King: Alpha and Omega

“King: Alpha and Omega”

Alpha and Omega - Jesus

Revelation 1:4b-8 (1:8), John 18:33-37 – November 25, 2018

Royalty is very…regal. Kings, queens, princes, princesses—think of this past spring, when Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. Talk about a fairy-tale wedding! For those of us in the United States who watched the wedding, it was a grand gathering of royalty from across the world, plus some Very Important Persons, from any number of places.

Royalty was very much on the mind of people throughout the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean world, in the first century CE. Yes, small regional kings ruled over many tribes and areas. However, they were all subservient to the Roman Emperor, once his power reached into Africa, north into Europe, and east beyond the Fertile Crescent.

In our Gospel passage today, we have an interaction between Pilate the Roman governor of Palestine, and the prisoner Jesus. It’s just hours before Jesus is to be crucified. Yet, Pilate is all concerned about the Rabbi Jesus calling Himself a king. What’s the big deal with that?

We need to understand where the Jewish people are coming from. They want Royalty. Or, more properly speaking, a Messiah. Their nation has been subject under foreign countries for hundreds of years. They desperately yearned to be free! Free in not only a physical sense, but free in the prophetic sense, as well. In their writings there were prophecies of a Messiah, a Coming One, an Anointed One. That’s what many Jews were looking for! One who was a descendant of King David. A Messiah, a King.

Living in the United States today, we don’t have any concept of what that would be like. To be conquered, subservient to a huge foreign power. The closest thing I can think of in recent memory is the Eastern Bloc nations, the nations under Soviet rule for most of the second half of the 20th century. Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Estonia, East Germany, and the other former Soviet satellite states.  All of these had local leaders and rulers. But—none of these local leaders got too big for their britches, unless they wanted to be deposed and imprisoned, and perhaps even killed.

That description is so similar to the position of the Rabbi Jesus, when He came before the Roman governor. Pilate was the Roman governor, the local voice of the Empire in Jerusalem. He had a prickly situation to handle. Yes, Pilate had to watch those stubborn, wayward Jews, and needed to manage their surly, ill-tempered leaders.

Pilate must have heard lots about Jesus! He was a miracle-worker! Healing the blind, the deaf, making food out of thin air for thousands, even raising people from the dead! Not to mention hearing about His wisdom and no-holds-barred interaction with the leaders of the Jews, priests and lawyers. What is more, the Roman governor must have heard whispers of this reactionary Rabbi possibly fulfilling the prophecies of the coming Messiah, or King.

Except, Pilate was considering kingship, power and authority from a Roman point of view. He was absolutely flabbergasted at this reactionary Rabbi. Not grasping the reins of force, power and control? What on earth is wrong with this guy?

Many people never consider the legal questions surrounding Jesus and His trials. Have you ever considered the royal power of Jesus before? If so, where was it active? Over whom did He rule? And, where was His jurisdiction?

As a typical, practical Roman, Pilate wanted to know all of those operational things, especially where Jesus had jurisdiction, power and control. Where exactly was His kingdom? Was He really King of the Jews? As if that was not enough, Pilate needed to know whether Jesus was committing treason. To set oneself up as an earthly King was plainly dangerous. As the Emperor’s representative, Pilate had to keep track of treasonous activities.

The Rabbi Jesus sidestepped Pilate’s questions.  Jesus is essentially saying that Pilate—by extension, the Roman government—does not have earthly jurisdiction in this matter.

True, Jesus said He was a king. But, Pilate is completely at a loss. Speaking from the point of view of a Roman, who considered worldly authority, control and power to be the be-all and end-all, this stuff about Jesus’s kingdom not being of this world does not compute.

This Sunday, the last Sunday in the Liturgical Year, is called Christ the King Sunday. Some call it Reign of Christ Sunday, because of negative connotations of the male image of “king.” But, Jesus turned the concept of “king” on its head. What Jesus meant by “king” is something so far away from the Roman concept of King and Emperor. Jesus’s concept is totally out of this world. A cosmic idea of King, of Ruler of the whole universe.

Our Gospel reading today tells us what Jesus is not. He is not an earthly King. He does not hold absolute, manipulative, soul-sucking power-over the other humans in the world. The reading from Revelation 1 lets us know exactly who Jesus is, and what He does.

