Strange King, Weird Kingdom

Sermon preached  November 22, 2015

Texts: Jeremiah 29:10b-11; John 18:33-37

So last week I preached about risk, vulnerability and courage.  I also mentioned that Julie and I did not do so well with the board game Risk.  Well, how can you speak about risk without taking a risk with Risk?  So we did, and we are still here together.  We managed it all pretty well.

So you may be curious about the result?  Here is a song that sums up how I did: Seals and Croft, “The King of Nothing”  I ended up the king of nothing, not great for a game about global domination!

Jesus is before Pilate, the Roman authority in Palestine.  He has been arrested and charged with sedition, with undermining the authority of the empire and creating a ruckus among the Jewish people, who were often problematic for the Romans.  Pilate asks him about the charge, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus eventually answers, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

What kind of king is this?  What sort of kingdom is not from this world?  Strange king, weird kingdom.

Isn’t being a king exactly about this world?  Isn’t the very definition of being a king that you accrue power and wealth?  Even the Cowardly Lion knows this.  “If I were King of the Forest…. I’d command each thing be it fish or fowl with a woof and a woof and a royal growl.”  Doesn’t being a king entitle you to command?

Jesus doesn’t seem to understand.  To be a king is to consolidate power and to centralize authority.  He is kind of a strange king.  His kingdom is kind of a weird kingdom.

Jesus is a king who is about sharing power, about empowering others, about setting people free.  All over John’s gospel, we read things like:  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (10:10).  You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (8:32).  If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (8:36).  Perhaps strangest and most audacious of all, Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these (14:12).

What sort of king says such things?  What sort of king gives back power, sets people free, tells others that they will be even greater than he?  Jesus, strange king that he is.  Strange king, weird kingdom.

And Jesus does not seem to understand consolidating authority, building a castle, a capital.  Yes, the Christian Church through the centuries has built magnificent cathedrals, and at least one pretty nice “Coppertop” church.  But churches are not like castles, they are more like missions – diplomatic establishments, with groups of people to enhance relationships and provide assistance.  We are here to extend the mission of this weird kingdom of Jesus, the mission of life, freedom, of creating beauty, of doing justice, of expressing compassion, of seeing the humanity of each person and finding ways to help it grow, of seeing where the world is going wrong and trying to repair it.  We invite others to join us in all this.

That’s what we are all about here in this mission of the kingdom called First United Methodist Church, “the Coppertop Church.”  This is ultimately what our capital campaign is about.  Yes, we are doing building stuff, but it is in the service of being a mission, of following this strange king, of being part of this weird kingdom.

We are Jesus’ people.  We are a kingdom place.  Our purpose is to extend that kingdom.  It is to help all know God’s love, for all are welcome.  It is help all grow in God’s love.  It is to help all discover and use their wonderful and beautiful gifts to show God’s love in the world.  We are a people and a place of promise – the promise of new life, of freedom from all that gets in the way of new life.  We are a promise that we want to extend into the future.

Once upon a time there was a man who had twelve cows, and he cared well for his cows.  Every morning and evening he would praise them for the amount of milk they were giving and praise them for their beauty.  One morning he noticed that the amount of milk was less.  Each day for a week he noticed the same thing.  So that night he decided to stay up and see what was going on.

About midnight, he happened to look up at the stars, and he saw one star that seemed to be getting larger and brighter.  It got brighter and larger as the star came closer and closer to earth.  It came straight down toward his cow pasture and stopped a few feet from him in the form a great ball of light. Inside the light there was a beautiful and luminous woman.  Just as her toes touched the earth, the light disappeared, and she stood there like an ordinary woman, ordinary but extraordinarily lovely.

The man said to her, “Are you the one who has been taking milk from my cows?”  “Yes,” she said, “my sisters and I like the milk from your cows very much.”  He said, “You are very beautiful.  And I am glad that you like my cows.  Here is what I would like.  If you marry me, we can live together, and I will be kind to you and you won’t have to take care of the cows all the time, we can share the chore.  Will you marry me?”  She said slowly, “Yes, I will, but there is one condition.  I have brought this basket with me, and I want you to agree that you will never look into this basket.  You must never look into it, no matter how long we are married.  Do you agree to that?”  “Yes, oh yes, I do,” he said.

They married and lived together well for six or seven months.  Then one day, while his wife was out herding the cows, the man noticed the basket just sitting in the corner of the room.  His curiosity got the best of him, and he even rationalized it quite well, saying to himself, “Well, you know, now that we are married, her basket is also my basket.”  He opened the basket and began to laugh.  “There’s nothing in the basket.   There’s nothing in the basket.  There’s absolutely nothing in the basket!  Nothing!”  He kept repeating this to himself and laughing.  Even though she was herding the cows, his wife began to hear her husband’s voice and laughter from the house.

She came into the house and asked, “Have you opened the basket?”  He began laughing again.  “Yes, yes I did.  There’s nothing in the basket.  There’s absolutely nothing in the basket – nothing at all!”

She said, “I must go now.  I have to go back.”  The man began to plead, “Please don’t go.  Don’t leave me!”  She said, “I have to go back now.  What I brought with me was spirit.  It’s so like human beings to think that spirit is nothing.”

Pilate says to Jesus, “So you are a King!?”  Jesus has already told him, “My kingdom is not from this world.”  Strange king, weird kingdom, and we are a part of it.  We witness to something more to life and to something else about life – spirit, soul, the heart.  We tend that here.  We nurture that here.  Together we seek courage from the Holy Spirit to live with heart, soul and spirit every day.  We want to know God’s love thoughtfully and deeply.  We want to grow in God’s love, grow as people of heart, soul and spirit.  We want to show God’s love by living with compassion and seeking peace and justice in the world.  Some may consider this a kind of nothing, but we know that we are simply following a rather strange king and are part of a rather weird kingdom, and we are deeply grateful for here we find life at its deepest, richest and best.  Amen.