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Your Kingdom Come

John 18:33-37

This week we’ve watched an incredible drama unfold in Parliament. A clash of worldviews. Richard Colvin, a senior diplomat, currently Canada’s head of intelligence in United States, former head of the reconstruction team in Afghanistan, went before a parliamentary committee alleging torture of prisoners turned over by Canadian military to Afghan authorities. He testified, that not only did he knew of this; but that he informed many people in the military and in the government. The response by Canadian government officials from the Defence Minister to the former defence chief has been swift and brutal. The government have gone on the offensive; attacked Colvin saying it is hearsay, unsubstantiated, from Taliban sources. So what is truth? And what happens when you speak truth to power?

Have you ever been in a place where you have had to decide whether to speak up, knowing it may have consequences, or to be silent , knowing you’d betrayed your values? It’s something many of us have had to face, in our work life, in our communities, in our families. Speaking truth, knowing it flies in the face of power, is not an easy thing to do. Whenever I’ve had to do it I am afraid; Will anyone listen? Sometimes yes and sometimes no…. But there are times, even when I expect to fail, I must speak out because I am more afraid of who I would become if I did not.

That’s where Jesus is today in our gospel. He is in Pilate’s court. Two world views, two understandings of kingdom are on a collision course. Jesus is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of place. He’s arrested on a trumped up charge. No matter what he says, the decision is already taken. That’s the way Caesar’s empire operated.

Now there were no court recorders in Pilate’s court taking down testimony verbatim. And it is highly doubtful that there were any friends of Jesus writing down the whole thing. The story told reflects the tension facing the community to which John wrote. They lived as a minority in the midst of Roman power. They had suffered from persecution by power based on the empire’s wisdom of violence. The text invites their allegiance – and ours – to a realm whose wisdom and power stand in stark contrast to Rome and its contemporaries. Whose voice will you follow? Which way will you choose? Whose kingdom will you find your home in? Whose truth will you serve?

Pilate asks ‘Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus replies ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” It’s important that we don’t spiritualize this and think that Jesus was only interested in some heavenly place after we die. That clearly is not what he taught in his life. But he is saying “ My kingdom is non-violent. It is not about fighting. To understand the kingdom I preach you need to be open to a whole different understanding of life…a new way of thinking and being.” It’s clear Pilate and he are not talking the same language.

Pilate continues ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. I was born, and I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
That’s the key line in the drama and it was meant to be heard in that way by John’s listeners. If you follow Jesus, it’s because you get his truth, you follow his truth, not the truth of Caesar. Speaking truth, being truth is what Jesus gave his whole life for….He knew this was the purpose of his life. This was what he had been put on earth to do… And Pilate, who clearly is not one who belongs to the truth, doesn’t get it. Pilate’s final line in our drama today says it all. And what is truth?…..Indeed…..what is truth?.

So what is the truth of this kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and enacted in his time on earth? Why do we get this imperial language used in the new testament about this peasant leader Jesus? And how on earth did he get to this place where his kingdom is on trial?

If I say to you Lord of Lords, King of Kings,Son of God, Cosmic Saviour, Peace Bringer, Divine One, Born by Divine Conception, High Priest , Mediator between heaven and earth who would I be talking about? Jesus? No! These are titles given Caesar Augustus and his line of Roman Emperors. Imperial religion, the cult of the emperor can be seen in Roman coins, in statuary, in archeological finds, and in written documents.

So what does it mean in that context for early Christians to use this kind of language to talk about the peasant rabbi, teacher, healer Jesus of Nazareth? Surely it is a counterpoint to empire worship. The question early Christians faced was Which sacred power is in charge of the world? Caesar and his legions? or Yahweh and his messenger Jesus? For the early Christians, it was clearly Jesus and his God Yahweh.

