An inside out kingdom John 18-33-37
Here I have an old telephone (old black wall phone)…here I have the latest
and best (A mobile).
Here I have an old way of recording music (a vinyl record)…and here is the latest (an ipod). Advancement is good. Getting better, being greater, having more is what life is all about; as the rhyme goes:
Good better best, never let it lest, until your good is better and your better’s best!
You and I live in a world of advancement. Everything is going from the good to the greater; from the better to the best! Our way of knowing who we are personally and even collectively as a nation or kingdom of people, is to judge how we have improved. Advancement is the ruler we use to measure who we are; it defines us as a person; whether we have advanced from good to best gives us worth and value in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. To go the other way, to lose it, to go from best to good or from everything to nothing…from new to old…installs in us the feeling that we are worthless.
You and I are part of, and contribute to, the make up of this kingdom, in which we live; a kingdom that is addicted to advancement; a kingdom of individuals that judge and define self-worth by the measure of advancement. Look at the pressure we put ourselves under in order to fertilize, nurture and grow the seeds of advancement; to look and feel up to date. Where has the 38 hr week gone? Where has the lazy Saturday morning and the weekend off with the family gone? Where is the one wage household gone? Gone to the god of advancement. And like all false god’s, the god of advancement demands a sacrifice. The sacrifice is our time. And our free time is slaughtered on the altar is consumerism.
It doesn’t stop there. Consumerism is only the symptom of something more sinister and evil. There is another kingdom devoted to advancement that drives everything else, and that is our own very being; our ego, as the psychologists describe it. St Paul calls our personal advancement driver the sinful nature. He writes ‘I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.’ We can’t carry out good because that would mean someone else would advance ahead of us…now ‘that’s unfair’. Who’s had to teach your children to say that? No, its comes naturally!
The sinful nature, our natural inclination or instinct is to advance ourselves. We feel we need to be on a constant continuum of personal advancement. From good, to better, to best. This desire and need is driving the whole scientific idea of evolutionary theory and turning it into a belief system, with the core belief being that we are constantly evolving into better and better people. Evolutionism, not evolutionary theory, which is true science, has the sinful nature as its driving force. It falsely tricks us into thinking we are better educated, better skilled, better moral people than ever before. But are we? Are you a better person than your parents, or their parents, or there parent’s parents? Is natural evolution responsible for making us into better people?
If we are better than the people of past centuries, what does that say about God? Who after he had created humans, ‘…saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’? Are we now, by our own effort, better people than God could ever make us?
The sinful nature, which wants to take the place of God and be king, is what drives us to desire personal advancement. But because we are not the creator, but the created, we can never become our best. So when we see others advance ahead of us, or when someone who disrupts our advancement, we get angry. The desire to advance the Jewish nation and religious customs is what drove the Jews to send Jesus to Pontius Pilate. It drove the Jews, the scribes and the teachers of the law, to demand Jesus’ execution.
For them, Jesus was a failure. He was not advancing their desire for the Jewish kingdom. What king owns nothing? What king rides into town on a donkey? What king claims he will tear down the temple, when he should be building it even bigger? He didn’t even seem to advance himself socially and more importantly…morally. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law felt he got in their way of moral improvement and often muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Even Pilate was somewhat amused an inquired “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” …” In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Jesus agrees that he is a king, but his kingdom is not outwardly recognizable. It is not of this world. It is not a kingdom defined by social, ethical or material advancement. Jesus’ kingdom is about loss and not gain; about his disciples dying to self and taking up their cross. Jesus is a king who came to suffer, to be destroyed and to be torn down, as he said “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Jesus tried to tell everyone he met, that his kingdom, God’s kingdom was at hand, ‘repent the kingdom of heaven is near’. But many laughed, ridiculed and mocked him. They could see no evidence of it. No pomp and ceremony. But there indeed was, if only they had eyes of faith. Jesus said ‘my kingdom is from another place.’ Many today still mock Jesus saying ‘the world is no better?’ Even many of us who are Christians still look for signs of advancement; signs that God’s kingdom is indeed near…miracles, conversions, people suddenly cured of disease. We want to see sin eradicated from the church and people passionate about their faith.
We want and expect of ourselves and each other the advancement motto ‘Good better best, never let it lest, until your good is better and your better’s best! Is Christian ethics what Jesus was all about? Is the requirement of the kingdom of God to be the best person you can be? Would Jesus really have gone to the cross, suffered whippings, beatings and ultimately a humiliating death by crucifixion, just so we can be better people outwardly? Is worldly advancement worth going to the cross?
The good news of God’s kingdom is far more radical and life changing than just social or material improvement. The kingdom of Jesus is a gift of restoration with him and renewal on the inside. Through the means of grace, baptism and Holy Communion, the gift of God’s kingdom are given, forgiveness, victory over sin, death and the devil. No advancement, just total renewal. The sacrifice and hard work of having to move from good to best, has already been offered by Jesus on the altar of the cross. It was there that the best man payed the debt of the worst.
It was there, hidden in suffering and selflessness, that Jesus’ opened a new way to God; where by his blood we are made the best we could ever be; inwardly, as written in Hebrews ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.’ There was not and is not any visible advancement in the kingdom of God. It is an inside-out kingdom, as St Paul says ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’
Let me demonstrate how the kingdom of God renews us inwardly. (get a candle and put it straight up and down, to demonstrate how we think as Christians we need to get better and better, to be like Jesus and to be nearer to Jesus.. Then, tip the candle on the side. This demonstrates the Christian life is not a ladder, but a renewing. Outwardly we may look and feel the same; sometimes better, sometimes worse. The wick is the Holy Spirit inside us. Light the candle, and the flame is Christ. As Christ shines in our heart, the Holy Spirit is taking away more and more of us and our self-righteousness, as John the Baptist said ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ The Holy Spirit reveals our sin so we can recognize sin and then don’t want to go there. Finally, only the Spirit and Jesus remain at death, our works and good deeds have no-bearing.
Jesus said ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Jesus invites not orders. He encourages not demands. He is the one who gives us worth, it is he who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”