Friday, April 1, 2016

America is not the Kingdom

I've been thinking a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven lately. I recently learned that Jesus actually talked about his Kingdom more than he talked about salvation. Jesus calls it "Kingdom of God" sometimes too. I also learned that as Jesus uses the Greek word for kingdom,"βασιλεία," he refers to a Kingdom that has already started. It's not something we have to wait for death to be a part of. The Kingdom of Heaven is here.

And this Kingdom Jesus talks about is one where dreams come true: the lowly are honored, the oppressed have a voice, no one is hungry, no one is sick, no one is harmed.  Protections are established to take care of widows and children (the most vulnerable & marginalized). But it doesn't happen magically: Jesus describes a people who intentionally put their own desires aside in order to take care of one another, especially those who are outcasts. It's a kingdom in which everyone belongs to each other, one where each individual is truly valued. In this Kingdom, the way to be "great" (just like Jesus is great) is to put yourself last.

Y'all, America is not God's Kingdom. Our government is not God's design. If it were, it would look entirely different. Our politicians are certainly not the embodiment of "putting oneself last in order to be great" and I don't see a lot of value placed in our culture on putting our own desires aside in order to take care of one another or establish protections for the most vulnerable. We are the land of individualism, of "raise yourself up by your bootstraps!" of "take care of me and mine first." America values obtaining & hoarding wealth and our politicians peddle the idea of opportunities to get rich.  I'm not saying it's all bad. It's just clearly NOT the Kingdom Jesus describes. Just look at how much money our candidates are willing to spend on themselves to gain power (and how much money people are willing to donate in order to protect their own interests). During our 2012 election, candidates spent $7 billion dollars trying to be elected. And Bloomberg  estimates that this year's election spending will top ten billion. TEN BILLION DOLLARS. And that's just presidential candidates. I'm guessing you could join me in making a list of better ways that money could have been spent, huh?

So here's the thing, Christians: We are invited to be part of this Kingdom Jesus said he started when he came. It's already going on, this Kingdom of Jesus's.  Maybe it's just in our hearts right now, but maybe we are supposed to be part of bringing this Kingdom to Earth. What if acting like we are members of that Kingdom is the best way to share the love of Jesus? It certainly seems to align with Jesus' posture during his life...

So maybe, in America, we do have a right to demand some things for ourselves. Maybe, if you don't believe God would bless a gay marriage, you have a right, using our system of government, to demand that you not have to participate in it, even to the point of not baking a cake or providing any kind of goods for a wedding.  Maybe I have every right as an American to amass wealth and privilege and hoard it for me and my family. Maybe within our governmental structure, it's not my responsibility to take care of the poor & powerless.  But here's the problem: our government isn't God's Kingdom. Jesus called us to be a Kingdom of people who put ourselves last in order to lift up others. What if our LGBTQ population is part of that group of most vulnerable people (the "widows & orphans") who need some protection?  What if we are supposed to use our energy getting to know people who are different from us like the poor and working poor instead of characterizing them as lazy & shiftless and undeserving of assistance?  What if we are supposed to be reaching out across racial lines and befriending people of different races instead of continuing the status quo?  I don't know about you, but I only have so much energy in a day. I'd rather use it on something that reflects the Kingdom of Jesus and shows people just how wide Jesus' love is. The gospel of Jesus can't be good news for only one group of people, can it?

My husband told me long ago that the best way to share Jesus with someone is to listen: people will tell me exactly what it is they need to know about Jesus if I just listen to their stories. Are we so busy focusing on our own agenda that we haven't stopped to listen?

If we are in the majority in this country (I'm talking about us, white Christians), we need to ask ourselves: am I working to support things for "me and mine"? Am I more fired up about gaining more protections for myself & my own group than I am for people who are vulnerable or unprotected? Is the gospel I'm peddling good news just for people who look & live like me or is it the gospel of Jesus: good news for the marginalized, for the downtrodden, for the forgotten,for everyone?

America isn't the Kingdom of Heaven and we can't force it to be. But we have opportunities within this crazy, flawed governmental structure to be a force for Jesus. It's up to use to take them.

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