Kingdom or ‘kindom’?
June 10, 2018
Scriptures: 1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15) 16-20 (11:14-15), Mark 3:20-35
Kingdom or ‘kindom’…warring or loving? Truly there has been and continues to be a battle raging for the very soul of humanity. It is an age-old struggle, rooted in the need for self-preservation at the dawn of history…back when ‘survival of the fittest’ ruled over all of creation including our earliest ancestors, back when humanity first started receiving God’s attempts at the revelation of God-self. It is a battle we see first revealed in ancient artifacts and cave paintings that variously depicted pitched battles of war and of the hunt for food, as well as reflective wonderings on the nature and meaning of life. In fact with some of these ancient works of art we see the beginnings of spiritual longings and belief.
And with time, as humanity began to grow and evolve into the potential of God’s vision and promise these two aspects so central to the human story; the innate drive for self-preservation versus a love for God and one another continued to play themselves out in the life and archeological record of humanity. And as we see from the dawn of recorded history up until this day all throughout history, in our art and literature and all through our social consciousness of the human story this ancient conflict remains front and center. And this at least for Christians is interesting, for it was one of the central issues addressed in the ministry of Jesus.
All through the teachings of Jesus we hear that there is but one true way to realize God’s Day of Hope and Promise, and that is through the pursuit of love not war. It is through Jesus that we are reminded that our God’s desire is for humanity to live in blessed community. It is in Jesus’ opening up of the ancient texts that we hear that humanity is indeed capable of letting go of the trappings of pre-history and moving into a new age of grace and peace absent the warring and strife that has been so much a part of our story…from the cave paintings of an ancient battle between archers in Morella La Vella, Spain all the way up to the potential summit this week between the United States and North Korea over the future of nuclear weapons of mass destruction on the Korean peninsula. Jesus’ call to walk the way of peace through loving is a lesson long taught but seldom if ever heard, and unfortunately even less frequently believed.
We also see this issue, this struggle for the heart of humanity played out throughout the Old Testament, throughout the historical biblical record of the journey of the Hebrew people. And though often brushed right on by in this day by those who insist on maintaining or restoring ancient tribal exclusiveness, we first hear the original all-inclusive and communal intent of our God in the call to Abram in which God’s covenant to this the father of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faith was told that he would be blessed so that he in turn could be a blessing to all others…to all nations.
That original ‘intent’ however proves to be in stark contrast to humanity’s stubborn insistence in relying on security and ‘blessing’ through force and strength of arms. This is nowhere demonstrated more vividly than in our passage from 1 Samuel today in which we see the Israelites rejecting the ‘lordship’ of God in favor of an earthly king who they reason would be able to lead them to victory on the battlefield.
Now in all fairness to them, the ancient world in which this scripture was cast was indeed still very much steeped in war and the conquest of peoples through military might and the force of battle. However through Samuel the Lord clearly lays out the truth of the ultimate futility of trusting in the ways and strength of human might and power over the protective and secure guidance of our Lord of love and grace. We hear Samuel very specifically laying out the perils and pain that will surely accompany the abandonment of trusting in and leaning on the Lord and investing instead in the administration and consequences of war…a warning that unfortunately has proven itself to be true over and over again down through the ages. And it is also a decision that has and continues to devour fully the lion’s share of the resources humanity was gifted…resources that otherwise could have helped to craft truly an amazing world of peace and goodness.
But change or even possibly considering the change that needs to begin in order to restore God’s original vision of a day of peace across all of Creation as foretold by prophets both ancient and modern seems next to impossible. And this is due to the ways in which the more forceful ‘Kingdom of Power and Might’ has consistently emerged as the apparent victor over the ‘Community of Love and Compassion’ that was ‘announced’ and championed by Jesus during his time on earth.
Simply put, our culture here in the West, as well as across the whole globe has elevated human strength and power into the position it now holds through an entrenched system of language, thought, and ideas that are reinforced through methods of oppression, injustice, and conquest. Imagining that our Lord still holds out the possibility that humanity can find her way home to that place of once again accepting the Lordship of God over the power and might of the State seems like a fool’s errand…at least, and perhaps especially from a position of being citizenry of the most militarily powerful nation in all of history.
However laying down our arms and taking up the call for peace and non-violence remains as the central core and challenge of the Christian faith even to this moment. And it probably seems like such a fool’s errand because so much needs to be ‘un-learned’, and ‘un-believed’, and ‘untrusted-in’ in order for us to be unafraid to lift our eyes and ears towards the grace of God that still waits on the willing heart.
In truth, even finding a starting point for unlearning war and ways of dominance over one another seems like a daunting if not extremely difficult task. For so much of our life seems so dependent on the power-based status quo despite its weaknesses and despite its lack of resemblance to virtually any of Jesus’ teachings. However, the difficulty of the task in no way diminishes how critically important it is both for the realization of God’s ultimate will and purposes, but also for the survival of the planet and the future of the human story. Which is not to sound ‘chicken-little-ish’ whatsoever but rather to state honestly and humbly that the Lord expects much more of us who have the means to begin the journey towards a more peaceful and sustainable future.
