This past week, the Commonwealth realm celebrated the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne. She became queen in 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI. Known as the “Diamond Jubilee,” celebrations included a weekend concert, a procession of the Royal Family through the streets of London on Tuesday, and an appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace later that day.
I watched some of the festivities on CNN. You could see the joy felt by those who gathered to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. They weren’t there to meet a celebrity, but to meet their monarch and head of state. CNN commentator and British native Pierce Morgan called it a “patriotic” event. Indeed, it was exactly that.
This was also a very public announcement. The festivities announced that this kingdom, and the Royal Family, were still a powerful and influential force. Queen Elizabeth II is not going anywhere and neither is the commonwealth’s kingdom.
While the celebration was a powerful public announcement that captivated our attention, I yearn for a different kingdom to be our focus. Friends, the British kingdom is not my type of kingdom. Neither are the powers of this world my type of authority. I hope the same is true for you. That is because we are citizens of a greater kingdom. Our kingdom is not of this world and cannot be defined by the powers of this world. The kingdom we are citizens of is the Kingdom of God.
Today, we are making a public announcement of our own. That is that the Kingdom of God is here, as we await it to come in its fullness.
This announcement might be hard to understand. There are several reasons for this. As we embark on this new sermon series on the Kingdom of God, we will wrestle with why it may be hard for us to fully comprehend God’s kingdom. One of those reasons is important to discuss this morning. That reason is the fact we ignore the Kingdom of God in the church today. It doesn’t matter if it is at our two churches, within the United Methodist Church, or throughout the American church. For too long, we have failed to fully pay attention to the Kingdom of God, which leads to us not being able to recognize it in our presence.
This is dangerous and leads to a disturbing consequence. To ignore the Kingdom of God is to ignore the majority of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. We have a tendency to view the teaching between Jesus’ birth and Passion as unimportant. This certainly wasn’t Jesus’ intention. His preaching focus was to express what the Kingdom of God looked like, while inaugurating the kingdom in the presence of his followers and detractors.
His words about the Kingdom of God are important for us to understand, because we are living in the present reality of God’s reign here on earth. Because of this, Jesus calls each of his followers to live as people of the Kingdom of God. This is a calling not just for Sundays when we are inside the church, but it is a daily calling lived out in our personal lives, with our families, and in how we interact with and serve our community and world.
When we proclaim that Jesus Christ is our Lord, we make a statement that says that Jesus has authority and dominion over us. Living as kingdom people is our response to this affirmation of faith. This isn’t a new idea, but it is the recognition of what Jesus and the early church saw as one of the most important statements that the church can make. That is that God reigns in our world today and has dominion in our lives.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to unpack what it means that God reigns and how we are called to live in response. Today, our focus is on what it means that the Kingdom of God is here. Next week, we will focus on what it means to await the kingdom to come in its fullness.
Today, we can have confidence knowing that we can proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here. When we say that the Kingdom of God is present, we recognize God’s dominion in our life and in our world. The realities of the Kingdom of God is available to all. Upon receiving the free gift of faith, we become recipients of the Kingdom of God. It is not for a select few, but for all who desire to be in relationship with God.
The Kingdom of God is here, but it does not look like how we may want it to look. When we think of the Kingdom of God, we are faced with the temptation to place the world’s powers and ideas on top of God’s kingdom. To do so makes our ideas and desires an idol that we turn into a god to be worshiped. Of course, this is wrong, because it places something of us above right worship with God. It also doesn’t embrace the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, many of us continue to fall into this temptation.
For example, you might have heard, at some point, the idea of the Social Gospel. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the Social Gospel was a prominent movement that still has its advocates today. The Social Gospel stressed justice and reconciliation ministries as the prominent way to share the message of Christ’s love. A lot of good results and Christian organizations came about because of this movement. However, I find the Social Gospel lacking depth. Don’t get me wrong, as Christians we must be about justice and reconciliation. Justice and reconciliation without the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is not true justice.
