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“We Can’t Have Christ without his Kingdom,” 20th Sunday after Pentecost, October 18th, 2009

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Pentecost XX October 18th 2009

Isaiah 53: 4-12 Psalm 91: 9-16 Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45

We Can’t Have Christ without his Kingdom

Some explorers were trying to be the first to get to the North Pole with their dog sleds filled with supplies and equipment. They would take off at six A.M. in the morning, go at top speed all day and until the evening. You know, “Mush, you huskies!” That’s how they made the dogs run. And in the evening they would take out their compass and sextant to check their progress, (because they didn’t have a GPS, a Global Positioning System, in those days,) and to their surprise, they would be father from the North Pole than when they had started out in the morning.

The question to ask is why?

They discovered that they were on an ice-flow that was heading south faster than their dogs could run them north!

I read this story in a book about family systems. The point of the story was that individual effort could not succeed if we didn’t take account of the system. Larger invisible social forces also play a role in our lives, as for example: millions of houses have had foreclosures. The people involved were not all irresponsible. There are thirty million Americans unemployed. They are not lazy. There are social forces larger than any individual operating in our lives. Like, it is one thing to paddle your canoe up a river against the current and quite another when you are going with the current. In that case you’ll say, “Look at how successful that fellow is, how strong, how decisive, how skillful!” But no one points out that he is paddling his canoe with the current. He could pick up his paddle and do nothing and he would still go forward: as Luke Skywalker says in Star Wars, “May the force go with you!” Meanwhile the poor fellow paddling against the current could work until he is blue in the face and still be going backward. As the saying goes, “If hard work made you rich, every mule in Latin America would be a millionaire!” But your labor for the Kingdom will not be in vain!

When Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand, he was proclaiming a new system, a new order. He was making the space in our old human order for a new order that new persons could participate in. It is not the order of this world and because we go to sleep, become blind and deaf as those North Pole explorers, the order of this world creeps into our churches, and before we know it our lives begin to be lived according to our human order and not according to the Kingdom of God that Christ proclaimed.

The language we use for it is “backsliding”. But when using that word, we usually think of someone starting to drink again, or going back on drugs, getting caught up in pornography; or someone who stops going to church, stops praying and reading the bible. But a whole church can backslide and lose sight of its mission, can think that we need members to save our church, rather than becoming disciples, sent out by Jesus to save the sorry folks, who are blind as bats, deaf as doornails, and laden with heavy burdens of debt, un-forgiven debt.

Now the same way that we look at the order or system, we can look at debt from an economic point of view. Individually we sin and need forgiveness, but we also become debtors and we need to get out from under all our debt, especially from those credit cards, reducing our desires and saving more. It is so hard to pay off those credit cards! In our system people make money with their money and some keep loaning money and paying interest for it, that is, some make money with their money; the money of others costs them dearly. They pay for their money. That’s what interest is.

Back in St. John’s one of the deacons kept praying that her sons “would not be the tails but be the head.” I thought that expression must have come from Africa. But reading the last chapters of Deuteronomy (28:13 and 44), it’s in there – it’s in the Bible. There it says that the debtors are the tail of society and the creditors are the head. It says be a lender of money and not a borrower or you will be the tail of the dog and others will be your head, wagging you whichever way they want.

Jesus would talk about the Kingdom of Heaven or the new order in terms of a new wineskin. The new people were the new wine and they belonged in a new order, a new wineskin. When new wine is poured into a new wineskin, when the wine expanded it would stretch out and you would have no problem. But when you put new wine into an old wineskin that had already stretched as far as it could go, then it would burst, and all your new wine would spill out over everything and be lost.

Jesus said the same thing by speaking about old and new cloth. If you sewed a new patch on an old garment, the new patch would shrink in the wash and tear from the old garment, because it had already shrunk. Jesus was saying that the new person filled by the Holy Spirit also had to be in a new order, that is, the new Kingdom that he was proclaiming and introducing. When Jesus proclaimed this new order, he established it, and our churches confess Christ, but often we are slipping in and out of his new order and are backsliding into the old order.

What does the new order look like? Jesus is the Lord of this order and it is the place where Jesus reigns. We confess that Jesus is the Lord of it when we confess the Apostles’ Creed. In the Black tradition, we say, “King Jesus.” He is the Son of David, the peculiar King. What kind of a king writes poetry and plays the harp, then dances naked before the Ark of the Covenant in the procession bringing it into Jerusalem? His wife saw him from a window and rejected him afterward.

Like David, Jesus is our sovereign king, but do not let your hearts be troubled and neither let them become afraid, he is a suffering servant king. In his exalted position Jesus says, “I am over you, so I am your servant and the servant of all.” Now the word “servant” is just the old word for a slave. When the Europeans first saw the Slavic serfs in the Middle Ages, they had been beaten down so low, they started using the word “slave” for “servant.” (The word seems to have Latin roots, too.)

