“My Kingdom is not of this world.” I am sure that after Jesus said this there was a considerable amount of confusion. I know that this has been my reaction. For the Gospel repeatedly highlights that the love of God when realized between two human beings is nothing like our common sense. God’s love seems foolish to us and subverts our conception of power and authority. Indeed, the words and acts of Jesus seem to be housed irrevocably in the juxtaposition of who and what we think God ought to be and who and what God is.
The Israelites were waiting for a conqueror to restore the throne of David yet they seemed to have missed the reason that David’s rule was so successful: his call to the throne was not of this world. They wanted a king so they could “keep up with the Joneses” of ancient Mesopotamia, revealing a decided lack of imagination in light of what the Divine had already done for them. Saul’s rule failed, embroiled in jealously and greed, and David’s rule would have done the same had the antecedents of his royalty not been in a still small voice calling to Samuel in the middle of the night. David grew to be so much more than a king. For when he was called to account for the evil in his life he repented, growing ever closer to the likeness of the One who created him.
We echo the Israelites to this day, desiring power and wealth for the succor of our time and place. We worry about what we’re going to do about our future when we can negotiate neither the present nor the work that God has laid out right in front of us. We bicker over semantics and neglect the Holy Spirit. We send millions to Africa and Latin America and China, neglecting the starving children in our own backyards and the immigrants who clean the floors of our churches for an hourly wage and no benefits.
We’d rather have a pair of new shoes than a bright, sunny day in the middle of Winter. We are as lost as ever.
It seems we humans have always reveled in the great hubris that we could do something evil enough to cause the Divine to stop loving us; that if we can’t hear, taste, or see God it must be because God is not there. This, however, is not the God revealed in Israel and Jesus Christ. Ignoring this epiphany, we scramble to survive by our own means while acts of kindness, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation become counter-intuitive.
Still, for all our foibles and doubt, we cannot help but believe. The intangible and the mystic confront us beyond our means of explanation. The hubbub of our human uproar is subdued by the sacraments and the prophetic, living Word of God: we “notice” from time to time that the Divine has not forsaken us. God has been standing right behind us the whole time waiting for us to turn around; waiting for us to touch the hand of the person next to us and ask whether they know they are loved; waiting for us to become the Church and be the Hands and Heart of Jesus Christ as the saints have done before us.
For two thousand years we have wrestled with the mystery of the Good News and the distance between the beings that rise with Christ in Baptism and the bodies and world that lag behind. We contemplate our relics and keep the faith in sacrament, worship, devotion, and witness; but we rarely admit the power of the Holy Spirit who would transfigure those things that divide us. We say “I am a Republican” or “I am a Democrat” just as the early Christians sided with Paul and Apollos. When we meet new people the ice breaker is invariably, “What do you do?”, subjecting our relationship to the rubrics of status through acquisition.
Cultures the world over are divided into sects of different persuasions from the conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims to those who wrangle about the Yankees and the Red Sox.
We’re bound and determined to assert ourselves, and yet we never declare anything that isn’t validated by some else. This irony highlights that God created us to be social beings and that what holds back the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is our resistance to walking together.
This is the biggest challenge facing the Church and our attempts to flesh out of the Great Commission. Our refusal to love each other prevents us from heeding God’s command: go ye into all the world and reconcile, love, and encourage one another by the redeeming power of the Cross; go ye into all the world and be together. We reduce evangelism to an intellectual program, and there is no proof in our “pudding.” But the love of neighbor – the neighbor given to us, not the one we would choose – remains the work of the church of in all times and all places: to bind one to another in the love of Christ Jesus; to lift the veil of individualism and power, and be persuaded that all are equal in the sight of our Divine Creator; to harness the creative force of unity and discover that the Kingdom of God is literally among us.
This is why I decide to participate in the Wesleyan Tradition, and why I desire to lead in The United Methodist Church.
John Wesley was a man who declared war on the status quo, bringing the sacramental, life-giving word to people whom the establishment reviled. Preaching outside in the temple of Planet Earth he ripped away the idolatrous veil of pedagogy and showed that the Gospel was no one’s to keep for themselves and that we are called to be together. He was persecuted and called into question, and so shall we be if we dare to follow as he did in the Way of the Cross. But in togetherness can we live through this fear and discover with and in each other the abiding love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Together we can live in God’s reign of merciful justice. Through Spirit-filled Life Together, God’s future becomes our presence. The Good News that the Crucified Jesus is alive proposes an Ethics, not a Doctrine; and the doctrine without the Ethics will always be an in-credible farce.
In the face of the issues that are dividing us, like homosexuality or education and healthcare, the leaders of our church must go beyond debate into the space made for imagination and prayer.
Only in the sacramental life will we learn to walk in the way of the Cross. Only in the sacramental life will we receive the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit who will keep us from going our separate ways. This means we must be interdisciplinary and well rounded people of faith, participating in both the practical and the intuitive means of grace. We must have the courage to bring the Gospel into the streets and alleys, fields and forests, far outside the walls that house our comfortable pews and stained glass. We must have the determination to relinquish all thought for ourselves and use the power of the Holy Spirit for the giving of life.
I have much to learn, but this I know to be true: I am in the image of the One who made me and so are you, and together we are part of this world.
An whether the institution of the church rises or falls, the love of Christ compels us to be his Body, broken for the world.
Scriptures: Matthew 5; I Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 5; I Kings 18 & 19