A Perspective Not A Place

by | Nov 26, 2018 | Sermons

A Perspective Not A Place

What does the kingdom of God look like? Is it a city on a hill? A fortress full of gleaming towers? Is it a garden restored? We might argue that God’s kingdom is all of these things and yet none of them. Based on the reading for this past Sunday, I am more inclined to say that God’s kingdom is less about a place and more of a perspective based on the truth that Jesus came to testify about.

Scripture: John 18: 33-38

A Perspective Not A Place

In Canada we are part of a Constitutional Monarchy. That means that our head of state is the Queen. In our case the Queen has no real power to exercise, she is at this point a figure head. Of course there are other kingdoms in the world where this is not the case, individuals rule as autocrats or dictators.

In most cases the crown is passed down in an orderly format of succession. The only way to rise to power if you weren’t born in a royal family and weren’t the first born son was through violence.

David becomes king of Israel, in part because he slew Goliath. He was shepherd who grew to be a great warrior. David ultimately ascends the throne through battle and is anointed by God as king of Israel. That is one of the interesting things about Israel, God is understood as the sovereign and human kings rule only by God’s favour. There is no claim on the part of the king for divinity as we see in Egypt and later with the Roman Emperor.

King Herod was granted his title of ‘King of Judea’ by the Roman Senate. He ruled under the watch of the Roman Empire. He was only given this title after he waged war, he did not come from royalty. This story is a common one in the ancient world. Kingdoms would be overthrown by rebellion or through conquest by neighbouring kingdoms.

Enter Pilate and his meeting with Jesus. Perhaps calling it a meeting is being kind, Jesus has been arrested and is a prisoner. The lines are omitted from our reading, but it is only a few more verses and then Jesus is sentenced to death by Pilate.

Pilate has seen it all before and now standing before him is a man who does not present as a warrior, is not an aristocrat trying to wrest power for himself. Instead, an itinerant preacher, a humble man wearing simple clothing. What is Pilate to think of this? My feeling is that Pilate didn’t take any of it seriously, probably didn’t know what all the fuss was about and most likely did not appreciate being questioned by Jesus. I think Pilate thought it was a farce, he had no idea who was standing before him.

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replies in typical fashion with a question of his own. Jesus does not confirm that he is king of the Jews. In their banter back and forth Pilate is eventually led to answer his own question and proclaim that Jesus is a king. It is important to note that Jesus never ascribes kingship to himself. His response to Pilate is, I have come to testify to the truth.

It is interesting at this point to compare the two ideas of kingship that are presented to us in our readings this morning. The passage from 2 Samuel details the final words of David and in many ways the passage from John captures some of the last words of Jesus. What a striking difference they are, two very different personas of kingship.

If Pilate was thinking of kings as the world knows them, then Jesus did not fit the bill. No wonder Pilate sees no basis to charge Jesus. Jesus does not fit the mold of an earthly king. Jesus might have David as an ancestor, but their kingdoms look very different. Pilate cannot even comprehend what Jesus is talking about.

And that’s the difference.

The kingdom of God is not a place but a perspective.

We are taught to think of kingdoms and empires as physical places, something we can look up in a map or a place we can physically visit. Filled with monuments and grand buildings.

For a while we might have said this about Christianity. At a certain point the Christian Church dominated Western Europe and the North Atlantic. It was what we referred to as Christendom. It was felt that in order to carry out the ‘Great Commission’ found in Matthew, we literally had to redraw the map to be completely Christian.

I would argue that this never was and certainly now is not the case. Look back on the actions of supposed Christian nations and a history of cruelty is demonstrated. That extends right up into the last few decades in Canada with the Residential School system. At times, as we view the grand strokes of history, I am hard pressed to find evidence of God’s grace. Perhaps it is best if we stop defining ourselves as a Christian nation, perhaps it is best if we stop viewing the kingdom as a place.

Karoline Lewis writes, “The kingdoms of this world bank on sowing suspicion and authorizing autonomy. The kingdoms of this world depend on individualism and everyone for themselves alone. The kingdoms of this world insist that hierarchy will establish successful rule and that a ladder mentality, that keeps people in their proper places, is the mark of achieving and accomplishing leadership.

“Not so with the Truth. For Jesus’ Kingdom chooses relationship. Jesus’ Kingdom chooses the perils and predicaments of flesh. Jesus’ Kingdom tells the truth about the Truth — that God so loved the world” (reference).

This is what we need to choose between. Or perhaps I should say this is the choice we have made. To confess that the kingdoms of the world do not meet our needs, rather it is the perspective of God’s kingdom that we have chosen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

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