As I was looking through old sermons this weekend, I was surprised to see how often this “building and destroying” theme that I have been meditating on this Lent came through in my preaching. I am wildly inconsistent on somethings, but I have been pretty consistent in my theology even as it continues to evolve.
Here’s the thing, this theme emerged because it is the cornerstone of my theology. In essence, what I believe in most is the thing that Jesus himself preached most often: the kingdom of God is at hand.
To put a point on it, what is being built is the kingdom of God. What is being destroyed is the kingdoms of humanity.
The biblical witness is a record of the ideals of the God’s kingdom coming up against the realities of humanity, always with trade offs, some of which have been disastrous.
Many of my liberal friends dislike the language of “kingdom of God”. They prefer more familial language like the kin-dom of God. That’s cool and I respect the impulse, yet I stick to the original kingdom (or reign) of God language. I worry that we risk missing or losing the insurgent nature of what Jesus is proposing. Jesus is proposing an empire whose machinations work diametrically in opposition to those of the Roman empire or any of the empire that came before or will come after. Jesus’ language is revolutionary. It requires the destruction of what has come before, but not by the means of other imperial rulers. God’s new empire will spread through love and justice, not violence and oppression.
Normally when I talk about this, I use the language of “empire” vs. “community”. Empire is what the kingdoms of this world are trying to build. It is what John Dominic Crossan calls the “domination system” or “the normalcy of civilization”. “Community” is what Rev. Fred Rogers calls “being neighbors”. “Neighborhood” would also work as an alternative to empire. God challenges us to love our neighbor and to then see the neighbor in everybody.
Lent for me is about finding those things within myself that represent “empire” and cultivating those things within myself that encourage neighborliness. During this time, I have tried to examine the ways in which the building and destroying within the biblical narrative do or do not reflect his movement from empire to community.
Maybe this is what I should have written on day 1, but I felt like for my own edification I needed to say this as plainly as possible. This is the core of what I believe. The nuances of how it is lived out are… messy, but this is where I rest my head at night.