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Worship and Sermons
Nov. 13, 2016

 

"The Kingdom for Keeps" By the Rev. Don Wahlig

THEME: The Kingdom to focus on and work for is Gods Kingdom, not earthly kingdoms which come and go.

 

        When you think of great sports dynasties, who comes to your mind?  I’m talking about teams who dominated the competition year after year.

 

        In hockey, you think of Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in the 90s.  In basketball you think of Kareem and the Lakers in the 80s, or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 90s. 

 

        In pro football, Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers in the 70s and 80s, Dallas Cowboys with Roger Staubach in the 70s and then again in the 90s with Troy Aikman.  In soccer, you’d have to say that Manchester United during the David Beckham years. 

 

        What about college sports?  In men’s basketball, it would have to be John Wooden’s men’s basketball teams at UCLA in the 60s and 70s.  In women’s basketball, UConn in the 2000s.  In football, as good as Alabama is right now, you’d have to say Bear Bryant’s teams in in the 60’s & ‘70s were part of a stronger dynasty.    

 

 

        The dynasty I know and love best is in baseball. 

 

        Probably because my dad was a New Yorker, I inherited his love for the New York Yankees.  The Yankees have been called the greatest sports dynasty ever: 18 division titles, 40 AL pennants, and 27 World Series championships.  They are at the top of just about everyone’s list of the al-time most successful sports franchises, on and off the field.

 

        All of these dynasties are unique, of course, but they have one thing in common.  As dominant and powerful as they were, they were all temporary.  They were transient – they all passed away.  Every single one of them.  

 

        The same is true for all worldly dynasties.  Since the beginning of recorded history, earthly empires come and go – just ask the Jews to whom Isaiah is writing.

 

        After 70 years in exile, their Babylonian captors have themselves been conquered by the Persians.  The Persian king has allowed them to return home to Judah so they can worship Yahweh there. 

 

        At first you might think they’d be off like a shot, ready to get home ASAP. But the exiles have mixed feelings about this.  In fact, the exiles are deeply divided on whether to go back or stay in Babylon.

 

        Life back in Babylon was not a horrible thing.  Babylon was a great city and the heart of the empire.  The Jews who were taken there lived a relatively good life. 

 

        They were allowed to settle in their own communities along the Chebar River, 120 miles southeast of modern day Baghdad.  They began worshipping in what would come to be known as synagogues where prayers were offered instead of other sacrifices. 

        They could farm land and grow crops. The Persians allowed them to earn income from other kinds of work as well.  Some, like Daniel and his friends, even worked in the royal palace.  Many of the exiles eventually became wealthy. 

 

        Some 50,000 chose to return to Judah.  For these, life back in Jerusalem was harsh, by comparison.

 

        Nevertheless, they eventually got to work rebuilding Solomon’s once-glorious Temple.  As they hoisted stone upon stone, beam upon beam, they must have been reminded that the reigns of even the greatest human kingdoms come to an end.

 

        500 years later, Jesus says something very similar to his followers in our Luke passage.  They’re discussing what everybody in Jerusalem is talking about: Herod the Great’s ambitious building project, a massive expansion and beautification of the Temple.

 

        It’s spectacular – precious stones, gold, running water and gleaming white marble everywhere.  As the disciples comment on its magnificent appearance, Jesus utters an ominous warning. “As for these things that you see,” he says, “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 

        That’s exactly what happened:  the Romans crushed a violent Jewish insurrection in 70 CE by breaking through the city walls and burning and looting Herod’s glorious Temple. 

 

        If you’ve ever been to Rome and the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, then you’ve seen an engraving of Roman soldiers carrying off the Menorah and other vessels from the Temple.  300 some-odd years later, Rome itself would be sacked and burned.

 

        That’s Jesus’ point:  earthly empires come and go.  The only Kingdom that lasts is the one he’s ushering in:  that’s God’s kingdom.