Jesus did call Himself a king when talking to Pilate. He did mention His royal power is not of this world. He communicates the other-worldly nature of the reign of Christ, that cosmic King of Kings who is, and was, and is to come. A commentator mentioned that “The sovereign essence of God is amplified by such epithets as “the Alpha and the Omega,… who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1:8). These names and titles of God subvert claims of Roman Emperors. Contemporary readers of Revelation are also summoned to be aware of the dangers of imperial portraits seen in advertisements, political propaganda, and political party promises.” [1] Thus, the reign of Christ is subversive, in the eyes of this world. I rarely mention politics directly in my sermons, but these two bible passages today are specifically political. We can view the Rabbi Jesus as the reactionary leader of a downtrodden minority rabble, arrested at midnight and in handcuffs in front of a kangaroo court early one morning. Whether in the first century or the twenty-first, to proclaim Jesus Christ as King of Kings is a subversive act.

A seminary professor related, “One of my students is an Anglican priest from South Africa. Not long ago he shared a story about what it was like to believe Jesus was King during the days of apartheid. “Our whole congregation was arrested,” he said, “for refusing to obey the government.” I thought I misheard him, but he went on to say that all 240 members of the congregation were arrested and put in jail — from babies to a 90-year-old man. “At least babies and mothers were kept together,” he added. The pastor himself was imprisoned for a year. To claim that Jesus is King can be dangerous.” [2]

That is exactly what I proclaim here. Jesus Christ is King of Kings, Ruler of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Who is, and who was, and who is to come.

“Jesus is a king who never rose so high that He couldn’t see those who were down low. Even today, we see Jesus in tent cities where people live together after losing their homes to foreclosure. We see Jesus in public housing where people are still waiting for the power to come on after the storm. We see Jesus in shelters where women have sought refuge from abusers.

If we would see Jesus, we will look in places kings seldom go.” [3]

It is not enough to see Jesus. He calls us to follow Him, too.

Be subversive! Tell people about Jesus, the reactionary Rabbi, King of Kings. Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2825

Commentary, Revelation 1:4b-8, Isarel Kamudzandu, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016.

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-kay-lundblad/john-18-33-37-a-different-kind-of-king_b_2166819.html

“A Different Kind of King,” Barbara K. Lundblad, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy Kingdom Come”

matt-6-10-thy-kingdom-come-illustrated

September 4, 2016 – Matthew 6:10

Here in the United States, most advertisers on Madison Avenue tell us every little girl wants to be a princess. We can see this in many cartoon movies made by Walt Disney. Princes, princesses, kings, queens. Living in a kingdom, with happily ever after figuring significantly in the ending of the stories.

When you mention “kingdom” to people, that is often the first thing they think of. But—what did Jesus mean when He talked about the term “kingdom?”

We have for our Scripture passage this morning a portion of the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6.  This is one of the most familiar portions of the Bible. A huge multitude of Christians of a vast number of denominations and faith traditions know these words by heart. I ask again: what did our Lord Jesus mean when He said these words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To be frank, this subject of the kingdom of God is something I have struggled with for decades. Yes, I now have some understanding of what Jesus meant here in the Gospel of Matthew. And yes, I will try to help us all to understand better what it was that Jesus was saying. And, why He wanted us to say—or pray—these words.

Jesus was considered a Rabbi, a teacher, by all who knew Him. He was learned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and must have been quite skilled in rabbinic discussion and debate. That’s why I think He knew all aspects of the Old Testament understandings of the Kingdom of God.

There are several aspects of the Kingdom of God. But, important: God created the world, and everything in it. (I think God took great joy in creation, too!) By default, everything and everyone is under God’s authority and power. So, yes. Everything is part of God’s kingdom.

However, something happened after God created everything. Sin happened. A cosmic rejection, rebellion and separation from God happened. As the Apostle Paul mentions in Romans 8, the whole creation has been groaning in agony ever since.

Let’s return to Madison Avenue, and advertising. Television commercials. I can see several young, smiling people, outside. Having fun. Maybe skiing, or hiking, or sailing. “Go for all the gusto you can!” says the voiceover, on a beer commercial. These young people are on the top of their game, not a care in the world. They are not even thinking of sin, rejection, rebellion and separation from God.

