Monday, July 8, 2013

Jesus, The Kingdom and July 4th People

Several years ago, our family spent July 4th in Irvington, Va, a small town on the Chesapeake, with my mom and brothers and all our families. Irvington's Independence Day celebration is just classic:
red, white and blue - everywhere; a parade, complete with the mayor and town officials; a band concert; a color guard; and of course, fireworks viewed by many on the water from boats of all sizes.

That 4th in particular sent vibrations of deep feelings running through me, feelings of love and appreciation for having what I have and enjoying what I enjoy, living where I do. Add to that, the image of a father in full military dress blues, and I stood proud to be an American, dreaming of fighting the enemy of democracy and hearing the cheers of people liberated from tyranny. It's a powerful draw.

Competing Allegiances 

Getting pulled down the wrong avenue of allegiances is a constant battle. No matter what side your political bread is buttered on, many of us experienced a legitimate joy in celebrating July 4th this past Thursday, remembering the winning of our independence as a nation, and all that came with it, and has come with it ever since.

But, let’s be honest, a tension also exists. We cannot deny it. Citizens of a kingdom here on earth, Jesus also made it clear that we are citizens of another kingdom. And the two sometimes (perhaps often) stand side by side in a tense, competing relationship.

In addition to America the beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner, we as the followers of Jesus also sing, The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord. While we pray for our nation and its leaders, we also pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father ... Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven."

So, on a weekend like this past weekend, of legitimately and joyfully celebrating a good nation, a free nation, how do we also maintain our integrity as followers of Jesus, who when we were baptized, gave us citizenship in a kingdom he said was the good news he came to proclaim?

But how is the kingdom good news? 

Well, at the risk of gross oversimplification, the kingdom of God is good news because it changes the way we look at just about everything.

It changes the way you look at people who are different. The rich look at the poor in a different way. The poor look at the rich in a different way. People look at people of different races and other religions in a different way. You can’t look at someone of a different political party in the same way, and be faithful to the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God makes you look at Creation in a different way. You look at the trees and the sky and the air and the water in a different way. It becomes God's beautiful artwork, not just a natural resource to exploit to make some money.

If you’re taking the kingdom of God seriously, you look at peace, and reconciliation, and conflict, and war in a very different way. In the kingdoms of this world to bomb people may make sense, to imprison someone and throw away the key without another concern may sound like the right thing to do.

If you are part of the kingdom of God, you can’t treat other people that way. You have to look at it from a new point of view, a higher point of view.

Jesus said, “If you give a cup of cold water to somebody in my name, if you go see someone in prison, if you see someone who is naked and you give them clothing, if you welcome a little child" – in those moments, Jesus said, "You're doing it to me." In other words, in those moments, God’s will is being done on earth, because God cares about that little child and cares about that forgotten person in prison.

On a human level, when somebody sees an enemy, it makes perfect sense to hate that person. You love your friends, you hate your enemies. But when people love their enemies, they are manifesting the kingdom of God.

When rich people decide to stop using their wealth and power to keep aggrandizing themselves or improving their own portfolio and reach a point when they say, “God, I have enough, and there are people in so much need. I’m instead going to use my time and my money and my energy, and my voice and my vote, my freedom, on behalf of people who are suffering and poor and oppressed and forgotten" - at that point - rich people act not as citizens of this world, but citizens of God’s kingdom.

Fourth of July People

Come to think of it, none of that is such a big stretch for what it means not only to be followers of Jesus, but also to be free Americans - when we are at our best anyway.

As free people whose liberty is a gift granted by the service and sacrifice of others, a gift granted by the will of our for-bearers to try (at all costs) this incredible experiment in democracy, we now are privileged to enjoy the freedom to follow in the Way of Jesus, in a place unlike any other place on earth – to follow in a Way that means the most to God, that brings God’s kingdom to light, where the will of God is done on earth, on earth as it is in heaven.

Maybe, that's how the disciples of Jesus, who are citizens of the kingdom of God, can be even better July 4th people.