Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar. It is the Sunday where we wrap up the old, conclude all of our thoughts, and prepare to move on once more into the season of Christmas. So what do you say to sum up Christianity?
Over the years we have said it slightly differently – but to think of this Sunday historically one has to think of that time when the disciples were arguing about money, and Jesus asked whose head was on the coin…
“Caesar’s,” they answered, “well then,” said Jesus, “Caesar is the king and give him the money.”
As the disciples thought about this more and more they decided that Jesus should be their king, not Caesar. And maybe it is a political rebellion fermenting, or maybe it is a metaphor and Jesus is king of our hearts, but so was born ‘Christ the King’ Sunday.
Of course, the argument against this comes from Jesus himself, who said such things as “My Kingdom is not of this earth,” and “the Kingdom of God is among you.”
He was the guy who argued that the way the rulers of this world work is often contrary to the way of goodness, of love, of God.
The reason Jesus was killed was political, he was branded a traitor and crucified for political dissidence, the Romans thought he was a troublemaker…. So what was this Kingdom Jesus was talking about, and what does it mean for us today?
That is what we are going to be exploring throughout this service.
Politics of Faith
There have been three phases of this movement Jesus started; and each one changed its followers, and the church. I want to give you a really brief history lesson and then perhaps we can see a little more clearly how we got from Jesus preaching about love to the state of the world today.
First, Jesus came to reform the Jewish church. That was his mission; that was the scope of his influence. It took Paul to see that there was a chance to spread the message a little further – and so Christianity started out as an illegal, underground, missionary movement. For the first 300 years, if you were a Christian and caught, you were executed. This is when most of what we think of as the New Testament was written, during a time of fear, a time of persecution.
In 312 AD Constantine took on his co-emperors in a battle called Milvian Bridge. He decided to paint a Christian symbol on his soldier’s shields, maybe get the help of this new God… and he won, becoming the sole emperor of Rome. Overnight Christianity went from an underground movement to the official church of the government.
Now, believe it or not, this lasted forever, let’s say until the late 1960’s. Church was the civic branch of the government. We ran universities and hospitals, we gave money to the poor and organized the food banks; you went to church simply because you were a good citizen… and everyone went…
Most people thought this was the Kingdom Jesus had talked about – we sent missionaries to the far corners of the world and there were Christians everywhere. Governments consulted with the pope, with the ministers, with Billy Graham even before making decisions. Everything was getting bigger and better all the time.
But… as we all know… something was flawed in this… wars continued to erupt, disease continued to ravage the land, poverty just kept getting worse, and people were not really all that loving; especially to the outcasts that Jesus always said should be the focus of our love….
It took the hippies of the 60’s to point out the chink in the armour; but as soon as they drew attention to how the old institutions, like the church, did not actually live up to their claims – everything began to unravel.
The Kingdom of God is like…
Jesus used a lot of images to try and tell us what this peaceable kingdom he was proclaiming was all about – it was like a mustard seed which grows into a huge plant, it was like a vineyard where everyone was treated equally, it was like a banquet to which everyone was invited.
I think of it this way – heaven on earth.
And what Jesus was trying to get across is that heaven is the state of being where we are all loved and valued the way the God would love and value us… His first sermon quoted a prophesy from Isaiah in which the captives are set free, the poor are fed, the debts repaid… That is his idea of the Kingdom of God.
He had no better word – Kingdom made sense… God is the King. A lot of people argue now that the political language, the idea of a king, of a kingdom – none of it makes sense when we are talking about the world Jesus sought to create. Some people change it to the reign of God. I have even recently heard it called the “Kin-Dom” and place where we are all kin.
I think that is all semantics. I wish I myself had a better word to suggest to you, maybe some of you could think up a poetic way to describe it… But what is it that we are talking about, really?
Well, Jesus went and called together people from all walks of life. He told them that they should look out for each other, that they should even go further than that and find the most vulnerable people in society and help them. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bathe the sick.
He was not just talking once or twice; he was saying this should be our way of life, our attitude, to put love first. Jesus in fact treated women more like equals than anyone else, talking to them about their lives and their faith, he sat down and ate with the outcasts of society who no one else would talk to, and he stayed at anyone’s house who would ask him in.
He understood that compassion and dignity, that love and equality, would make the world the type of place it was supposed to be… and that is what he tried to get across to his followers.
“The Kingdom of God is among you…” he would say; it is not the future, it is not life after death, it is right here, right now… the question is, can you see it?
Putting it all Together
So I still think it comes back to that moment with the coin; all of what it means to be a Christian summed up in one sentence… whose face is on the coin.
In other words, who is at the centre of what you do – is it money, politics, ambition, greed, the things of this world; or is it love, compassion, patience and hope, the things of God.
I think the Kingdom is as simple and as easy as that – we are called to put love first, to put God first in our lives; and if we can, when we can manage to do that, the world will change.
We begin another year next Sunday in the church. We begin by thinking about how simple things, like a birth in a manger, can make huge differences. It is something to think about.