The Red & The Blue | Thy Kingdom Come
So right now, at Melbourne Heights, we’re in the middle of a series of sermons called “The Red and the Blue.” Now I know that here in Kentucky, when you hear someone mention the red and the blue that you might think about the rivalry between the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats. But, in the rest of our country, there is no doubt that when someone talks about the red and the blue that they are talking about politics.
And that’s what we’re talking about at Melbourne Heights right now. We’re talking about politics. But before you shut down your browser or keep on scrolling on social media let me explain what I mean when I say that we’re talking about politics. When I say that we’re talking about politics I don’t mean that we’re going to try to tell you who you should vote for. And I don’t mean that we’re going to tell you that one political party is right and that the other party is wrong. And I don’t mean that we’re going to tell you that Jesus would support one party and their platform over the other.
When I say that we’re talking about politics, I mean that we’re talking about how we, as followers of Jesus, can live out our faith in the face of the partisan political divide in our nation. Because, let’s just be honest here, we all know what politics looks like in America right now.
In America, we have the two major political parties: the Democrats (who are blue) and the Republicans (who are red). And both parties are competing to hold various political offices across our country. These offices can range from local offices like being a mayor or a member of a city to council to national offices like serving as a representative, a senator, or even the President of the United States.
But all of these offices that compose our political system here in the United States are actually relatively new in world history. You didn’t have small town mayors or city council members or representatives or senators or even presidents until our democracy was born almost 250 years ago. And, when you realize that the last book that was written in our Bible was completed roughly 1900 years ago, then it’s not surprising that you don’t find any mentions about the hallmarks of our American political system in our Bible.
But that doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t talk about political issues. We talked about this last week, but at its core politics is about the way that people relate to and take care of each other in a society.
Politics is about the way that people relate to and take care of each other in a society.
So as long as there have been societies there have been politics. But in the Bible instead of reading about presidents, you’re going to find stories about kings. And instead of reading about mayors, you're going to find stories about governors. And instead of reading about nations you’re going to read about kingdoms.
So, I’ve got to ask you, what images come to your mind when you hear the word “kingdom”? Do you envision portraits of a longstanding royal family adorned with crowns and tiaras hanging in the dusty halls of some long forgotten castle? Do you picture a sprawling political empire covering the hills and valleys of some far off country? Do you imagine an iron-fisted king ruling over an entire nation behind the hilt of his sword? Do images of royal throne rooms, lush banquet halls, posh wardrobes, and ancient castles dance through your head?
The truth is that the ideas and images that pop into our heads when we hear the word “kingdom” are often ripped straight from the pages of some Arthurian novel, drawing vivid details of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. However, these images of kings and queens, knights and wizards, castles and peasants that we picture when we think of kingdoms are nothing like the political systems of our world today. So we need to understand the differences between the kingdoms that we imagine and the kingdom we find ourselves living in in America today.
The kingdoms of the middle ages have been replaced by the political powers of today. We no longer look to kings and queens to run our nations, instead we turn to presidents and prime ministers. The Round Table where King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and other knights once gathered has now been replaced by the congressional chambers and offices of our elected officials. The sword and shield of yesteryear is merely a relic of how the world once was, now our battles are fought with far more destructive weapons that can wipe out entire cities. The romanticized kingdom of Camelot has given way to Washington, D.C. And if we know anything about Washington, D.C. we know it’s anything but an ideal place.
I mean, let’s just take a second to think about some of the things that have happened in D.C. over the last year...and I think that will tell us everything that we need to know about the kingdoms in our world today. So in the last year in D.C. we saw a president impeached for just the third time in history--and with the exception of just one senator, the entire impeachment played out along partisan political lines.
And not long after the impeachment proceedings came to an end, the coronavirus outbreak began. And, at first, it looked like we might be able to set aside the relatively small things that divide us in order to focus on things that would serve the common good of all Americans. I mean, Congress approved a massive spending bill in the matter of days to expand unemployment benefits and put an extra $1,200 in most peoples’ pockets. But it wasn’t long before the partisan divide resurfaced. So we spent the entire summer listening to politicians bicker back and forth and blame everyone under the sun for the continued spread of the virus.