 

        In its fullness, it’s the new heavens and new earth that Isaiah is talking about.  The hallmarks of God’s dynasty are joy, peace and tranquility.  There are no more conquests by foreign powers, no destruction of homes or crops; no forced exiles, just a life lived as God’s blessed children.

 

        Doesn’t that sound wonderful to you?  A realm where the wolf and the lamb, instead of being predator and prey, are content to lie down beside one another in contentment and peace, without violence or fear?

 

        I suspect that sounds pretty darn good to all of us, especially after the unprecedented rancor and division of this week’s Presidential election.

 

        As a country, we are deeply divided and pitted against one another, as this election has shown.  As the columnist Michael Brooks observed recently in the New York Times, the two warring campaigns “have pushed us back into our tribal bunkers.  Americans now seem more clannish, and more incomprehensible to one another.”

 

        There is an unprecedented anger among Americans that breaks down along racial lines.  White working class Americans, who in the last century were at the very center of the American dream, have seen their lives increasingly marginalized. 

 

        Their work and skills are seemingly no longer valued, their communities - and the institutions that support them - are fractured and failing, their families are disintegrating, and their dignity is systematically stripped away. 

 

        They have seen an elite few grow increasingly rich as they have endured decades of alienation and economic decline.  These are the roots of their understandable anger. 

        It’s what we are seeing expressed in conspiracism, class warfare, racial bigotry, anti-semitism, misogyny and a reactionary authoritarianism, all of which further divides America.

 

        On the other hand are those whose race, immigration status, or low place on the socio-economic ladder, or other identity markers place them at the margins of our society.  As has been the case throughout our history, African Americans, in particular, are represented in disproportionate numbers in this group. 

        For these folks, the hope and promise they felt 8 years ago, has simply failed to materialize.  They, too, are angry and bitter.  They, too, feel betrayed and victimized. 

        I’ve never seen this divide so clearly represented as when the county-by-county election maps were shown on Tuesday night.  The divide between the cities and rural counties was stark.  Cities were blue, suburban counties were mixed, and rural counties were red. 

        It reminded me of what Abraham Lincoln famously observed:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

        I think we would all agree this kind of division is not the mark of the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed.  In God’s kingdom, peace and unity prevail.  Former enemies co-exist.  The strong and mighty don’t prey on the weak – they live together peacefully, even joyously, side-by-side.  

        The question for you and me is what does Jesus Christ call us to do to make our nation – our world – look more like his kingdom? 

        A good place to begin is by following Jesus’ example.

        Jesus bridged all manner of social divides.  He consistently defied both social convention and Mosaic law by eating and spending his days with those who lived on the margins of 1st Century Mediterranean society:  sinners, like prostitutes, thieves and tax collectors; the poor; the crippled and lame, and other outcasts.

        There are many who would question the practicality and even the advisability of seeking peace by reaching out to embrace and include the marginal.  How could it possibly work in a world seemingly governed by earthly empires in which the strong routinely prey on the weak?  

        But it turns out that researchers, as we speak, are verifying the wisdom of Jesus’ approach.

        Beginning in the 1990s, sociologists and economists pioneered a concept they call social capital – that’s code for relationships.  They’ve come to understand that our interconnectedness is critical for the happiness and economic well-being of nations and societies as a whole. 

        The key to that interconnectedness are voluntary associations, like churches, where folks from widely differing social groups can get to know each other and develop real friendships. 

        Simply put, the more social connections there are between people of differing races, means and backgrounds, the greater the social cohesion and the less conflict there is.  When you consider how divided we are today, that vision looks a lot more like the Kingdom of God.

        That begs a question. What might we do to make sure that SSPC is even more that kind of place, a congregation where people can connect across the barriers that divide them from one another in the world outside? 

        What would it take for you and me to become more open to folks who don’t look like us, who may not think like us and whose lives are different from our own?

        Whatever it may be, let’s do it.  As we do, let’s act with the confidence that we are cooperating with Christ in building the most powerful and enduring Kingdom of them all. 

        Yes, even longer-lasting than the Yankees.

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:42 AM
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