Benediction Online

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Kingdom is not for Wimps

Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

This is a day of such contrasts. The fun and excitement of the Palms Procession – remembering Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem and then slam! into the Passion Gospel with hardly time to take a breath.

I wonder how Jesus felt as he rode into Jerusalem? I can only imagine it was a bittersweet moment. The excitement of the crowd, the acknowledgment of his lordship undermined by the knowledge that most of the people still didn’t understand. They still didn’t understand what he had been trying to say all along. They still expected a Messiah who would rid them of occupation and restore peace to the land; they still saw redemption as an Israel free of oppression with each family having their own fig tree and vineyard. They thought Jesus was that person.

But they were wrong.

The gospel that Jesus preached was difficult to hear because it challenged the dominant paradigm of the day – it challenged the very way people thought. And it still does today.

They thought of a leader as someone who was great and powerful. There is no doubt that Jesus was great, but he was hardly powerful in human terms. He was a huge contradiction. He rode into Jerusalem not on the stallion like a powerful Messiah but on a humble colt.

And when his disciples start to argue about who will be the greatest – the most powerful among them, Jesus tells them once again that in the new kingdom, the leader is the one who serves. He himself had come not as a lord who is waited on by others but as a servant who attends to others needs.

Let’s look again at that reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.

This wonderful poetry is in a letter where Paul is talking about the way that Christians should relate to each other. Not competing, not fighting but letting go of power and prestige just as Christ Jesus let go of the power, prestige and glory that goes with being God in order to become human.

This is quite contrary to our cultural norms where we are encouraged to promote ourselves. I recently saw a video about managing your personal brand on social media – in other words, thinking about the image you are putting out and making sure that you are being seen by others on the internet in the way you want to be seen. That’s probably good advice, but it was presented as though the individual were a product, a commodity to be presented, advertised, branded in a particular way in order to achieve personal promotion and advancement.

That is the last thing Jesus was concerned about. He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. He did not present himself as a powerful messiah figure but as who he was a – a teacher and healer who through his teachings and his life pointed out the way to live as co-creators with God.

I don’t think his statement that the one who has no sword should sell his cloak and buy one should be taken literally – this is not an argument for us to buy firearms – but an expression of the seriousness of the moment. He was facing the greatest challenge of his life. Perhaps even he was not sure in that moment whether he had the courage to go through with it without lashing out and attempting to defend himself.

Yet it would be a mistake to see Jesus as a passive person who allowed whatever happened to happen. He was not allowing himself to be abused. He was not a push-over.

The amazing thing he did through his death and resurrection was to show that non-violent resistance is powerful. Jesus did not fight back yet he was victorious. When he was raised from the dead, God showed us that the way of the kingdom is not a wimpy path of failure and defeat.

Living a life of service, holding firm to our faith in the God who brings resurrection and forgiving those who let us down or betray us. This is the way of the kingdom. Sometimes we get to shout Hosanna! Sometimes we are filled with praise and joy and everything seems to be working beautifully. Those are times to savor, but they are not the substance of our life here.

The kingdom of God is staying loving, faithful and open in service to God and your community even when you’re tired and aching, even when people let you down, even when friends suddenly turn on you. The kingdom of God is following Jesus to our last breath. The kingdom of God is haring his cup and eating his bread.


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