I feel as though all that there is to write about these days is division. I’m not going to list the ways. I’ll let you do that for yourselves. We all know that division is hurting this world. Division is hurting us individually whether we are willing to recognize it or not. The way to describe what is going on might be considered archaic but it is the best we have available. Human sin is seen in our division. Sin is our rebellion against the reign of God and we are paying a heavy price for it.
Jesus is telling about the kingdom of heaven as present and working within the world around us. He tells that it is like a mustard seed which starts small but grows large enough to provide a home for the birds…like yeast that infuses throughout the flour to make the dough…like a valuable surprise that catches us off guard bringing joy…like a treasure that is worth everything we have. Jesus also described the kingdom of heaven like a fishing net that catches all the fish which are later separated much like what will happen at the end of this age when what is wicked is divided from what is righteous. Notice, the angels are the ones doing the sorting not us. This serves as a reminder to us too confident in our divisions and not taking an honest look at ourselves. Is the kingdom of heaven truly a place of joy where all may find a home in its branches?
Looking at the reign of God (kingdom of heaven), the Scriptures tell us of God calling a formless void into an amazing creation where life can multiply and flourish. A creation described as being very good. We are told of a God taking an enslaved group of people and bringing them through an exodus into freedom. Prophets spoke with boldness to the injustice of the leaders against the poor and weak of society. We are told of God in the person of Jesus willing to die on a cross so this good creation could be made new through the resurrection. This is an old story but a treasure because of the love it expresses. Unfortunately, Scripture often gets tossed around haphazardly to support our divisions, our sin. However, if like a well trained teacher about the kingdom of heaven, the Scripture can be used for the treasure that it is to inspire hope in a future redeemed in Christ under the kingdom of heaven’s umbrella.
We all are under the oppressive weight of division and the hurt it causes. Yet Jesus calls our attention to the kingdom of heaven. The reign of God where chaos gives way to life granting creation…the domination of slavery gives way to freedom…death surrenders to the resurrection of Christ through whom all things are being made new. The kingdom of heaven really is a treasure that is both old and new.
I think that if we were to create a list of what made a great political leader it would be long and also varied. The list might include: powerful speaker and motivator, just, ethical, forceful, merciful, etc. Making our own personal list might be helpful as we look at the reading from Luke. What unfolds is the crucifixion of Jesus. What is contrasted are the opposing views of what makes a true king. God’s view, as usual, doesn’t always align with our view of political leadership and power.
The current impeachment proceedings are a sad commentary on political leadership. How the testimonies are received is filtered largely by party partisanship. The goal of finding the truth is sidelined by winning. When all has been said and done, the winning side will boast that justice has won out. Really? Will this justice mean that future generations will inherit a less polluted and resource diminished earth? Will this justice provide for the poor to receive a little more or is the one percent going to continue taking more and more? Will the justice won start healing the division or will the fracturing only get worse as we enter into next year’s election winning?
Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. Crucifixion was a degrading way to die. The victim was naked and publicly hung for all to see the spectacle. In Jesus’ case, a sign was posted that he was the king of the Jews – a way to mock the Jewish people. Luke describes the crowd as watching in silence while the leaders and soldiers mocked Jesus. If he was a king then he should come down off the cross and save himself. All appearances would say that Rome was the winner. However great political leadership, kingship, isn’t deciding who wins and loses. A true sign of kingship is giving life.
Among the many taunts a criminal, also crucified, asked that Jesus remember him in his kingdom. Jesus stated that on that day, the criminal would be with him in Paradise. Paradise was where the righteous were in God’s eternal presence. Rome judged the criminal worthy of death; Jesus declared the criminal worthy of Paradise. Jesus’ kingship brings life and with his resurrection God proved this to be true.
So the impeachment process continues. Eventually, one side will claim victory with justice served. Yet, will new life come to this land as a result or will the old divisions continue in the pursuit of political power. Jesus has showed us true political leadership. He shows that laying aside personal power for another to have life, in his example giving up his own life, is how kingship is exercised. Political service that ignores personal gain for the life of the country? Should we want anything less?
Peace. We all want peace. We want peace in our family relationships. We want peace within our neighborhoods and towns. We want to peaceably go about our lives without the worry of violence. We want Jesus to give us the peace we seek. Unfortunately for us, this peace is not what Jesus is talking about in this reading. Instead he is talking about division, even in our most valued relationships of family.
So what gives? Why can’t we have what we want? Why won’t Jesus give us what we want? Jesus said he came to bring division instead of peace. He wanted to bring fire upon the earth and couldn’t wait for it to be lit. This doesn’t sound much like peace. The fire is the active presence of God establishing the kingdom’s presence over everyone. When God’s rule of forgiveness and mercy comes into contact with our understanding of peace, we start building crosses.
The trouble with wanting peace is that we want peace on our terms. We want peace that comes with being in control. We want peace where we have the power. We want the peace that prefers us over them. If we don’t get the peace we want, we blame our spouses, parents, neighbors, immigrants, those of a different race, the other political party. In reality this isn’t peace, it is abuse and violence of the powerful against the weak. This is not the peace that Jesus has come to support.
If we seek peace then we have two choices. One is the fake peace of violence, abuse and crosses. The other is the peace that comes from God who raised the crucified Jesus to life. This is the real peace that brings life in the place of death. This kind of peace asks of us to repent and seek the ways of the kingdom of God. We die to the old ways of violence and crosses so God can bring a new life that is peace. This change is going to be met with division, even within family.
Jesus called those in attendance a bunch of hypocrites. They could tell by the wind patterns if it was going to rain or bring a hot day. Yet, they could see what Jesus was doing and teaching but not recognize the action of God bringing his rule, his kingdom to the earth. The great challenge for us is to look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and see the work of God bringing his kingdom to us. This is the hard work of seeking peace on God’s terms.
So what kind of music do you like? What is the song that your heart wants to sing? Singing reaches deep into our being. We sing when we are happy. We sing the anthem before a sporting event. We sing during a worship service. Songs of justice are sung by those enslaved to inspire hope. Singing does something to us. Singing enables us to express what comes from the heart. The Revelation reading is full of song. In particular, a new song.
John is still recording the revelation that is being given to him. The One who sits in glory on the throne has a scroll waiting to be opened and read. Who is worthy to do this? None in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll. Then came a Lamb looking like it had been slain appeared and took the scroll. All of heaven burst out in song.
The living creatures and the elders bowed down and began singing a new song. Angels numbering in the tens of thousands joined in the song. Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the the sea, and all that is in them – all of creation – joined in the song. It was a new song to worship the Lamb.
The book of Revelation helps to refocus our attention upon the One who is worthy of worship. It wasn’t Rome or Caesar, or any other power at the time. The Lamb who was slain alone is worthy.
We are constantly being divided by identity. Our allegiance is demanded as Democrat or Republican, as liberal or conservative, as evangelical or none. The demand for identity doesn’t permit critical thought over who is worthy of our support, or allegiance or worship.
All of heaven and creation is singing a new song. The Lamb who was slain has done what none other can do. Jesus Christ is the Lamb. He unites us from every tribe and language and nation. His blood has given us a new identity as children of our God. He is our salvation from the sinful division. He has given us a new purpose and that is to serve God. He is worthy of our worship.
So as we find ourselves ever more divided for the sake of power. Remember who is worthy. Sing a new song.