To understand Jesus apart from the reality of his context is impossible. Jesus was born in a time of increased Romanization of the Jewish areas of Galilee and Judea to the South: In one generation Roman imperialism came to dominate Galilee and Judea. In the generation before Jesus under Herod the Great, a huge Roman style all weather port was constructed at Caesarea Maritima. A massive statue of the Goddess Roma, Rome deified, stood over the harbour and welcomed travellers. In those days people travelled and visited the gods and temples as tourists. In Jerusalem Herod was dealing with a fairly small temple and could not increase temple size without creating an uproar with the Jews, so he doubled the size of the court yard around it, enlarging the platform in a massive architectural project the size of many football fields. White paint and shining gold sheathing would glitter in the sun as tourists from the empire came to visit;

Under his son Herod Antipas within 20 years and 20 miles of each other 2 Roman commercial cities were built; Sepphoris 4 BCE and Tiberias right on the Galilean Lake 19-20 CE in the generation of Jesus. Taxation of the land was heavy. The fishing industry on the sea of Galilee which had mostly been left alone in the past, was now being taxed. It is no accident that Jesus’ followers were fishermen. Naturally resistance in Galilee rose up. There were 3 outright rebellions that erupted: in 4BCE right around the time Jesus was born according to some, in 66-74, not long after his death, and at the time when the gospels were being written down and later in 132-35 CE

In Jesus time there were 2 popular resistance movments, both of whose leaders were executed… the Baptism movement of John and the kingdom movement of Jesus. Both began in the 20s in the territory of Antipas of Galilee. In the 1st C, Kingdom meant Roman Empire. Son of God, Lord of Lords, cosmic Saviour meant Caesar.

There is little doubt that Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, which asked quite simply this. How would this world be run if our God sat on our Caesar’s throne? You can imagine this would draw attention! That is why he is before Pilate.

Jesus teaching was rooted in the understanding of a God of love and justice whose passion for our life together IS the Kingdom of God. Jesus was part of the tradition of biblical leaders who protested systemic injustice of the kingdoms that dominated their lives. They did so in the name of God and on behalf of the victims —slaves in Egypt, exiles in Babylon, exploited peasants in the time of the monarchy, and again in the time of Jesus, and the most vulnerable in all times -widows, orphans, the poor the marginalized..

The Kingdom of God is not just a vision but a program, not just an idea but a lifestyle. The Kingdom was about God’s will for the earth…It was not about the afterlife. So when we say in the Lord’s prayer “Your kingdom come” we are making a powerful statement about solidarity with God’s will for wholeness and justice and peace, which the bible calls Shalom. The Jesus prayer continues asking for enough food for today and no debt for tomorrow…raising questions about how land and debt and food are to be distributed fairly. Indeed the kingdom movement asks how is life to be distributed fairly among all the people of the earth if one believes that it all belongs to God? Underlying it is a theology of creation that does not ask who made the earth, (we have seldom said that we did) but specifically asks who owns it. (we usually think that we do). To accept divine ownership in all its radical implications meant a new creation.

Sometimes Kingdom points to the power of God active in Jesus’ work as a healer, Sometimes it has a mystical meaning of God’s presence among us. Jesus Kingdom took spiritual reality very seriously. But when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, his hearers also would hear the contrast between God’s Kingdom and the kingdoms of Herod and of Caesar. He invites them to imagine what the world would look like if God were king and the rulers of this earth were not. It was not military confrontation, It was nonviolent resistance, Yet it surely confronted present economic, social and political realities.

Jesus incarnated kingdom in the lifestyles of alternative share-communities ….feeding the 5000, sharing food and clothing. Jesus incarnated Kingdom in his healing and in his honouring of the lost, the last, and the least. For Jesus the language of kingdom was a way of speaking of the coming of the Spirit both into individual lives and into the world creating new life. Entering the kingdom is entering the life of the Spirit, being drawn into the “way” that Jesus taught. The kingdom is the alternative community of Jesus, that community which lives the life of the Spirit.

So when we pray, your kingdom come, we are praying something incredibly powerful. We are really asking God to align our wills with God’s will, to use our gifts, our lives to usher into the world the Jesus way..the way, the truth and the life of Jesus. And that kingdom way is still very much in contradiction to many of the values of our culture and society. It still calls into question much of what the world views as “the norm”. And challenges us to be aware of the power of the empire in our lives, the power of what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex, the power of consumerism, the power of economism, the power of wealth and injustice, and violence, and to choose, which kingdom will we serve? Whose power will we honour? Will we listen to the voice of the Jesus way, or the way of the culture?

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