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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

We Are the Kingdom

"Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a hermitage. As the abbot agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to him to visit the hermitage and ask if by some possible chance the hermit could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The hermit welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the hermit could only commiserate with him: “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in all the nearby towns. So the old abbot and the hermit commiserated together. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?” “No, I am sorry,” the hermit responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the hermit say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just commiserated and read the scriptures together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving — it was something cryptic — was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered these words and wondered whether there was any possible significance. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one?

Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant the Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.

Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the hermit did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.

Of course the hermit didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the hermit’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm." (Adapted from Prologue of M. Scott Peck’s The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, I was led to it through this blog post)

That story may sound simple, even trite even – but for me it describes the essence of what “thy kingdom come” is all about. While it may sound simple – all of us know how hard it is. Perhaps even we are more aware of it on this side of the Thanksgiving holiday – depending on who you spent the days with, or what black Friday activities you encountered – I think we all can relate to the challenge of always being our best selves – always treating others as the child of God they are. It is a spiritual practice for our whole lives to bring forth the Messiah – the divinity within – so that we can live a kingdom reality.

Today is the last Sunday of the church year – known as the Last Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost or Christ the King Sunday – or Reign of Christ Sunday. And in this familiar scene – we hear it on Good Friday every year – we hear Jesus’ reason for why it is he stands before Pilate, on trial. And its not because he wants the crown on King Herod’s head.

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

What we didn’t hear in our excerpt was Pilate’s reply. The next verse famously reads – Pilate asked him – What is truth? And Jesus doesn’t answer. Because Jesus wants Pilate and I think wants us – to answer the question for ourselves? Just as he said to the disciples – who do you say I am? God knows the truth about what we believe Jesus to be in our lives – isn’t what we say – it comes out of our experience – it isn’t what we say – its who we are.

Truth – at the end of King David’s life is what sets him free. In these last words we hear a newfound awarenesss of how God has always been with him. God has always been working through him – and he is a part of something so much greater than himself. From generation to generation this covenant God has made is everlasting – David has played his part. Do you know the experience of being set free in that way? Of having that deep contentment that you have played your part in something bigger and of God – and now you can let it go?

Truth is shared in the revelation of St. John the Divine. Truth is this eternal sense of God’s loving presence and grace. The grace that flows from the one who is and who was and who is to come. The alpha and the omega. Have you experienced the truth of being aware of what is eternal? Of the grace that always flows – even, especially in challenging times – the love of God’s eternity?

That is where Jesus’ kingdom is from. As Pilate presses him to compete for power, Jesus will have none of it. "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my follwers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

Do you think Jesus means Pilate should thank his lucky starts that Jesus isn’t calling on the angels and archangels to wage a heavenly war in an ultimate battle for kingdom domination? I don’t think so – I used to think so – I used to picture something like that when Jesus said those words.

But then I read the gospels more and more. And just a few verses back on of Jesus’ followers tried to do just that – fight for him as he was being handed over. In the garden of Gethsemene, Peter grabs one of the soldier’s swords and slices his ear – defending his king And Jesus says stop. Stop put that away – that is not how I operate because my kingdom is not from here. If it were – I’d do things that way – but its not. That is not why I am here.

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world – to testify to the truth.

And the eternal truth – is that Darkness cannot defeat darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot conquer hate – only love can do that. And those words of truth, from MLK – are only understood through experience.

This is why Jesus is silent, I think. He is the truth – he has lived the truth – and continues to do so as he freely gives his life for the world. You can’t tell a person what the truth is – you act it, we live it, we embody it. We bring forth the kingdom – we live God’s reality – which always is and was and is to come.

An Amish story I came across this week – a young evangelical goes up to a man and asks, have you been saved – is Christ your King? And he replies, why would you ask me such a silly question? I can just say yes. If you really want to know – ask my wife, ask my kids, ask my coworkers and friends – ask them if I’ve been saved by Love.

I leave you with one kingly reference that resonates for me – from the hymn setting of Psalm 23 – The King of Love my Shepherd is – whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack – when I am his – and he is mine forever.

May we go into this day – a new day – believing the Messiah is in us – and the Messiah is in everyone of us – creating the kingdom through our words and actions – living "thy Kingdom come". Amen.

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