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The Truth and the Kingdom of God

show video of several movie clips of Pilate asking Jesus if he is a king and what is truth from The Kings of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Gospel of John, The Passion of Christ, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus of Nazareth & the Colonel Jessep quote from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth.”

This is the last Sunday of the Christian Year. We’ve gone through the story of Jesus and we are ending the year on the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Today’s theme is about what is the truth; what is the difference between the kingdom of Pilate and the kingdom of Jesus. Its about the difference between the kingdom of the Jewish Religious Rulers and the kingdom of God.

Pilate’s kingdom was the kingdom of power & violence, of the conqueror and of oppression, the kingdom of might makes right. Pilate believed you made people behave by force and by fear. The High Priest’s kingdom was the kingdom of the wealthy and the pious.

In Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s book The Lost Message, they write: “In [the eyes of Israel's first-century religious leaders], you were a ‘sinner’ if you were a Gentile (a non-Jew), a tax collector, a shepherd or involved in a dozen other ‘dirty’ jobs; if you were unfortunate enough to suffer from leprosy, blindness or any other incurable complaint or disease; or if you had broken one of the hundreds of petty laws they had established. As the New Testament scholar James Dunn graphically puts it, if you fell into one of these categories, you were an ‘outsider’. Or to state it another way, the Pharisees had a very simple message for you: ‘Repent! Purify yourself in order to make yourself socially and religiously acceptable. Until then, regard yourself as 'unclean'—a social and religious outcast!’”

But Jesus’ kingdom was exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount.

Again, Chalke and Mann write: “As Jesus looked around at the ordinary people gathered before him on the hillside — the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the excluded, the sick and despised, he knew things had to change. All the discriminatory labels the religious leaders had previously pinned on these people that had denied them dignity, privilege, honour, political enfranchisement, relationship with God and access to community had to be torn down. Such discrimination could have no part in a Kingdom ruled by God. So into this two-track world of the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, the ‘righteous’ and the ‘sinful’ came the piercing words of Jesus: ‘God will bless you people who are spiritually poor. God will bless you hungry people … God will bless you people who are crying.’”

This is known as the Be-attitudes. God will bless the poor, they that mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness.

Again, Chalke and Mann write: “If Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount today, who would he add to his list? ‘God bless you who are lonely, ugly, old, anorexic, bullied, infertile, displaced, over-worked, redundant, underpaid, homeless, unemployed, abused — God’s Kingdom belongs to you.’ And if he did, would the church love him or hate him for it?”

Jesus also said love your enemies, because love is more powerful than hate.

In Brian Zahnd’s book Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness, he writes:

“…Sermon on the Mount Christianity is the very kind of Christianity that can change the world. The Christlike love that absorbs the blow and responds with forgiveness is the only real hope this world has for a real change. To respond to the hate with hate enshrines the status quo and only guarantees that hate will win—it’s what keeps the world as it is. We tend to think that our hatred of our enemies is justified because we can point to their obvious crimes, and as the logic goes, if we were in charge instead of our enemies, things would be different. But history tells a different story. Hatred, no matter how justifiable, simply fuels the endless cycle of revenge. Nothing really changes except that lines on a map get redrawn. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. Christianity has more to offer the world than recycled revenge.

“…as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to believe in the radical proposition that love is more powerful than hate. We are called to believe that although hatred may be very powerful it’s love that never fails, and that love is the greatest thing of all. If we hate our enemies because they first hated us, and return hate for hate because that’s what hate does, we will continue to live in the ugly world of hate and its endless cycle of revenge. But when love enters the world of hate and is willing to love even its enemies, a new and real kind of change comes to the world—a change where hate does not have the last word.”

Jesus also said if someone takes your shirt give them your coat also. I believe that applies to tables, too. If someone takes a shirt off of your table give them your coat also. (If you set up a table to collect clothes for the homeless and you notice that some of the clothes are missing, I don’t think hiding the clothes until you can deliver them yourself to the homeless is what Jesus would do.)

Jesus said treat others as you want to be treated; what we call the ‘Golden Rule’. Did you know the Golden Rule can be found in virtually every religion in the world?

In Dave Andrews’ book, Plan Be, he says it is written:
in Hinduism—‘Never do to others what would pain you’
in Buddhism—‘Hurt not others with that which hurts yourself’
in Zoroastrianism—‘Do not to others what is not well for oneself’
in Jainism—‘One who neglects existence disregards their own existence’
in Confucianism—‘Do not impose on others what you do not yourself desire’
in Taoism—‘Regard your neighbour’s loss or gain as your own loss or gain’
in Baha’i—‘Desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself’
in Judaism—‘What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor’
in Christianity—‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’
in Islam—‘Do unto all people as you would they should do to you’
in Sikhism—‘Treat others as you would be treated yourself’.

It seems to be a universal law. You might even say God thought it was so important that he made sure it made its way into every religion.

But Jesus also said If you love someone who loves you back, what good is that? Even sinners love people who love them. As followers of Jesus’ kingdom, we are called to a greater love, a forgiving love.

Jesus said don’t judge — forgive, show grace.

Again, Zahnd writes:
“Grace is why Jesus could call the poor and persecuted…the mournful and meek…blessed. Jesus’ entire life and message were the embodiment of the grace that triumphs over the cold pragmatism of a world where the strong dominate the weak. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness is not rooted in a naive optimism but in the grace that takes the blame, covers the shame, and removes the stain and the endless cycle of revenge.