And this doesn’t even touch on the racial unrest that has been happening in our country since the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Or what’s happened in D.C. over the last few weeks since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
But like it or not, this is what it’s like to live in the kingdom that we live in today. Too often it feels like the kingdom we’re living in is a kingdom built upon accumulating wealth and power. Too often it feels like the kingdom we’re living in is a kingdom built upon privilege and pedigree. Too often it feels like the kingdom we’re living in is a kingdom built upon our need to protect all that we have gained from those we have taken it from. But as we come together today, gathering as the church, I cannot help but hear the words of Jesus spoken time and time again when he says, “The kingdom of God is like...”
But what is the kingdom of God like? Is it like the kingdom we live in today? Is it a kingdom dominated by selfishness and our overwhelming desire to look out for number one? Is it a kingdom where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Is it a kingdom where the few who hold power could care less about those without power?
The truth is, I don't think the kingdom of God is anything like the kingdom we live in today. And believe it or not, our scripture reading for this morning – from Matthew 14:22-33 – might just show us what the kingdom of God is really like. Let's listen this morning to the words of Matthew:
14:22 Immediately Jesus told his followers to get into the boat and go ahead of him across the lake. He stayed there to send the people home. 23 After he had sent them away, he went by himself up into the hills to pray. It was late, and Jesus was there alone. 24 By this time, the boat was already far away from land. It was being hit by waves, because the wind was blowing against it.
25 Between three and six o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the water. 26 When his followers saw him walking on the water, they were afraid. They said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus quickly spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 Peter said, “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come to you on the water.”
29 Jesus said, “Come.”
And Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. He shouted, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?”
32 After they got into the boat, the wind became calm. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
Matthew 14:22-33 (New Century Version)
Okay, I know what you're probably thinking. For the first 10 minutes of this sermon this preacher has been talking about kingdoms. He's talked about Camelot. He's critiqued our country. He's even brought up the kingdom of God. Then he tells us that our scripture talks about the kingdom of God...but this passage didn’t say anything about the kingdom of God. This story was the story of Jesus walking on the water...it has nothing to do with the kingdom of God.
And you know what, for a long time I would’ve agreed with you. After all, it’s clear that this story shows us the power that God has over nature--I mean I've never heard of anyone else being able to walk on water. It’s also a story that clearly teaches us about faith--is there anyone here this morning who hasn't heard a pastor challenge them to get out of the proverbial boat? But if there is one thing this passage clearly doesn't talk about it's the kingdom of God, right? Wrong.
Let's forget about the parts of the story we know so well and go back to the beginning of this passage, and I do mean the very beginning. What's the first word of this passage? “Immediately.” The word immediately tells us that the passage we just read is happening right after something else, which means it is not a stand alone story. So, to better understand this passage we need to know what came before it.
So, if you were to grab your Bible and flip to Matthew 14, you’d see that the story that comes right before the one we just read is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. But even though that is another incredible miracle story that I’ve preached on a handful of times over the years, it’s not a story about the kingdom of God either.
So where on earth can I come up with the idea that the story of Jesus walking on the water has something to do with the kingdom of God? Well, we need to go back a little further to see it. So if we go back to the very beginning of Matthew 14, we’ll find a story about Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist. And in this story, John the Baptist is executed by King Herod, the ruler of Galilee.
And when Matthew's gospel tells us the story of John the Baptist’s execution, it gives us a glimpse of what the kingdom of Rome was like. Rome was a place where rulers ruled with an iron fist. Rome was a place where anyone was expendable as long as it kept the current kings and governors in power. Rome was a place where justice was rarely served. And Rome was a place where wealth and privilege were the true kings.
But after giving us a glimpse of what the kingdom of Rome was like at the beginning of chapter 14, Matthew flips the whole script on us. Matthew goes from showing us what the kingdom of Rome was like to showing us what the kingdom of God is like. Through the story of the feeding of the 5,000 we see that the kingdom of God is a just place--where everyone has plenty to eat, regardless of their wealth or poverty. And the kingdom of God is a generous place--where God gives freely and only asks that we do the same.
