The End – The Rev. Michelle Meech
November 20, 2022
The Kingdom of God. What are we talking about when we use this phrase – the Kingdom of God? It’s a phrase that is used so often in Christianity that I wonder if we really take the time to consider exactly what it is we are talking about when we speak about the Kingdom of God. To be honest, the phrase “Kingdom of God” makes me itch a bit. But it’s a part of our tradition. It’s in our scripture. The second criminal, who is sure his condemnation is just, who is repentant, and who recognizes Jesus as innocent… asks: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The one who seeks God out, the one who recognizes innocence and truth, the one who has a moment of clarity when facing his own death and sees beyond himself because he sees the kingdom asks: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Yet, the “Kingdom of God” is a problematic phrase because it has been used by the patriarchy to make claims on the nature of humanity and of God – that God most definitely is male. As a matter of fact, this may be a part of the very foundation of the patriarchy. And Christ is a King because he was a man. But that’s not exactly true. Christ has been Christ since the beginning of time, according to John’s Gospel. The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. That Christ came to inhabit a man named Jesus in a small town called Galilee about 2000 years ago seems (to me, at least,) to not be the point of Christ. I honestly believe Christ could have come to inhabit a woman.
The point of Christ is to be God’s presence on earth so that we learn to recognize Love. This does not have to be exclusively male but is dependent only upon who is needed at any given time. So that through baptism, we are the Body of Christ – male, female, all genders, any gender, transgender.
And the gender issue is only half of the problem with the phrase the Kingdom of God. Why equate God or Jesus with earthly rulers? With kings? With those who have traditionally been known to oppress others? To colonize others? What does it say about the nature of God if our theology is bound to an understanding of God as supreme ruler, colonizer, and oppressor? Afterall, God is the one who originally warned Israel against choosing a king in the first place. “This is not a good idea,” God said. “Kings will take your children and turn them into an army for the king’s purposes of possession and control. This is not what my dream is for the world I created.”
If we remember our Godly Play story from All Saints Sunday… God’s dream is, indeed, not about power and control. But about love and sharing and compassion and life.
But this is where it all started, according to scholars. When Israel decided it needed to have a king the prophets responded by telling them that their real king is God. Until that point, God was not understood as king or a monarch of any kind. As a matter of fact, the phrase, “Thus says the Lord” which is used throughout the prophetic tradition, was originally a formula announcing a message from an earthly monarch, but it was coopted by the prophets as a way of utilizing a common phrase and pointing to God as that which is truly divine. That which is truly supreme.
From the prophetic tradition, which was altogether focused on criticizing Israel’s need for a king, we have the language that eventually gave us the “Kingdom of God” and the understanding that Jesus would be inheriting a kingdom as the Son of God. And, therefore, that Christ is King.
Now, because of this very scene we have in today’s reading from Luke, we have an understanding that the Kingdom of God is some future place – in theological terms – an eschatological reality. For some, an existence that will come into being when the end of the end of days has finally come to pass. Or, in many people’s understanding, the place we go to when we die.
Today is the end of our liturgical year. We began this year on November 28 of 2021 when we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. Every year we have 4 Sundays of Advent that help us to prepare for the birth of Christ in our hearts at Christmas. Then we have a short 12-days-of-Christmas season, ended by the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
We have a season of Epiphany when we talk about the ways God comes to us as revelation. And then we begin our Lenten season with Ash Wednesday as we talk about the ways we move away from God in the ways we mis-treat one another. This brings us to the story of Holy Week that ends with the Resurrection on Easter Sunday when we come to know that we have been given new life because God never leaves us. We celebrate the Resurrection for 50 days, right up until the Feast of Pentecost when we honor the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and how she fills us with the breath of inspiration and the fire of action.
Pentecost becomes a long season of learning how to sustain that in the changes and chances of this life, through the abundance of life, the suffering we go through, and remembering those who have gone before us. And we come to our final day – Christ the King or Reign of Christ – before the cycle begins again.
So today, being the end before the beginning, we are then meant to talk about… the end. The kingdom of God, the reign of Christ, this is the end. But the end of what?
I used a word a few minutes ago – eschatological. The study of eschatology is the study of end things. For humans, I think we can all agree, this is usually scary.