And so I would propose that a possible starting point for beginning this process of change is to look carefully and critically at how we communicate with each other…to look at the language and the terms we use and whenever possible to root out words, phrases, and terminology that reinforce ways of dominance or subjugation. So much of the language we use day to day has embedded within it these terms and idioms that contain coded messages that are all designed to preserve the status quo of strength and dominance. And probably the most difficult part of all of this is that we were all brought up communicating in these ways…we were all conditioned during the early formative years of our lives to talk in certain ways, to utilize certain phrases in order to convey certain ‘truths’, certain feelings, certain norms of communication and understanding. And as such, even seeing them or recognizing many of them as having underlying negative energy or intent, even though often veiled, can be very difficult and at times even frustrating.
Take for example the movement over the past decade or more to increase gender-neutral terminology both in social discourse and even in age-old works of literature such as hymns and scripture readings. Now many see this as petty, annoying, and unnecessary. However in truth much of the terminology in question does uphold and reinforce male-centric and male-dominant thought and behavior.
And how often do we forget, in our repetition of Eve’s temptation of Adam with the proverbial apple, which none too subtly places all of the blame on her, that the other and older Creation story recounted at the beginning of Genesis is markedly different? In this account starting with Genesis 1and verse one we see that God created both male and female simultaneously as co-equal parts of the ‘Indeed, Good Creation’, prior to the apple, prior to disobedience, and prior to the expulsion from the garden. In fact how hard is it for us to even consider calling God something other than ‘Father’?
Which is not to judge anyone or anything but rather to say that as we grow into greater consciousness of our call to love one another, every one another, there is a need as well to allow the Holy Spirit to gently guide us into new ways of loving and new ways of respecting one another…in all our ways, in all our words, and in all our thoughts.
But there is one thing that has troubled me for a long time, and that is our love of and preoccupation with the power and forceful imagery that by its very nature accompanies language of ‘royalty’. And again I am sure there are those who will roll their eyes at the suggestion that we should abandon such language altogether, perhaps holding at the very least that we should reserve it for Godself.
However, isn’t that the precisely the point? If Jesus called us to be as a servant one to another, if God warned the Israelites through Samuel that ways of kingship and royalty would only lead to hardship and abject personal misery, then why do we insist on preserving this artifact of human history that survives now in only in a few places? My friends…‘Kings’ lord it over…‘Kings’ rule by might, power, and force…‘Kings’ have ‘subjects’ not friends or brothers as Jesus insisted we were to him.
And that brings us to the title of our meditation today. When I was in Seminary I came across many works of what is known broadly as ‘Liberation Theology’. Works of theological reflection written by members of groups or populations who were anything but the dominant and ruling classes or peoples currently in power in the West. And one of those theologians, a Mujerista Theologian or Latin-American woman whose theology speaks to the struggle and oppression of these members of our human family was named Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. And she coined a term which resonated deeply with my discomfort with royalist language and its effect upon the Christian witness when she replaced the word ‘Kingdom’ with ‘kindom’…a term which I found to be far more truthful and much closer to the character of Jesus and the nature of the message we find within the gospels.
And while I could go on and on with other examples of ways in which we could begin to deconstruct our current processes and methods of communication and the ways we often inadvertently state our status quo reinforcing positions and beliefs, there is one other word I would like to leave you with today…a word that meant what Jesus intended when he spoke it. However it is also a word that has lost much in its translation over into the English from the Greek…and that difference has had an enormous impact on the history of how our simple faith founded on a basic principal came to be so closely aligned with structures of power and dominance.
And that Greek word uttered by Jesus was ‘ekklesia’, which has come down to us over the centuries as ‘church’. We hear Jesus say in Matthew 16 and verse 18 that Peter has come into the truth of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah through a revelation of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus goes on to say that upon this testimony of faith, that upon the faith of Peter whose name in Greek, ‘Petros’ translates literally as ‘rock’ or ‘stone’, that Jesus would found, or build, or create his ‘ekklesia’.
Now if we understand the word ‘church’ as some sort of structure or building including the amazing cathedrals of history…if we imagine church even as the huge faith movement it is with all the power of the state behind and in support of it…then we may have missed the critically important piece of what Jesus was trying to say in that verse…we may have lost sight of the original ‘kindom’. For the more accurate translation of the word ‘ekklesia’ is community, or gathering of believers. And it is this word, and this understanding that I believe is capable of making all the difference in how we view our own call and role in building up and sharing the truth of our faith in this one who came to teach us how better to love one another, how better to care for one another, how better to be the true ‘ekklesia’ of our Lord’s desire.
So…that said…I know it is not at all easy to question things we are sure of, and even more difficult to change habits we may have learned as a child at our mother and father’s knee…
…but change we must begin to find, if we are ever going to offer up to the world a message of true promise and future hope that is worthy of our God of love…
…come let us find our way into being the ‘kin’ of God’s promised ‘ekklesia’…