Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Belonging to Each Other

(A sermon on John 18:33-37, preached at All Saints' Episcopal Church 11/22/2009)

We all belong to God's Kingdom.

This is illustrated by an observation by Rodger Nishioka:

"Most children at some time in their childhoods get frustrated enough at their families that they decide to run away. This decision often happens in some dramatic fashion. Pronouncements are made. Important items are packed, and some food is gathered for what will no doubt be a long and arduous journey. For many years, the prevailing wisdom offered by specialists recommended that parents and caregivers engage in conversation with the children, acknowledging their frustration and then discussing with them logically where they would go and how they would live, eventually dissuading the children from running way. This advice, while certainly reasonable, has given way lately to an alternative response. Now it is recommended that parents and caregivers simply tell children, “No,” explaining that they may not run away because, “we belong to one another’ and that when persons belong to one another, even when they are frustrated and upset, they stay with one another." (Feasting on the Word, Vol. 4., Ed. David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 332)

Now, I’m compelled to acknowledge that with human relationships, one of course must allow for situations of abuse or neglect that warrants intervention or even leaving, but you can see Nishioka’s point concerning our relationship with God and with the community as a whole that we are belong to each other.

Belonging might seem like a strange theme for this morning. After all, the final Sunday of the church year, “Christ the King”, or “The Reign of Christ” often points people towards what they think is the end of the world, marked by Christ’s second coming.

This often gets understood, throughout the ages, as the destruction of the world. In modern times has manifested in the Left Behind series, and with “documentaries” like the History Channel’s 2012 that I mentioned last week.

The theology behind these examples, however, is not biblical. Our readings today point not to God’s destroying the world, but of God’s abundant love for the world.

And it’s all about belonging...

Pilate’s question to Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews,” is asking whether or not Jesus is claiming to be the king of the Jewish nation...a nation that in theory might replace the Roman leadership. “Whom do you belong to?” questions Pilate. Jesus explains that his nation, his kingdom, is a theological reality, not a political one. Jesus does not seek to replace Caesar with himself or another leader more to his liking. Instead, Jesus is advocating belonging to God’s kingdom, where we all belong and all share responsibility.

This is the end of the world, of sorts: the end of political systems of people lording over people: whether the ruler is wise and kind, or rules with an iron fist. My friend, Sarah Dylan Brauer wrote: 'End' means the passing away of what is. It means a transition so pronounced that we can say, "Things will never be the same." Facing 'the end' means that we must finally acknowledge our attachments to what is, and our limitations in perspective and power as mortal human beings. 'The end' means that we will no longer be able to deny or dodge them, and we will -- we must -- let go. This is frightening for us -- and the more we cling to illusions that what we know is all there is and can control all we know, the more frightening 'the end' will be .”

Bruce J Malina writes that one of the greatest challenges for Americans in reading the Bible is to understand the difference between the US emphasis on the individual and the Mediterranean emphasis on the community. Malina explains that in the world of the New Testament, a person did not think of himself or herself as an individual who acts alone, regardless of what others think and say. Rather, the person is “ever aware of the expectations of others, especially significant others, and strives to match those expectations. This is the group-orientated, collectivistic personality, one who needs another simply to know who he or she is.” (Feasting on the Word, Vol. 4., Ed. David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 336)

When Jesus tells Pilate that all who listen to Jesus’ voice belong to the truth and are part of this kingdom, he is saying, in Mediterranean fashion, that belonging is less about individual decisions and more about collective participation in a community that transcends the self. Jesus understands that his role is to testify to the truth. (FOW, , Vol. 4., Ed. David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 336) What happens to him…whether Pilate has him killed or not…does not change the fact that the reign of God is at hand.

Sarah Dylan wrote: “Jesus is coming. Each time two or three of us gathers, Jesus is come. Each time we proclaim the Good News of the prophets and apostles that the world of empires is passing away, and God's dream for Creation is breaking through it even now, Jesus is come. Each time we proclaim Jesus the Christ and not any worldly power or principality as our Lord, Jesus' kingdom breaks through that much more.”

Nishioka concludes that the kingdom is present wherever Jesus is present. It is present wherever we experience the reign of God through God’s invitation, healing, and restoration—but our belonging is not up to each one of us alone. Our belonging is up to God. That is the new reality that Jesus proclaims. That is the new truth to which all of us---the community of those invited, healed and restored--belong. (FOW, Vol. 4., Ed. David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 336)

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