Embodying God's Kin-dom

 Sunday, May 28, 2017 · Seventh Sunday of Easter
Reading:  Acts 1:1-11
Pastor Elyse Ambrose

Seeing Jesus 2017: A Game of Thrones

      Sometimes we don’t notice it… perhaps its not always obvious… but God’s reign is all around us. What theologian Ada Maria-Isasi Diaz and we at this church like to call the kin-dom of God (K-I-N—as in ones kinfolk, a shift in language meant to indicate a more egalitarian reign without the power imbalances of king-ship or monarchy, patriarchy and sovereignty to make room for God’s inclusive and expansive reign)—this kindom is our everyday reality. Every new morning we awaken to the kin-dom that Jesus himself preached in his life and resurrection, and in the truth of the existence of this reign, we are deeply blessed.

     But at the same time… “What do you mean, Pastor Elyse? Children were killed the other day at a concert in Manchester, England. The water in Flint, Michigan is still poison. Nations dominate over people who are just trying to live their lives, and try to destroy their chances for thriving. What do you mean God’s reign is all around us?” What do I mean?

     That actually is a good question because anyone can see that often, if we take a look at what we see, it doesn’t look like God is reigning. If you’ve ever had to sit with someone whose child has been murdered in cold blood by those meant to protect and serve, or someone who has been a victim of childhood sexual violation. If you’re honest with yourself, you may start to wonder. When you read about the tens of thousands killed and suffering because governments cannot play nice, you might wonder where is this promised reign. Sometimes it feels like we are going at life alone, and no matter how we try to pursue the good, evil and ignorance seem to win the day. Might seems so often to triumph over right. Being kind is often answered with quite the opposite. “Silly preachers selling pipedreams about some reign, some kin-dom, never able to be made real on this earth,” some might stay. But still, in faith, believers believe.

     A Game—though not necessarily the fun kind-- of Thrones. A game of thrones.

     As it turns out, alongside the reign of God is yet another type of reign. Another type of kingdom. A kingdom built upon rampant inequity and violence, but also indifference. A kingdom that shrugs at the site of oppressions and isn’t particularly concerned until “me and my family” are affected. A kingdom deeply invested in greed and exploitation, supremacy of some and the destruction of others. Its bigger than any one nation or empire, bigger than any social system, but they often lend their power to this kingdom. This kingdom is also all around us and we can count on the presence of it as surely as we can count on the presence of God’s kin-dom.

     Each day, each and every one of us enters a game of thrones, this kin-dom or that kingdom, and we’re invited to choose which one we will live into. The choice is not always clear; who or what represents which throne is often contestable; but before each of us are choices and we determine which throne will reign in our lives and in our worlds one decision at a time.

     A game of thrones.

     These are our everyday realities—realities that make us ask where is God who is a God of love? Where is the Holy Spirit (which I imagine we’ll get into next week as we begin the Pentecost season) that is supposed to be our help? Where is Jesus who promised to be with us always, who showed us a way of love, justice, and courage?

     Throughout this Easter season, we’ve asked that very question. Where do we see Jesus today? The scripture reading for today shares with us that after Jesus died, for 40 days he hung out with the apostles (his disciples) and preached about the reign of God, this kin-dom of God. The story says that in his resurrection, he did the same thing as he did while alive—talked about this kin-dom. He mustve really believed in it. He mustve known that things are not always as they appear and whatever the circumstance, God is present, and that’s enough. He mustve known that in the face of evil and oppression, faith will see the people of God through—faith in the promise that the kin-dom is coming, and indeed has already come. The Gospel according to Luke—the companion text to the book of Acts—says the kingdom of God is among you. Real and present. An alternative throne established in equity and fairness, just relations and righteousness, a throne that doesn’t depend on subjugation and power over others, but utilizes its power to serve the common good.

     Yet, sometimes the distinction between the two thrones isn’t so clear. We know that God loves each and every person and that we are to honor all life, but we war. In the face of a total inability to come to the table and compromise, the only earthly response becomes that war is a necessary evil. The complexity of Memorial Day reminds us that so often in the human condition we do not know what to do, we do not know what would be right given the choices we have, but how could we do anything less than feel sorrow for those lost and honor those who continue to give themselves for others. It’s complicated. We’d like to think that God would simply rid world of evils— rescue the enslaved and rains food from the heavens for children who are born into the conditions of poverty and starvation, close to death simply because of where they were born. Which throne is in power when they breath their last breath? Which throne is in power each time we sent drones to Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and thousands of civilians died? Questions worth asking whether or not we land on an answer.

     Jesus came preaching a kin-dom, and this is the sacred word he left with his followers as he ascended. A reign that stood in contrast to Roman imperial rule. This kin-dom that is already here and still to come where all the birds of the air can find rest and nesting; this expansive kin-dom where family is made among believers. A kin-dom that is for the poor and the children, those most rejected and forgotten. This was his message, so Luke tells us, while he lived. This was his message when he rose. And I’d venture to say this message is still his own.  Where the good news of the kin-dom is proclaimed, worked toward, longed for, fought for, witnessed to… there is he. Where do we find Jesus in this game of thrones, in the complexity and ambiguity of the human condition, in this extraordinary moment in which we find ourselves in 2017? We find him where the kin-dom is or is attempting to be embodied and made real.

     As some of you know, I’ve recently returned from spending 10 days in Cuba. There, I met with extraordinary activists and engaged in verbal exchanges that I am still thinking about today and experienced a beautiful and overwhelming feeling that makes me long to return—something that the people of Cuba call solidaridad, translated as solidarity. It was not the simple kindness between associates, or the over and above niceties that international visitors often get to experience when travelling abroad. No, it was a meeting of the minds and of the hearts, a willingness to listen and to grow, on both their part and mine. It was the spirit of people who took care of me and looked after me, and probably didn’t even know my last name—who helped me to know I was not alone on this journey and in my own struggles for a new world. Though the word is often associated with their political and economic system, and their revolution, I believe their solidaridad was more expanisve and radical than any system could contain, and could only be, for me, the evidence of God’s kin-dom among us. I saw Jesus in Cuba. I know some of the people I met would never name this radical hospitality and revolutionary love as a sign of God’s kin-dom, but that’s the funny thing about God’s reign: it exists in the places one least expects (even in those places where the concept of God may be rejected), and reminds us that its message of love and belonging and commitment to one’s neighbor cannot be boxed in by any religion or un-religion, by any system, by any national borders. wherever the kin-dom is embodied, enfleshed, made real, wherever is this longing—there is Jesus.

     If Jesus is where the kin-dom is allowed to come, then Jesus was on a MAX train in Portland when Army veteran Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche died while protecting two young Muslim girls from a white supremacist terrorist. May God rest their souls. And Jesus was on your train this morning when a dollar was given from a heart moved by compassion.  And Jesus is here-- where we seek to create sanctuary for anyone and everyone, especially those whom society pushes to the margins. Let us continue to do the work of witnessing to this kin-dom, empowered by the Spirit (as Acts 1:8 tells us), working toward the fulfillment of this kin-dom, longing for and imagining the reality of God’s kin-dom among us, creating space so that we all might see Jesus and be inspired to build the new world he believed in.

     God’s kin-dom is all around us. Sometimes we don’t notice it… perhaps its not always obvious… My prayer for us all today is that we may have the grace to see it, and the courage to choose again and again the humble throne— this kin-dom—helping to make real the new way that God invites us to live into in faith. Amen.