The Kingdom Comes When You Get In My Face

The day after the election I wrote about Jesus' kingdom proclamation, how Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was available, even in the midst of a colonial occupation, even while Caesar sat on the throne.

In the post I pondered the shock of that proclamation, how we still find it incomprehensible.

How is the kingdom of God in our midst during the Donald Trump administration?

What I don't think Jesus meant is what we heard a lot of after the election, that no matter who is President "God is on the throne."

That claim--"God is on the throne"--is sort of true and sort of not true. It's true in the sense that God is sovereign. But it's not true in the sense that the kingdoms of the world are still in rebellion, still actively or passively resisting the rule of God. Although the kingdom is present and advancing, Satan is still the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4.4).

So we need some clarity on this point as the claim that "God is on the throne" often misses the fact that a great cosmic battle, a struggle that encompasses both the moral and the political domains, is currently ongoing. The statement "God is on the throne" can be taken as a call to passivity and resignation while a battle is raging.

But if the call to make "the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven" is a call to action, revolt and resistance in the face of the ongoing rebellion of "the principalities and powers," how could Jesus have proclaimed that the kingdom was available in his midst?

The kingdom of God was available in Jesus' midst because, there, within the sphere of his relations, the reign of God was a lived reality. And that same kingdom is available to us, at all times and places. The kingdom of God is a live potential, available, right here and right now.

But we have to be clear about something. The kingdom of God isn't an existential balm, a call to relax because "God is on the throne." The kingdom of God is about the rule and reign of God--justice, peace and righteousness--in our midst.

For God to be "on the throne" in our midst means submission and obedience to God's rule. Otherwise the claim that "God is on the throne" becomes meaningless, and worse than meaningless, a sentimental platitude that narcotizes us in the face of a broken world.

For "God to be on the throne" in our midst requires a rearrangement of our lives and social sphere. That was Jesus' message: Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.

God's rule reigns in our midst when, in the words of Mary's Magnificat, we have lifted up the humble, sent the rich away empty and filled the hungry with good things. That is what happened in Jesus' presence, that is how the kingdom of God was "at hand." When these social reshufflings occur in our midst that is how we know "God is on the throne." 

This is, obviously, a far, far cry from resignation and passivity. But the scope and sphere of the kingdom has shifted, and I think this is key to Jesus' political imagination. The kingdom comes in our midst in the intimate and relational sphere of the friends gathered to confess "Jesus is Lord" and to enact this kingdom in their sphere of relationships. This is the vision we see in Acts 2 and Acts 4, what the kingdom looks like "in our midst." The kingdom of God, to borrow a famous phrase, is a new world within the shell of the old, even within the shell of a Donald Trump administration. The reign of God is planted as a mustard seed. We see that seed planted in Acts 2 and 4, a seed that grew to the point it threw town after town into civic chaos, the kingdom "turning the world upside down" (Acts 17.6). Satan knocked off his throne.

The political imagination of the kingdom is "think globally, act locally" within the sphere of human relationships. All the social, political and economic problems at work in the world are addressed and rehabilitated within the church where the kingdom of God rules "in our midst."

And to be very, very clear, making the rule of God come in our midst is a hard labor. It is active, energized and often confrontational.

Consider how the kingdom of God comes in the midst of the church at Antioch through Paul's face to face opposition of Peter:
Galatians 2.11-12
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 
There were many dimensions to this conflict, but one of the dimensions was racial and ethnic. Peter, a Jew, had withdrawn fellowship from Gentiles. And with that separation the kingdom of God evaporated, the rule of God was no longer enjoyed "in their midst."

So Paul takes decisive action. Paul opposes Peter to his face. And Paul does this--wait for it, wait for it--to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

That is the sort of hard and intimate work that we are called to do to make the kingdom come. The claim that "God is on the throne" makes demands of us. The kingdom demanded something of Peter--overcoming his racism--and he failed to comply. The kingdom demanded something of Paul--opposing Peter to his face--and Paul did that hard, relational work.

The kingdom commanded racial reconciliation in their midst, "neither Jew nor Gentile." The kingdom came when Paul opposed Peter and demanded that the church make that command a reality, right then and right there.

But again, notice the sphere of action. The kingdom comes not by voting or marching, but by insisting upon obedience to the rule of God in our midst, even if that means that you have to get in my face.

So beware when you say "God is on the throne." That's a call to action, sometimes to interpersonal confrontation.

The kingdom of God is at hand. Let us repent and believe the good news.

And if I don't, brothers and sisters, please get in my face.

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