I want to tell you a secret. Well, not really a secret. The fallen world and the fallen people in this world do not want to acknowledge God at all. They are separated from any idea of following God’s life, light and love. From being a part of God’s kingdom.

This is a sad reality. Jesus knows it is. That is why Jesus tells us to pray this way. “Thy kingdom come.”  Yes, the whole world is separated from God. When we pray this prayer, Jesus wants us to commit to opening ourselves to God’s kingdom. We can help fulfill God’s kingdom in this world.

I found a fascinating bible study on the Lord’s Prayer online, released by the Salvation Army in Great Britain. When I examined this part of the study, it concentrated on another scripture passage from Luke 4. This section of Luke does not mention the Kingdom of God, but it might as well. This passage is where Jesus tells the people in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth what His message is, in chapter 4. Jesus “found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

This is Jesus’s Kingdom announcement! Remember, a few weeks ago, I spoke of where Jesus preaches His first sermon. It is quite a bit like political campaigns. The various candidates all try to have their position distilled down to a simple message. What they stand for. What they will strive to do. And, in both the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God. What it means, and how Jesus expects to bring it. How Jesus wants His followers to bring the Kingdom themselves. Proclaim the Gospel. Share the Good News.

There are many, many commentaries, theological books, and bible studies written on this portion of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer. The phrase we are looking at this week, “Thy kingdom come,” is considered to be a central phrase in this prayer. Some say the most important phrase. That would mean “the Kingdom announcement … is the focal point of Jesus’ entire ministry. This prayer, then, can only be understood in the light of how Jesus ‘lived the Kingdom’ while He was here on earth. Bringing the Kingdom of God to earth was Jesus’ great task.” [1]

Here is this message, this announcement of the Kingdom, again. Jesus teaches His followers to pray with a model prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. Just like Jesus does repeatedly in the Gospels when He preaches, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom in this model prayer—except He wants us to proclaim it, too! And, to do it. To bring the Kingdom in.

One thing I love about the Salvation Army: their emphasis on service, on proclaiming the Kingdom of God through concrete, hands-on means. Following their lead, we can “look at how Jesus lived His life, get involved in the things that He thought were important, and understand what Jesus meant by the term ‘Kingdom of God.’” [2] Bring relief to the poor. Visit those in jail. Heal those who are sick. Alleviate the suffering of those who are oppressed. That is what Jesus was saying in Luke 4.

With this week, we come to the end of our Summer Sermon Series from the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. The last sentence of the statement: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to discern and celebrate the present and coming reign of God.” (Or, the present and coming kingdom of God.)

God’s kingdom is here and now, and God’s kingdom is future tense. Like Jesus preached, God’s kingdom is among us, within us. We can share that kingdom with others, today. Plus, God’s kingdom is a future thing. At the end of all time, the fullness of God’s kingdom and glory will burst upon the whole world, the whole creation, in awesome majesty and glory.

What a series it has been! Each week, we have delved more deeply into each sentence of this mission statement. St. Luke’s Church was founded by this vital, missionary association of churches almost 70 years ago. Each week this summer, I hope we have discovered more about this wonderful denomination. It is my hope that we now see many connections where we can fit, and serve, and grow—as a local congregation, a fellowship of believers, and as a sister church in association with the great variety of churches in the Chicago Metropolitan Association.

God’s kingdom is here and now, and God’s kingdom is future tense, too. This is something to celebrate, like the Statement of Mission says! God is building God’s kingdom within each one of us now. It is our joy and privilege to share the Good News, to tell other people about Jesus and His love for each of us.

But, that is not all. By no means! The future part of God’s Kingdom is even better. I think most people here are familiar with George Frederick Handel and his oratorio Messiah.

The text for this chorus comes from our second reading today, from Revelation chapter 11. The Hallelujah Chorus from the end of the second part of the Handel’s oratorio Messiah says, “and He shall reign forever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” This is a joyous proclamation of the coming kingdom of our Lord.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

[1]http://www.usc.salvationarmy.org/usc/prayer/24-7/24-7_UK_Bible_Studies..pdf

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)