“An Odd And Precious Kingdom”

Colossians 1:11-20

You might have heard that the day after our election, the server that handles requests for immigration visas to Canada crashed. It was overloaded.

I suppose that there were some people who were taking action on their promise if one candidate or another won they were moving north, across the border.

Now, in my view, Mr. Trudeau is an attractive leader. He has many qualities I admire. But he isn’t Jesus. Neither is Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Despite the hopes of some back in 2008, Barack Obama was not the Savior either.

Apparently, this identity confusion is an easy mistake to make. It is with some frequency that people assign messiah status to someone. I don’t know how. I realize that hoping for someone to come along and set everything right is a powerful motivation to incorrectly assign someone the title of messiah.

Still, there is some relationship between what we hope for and what we observe.  When we say things like, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one” we make a legitimate connection between core beliefs and identifiable qualities. Behavior, you see can betray what our core beliefs actually are. Moreover, these same actions reveal something of our character.

That is to also say that on the basis of what we observe in terms of allegiances reveals something about ourselves and, more importantly, whom we serve. Another way to say this is to ask, “Whose kingdom do you choose to live in?”

Now, this kingdom is actualized no matter what. Odd, I know, but even if no one follows this king it is still in effect. But the only way that this kingdom is experienced by the wider world is if its citizens live in it.

This is why the early church, particularly the writer of Colossians, said of Jesus, “He is the very image of the invisible God.” What they meant by that is when we look at Jesus and we see Him feeding the hungry, we see the image of God in action. When we look at Jesus and see Him healing somebody who is broken and in need, we see the image of God in action.   When we see him balancing his life between prayer and service, we see the image of God in action. It’s hard to see otherwise, isn’t it? The same is true for us. You can tell who we serve by watching.

Have you heard the story Jesus once told about a ‘rich young ruler.’ This prince came to Jesus and enquired what he must do to inherit eternal life. The usual practices were listed. Observe the Ten Commandments. You know what to do. And the man was like so many of us who can say, “I have observed all of this since my youth.” Then Jesus tells him one more thing: “go, sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”[1]

The Evangelist Luke says that the man went away in a funk because he was wealthy.

This may lead us to erroneously say that the root of all evil is money. It isn’t. The quote is, “the root of all evil is the LOVE of money.” I wonder if perhaps the issue was that the Rich Young Ruler was unable to set aside other ‘rulers’ in his life. That was what Jesus was asking him to do. That is why it is only at the end of the conversation that he says ‘THEN, come and follow me.”

See, citizenship in this kingdom does not convey privilege. It demands responsibility. You have to get your allegiances straight before you can participate in this kingdom.

The fact that the reign and rule of this Messiah refuses to follow the logic of the world is no more evident than in the reading from Luke this morning when the Thief recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.   He does so, not along a dusty road in Nazareth as he healed the sick; not in the temple where he taught ‘as one with authority;’ not at a wedding in Cana where the wine ran out and he miraculously duplicated the reserve. Not even on the Mount of Olives when Moses and Elijah appeared and Jesus ascended into heaven.

The Thief recognizes Jesus as he hangs, brutally beaten, nailed to the cross. By all outward appearances this is simply another poor, Palestinian Jew, made an object lesson for anyone who might threaten the Roman Empire…the obvious ruler of the land according to all worldly logic. It is there, in suffering, in pain, in unwavering allegiance to God alone that the Thief recognizes where real power resides and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Do you remember when I told you last week, “Winning is no indicator of God’s favor, Reconciliation is?” I might well have said that in anticipation of the readings today. This scene is a reflection of St. Paul’s words to the church in Colossae: “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”[2] It seems to me that the Thief was miraculously transferred in the darkest of moments to a place with the brightest of hope.

This may seem like something going on in a ‘spiritual plane,’ but Paul is writing in a most practical way, describing participation in real life in a most odd and precious kingdom.

I once heard the story of a teacher who, while cleaning out her attic found a cross she had received as a gift years earlier. It was a crucifix, a cross with the figure of Jesus hanging on it. She put it on her desk for several days. Then, like on my desk, things got cluttered so she put it on top of her bills. It made her think about how her faith impacted her finances. Are they really ‘under’ the cross of Jesus? A few days later, papers from students arrived and the cross was moved there. How does faith affect work? A few days later the cross ended up on top of some recent photographs of her family. How did her faith impact these relationships?

For several weeks that cross lay on her desk, and it seemed to ask her, on a daily basis: “What does it mean if Jesus, truly, rules my world?” On this Christ the King Sunday, what does it mean to us that Jesus’ reign and rule begins right now?

[1] Luke 18:18-23

[2] Colossians 1:12