Sermons

Sun, Nov 22, 2015

A kingdom not OF this world

Series:Sermons

The events last weekend in Paris were horrifying:

several coordinated terrorist attacks––

at a rock concert…

in a number of cafes…

and at a soccer stadium––

bombs detonated…

bullets sprayed…

bodies broken, slumped, and bleeding.

To date, one hundred and thirty are dead and more than three hundred injured.

Responsibility was quickly claimed by the group variously known as ISIS or ISIL or I.S.

In response, the president of France declared a state of emergency…

deployed heavily armed troops to patrol the streets of Paris…

closed the country’s borders…

foreshadowed changes to the country’s constitution…

and escalated France’s military involvement in the civil war in Syria.

Indeed, the next day, the French air force launched a sizeable airstrike in Syria…

against ISIS’s base of operations;

and repeated it the following day.

The shockwave of grief that spread across the globe was followed…

soon after…

by threats, verbal assaults, and attacks on innocent Muslims in Britain…

and the United States…

and here in Australia.

 

And that’s a pattern that we have seen repeated so often in recent decades:

in Ireland…

in Palestine…

and, not least of course, in the United States following September Eleven.

Someone launches an attack…

which, they claim, is simply a response to the suffering that they––

their families, their compatriots, their co-religionists––

have experienced.

Those in power respond in kind…

or, more frequently, by upping the ante…

and, eventually, it elicits another attack…

and another wave of reprisals.

The cycle of violence––

of attack and vengeful retaliation––

becomes self-perpetuating.

Indeed, a number of former military drone operators in the United States…

have written an open letter demanding an end to their government’s drone programme…

because, they claim, the high number of civilian casualties…

and the callousness of the drone strikes…

is responsible for much anti-American sentiment in the Middle East…

and it plays a significant role in breeding extremism.

 

There is, indeed, a cycle of violence.

And in this cycle of violence––

as the English theologian, Giles Fraser, points out––

the combatants…

“come to look more and more like each other. They become like enemy twins––though both use any means possible to morally distinguish themselves from each other. Still, they respond to each other in the same way”.

Instead, he pleads…

“we must break the cycle by refusing to mirror our enemies”…

by refusing “to be defined by the violent other”…

by refusing “to answer back in kind”.

But it’s hard.

It goes against the grain.

It’s so contrary to our natures…

to our instinct…

to the way that the world is and the way that it works.

When attacked, we have to defend ourselves.

When those we love are hurt, we want to hurt back.

But unless we stop––

unless we stop retaliating;

unless we stop giving into hate and the need for revenge––

nothing is going to change.

We will just keep feeding this vicious, violent cycle.

And it was a point that Waleed Aly made in response to the Paris attacks.

He noted that the goal of ISIS––

indeed, it is something that they state clearly in their own literature––

is to split the world into two.

They want countries in the West to reject and vilify Muslims…

because if Muslims are made to feel as if they don’t belong…

that they aren’t welcome in the West…

that they are only regarded with loathing and contempt…

then they will join ISIS.

So, every time that some ignorant racist here harangues or attacks an innocent Muslim…

every time that someone makes an Islamophobic insult…

every time that a politician fosters division and hate…

they are simply helping ISIS.

They are simply helping to perpetuate this evil, merry-go-round of violence;

until we––

or our descendants––

as Martin Luther King jr so eloquently put it…

“will be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation”.

We must break the cycle…

and we can only do so with a radical change:

not just in our structures…

not just in the way that we do things…

not just in the way that we speak and the language that we use…

but in the way that we think…

in the way that we live and breathe…

in the way that we see ourselves and the “other”

in who we are––

in the very core of our beings.

As King, himself, made clear:

“Returning hate for hate only multiplies hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.

Love, not hate, must be our response––

even to those who would do us harm;

perhaps especially to those who would do us harm.

Our example, in this, is not the Pauline Hansons of the world…

but the Antoine Leiris’s––

the young Frenchman whose wife was one of the victims of the Paris attacks…

but who has posted a message to those who killed his wife, declaring, “You will not have my hatred”.

 

And for those of us who claim the name of ‘Christian’…

for those of us who seek to follow Christ…

we have the perfect example of this from Jesus himself.

We find it expounded time and again in Jesus’ teaching, in all of the Gospels:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”;

or…

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also”.

And we see it––

again, in all of the Gospels––

in the way that Jesus went to his death:

without a word of hate or revenge.

Non-retaliation…

non-violence…

peace…

wasn’t just something about which he spoke.

It wasn’t just a value or ideal that he espoused.

It was something that he lived.

It was something that he embodied.

And yet, in our reading this morning from John’s Gospel––

in the interchange between Jesus and Pilate––

the author offers an even more profound insight.

In response to Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Judeans?”

The author has Jesus reply, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…But as it is, my kingdom is not from here”.

My kingdom is not from this world.

It’s not a particularly good translation, because it seems to be framed in a spatial sense.

The kingdom of God is elsewhere.

Not here.

It’s concern is only with spiritual matters––

with personal morality and personal salvation.

That’s certainly how many hear and read it.

But, literally, the Greek says, “My kingdom is not of this world”…

which seems to be pointing to an ‘essential’ sense.

My kingdom is of a different kind to this world.

It has a different origin, a different source;

but also it espouses and embodies different values.

Otherwise, the comment about his followers not fighting to rescue him doesn’t make sense.

Here, the author of John’s Gospel makes the bold assertion that Christ is not like earthly kings…

and the ways of God’s Kingdom are not like earthly kingdoms.

If Jesus embodies non-retaliation…

non-violence…

and peace…

then so do his followers––

so do those who belong to this kingdom that is not of this world.

Today, as we celebrate the kingship of Christ…

that

in effect…

is what we are claiming for ourselves.

That is who we are claiming to be––

or to become. 

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