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The subversive basileia of God

The subversive basileia of God
November 20, 2016
Passage: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Luke 23:35-43, Canticle 16, Colossians 1:11-20
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God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.


It’s been a while since I’ve heard the word “basileia,” so when a friend of mine messaged me last week to say we need to get intentional about living into the basileia of God, I had to look it up. It means, just as I suspected, as some of you already know or have also suspected, kingdom. Authority. Rule. Sovereignty.


It’s a good word, if only because it’s not a household word like Kingdom or, less gender-laden, reign. I often want to say “reign” instead of “Kingdom” but then I feel like I need to spell it or explain it: reign, not rain. We use the word Kingdom so much that it’s easy not to stop and think about what it might mean. We say “your kingdom come” so often that we forget that the Lord’s Prayer is a subversive prayer, a prayer that asserts the sovereignty of God over any earthly ruler. When we pray “Our father,” we assert the basileia of God over any basileia of our own making. When we pray for God’s reign to come, we reject earthly governments that don’t work for justice and peace. No wonder Jesus was crucified and the early Christians martyred.


Today on the last Sunday of the Church year we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, also known as the Reign of Christ. We celebrate the Kingdom, come.


Really? Now? Here?


The basileia of God is already here and it is not yet here, not by a long shot.


I was trying to think of how to describe, visually, what I see when I look around the world today. All I can think of is Mordor from the Lord of the Rings, or the Fire Swamp from the Princess Bride. Maybe for you it’s some collective version of the Slough of Despond from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in which we all sink into mud and muck under the weight of our own misery and helplessness. Maybe for you it’s something else entirely. Maybe to you the world looks like Dante’s purgatory. Or it looks like paradise. Pick your favorite. In any case, our world doesn’t look like the basileia of God. God’s reign has arrived and it is not yet here.


Nowhere is this intersection of already here and nowhere in sight more evident than on the cross, where suffering and betrayal intersect with hope and new life.


In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate the incarnation of Christ as king by singing Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King. Today’s gospel reminds us to make no mistake—this incarnation business ends badly, at least for a time.


Today’s gospel reminds us that we cannot look at Christ as King in triumph without remembering Jesus on the cross. Without remembering on this day that the cross is Jesus’ triumph.


The power of the cross is Jesus’ refusal to use the world’s power. The political leaders, the soldiers, even the criminal hanging next to him all challenge Jesus to prove himself and to save himself. But true power and true salvation come only when we experience our complete powerlessness and when we are willing to suffer and to sacrifice. Jesus’ power, his control, is his act of letting go, self-emptying.


In our collect this morning we prayed that God’s people, divided and enslaved by sin, might be freed and brought together under God’s most gracious rule. We are divided and enslaved by sin. But this did not just happen. America has never not been racist. America has never not had a taxation system that benefits the wealthy more than the poor whom Jesus especially loves. America has never not taken land from indigenous people. American has always played fast and loose with God’s creation when it suits our purposes. We are divided and enslaved by sin, and it is only God’s gracious rule that will free us and unite us.


Uh oh, you may be thinking, last week she talked about resistance and now she’s telling us to just roll over and wait for a miracle like Jesus on the cross. No. I am saying that our vantage point at any particular time does not mean that God does not still reign. And that if we look to the powers of this world, the rulers of this nation, to bring about justice and peace, we will always be disappointed, in good times and bad.


* * *

Someone once asked Leonard Cohen what inspired him to write “Hallelujah.” (It’s hard to imagine there was a time when that song did not exist, but there was.) He answered that he wanted “to stand with those who clearly see God’s holy broken world for what it is, and still find the courage or the heart to praise it.” This is a wonderful way of talking about how God’s basileia is already here and not yet here. Next week, with the beginning of Advent, we will begin to talk about finding light in darkness. We inhabit a basileia of our own making if we see only brokenness and darkness in the world. When that happens, we have given up on God’s presence and given up on ourselves as citizens of God’s kingdom.

The subversive power of praying “Your Kingdom come” is that in that prayer we proclaim goodness and hope where others despair. To resist is to insist on finding light in darkness, and to have a hand in bringing light to darkness.


I have been asking myself: what does resistance look like for a contemplative, mostly introverted, highly sacramental community of Christians living in a Seattle bubble? I believe that God, who is our King, calls us to actively engage this question. I know that God, who is our King, calls us to love our neighbor, with all that we know and will continue to learn about what God means by neighbor.


We participate in the resistance movement of Jesus-followers when we speak up against systems that perpetuate racism, poverty, and fear. These systems deny God’s reign. We practice resistance when we protect, with love and with sacrifice, the victims of injustice. We resist the rule of this world when we pray and break bread together and love one another—including enemies and strangers—when we love one another as citizens of God’s basileia.


At its best, the church has always been an outpost of the Kingdom of God. At its best, the Church is a beachhead, an expression of God’s gracious rule wherever we find ourselves, witnessing to God’s subversive power. God has a call for us to do this in a particular way. I hope and pray each of us and all of us together are pondering what that might be. As we gather for the feast that is both a taste and a foretaste of God’s gracious rule, may it nourish us for our resistance journey.