God Save not Kings but People
God Saves not Kings, but People
So, I’m going to reveal something personal about me; something you might not know and might be surprised at, something I don’t like to talk about all that much. But, here goes . . . I believe in God.
I know, right? It’s such a ridiculous thing to believe. We all say we do, but c’mon. But I do. I think that this all-powerful being created the universe, even if it didn’t happen like it says in the Bible, then at a certain point 2000 years ago was manifested in this one Jewish guy who died on a cross, and that this God is deeply invested in my life and yours. Now, this is wrapped up in some very complicated thoughts about what “belief” and “truth” really is, but I do believe this. And so, I spend a lot of time thinking about what He wants for my life, and what She wants for other people’s lives, and what He wants for the world . . . and what God wants for this church. What God needs from this church. So, you’re going to have to bear with me because it turns out I’m actually a bit of a religious nut job. Who knew? I guess I’m just one of those Jesus freaks.
Why does Christ compare the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed in this parable? You’d think he would compare the kingdom of God to . . . a kingdom. Is isn’t as if Jesus didn’t live in the middle of a vast earth-spanning empire that would have been an easy comparison. “The Kingdom of God is like the Pax Romana: an emperor who rules over all, maintains a strong army, and fends off the barbarians in the wilderness. God save the king!” Instead, he compares the kingdom of God to a thing that when it flourishes has roots, branches, leaves, birds nesting, life. Not a military, not a bureaucracy: life.
Because God doesn’t need a kingdom. God doesn’t need Kings or soldiers. God doesn’t need presidents who make the nations great again, or a bureaucracy to collect taxes. God needs a seed to be planted in the ground. God needs life. That’s why Christ is a nobody from the middle of nowhere; that’s why his disciples are common fishermen and women; that’s why they wander from place to place instead of using their wonderful church plant to build a new giant mega-church with a huge worship band. Because God needs people, who plant the seeds of the kingdom.
We have the story of Samuel finding and choosing David, but God didn’t even want Israel to have a king. The people demanded it because they wanted a strong leader like all the other nations. Samuel warned them that a king would only abuse power, take daughters and make them maids and sons and make them soldiers and send them to die. A king, focusing on the earthly power of a nation, got in the way of God. God didn’t need a king. Ultimately, God would not save the king.
Back in October, I gave a sermon that asked the question, “Whose church is this?” The text was Christ holding up the coin and asking whose face was on it and saying “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar and unto God that which is Gods” and I spun off that to ask the question about whether we think of this church as Christ’s, or the people’s. I didn’t answer the question then because I wanted us to think about it, and it was Presbytery and I was preaching to a bunch of other ministers and they could answer it for themselves. But I will give you my answer now, as far as I’m concerned, with the caveat that this is my answer and you can disagree with me if you want. As I’ve said before, it isn’t my job to tell you what to believe.
But, at the same time, this church is not about what you believe. This is not your church; this church belongs to Christ.
I stand up here at least once a month (and if you’d just let me have my way, every week) and say that this is not our table; it is Christ’s, which is why everyone can come to it. This cross, in loving memory of the Rev. Mary-Lynn Siwallace is not Mary-Lynn’s cross; it is Christ’s. This processional cross and that paschal candle, gifted to us by St. Peter’s Anglican Church, are not St. Peter’s or ours now; they are Christ’s. This bible, a gift from the UCW on the occasion of the church’s silver anniversary, is not the UCW’s; it is Christ’s. That piano is not Marvin’s; the bench in loving memory of Ruth Melnyk is not Ruth’s; they are Christ’s. Those windows are not Ebba and George Stocks’; they are Christ’s. These pews do not belong to anyone whose names are on them or any of you who sit in them or anyone who bought them; they are Christ’s. They are not to the glory of any of you, or any of the names on them; they are to the glory of God. This church does not belong to any of those names; this church is not about any name except for the name of Jesus Christ alone. No other name is higher.
And God doesn’t need any of this. Christ doesn’t need pews. He needs people to plant seeds.
And why am I so angry about this? Someone—and I won’t say who—told me, directly, they would rather see this church closed than see these pews removed, or anything that would tarnish the memory of the hard work of all the people who have given their lives to this church. And I’ve talked with many people who have said that the old model of church isn’t working anymore and maybe we should just let the old church die, or at least this particular church. It’s time to try a new experiment in Christian community. And . . . it’s taken me some time to put my finger on why that really upsets me.