“…Christians are not just recipients of forgiving grace; we are also called to be those who extend the grace of forgiveness to others. Christians are to be carriers of grace to a world cursed with...endless cycles of revenge.”

Brian McLaren writes
“Jesus’ grace didn't start with the wealthy and hope it trickles down. For Jesus grace is grassroots, bottom-up work.” In Jesus’ upside down kingdom grace doesn’t start at the top and trickle down, it starts at the bottom and works its way up. People, please we need to get this through our heads: grace is not fair—grace never has been fair and it never will be fair.

Jesus said we are called to be witnesses to the kingdom of God—not lawyers. Not lawyers or judges or police of His kingdom, but witnesses to the truth.

In the parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus says:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.”

The hungry and thirsty are those on food stamps; the stranger is the alien, illegal or not; the naked are those on welfare; the sick are those without healthcare; and those in prison…America has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world's prison population… Something is wrong...with our kingdom.

We’ve heard a lot lately about ‘takers and moochers’…In case you’ve forgotten we are all takers and moochers, not just 47% of us. We are takers of God’s love and moochers of His blessings. And I bet most of us still believe we are entitled to His love. We who have made the tough choices and lived the righteous life—we’ve earned it. And yet, the truth is not one of us, not one, deserves the kind of love and grace that God gives to each and every person.

But the most radical thing Jesus said was that God’s kingdom was here, now, at hand. You only needed belief.

In McLaren’s book The Secret Message of Jesus, he writes:
“...this kingdom advances slowly, quietly, under the surface—like yeast in dough, like a seed in soil. It advances with faith. When people believe it is true, it becomes true.” When we believe it is true, it will become true.

Wes White writes that Jesus taught:
“The radical revolutionary empire of God is here, advancing by reconciliation and peace, expanding by faith, hope, and love—beginning with the poorest, the weakest, the meekest, and the least. It’s time to change. It’s time for a new way of life. Believe me. Follow me. Believe this good news so you can learn to live by it and be part of the revolution.”

Jerry Barlow says “Jesus loves everybody — get over it.”

I think part of our problem is that we want to treat everyone like we treated our own kids but we have to realize that most of the people we meet are more like adopted kids. With our own kids we were able to use judgement, discipline and punishment to teach them right from wrong. But with kids adopted at an older age, kids who have been mistreated, abused, and unloved, kids that have been through hell, we have to earn their trust and respect, first, before they will even listen to us. We have to show them what love is before they will understand who Jesus is. We need to realize that most people we meet are more like adopted children in Jesus’ kingdom.

Today, followers of Jesus’ kingdom are still dealing with the kingdoms of government: kingdoms of violence and fear. Today, they are still dealing with the kingdom of the wealthy and pious; and who are the Pharisees of today?

I recently read something the Family Research Council, a “Christian” organization wrote. They said that love is just liberal talk for abandoning absolute truth and biblical authority. They wrote:

“That abandonment of principle is leading to a decline in membership, especially among the more liberal denominations. As more churches move away from biblical authority, their attendance suffers. Just ask the Episcopal Church, whose pews are virtually empty after the decision to endorse homosexuality. It’s time to push back on the spin that’s feeding our weak brethren who say that compromising truth in pursuit of love is the way to reach the lost. Intuitively, people want to anchor their lives to something meaningful — something that demands the sacrifice and discipline of ‘taking up your cross.’ When a denomination abandons the truth and waters everything down to love, it reduces the church to another hour of Dr. Phil — which is something Americans can get without ever leaving home.”

A “Christian” organization says love is not truth; in fact, it is something that erodes truth — the refuge of spineless liberals and Episcopalians intent on “compromising truth” and rejecting “biblical authority.” Yes, even today, followers of Jesus’ kingdom are still having to deal with the kingdom of the ‘Pharisees’.

Steven Colbert, the comedian who invented the word ‘truthiness’, also said:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

I really can’t say it any better than Rob Bell does in his video called Bullhorn. In this video he talks about the kind of kingdom that a lot of Christians, like the guy who stands on the street corner with a bullhorn preaching to everyone who walks by, believes in and the kind of kingdom that Jesus taught us to believe in.

--- video clip from Bullhorn by Nooma:

“This writer John in the Bible writes in one of his letters to the first Christians, “If you say that you love God and you don’t love the people around you, then you are a liar.” It’s almost as if John says that how you love others that’s how you love God.
See, bullhorn guy, this is why the yelling and the bullhorn are so disturbing to us, it seems like you’re just trying to convert people to your religion.
Like they’re notches on some sort of spiritual belt. But they’re not. They’re people, they’re people that God loves. They’re people that Jesus wants us to love.
They aren’t statistics, they aren’t numbers, they aren’t possible conversions.
I mean, if, if I’m loving somebody with an agenda, then it isn’t really love, is it?
‘By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
So a Christian is somebody who understands this, who understands that people with different perspectives and different religious beliefs and convictions, they’re to be loved and respected, because they’re made by God, and they’re sacred and they’re valuable and they matter.
God loves the world, so a Christian does too.


Do you want the truth? Do you really want to know the truth? Well, the truth is… The truth is I don’t think we can handle the truth…

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next week is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new year. My prayer, in the words of Rob Bell, is “May we see that how we love others IS how we love God. That’s it. That's the way of love. That’s the way of Jesus.” That’s the truth we need to testify to.

—Priest Robert Thomas
rough notes from a sermon given in November, 2012