Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Story of the Bible, Story of Our Lives

Christus Ravenna Mosaic
Christ the King Sunday
November 25, 2012

Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

TODAY'S GOSPEL: John 18:33-37
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"

Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"

Jesus answered, "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 to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?"

Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

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SERMON: "Story of the Bible, Story of Our Lives"

The Lord be with you. 

We who live in the modern world, especially here in the United States, have a difficult time relating to the main concept in this morning's Gospel. Today God calls us to hear and respond to a text that is about kings and kingdoms, rulers and royalty, thrones and dominions. You and I don't generally think in those terms. We are citizens in a nation that rejected monarchy and embraced life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every person equally. The myths that shape our imagination are not the stories of castles and kings and loyal subjects. We honor rags to riches stories of the self-made person, the rugged individualist. We love the Horatio Alger-style tales of poor but determined people who make their own way and rise to success through hard work, courage, and honesty. We don't like the idea of someone ruling over us, demanding our allegiance, requiring our obedience.

But then we come to the Bible. And the Bible is all about kings and kingdoms.

If I were asked to summarize the message of the Bible with one brief verse, I would choose a line from The Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world.

The Bible begins with the story of creation, which is presented as a royal construction project. In Genesis 1, we see the King of the universe preparing his holy Temple or “palace" in the world. After God establishes his temple of creation, he appoints royal priests to represent him. That's what it means when it says human beings were made “in his image" -- God the King put people in the world to spread the blessings of his kingdom. Then on the seventh day, Genesis tells us that God rested on his throne, taking up his rule. So, at the outset of the biblical story, God is King, people are his royal representatives, his blessing is upon them, and they are called to multiply that blessing throughout the entire world.

That's how the story begins: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The story goes on to say, however, that humans failed to carry out the King’s directives. The early accounts in Genesis are about sin and salvation; cycles of rebellion, divine judgment, and restoration. This all culminated in Babylon, where people gathered together to build their own temple and create their own kingdom. But God scattered them over the face of the earth, and then chose one man and his family out of Babylon through which to restore his blessing to the world. That man’s name was Abraham, and God gave him a promise, saying, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” In other words, God promised to establish his kingdom in the world and restore his blessing to the world through Abraham and Sarah and their heirs.

And so the story goes on: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

From that point on, Abraham's family began to experience conflict with the kings and kingdoms of the world. This came to a climax many generations later, when the sons of Jacob became slaves in captivity under Egypt’s king, the Pharaoh. That's when God called Moses. Through Moses, God showed himself to be King over all of Egypt's Gods. He set the Hebrews free and led them to Mt. Sinai, where he entered into a covenant with them. He became their King and they became his people, his chosen nation. He brought them to the Promised Land, where they settled under his rule.

And so the story continues: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, the children of Abraham had become a nation and God was their King. For many years their life was filled with battles, wars, and controversies with the nations and kings around them. And soon, Israel wanted to be like the the peoples around them -- they wanted a human king of their own. It was a messy process, but eventually David became God's chosen king for them, and Jerusalem became the place of his throne. David's son Solomon built a glorious temple, and Israel enjoyed a period of peace and stability under God's blessing.

And so the story continues to develop: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Under the kings that followed David and Solomon, Israel split into two nations. The northern kingdom of Israel was eventually conquered by Assyria. The southern kingdom of Judah lasted a bit longer, but were finally conquered by Babylon and taken into exile. The kingdom was destroyed, the temple sacked, the people carried off to a foreign land. After a couple of generations, the Jews began to return to Israel, but things were never the same. They never again had another king but lived under the domination of invading nations for centuries. The final power to rule over them in the land was Rome. Even though they had returned from national exile and were living in the land God had promised them, they were still in spiritual exile. They had lost God's glory and the sense of his blessing.

From the depths of their hearts, they cried out for God to complete his story: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

That's when Jesus was born. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus publicly announced, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15). For the next few years, Jesus traveled around Judea and Galilee, proclaiming this message and doing works that demonstrated God's reign was indeed breaking into the world.

You might think people would have welcomed God's promised King, but as Scripture says, "He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him." Eventually, Jesus was brought before the Roman authorities and, as today's Gospel tells us, had an encounter with Pontius Pilate. The conversation we hear in this passage is all about kings and kingdoms. Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is different than the kind the world understands. It's not about fighting and conflict. It's not about lording it over others. It's not about the Jews vs. the Romans or any group of people vs. some other group of people. It's not about some leader with ambition manipulating events to seize power and spinning every piece of information to his advantage.

Jesus' kingship is about peace and reconciliation and justice. It's about serving others in love. It's about people coming together, not pulling apart. It's about the truth and telling the truth and helping people live in the truth. Soon after this conversation, Jesus showed that when he laid down his life for our salvation. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

That is a King and a kingdom that none of us truly understands. But it's a kingdom that brings life and forgiveness and peace with God and other people. It is a kingdom that will one day come in its fullness and everything will be made new. As the book of Revelation, the end of the story, says, "The kingdom of this world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever."

You and I are part of this kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. Living in this kingdom sets us free to love our neighbors and welcome them into the blessing of God as well. And so Jesus says to us this morning, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom." 

This is the story of the Bible. This is also the story of our life together, now and forever in Christ: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

* * *

Let us pray:
Almighty and merciful God, by your generous love you have broken the power of evil and made all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. May all creation acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you. Forgive, renew, and lead your people that we may know and represent the reality of your Kingdom of grace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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