How the Kingdom Came (and Comes) on Earth

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday C, November 20, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 46.1-11; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism in his day. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and it brings to an end the so-called kingdom season we have been celebrating today and the past two Sundays. You probably noticed that the liturgical color changed from green to red this month after we celebrated All Saints’ Sunday. But why? Isn’t purple the color of royalty? Well, yes it is. But the kingdom we are talking about, God’s kingdom, is not a kingdom that focuses on pomp and glory and earthly understanding of power. It is a very different kingdom that has reclaimed God’s reign on earth as in heaven and it has been inaugurated by the blood of Jesus—thus the color red. As a result, we who are God’s kingdom people in Jesus are called to be cruciform (or cross-shaped) people, and this is what I want us to look at this morning. What does it mean for us to live as subjects in God’s kingdom here on earth?

In our epistle lesson, Paul tells us that in fulfillment of the OT prophecy we read in Jeremiah, God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. But what does this mean? Many Christians mistakenly think that this means we are rescued (or saved) from this world so that we can go to heaven when we die. But this is emphatically not what Paul is talking about. God does not save us from this world because God does not intend to destroy this world. Instead, God intends to restore his creation to its original goodness and to heal us, his image-bearing creatures, whom God created to rule over his good creation on God’s behalf, so that we can once again rule it wisely. And so here Paul uses Passover language, the great rescue event of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt, to remind us that God has rescued us from our slavery to sin and freed us to be his fully human and image-bearing creatures again. This is critical to God’s saving plan to reestablish his kingdom on earth as in heaven because when we act selfishly and contrary to God’s original creative intentions for us as his stewards, we cannot possibly rule wisely on God’s behalf. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans that all creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of God’s children (that would be us, my beloved) at our resurrection so that it could be freed from its bondage to sin and the decay our sin-corrupted and evil-infested rule has caused (Romans 8.19-21). Make humans right by freeing us from our sins and creation will be made right once again because we will start to rule it wisely as we were created. This is the end game in the biblical narrative because God is faithful to his original creation and intends to restore it and us to our original goodness (and more). This is what the promise of new heavens and earth is all about, and this is what it means to have the kingdom come on earth as in heaven, just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. When God’s rule (or kingdom) comes, goodness and wholeness and health and abundant life reign instead of the sin and evil and sickness and death that characterize the rule of the dark powers and principalities. This is the promise of salvation we read about in the Bible, especially in the NT.

And it is all made possible by the blood of the Lamb shed for us to heal us and reconcile us to God the Father so that we finally have real peace and can enjoy being the fully human creatures God created us to be. On the cross, Jesus took the entire weight of our collective sin and the full force of evil, and defeated it so that we could be freed from our sin and made ready to reassume our rightful place as God’s wise rulers on God’s behalf. This was a massive cosmic victory in which the invisible powers in heaven were also brought under God’s control in Jesus so that peace could reign on earth. To be sure, God’s victory over sin and the dark powers is not fully consummated. That must wait till Jesus’ second coming. But the victory is God’s and because we are God’s people, it is also ours, thanks be to God! As Paul tells us elsewhere, in our baptism we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6.4-6). That’s critically important because in today’s epistle lesson Paul reminds us that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead so that we too can anticipate our own resurrection and victory over death that Christ’s death won for us. In other words we are a resurrection people with a real hope and future.

This is why we are called to be a cruciform (or cross-shaped) people. While the forces of evil have been defeated, they are still quite active and they will try to destroy us. That is why until Christ returns, we can expect to suffer in this world when we exercise our freedom to act as God’s people. But act we must, and in the manner of Christ, who loves us and died for us so that we might be set free to act in the dignity of fully human beings who bear God the Father’s image. And we are to do this joyfully and with courage because we remember that Jesus is Lord and the powers are not, that death has been defeated, and that we have been given power by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit who loves us and lives in us to heal us so that we can imitate our Lord’s suffering and self-giving love for the healing of the nations.

Just as Jesus was crucified in the midst of evil and prayed that those responsible for his unjust death be forgiven, so too are we to bring Christ’s forgiveness and love to bear in the midst of the brokenness that surrounds us. What’s this look like? Last week I suggested that if we are going to live as people who believe Jesus really is Lord and others are not, we are to be agents of healing and forgiveness in our country where many people seem to succumb to the rule of fear and anxiety. So we are to meet people where they are and even suffer their abuse as we try to embody the love of God to them. It means we are to immerse ourselves in prayer, convinced of its power and efficacy, even when we cannot see the results of our prayer directly. We do so because this is what God’s wise stewards of his good creation do to reflect God’s goodness out into God’s creation. We are to immerse ourselves in reading and studying Scripture, both individually and together, so as to learn what the mind of Christ is and what real and godly living look like. The more we read Scripture, the better we understand what God’s good and creative purposes for us are. We are to pay attention to each other and rejoice with each other in our joys and grieve with each other in our sorrows. We are to put aside our own selfish desires and look out for the needs of each other, giving our time, our effort, ourselves, (and when required, our money) for the benefit of the other. We don’t do this perfectly because we will not be perfected until the new creation comes. Simply put, we are not completely done with sin until we die (Romans 6.7), and sin corrupts us. But this doesn’t mean we give up and revert to our selfish and evil behavior that comes so naturally to us. In sum, learning to be a cruciform people takes intentionality and hard work. But the rewards are far greater: peace with God with its resulting good health, forgiveness of sins, a new power to be fully human, and the promise of resurrection and new creation, life forever.

And here I want to remind us that this new life in Christ does not mean we can no longer have any fun, that living humble and self-giving lives in the manner of Christ means that there is no longer any enjoyment to be had. God does not want to rain on our parade, my beloved!  God created us to have abundant life and became human in Jesus to show us what that looks like. The suffering required of us sometimes is the result of the hostility of the forces of evil, not from God. To be sure, sometimes God tests us, but that is for our own good, not for evil. And so living life as freed people means a celebration more than anything else! Why do you think Jesus partied so much, especially with sinners? It was a foretaste of things to come! If we believe God is really good and generous and wise and kind and just, why would we not want to like thusly?

So on this Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s Kingship and Lordship over all creation, let us resolve to imitate him in our living, confident that the Holy Spirit, who loves us and lives in us, will give us the power to become like him. Let us rejoice that being cruciform people means we are being led by the Source and Author of all goodness and life, not by the dark powers who want to destroy us. And let us do the work we are called to do to be his faithful people so that the world comes to know the goodness and beauty and joy and freedom of living as God’s holy image-bearers. That is the the Good News we are to live and proclaim, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.