And then today's story begins. Immediately after feeding the 5,000 Jesus sends his disciples and the crowd away. Then Jesus goes off by himself to pray. Now, let's be honest here, Jesus needed this time away. I mean, just put yourself in his shoes for a minute. Over the last day or so, Jesus had learned that his cousin was executed by Rome and then Jesus performed one of the greatest miracles we've ever heard of. So Jesus deserved his time away on the mountaintop, and his disciples would just have to take care of themselves for a little while.
But then something unexpected happens: a storm begins striking the sea right where the disciples were sailing. Matthew tells us that waves were crashing against the boat because of the strong winds. So with a raging storm surrounding them, it seems clear that the disciples needed help or at the very least they needed the comfort of knowing that Jesus was with them. But Jesus had just had a long physically and emotionally draining day.
So it would’ve been easy for Jesus to return his focus to his prayers and away from his disciples. It would’ve been easy for Jesus to look at the boat being tossed far out from the shore and say it was too far away for him to help. It would’ve been easy for Jesus to look at his disciples and see that they were experienced fishermen who knew how to handle a storm at sea. It would’ve been easy for Jesus to be selfish.
It would’ve been easy for Jesus to be selfish.
The truth is, if God's kingdom is like the kingdoms of our world today, then that’s exactly what we would’ve expected Jesus to do. We would’ve expected Jesus to come up with excuse after excuse that made the problems the disciples were facing everyone else's fault. We would’ve expected Jesus to do a lot of political posturing and grandstanding, and then make some long-winded speech about their problem without doing anything that could actually help. We would’ve expected Jesus to turn a deaf ear to the disciples until their cries for help could no longer be ignored because that’s what our political leaders seem to do today. But in Jesus we get the exact opposite.
Jesus doesn’t make an excuse for why he can’t go, Jesus just goes. Jesus doesn’t blame the disciples' problems on the storm, or where they chose to sail, or the time of night they were out on the sea, Jesus just went to their aid. Jesus doesn't even wait for the disciples to cry out when their boat is slowly beginning to sink, Jesus goes to them without the disciples ever asking for his help.
And the disciples can't believe it. No king in all of the world would walk away from what they were doing to help out a bunch of helpless fishermen in their boat. No ruler in the world would be disturbed in the wee hours of the morning to deal with the insignificant troubles of twelve unimportant men. No leader in the world would care. As a matter of fact, what Jesus does is so unexpected that the disciples actually think it could only be a ghost walking out to help them because they know that no one else would come to their aid.
But it’s no ghost: it’s a different kind of King from a different kind of kingdom. Jesus is a different kind of King from a different kind of kingdom.
Jesus is a different kind of King from a different kind of kingdom.
And the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of excuses, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of action. The kingdom of God is not a kingdom that offers justice only to the rich, the kingdom of God is a kingdom that brings justice to us all. The kingdom of God is not a kingdom of selfishness, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of selflessness.
And that’s what makes this story so great. Jesus is not the Messiah--the anointed one, the king-- because he walks on water. Jesus is not the Messiah--the anointed one, the king--because he calms the sea. Jesus is Messiah--the anointed one, the king--because Jesus is there when we need him, without us ever having to say a thing.
Now, I don't know about you, but after months of political campaigning in our country, I'm awfully tired of the kingdom of selfishness that we live in. I'm awfully tired of our leaders who only care about themselves and not the people that elect them. And I’m awfully tired of people who think that our only hope comes from the political party and candidates that they support. So I'm ready for a different kind of kingdom. I'm ready for the kingdom of God.
But that doesn’t mean that my eyes are fixed on the heavens. That doesn’t mean that I’m just sitting back and waiting for my eternal reward. Because Jesus showed us in this story that his kingdom has come to this earth. So we, as followers of Jesus, can’t just wait for God’s kingdom to come. We have to work to build it. We have to work to build the kingdom of God.
We have to work to build the kingdom of God.
And what does that mean? Well, it means that we can’t keep acting like the rulers of our world. We have to set aside our selfish desires and work to help people who are hurting. It means that we have to be willing to take care of others before we even take care of ourselves. It means that we have to put Jesus first instead of ourselves.
So if you’re tired of the way politics plays out in our world there is an alternative. You don’t have to be part of the red or the blue. You can be part of God’s kingdom. But to be a part of his kingdom you have to be willing to put yourself last and get to work building God’s kingdom today.