There is also another type of temptation that we face. We often see God’s kingdom embodied in the political and governmental structures of the United States. For a long time, the American church believed that America was New Jerusalem and the best thing God has ever given the world. This belief continues today when we act – either openly or privately – that our ideology or partisan political party is representative of God’s desires. This is a common narrative on both the right and the left, but it is misguided and lacks true focus. The Kingdom of God rises above partisan discourse and is not defined by any world power. God’s reign on earth has something to say about the many issues we face, but does so by challenging the basic power structure that is dominant in our world and country. The Kingdom of God is not Democratic. It is not Republican. It is not wrapped in the American flag. God’s grace, law, and desires challenges our world views and calls us to be witnesses of a greater truth.
That greater truth is that the Kingdom of God is present. Friends, we are a part of it today. This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees in our passage from Luke. The Pharisees approached Jesus with a question about when the Kingdom of God would come. They knew Jesus taught about the Kingdom, so they wanted to know why they had not seen it yet.
Perhaps like us, the Pharisees were expecting something like the British royal procession. They expected God’s reign to begin with a grand entrance and celebration. We want that as well and maybe that is another reason why we struggle to recognize that the Kingdom of God is here. God’s kingdom doesn’t come through the ways of the world. This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees. The Kingdom of God is here today because of the foolishness of the incarnation and the cross. Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion serve kingdom purposes and usher in God’s reign.
At the incarnation, Christ, the Son of God, humbly entered the world as its king. Christ took on the form of a servant, the form of a human, in Jesus and came and walked among us. That act inaugurated the Kingdom of God, because it announced that Earth’s true king had arrived and came to bring others into the kingdom through faith. God’s reign was reestablished in a world that had turned its back on God. This is the true picture of grace that God freely sent his Son.
What about the crucifixion and the resurrection? What kingdom significance do these moments play? The crucifixion is Jesus’ victory over the powers of this world. When He took on the most horrific form of punishment ever imagined, he defeated the powers of this world. They could not defeat the King of Kings, and because of this the kingdoms of this world are no longer in power. God’s reign is here. The resurrection gives us the hope that this is true. When Jesus rose from the grave, it was proof that the powers of this world had been defeated and will be completely defeated when Christ returns. These are not separate events, but together public proclaim that God’s reign in the world is present and active.
If God’s kingdom is alive and present, then where is it? God’s kingdom does not live in the physical realm, but in the spiritual. Yet, God’s kingdom is still very visible to us. Jesus alerts us to this. When we confess our faith in Jesus, the kingdom becomes a reality in the depths of our soul. The Kingdom of God lives in our hearts and can be seen in how we, as individuals and a community, live our lives through our words, actions, and deeds.
As followers, we are called to be transformed by aligning ourselves with God’s desires. This is what we see in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus teaches not only what the Kingdom of God looks like, but how we are to participate in the bringing in of the Kingdom of God today. We should take seriously Jesus’ command to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” because the Kingdom of God is here. We should serve others as if we are serving Christ, because God’s reign is present. We should love our enemies, proclaim justice and reconciliation, and desire for all people to experience repentance and transformation because Jesus is our Lord and King. Friends, we take seriously Jesus’ words not because they are written in red, but because they show us how God desires us to live as witnesses and bringers of the Kingdom of God as kingdom people.
We are indeed people of a kingdom – God’s kingdom. This will be our focus in the weeks ahead. For today, know this: We are called to align our lives and our mission with that of the Kingdom of God. The challenge is for us to not just say that the kingdom of God is real, but to live it out and proclaim in everything we do and everything that we are.
When this happens, something amazing occurs. The church moves from being a noun to being a verb, full of action and power that is a fruit of our relationship in Jesus Christ.
As we embark on this journey of looking deeply into the Kingdom of God, I want to invite you to ponder what this means for your life, our churches, our community, our denomination, and our world. Ask yourself these questions: How has the Kingdom of God affected my life? How am I being a witness of the Kingdom to those whom I interact with? How might we share the Kingdom with our community and world?