I love this church—I love you people. Every time my ministry colleagues complain about dysfunctional boards or conflict or bullies in their church, I just feel incredibly grateful because you people are amazing, and making sure this church has a future is incredibly important to me. But it’s about more than that. Now that St. Peter’s is closed, there is one Christian community in Revelstoke, out of eight, that is LGBT-inclusive—one church where people like Christopher and me can come and not be told that their “lifestyle choice” is an abomination; there is one church who will marry any two people in love no matter who they are. There is one Christian community in Revelstoke that is fully inclusive of women and will allow women to preach and not tell you that your whole existence is to be baby factories and subtly imply that you’re not as good as men. There is one church where you will hear God referred to as “Mother” and the Holy Spirit as “She” and even if you don’t agree with it, there is still only one place. There is one Christian community in Revelstoke where anyone—no matter their belief, church membership, whatever venial sin they might have committed that day—can come to this table and receive the body of Christ, broken and shared. There is one church that week after week reaches out to people with a community lunch, even if they don’t come to church. There is one Christian community where you will not hear a gospel of exclusion but instead a gospel of God’s unconditional love, no strings attached. There is one church which can respond to God’s call to follow in the radically inclusive way of Christ.
If you walk into another church in this town, you hear about how the world is going to end and only a special group of people who believe the right things are going to be saved. You walk into another and you hear how only being baptized in the right church will save you. You walk into another and hear how you have to go to a priest and confess all the horrible things you’ve done to come to the table. There is one church in this town that will say to you, “You are loved. Period.”
Maybe some of you, if this church closed, could be happy in the Alliance church or the Baptist church or the Catholic church if you held your nose at the right time during the sermon and didn’t talk politics, but someone like me wouldn’t be able to. Maybe some of you would be okay with only finding God in nature or at home, in your garden or listening to music, but someone like me wouldn’t have a community of faith to support them and love them. And it doesn’t matter if for now we’re not that diverse—just a bunch of well-off white people; we’re the only place with open minds, hearts, and doors. There is only one church.
This church needs to exist. God needs this church to have a future. There is no one else who will carry that banner of inclusive Christianity. If it is not us, then who will it be? Christ needs His church, His ecclesia, a word that literally means a gathering of people. The Holy Spirit needs Her church. I don’t believe for a minute that Christ is done with this church. If you are, fine; go. But God is not done.
God doesn’t save kings; God doesn’t need kings. God doesn’t need a kingdom; a throne and nobility, a military, a bureaucracy; God needs a seed to be planted. God doesn’t save kings; God saves people.
God doesn’t save pews; God doesn’t need pews. God doesn’t save church boards or structures, doctrines, old favourite hymns, Sunday schools, memorial windows, or anything made with human hands because God doesn’t need any of that. All those things are like kings. God needs a seed to be planted. This church cannot be about anything else than the seed of the kingdom: the radically inclusive, open, life-filled kingdom that looks like nothing else on earth.
And yes, I do think ministers can sometimes be insensitive about what buildings mean to people; you grew up in this building; you knew the names that are on these windows and pews. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am not a minister to pews; I am not a minister to names on plaques; I am not called to be a caretaker of a graveyard; I am called to be a minister of Christ to His church and I intend to be nothing else. This church doesn’t belong to you because you are who make it up; you are the building blocks, not the builders. You are the planters and the gardeners, but God is the one who fashions every single cell from the stardust from the beginning of the universe. This church belongs to Christ, and he needs you to plant seeds.
Everything passes away; God doesn’t save anything except for people, because God doesn’t need anything, except for people. God saves the people.
To draw on and old hymn:
When wilt thou save the people,
O God of mercy, when?
Not kings, O Lord, but nations;
not thrones and crowns, but men!
When will you save your church,
O God of mercy, when?
And when will their eyes be fixed not on the past but the future,
not on their comforts or anxieties but on their mission?
God save the people.
The gospel text goes on to say that Christ spoke in many parables, and that he explained everything to his disciples, but we don’t have that explanation. Mark, for whatever reason, doesn’t record Jesus explaining everything in a way that we can understand easily for our context. All we have is the Holy Spirit, to guide our hearts and minds; is She not enough?
But Christ does say, “The smallest of seeds . . . the greatest of all trees with large branches.” What is your tree? What is our tree, this church’s tree? It could be so many things: it could be a children’s ministry; it could be an outreach ministry; it could be a social justice ministry; it could be so many things but how can it happen if we care only about how small the seed we have is? How can it grow if we keep holding on tight, so unwilling to let go of that seed and let it fall to the ground? There is a tree for us in the garden of the Lord, with great branches where the birds of the air nest in the cool shade, there is singing, there are children playing. You have to be the ones to plant it; that seed will not grow in your hands or if all you do is think about how small it is, or what happened to the old tree it fell from.
Christ needs His church and He needs you to plant that seed of the kingdom of God. He needs you to have faith in its future, not in its past or its present.