will seek to follow Christ.

With the gift of this liturgical day, we’ve also been given the gift of some scripture readings. And there are two words – literally two words – from today’s readings that give me hope.

The first word comes from Jesus’ conversation with Pilate. As Christ the king, stands handcuffed and bound before Pilate, looking nothing like a king, Jesus declares, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

And the word that gives me hope is that little word from. My kingdom is not from this world. Without that word, Jesus would simply be saying, “My kingdom is not this world. My kingdom is not here.” But no, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.” Which says to me, the kingdom of God might not be from here, it might be foreign to us, but it is still here.

The kingdom of God is here. In the midst of tragedy and fear, I need to remind myself that the kingdom of God is not from here, but it is here. It is here. And it is hard to see, because it is not from here. It doesn’t look like the kingdoms of power and might that we are used to.

But it is here. It was present in Paris, when Sikh temples who opened their doors for people seeking shelter. It was there when Parisian taxi drivers turned off their meters to drive people home from the attack zones. It was there when thousands lined up in the streets of Paris to donate blood today. It was there when the doors of homes across Paris were opened wide to offer safe spaces for those displaced by the police activities.[3]

The kingdom of God is not from here, but it is here.

The second hopeful word from our texts today comes from Revelation. John, the author of Revelation, speaks of Jesus who loves us and freed us… and who made us to be a kingdom.

It is that word kingdom. But the translation is a little off. Our translation says that Jesus made us to be a kingdom, but the Greek is better translated as Jesus who loves us and freed us and who made us to be kings.

Christ’s kingdom is not from this world, because Christ’s kingdom does not have one king…it has many.

You.

Christ has made you to be kings and queens in his kingdom that is here now.

And we are called to be different than the kings and queens of this world. Because kings and queen of this world, like children on schoolyard snow pile, fight to the top. Pushing and shoving, grabbing at the heals and limbs of each other just to stand at the top with arms raised and victory claimed, even if just for a moment. But we are called to be kings and queens in the kingdom of God. Which is to say we are to be kings and queens who are born out of grace and love, not power and might.

You can see how Christ’s kingdom is not from this world. Because Christ chooses to not be the only king in his kingdom.

As the great theologian Karl Barth said: If we see (Jesus) alone, we do not see Him at all. If we see (Jesus), we see with and around Him in ever-widening circles, His disciples, the people, His enemies, and the countless millions who have not yet heard His name. We see (Jesus) as theirs, determined by them and for them, belonging to each and every one of them.[4]

I saw a king from the kingdom of God this week. In a video. On the internet. In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, a father and his young son were being interviewed. The child said to the journalist, “We have to be really careful because we have to change houses.

The father responds, “Oh no, don’t worry…we don’t need to move out. France is our home.

But there’s bad guys daddy…

Yes, but there are bad guys everywhere, the dad responds.

They have guns, they can shoot us because they are really, really mean, daddy.

It’s okay. They might have guns, but we have flowers.

But flowers don’t do anything, the child says.

Of course, they do. Look everyone is putting flowers…it’s to fight against the guns. 

It’s to protect?

Exactly.

And the candles too?

It is to remember the people gone yesterday.

And then the child looked at the journalist and said, “The flowers and the candles are here to protect us.” [5]

I started to tear up. Maybe it was because his son reminded me of my son. Elliot would ask those questions. But it was also the father’s voice – so fragile and yet strong. Just like those flowers. His words seemed like something that was not from this world. But from God.

Like flowers in the midst of guns, Christ’s kingdom is here in the midst of all of these other kingdoms. When we cannot claim Christ as our king, Christ claims us as kings and queens of his kingdom. We are kings and queens but we are not armed with armies or guns, but we have water in a font and bread and wine on a table. Which are stronger than guns. Because when the cold chaos of power and destruction wants to divide and turn us on each other, these gifts bring us together to proclaim blessing and welcome to the stranger, forgiveness to the broken, and love to the unloveable.

And these gifts are not from this world. But they are here. They come from God in Christ who is our king and who chooses us as kings and queens in his kingdom as well. May this be our song now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] I’m indebted to my friend, Rev. Charlie Rudd, for this blessing.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_the_King

[3] http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/isis-keep-focus-divine-call/

[4] http://day1.org/6897-a_kingdom_not_of_this_world

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2S9An4AX0M