What Does God’s Kingdom
Look Like, Anyway?
Christ the King Day
Proper 29 B: Daniel 7:9-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:18; Mark 11:1-11
November 26, 2006
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
Well, here we are, at the end of a long, lazy weekend. How many of you had too much to eat? On Thanksgiving Jim and I picked up my mom in San Francisco and drove up to my sister’s house in Marin County. What a glorious day it was, too!! Crystal clear blue skies, the Golden Gate shimmering in the sun….it doesn’t get any better than that. And when we sat at my sister’s table we had, of course, the big fat turkey, AND a fabulous ham, AND, would you believe, a slab of tri-tip!! Plus cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, yams, fresh baked bread, a giant salad—and my nephew baked 3 homemade pies, pumpkin, cherry and apple!! A feast to behold—good enough for a king—we were family, treated as royalty! The most important part of all was the love we felt around this abundant table. An abundant feast and loving friends--to me, this was a glimpse of the promise of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Today we celebrate Christ the King Day: Jesus as “King of kings”, that is, “Ruler of All Nations.” But what does it mean to imagine Jesus, the Christ, as the one who “rules all nations?”
Did you know Israel was the first nation formed around the faith that world history has a purpose and a meaning? Along with this came the awareness that there is “One God” who created all; one God who cares about all humanity. One God who created a covenant relationship with humanity, so that all may participate in purposeful, meaningful life. If we can get past the exotic imagery of Daniel’s prophecy of fiery flames and wheels burning with fire--a king “coming down from heaven on a cloud”, we see that Daniel prophesied a ruler who served ALL nations—not just Israel, but all nations who make covenant with this One God.
How does Jesus fit into this?
Well, we read the passage from Mark that describes Jesus’ triumphal march into Jerusalem. Some of you may have been wondering—what’s this? This sounds like Palm Sunday. Isn’t that the week before Easter? And here we are 5 weeks before Christmas—that reading seems out of place. But, we read of Jesus’ triumphal march into Jerusalem with branches and cloaks laid on the ground before him, because cloaks and leafy branches placed on the ground was what you did to honor Kings and rulers. Jesus’ triumphal march is a sign that the people of Israel have found their long awaited King. But, as we know, most of those people imagined an earthly King, a strong ruler who would free them from the agony of Roman Rule. But Jesus is on a borrowed colt, a little donkey-- a sign of one who comes in peace, not the sign of a warrior King.
What kind of King comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey? Not a warrior King, not a General on his stallion stamping physical triumph over enemies, but a peasant who was so poor he even had to borrow the donkey! Not a Roman soldier who would have just taken the donkey and not returned it. Jesus comes not to claim a political throne, but to claim that the God of Israel is the ruler of all nations. Jesus came to Jerusalem knowing it would be dangerous. Jesus knew that those who wanted to make him King did not understand the situation he faced. Riding a donkey was a sign that he sought peace, not war. And in Mark’s gospel, when he saw what awaited him in Jerusalem, he took a break to regroup with his friends: “when he had looked around at everything, and as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the 12.” (Mark 11:11)
Remember Bethany? Bethany is a village just a couple miles outside of Jerusalem where Jesus and the 12 would go to rest, to be with friends, to eat good meals. Bethany is where Jesus’ friends lived, where he was anointed with oil by a woman, even though it made some men mad that Jesus allowed her to waste the oil on him. Bethany is where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. Bethany was the place where Jesus raised Lazarus from his death; Bethany is where Martha proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah. Bethany is where Jesus goes to find the loving comfort of friends around the table, loving him, feeding him, strengthening him for his work in the world.
When all of Jerusalem was ready to make Jesus their earthly King, Jesus retreated to the home of his friends and family, to find peace amongst those who will “love him no matter what.” As the week unfolded and he knew he was surely going to be put to death for his actions of cleansing the temple and challenging the glories of the physical building—the temple—which they had turned from “a house of prayer for all people” into a “den of robbers”. Jesus knew he would be betrayed and be taken not up for a coronation as King, but before the King, and the Roman Governor for sentencing and death. And, so, on the night before his betrayal he gathered with his closest friends and shared a meal. A meal that was traditionally special for Israel, as they remembered those who escaped the wrath of Pharaoh. But this time Jesus made the meal even more important, as he no doubt looked into the eyes of each of his friends, loved them, and gave thanks for them.
It is this “Lord at his table” image that we have set before us as the sign of God’s kingdom in our world. This holy table, where we gather to eat bread and drink wine in loving remembrance of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made on our behalf, is the table that gives us a glimpse of the kind of “Kingdom” Jesus rules. It is a Kingdom that is not so much a place as it is a state of being. While I believe there will be a time when all the world—all nations—live in the conscious awareness of God’s Kingdom of love and peace, I also believe that it will take more time, more work on the part of the people of God to realize what Israel started thousands of years ago, to have that “Covenant” with the One God who created humankind and who wants humankind to live in a state of peace and harmony. As more and more people live in the simple, loving awareness of this harmony with one another as the purpose of human history, then more and more will that purpose come to fruition.
And it all starts right here and now with you and me. Are we able to sit at our family table and share a meal in the same awareness that Jesus shared: looking into the eyes of our loved ones and giving thanks for their very existence? You know, Safeway stores had an ad campaign this Fall that really got me. [Show paper bag; milk carton.] I was completely taken aback when I saw on my milk carton, “Eat dinner together as a family”, and on my grocery bag: “Eat Dinner together as a family” on “Family Day, September 25th”. This is a message from Safeway stores and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse encouraging families to remember the importance of eating meals together as a means of reducing youth drug abuse. The milk carton goes on to say, “Research…consistently shows that frequent family dinners are associated with lower substance-abuse risk and higher academic performance.” It is just me, or is that a sad commentary on our culture that we have to be reminded by our grocery store of the importance of sitting around the table loving one another in order to have healthy families?
And now we must ask ourselves, how will we know when we are living in the “peaceable Kingdom”, what will be the signs that God’s kingdom is here? I tell you, I see glimpses of that kingdom when I am invited to the Potts home, and Carter gathers her family around her new kitchen designed to have her interact with her husband and children while she cooks, talks about the day, and listens to their lives. I see the Kingdom of God when I read an email from Julie O’Brien asking that a long list of parishioners and friends help prepare meals for the Granger-Jones family while they sit at the bedside praying hard for their mom/wife, Vicky in the hospital. I see the Kingdom of God when I know we have a family in crisis and there are loving members of this community who call upon the mom and comfort her in distress. I see the Kingdom of God when we house the homeless shelter women and our youth and parents come to feed them, not just on Thanksgiving which was wonderful, but each week--serving food and sitting with the women, breaking bread, listening to them, and looking into their eyes with love and acceptance. I see the Kingdom of God when the people of St. Philip’s put on a special banquet to honor our teens who have turned 13 years old, and we embrace them in our church. These glimpses show us that yes, the Kingdom of God will come, and it will come not in the glory of human power and might, but in the peace and joy of living in the truth of Christ’s humble love. When all nations, all peoples live in such peace and joy, then will Christ truly be “King of Kings”.