Last Sunday after Pentecost: The Reign of Christ [Proper 34], rcl yr b, 2021
Revelation 1:4B-8; Psalm 132:1-13; John 18:33-37
my kingdom is not from here
It can be easy to forget that a towering theologian like St. Augustine—as one saying puts it, all theology since the 5th century is but a footnote to Augustine’s work—it can be easy to forget that Augustine was also a pastor, and a pastor who also preached regularly. And the sort of challenge and care Augustine had for his people comes through in a sermon on Psalm 132, the psalm appointed for today.
Augustine is preaching on the vow King David makes: ”I will not come under the roof of my house, nor climb up into my bed; I will not allow my eyes to sleep, nor let my eyelids slumber; Until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” Augustine sees this vow, the vow of David to renounce his own house for the sake of a place for the Lord, as the sort of vow that his own people should keep. If you love the Lord, you will make a place for the Lord, says Augustine. The one “who wishes to make a place for the Lord,” though, “should rejoice not in … private goods, but the common good.” “Let us therefore … abstain from the possession of private property; or from the love of it, [at least]; and [by doing this], we make a place for the Lord.”
It is a challenge to be sure; even more a challenge in a day when so many of us are caught in a world where property has become more an investment than it is shelter; in a world where people go without shelter, let alone an investment property. But Augustine would want a world quite different than this; he would see a world, for his parishioners (knowing quite well that it would be unlikely), where they lived like the early church in Acts, holding all things in common. “Let us therefore … abstain from the possession of private property; or from the love of it, [at least]; and [by doing this]. we make a place for the Lord.” “[R]ejoice not in … private goods, but the common good.”
As we read our other readings, we can see how Augustine gets to there from here. Our reading from John seems to suggest that Jesus has little care for the things if this world, including property. “My kingdom is not from this world,” says Jesus. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” What Jesus seems to be saying is that he is not King of some earthly realm, and has no interest in ruling here and now. “My kingdom is not from this world,” he says.
And in Revelation, John the Seer says that Jesus is king over all the kings. Writing his letter to the churches, John the Seer brings greetings “from Jesus Christ … the ruler of the kings of the earth.” And so the Kingship of Jesus, here, is not otherworldly (even if a cursory reading from John might give us that impression). Jesus’s rule is supremely worldly; the jurisdiction of this ruler is over all the kingdoms of the earth.
One way to make sense of this is by looking at Psalm 132 again. The way Jason Byassee puts it, commenting on Psalm 132, is that God does desire a place. The temple, for example, what King David promises to build, would be the place where God dwells with his people. God would have an address; that address would be 1 Temple Boulevard.
David though is expressing not just his own desire, but God’s desire to dwell with his people, a desire that wouldn’t end with the destruction of the temple; instead, in the New Testament, we hear of a God who would dwell with his people as a person, in Jesus. In Jesus, God finds a place, first in the womb of Mary the Mother of God, and then in the houses and homes of his followers and his detractors. God, the king and ruler over all of this, finds a place in our world in Christ.
The ironies of the Gospel have no end, though. God in Christ, the king and ruler over all, finds no shelter at his birth but a borrowed back room; Jesus, the presence of God in the world, lives his life not in a mansion but as an itinerant preacher. If our God is King, in Christ this King is homeless.The God who, in Christ, finds a place in this world, finds a place that lies under the politics of the world, the sort of place that claims no border, has no ground to lose or gain, no earthly territory to expand nor property to exploit for wealth.
But it is also Kingship that sits over all of that, and is universal. Christ is a King who is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” and as such would oversee such earthly things as distribution of wealth and property. And so we would have a Christ whose power sits both under and over the politics of the world.
This is Augustine’s point, at least in part. As we grow less concerned over controlling things like our property or our wealth, we grow in our concern for the common good; as we grow in our concern for the common good, we grow in our love for the Lord. Stewardship, actually, is a really good model for this. As stewards of things like buildings and wealth, we care for something because we know we will eventually be giving it away.
I’m going to finish today with what on first glance is a throwaway, a letter-writing convention. Revelation is a letter; and it begins like a letter, though an ancient letter. “John, to the seven churches that are in Asia,” we read; “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come … Grace to you and peace from [God].”
Revelation as a letter, and indeed every Word we would receive from God, is a message of grace and of peace: the peace of the Triune God, whose persons know no violence between them, the Triune God who makes this world according to that peace; and the grace of God in Christ, the one who takes our place, the one who gives the gift of his death and life, that we would have life, and be enthroned with Christ in the heavenly realms; the God, whose will it is to restore all things, including ourselves, to grace and peace in his well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, AMEN.
The Revd Preston DS Parsons, PhD