Honesty is reached through the doorway of grief and loss. Where we cannot go in our mind, our memory, or our body is where we cannot be straight with another, with the world, or with our self. The fear of loss, in one form or another, is the motivator behind all conscious and unconscious dishonesties: all of us are afraid of loss, in all its forms, all of us, at times, are haunted or overwhelmed by the possibility of a disappearance, and all of us therefore, are one short step away from dishonesty. Every human being dwells intimately close to a door of revelation they are afraid to pass through. Honesty lies in understanding our close and necessary relationship with not wanting to hear the truth. From Consolations by David Whyte
We tend to be scared of the end. We don’t know what it will look like. We usually prefer the suffering we do know to the possibility of being free from suffering if we don’t know what that will look like. We are creatures of God, not unlike other creatures of God, who seek homeostasis. I spoke about this last week… we talked about the persistence of memory and how it can keep us locked in place. Even when change is happening, we prefer not to participate because change is hard. Discomfort is, well, uncomfortable.
Dr. Candace Pert was a neuroscientist who, as a graduate student in the early 70’s, discovered something called an opiate receptor. This is the place on our cells where molecules called peptides plug into the cell to deliver chemicals. She later discovered that emotion was tied to these peptides so that if we spend more time experiencing a specific emotion, our body creates more of those peptides and our cells develop more receptors for those peptides. This means that, eventually, our cells crave particular peptides that are related to particular emotions because there are more receptors for them. If we spend most of our time being sad, our cells are acclimated to those peptides more than others. If we spend most of our time being angry, our cells are able to receive those peptides more than others. And so on and so on.
So, the cells of our bodies have, in fact, become accustomed to specific emotional chemistry. We may have lots of stories and reasons for the presence of these emotions in our lives, and they are mostly valid, I’m sure. But the truth is that our bodies are actually addicted to a particular state. This, coupled with entrenched neural pathways, which we talked about last week, it’s no wonder we are creatures of habit, seeking homeostasis and being scared of that which we do not know.
Our experience is much more incarnate than we often realize so it makes sense that God became incarnate. Because faith, real faith, that is, is a difficult thing when we have become so much more trusting of the peptides in our bodies than in the promise of God. And our beliefs about what comes next, what happens when we die, are likely framed by our own emotional imaginations, formed by peptides.
So, what is the end for you? What does it look like for you?
I remember when I was a kid, there was this silly show on Saturday nights that was broadcast out of Cleveland, OH called Houlihan and Big Chuck. It was one of those shows where they would play an old scary movie and have these comedy skits on either side of the commercial break. My brother Marc and I would stay up and lay in our sleeping bags on the floor in the living room and watch. At the end of every show, they would always play that Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is” as a way of saying… well, that was anticlimactic. So if that’s all there is, “then let’s keep dancing.”
My point in all of this is that whatever it is that we imagine the end to be. Whatever it is that we believe is the Omega – the end of the end of the end – I think our imaginations, which are based in our emotional patterns, are rather limited.
Because the end is God. Full stop. The end is the beginning is the end. And it’s all God. We do not own the end any more than we owned the beginning. And our efforts at trying to own it or control it are not only fruitless, but they are arrogant and sinful because they are most often about trying to maintain our own homeostasis – our emotional peptides and our neural pathways, which, in the world, become power and privilege.
None of these are Truth. None of these are real. The only thing that is real is the kingdom of God in the end. It is actually supreme because it is the Alpha and the Omega.
Because God is constantly calling us bring our privilege and our power to the foot of the manger, to recognize that earthly kingdoms and domains have no true power. God is constantly calling us to offer ourselves, our false beliefs about who we are, as a sacrifice so that we may be resurrected in Christ.
Christ the King, the Kingdom of God, therefore is:
The end of us. The end of the emotional suffering. The end of the peptides.
The end of the failure to see the Truth. The end of the unhelpful neural pathways.
The end of judgment. The end of drawing lines in the sand.
The end of cynicism and violence. The end of manipulation and fear.
The end of death-dealing ways.
The end of the belief that we are anything but a beloved child of God. And the end of the belief that anyone else is anything but a beloved child of God.
Because the end is where we all started, in Love. Knowing Love intimately as the only thing that is real. Pure, unbounded, unbroken, unimaginable Love is both the end and the beginning of us.
This is the Reign of Christ.