Now when we belong to God and enter the reign of God, we become the people of God’s possession. To become great is to become a servant. Moses was the leader back in the Old Testament and he knew that God was the King and he was the servant of God, Ebed Jahwey, in Hebrew. He did not lord it over others and he was not a tyrant over others. We all become servants and Jesus is not only our servant, but our suffering servant, our Melchizedek, which means, our King of Righteousness in Hebrew.

So James and John, the sons of Zebedee had it all wrong. They were thinking in terms of the old order. “Let us sit at your right and your left in your glory?” They wanted honor, status, and power – and they did not realize that they were heading south on that old ice-flow, farther way from the glorious suffering that the new order is made of. It makes you drink the bitter cup. It makes you go through the baptism that tests your metal.

At home we used to joke: “Are you a man or a mouse?”

“Shut up and pass the cheese” we’d answer.

Just go through the trial of loving and taking care of someone stricken with Alzheimer’s. They not only no longer recognize you, they start saying embarrassing and violent things sometimes. You love them for who they were. It is a cup of joy, but also one filled with suffering. Just be part of an aging and cantankerous old congregation. It is a cup of suffering. Let us be faithful and fill our cups with patience, loving kindness, and be gentle to one another. A fellow had a fight with his wife and she was later in a car accident. How he wished he had said, “I love you,” before she left! Getting old makes us have to cope with so much that we often become too edgy with others. But a faithful community is a cup filled with joy.

Now I’m not saying that you won’t see that joy through a whole lot of tears. But our tears do not only wash out our eyes, but also our soul, like the rain washes out our old days and makes them fresh and new. Ah, you just see and feel how thankful the grass is for all the rain.

So our Lord did not come to be served, but to serve and to lay down his life as a ransom for many. We confess Jesus with our lips, but like James and John, we don’t get it. Like, I’m a man. I want to be served! If I get rich, I’ll have people work for me! We just don’t get it. The same thing happens in the church. If I come to church I want it to serve me. John F. Kennedy would have said, “Ask not what the church can do for you; ask what you can do for the church!” God nudges us to do something for the kingdom, some mission, and we say, “Let the pastor do it” or “Let George do it!”

But look at Jesus. He says, “I’m going to serve you” and “I’m not a tyrant, who wants power over you. I will be your slave and I’ll be the slave of all people.” When Jesus humbles himself that way, we dare not step on him, but allow him to open our eyes and ears, and especially our hearts, so that we humble ourselves.

We can’t change the system, the way we used to say. Things are much more complicated than that. One theory speaks about a life-world and two systems, a political and economic system. The two systems are there for the life-world and not vice versa. That gets complicated. We need to pray for the in-breaking kingdom. We need to ask Jesus to come and open the space in our human order for his new order, the reign of God. They say that Michelle’s mother, Marian, is wearing out her knees praying for her daughter and Barack Obama. We all need to, because the new order breaks in with our change of hearts. When we see our greatness in our helpfulness – when we give up the power with which we try to control others and live by trusting each other, it breaks in among us.

Have you heard of the couple front? A husband and wife go everywhere together; never is one seen without the other – and people say, “See how they love one another.” No way. He does not trust her, so he never lets her be alone or out of his sight!

Lenin said, “Trust is good; control is better!” In the political system, you need control. But that kind of power and need for control causes havoc in relationships. So become more trusting. We need control at times, of course. You have to control a child, when it could run into traffic.

But Jesus gives up his control over us and says, “I’ll be your slave and the slave of all people. Now you can sit in the council of God. You come and sit on my throne and I will sit on your lowly stool.”

In our prayer this morning[1] it says, “All of God’s greatness pours into goodness” lifting up all the people of the earth. “Shape us into willing servants” we prayed. Our hearts say, “Thank you God, for not hearing us! We didn’t mean it!”

You certainly know what happens to us when we give up our power: we get trampled under foot. We become rugs that people clean their feet on. We get walked on, treaded on, trampled into the ground. What do they say in Texas? “Don’t tread on me!”

But that’s our baptism and we soon get overwhelmed. “Help us Lord, the water has come up to our neck and I’m about to go under and drown!”

But did you think you would escape death? Does Bethlehem think it can escape death? No way! But if we go down doing God’s mission, helping the people that God loves, then the power of God and the Holy Spirit becomes unleashed and lifts us up into the renewal of Christ’s glorious resurrection. In this sense, we can say, “May the force be with you!” In that glory there is no left or right, no up and down, but just an unbroken circle full of helpfulness and service bringing life, abundant life, love, and blessedness. Amen.


[1] Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the people in earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, whom with you and the Holy Spirit we worship and praise, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Written by peterkrey

October 19, 2009 at 1:42 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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