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The Realm of God

Friday, January 26, 2018

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 2

The Realm of God
Friday, January 26, 2018

Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). This realm appears to be his singular and constant message. Without this utterly new and absolute frame of reference, it is hard to know what Jesus is talking about. It’s sad that many Christians made it into a reward system for a very, very few (if we believe our own common criteria); or as Brian McLaren says, we made the announcement of the Reign of God into “an evacuation plan” into another world. [1] As Frederick Buechner observed, “Principles are what people have instead of God.” [2] The Judeo-Christian God wanted to give us Godself, but we preferred ideas and laws. The greatest saints I have ever met eventually had to sacrifice their self-exalting principles in order to love God and to love their neighbor! This is the final and full death of self, which Jesus exemplified on the cross.

The price for real transformation is high. It means that we have to change our loyalties from power, success, money, ego, and control to the imitation of a Vulnerable God where servanthood, surrender, and simplicity reign. Of course, most people never imagine God as vulnerable, humble, or incarnate in matter. We see God as Almighty, and that vision validates almightiness all the way down the chain. Look at history to see Christianity’s role in affirming oppression and violence.

When Christians say “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) or “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3), we are actually announcing our commitment to Jesus’ upside-down world where “the last are first and the first are last” (Matthew 20:16) over any other power system or frame of reference. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not! If Jesus is Lord, then the economy and stock market are not! If Jesus is Lord, then my house, possessions, country, and job are not! If Jesus is Lord, then I am not!

This implication was obvious to first-century members of the Roman Empire because the phrase “Caesar is Lord” was the empire’s loyalty test and political bumper sticker. Early Christians changed “parties” when they welcomed Jesus as Lord instead of the Roman emperor as their savior. A lot of us have still not changed parties. In fact, political parties are many American Christians’ major frame of reference today. This is the “realm of silliness” that is nowhere close to the Realm of God.

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “It is merely that when a man [sic] has found something which he prefers to life itself, he then for the first time begins to live.” [3] We are all searching for Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to our small life. Without such a lifeline of love, the span between God and the soul is not bridged. And here is the wonderful surprise: We can surrender to God without losing ourselves! The irony is that we find ourselves in a new and much larger field of meaning. Jesus’ metaphor for that larger field of meaning, purpose, and connection is “The Realm of God.”

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (New York: Jericho Books), 211.

[2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (Harper & Row: 1973), 73.

[3] G. K. Chesterton, Wit and Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1911), 188.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 15-16, 72-73.

Image credit: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (detail), by Caravaggio, 1601-02, Sanssouci, Potsdam.
The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love. —Richard Rohr
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