Independence Day B’21
4 July 2021
Deut.10.17-21; Psalm 145
Heb.11.8-16; Matt.5.43-48
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone 

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures throughout all ages. Amen.

I have a confession to make, preaching is hard! Each week a preacher is forced to break that golden maxim that has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

My colleagues would all agree, and many of them have commented on how preaching has been even harder over the past five years or so. This has been due for the most part, to the heated divisions between both political parties, escalating divisions due to race, controversies over law enforcement, the pandemic, riots, an insurrection, with the news media, and social media, all fanning the flames, and last but not least, a hotly contested presidential election!

The opening words of Charles Dickens from his novel A Tale of Two Cities seem appropriate:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of disbelief (incredulity), it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

I suppose it’s only fitting this year that the 4th of July should fall on a Sunday – good luck suckers, I mean, preachers!!! Just by opening our mouths today we’re practically guaranteed to offend someone.

On this day when we remember our Independence and freedom, there are those filled with great national pride, while others are deflated and despairing of our nations ills. Some want to hear nothing but America’s virtues, while others want to hear nothing but America’s vices. Both will be equally offended if they hear anything opposite. We have forgotten the words of Jesus that were echoed by Abraham Lincoln during his famous “House Divided Speech”: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew 12.25) What we have forgotten as believers in God, and followers of Christ is that we are citizens of two kingdoms – the kingdom of the world, and the Kingdom of God. These kingdoms are often at odds about what our priorities should be, and I think it’s helpful to compare them.

Author, Greg Boyd took a stab at comparing and contrasting the two kingdoms.[1] First, Boyd points out there is a contrast in trust. The Kingdom of the world trusts in the power of the sword, while the kingdom of God trusts in the power of the cross. Power is contrasted – the world focuses on having “power over” people, while the God’s kingdom focuses on having “power under” – under God.

These two kingdoms have a contrast in aims: The worlds kingdom seeks to control the behavior of its citizens, while God’s kingdom seeks the transformation of people’s lives from the inside out. The world’s kingdom is rooted in following one’s self interest and achieving their own will; while the kingdom of God is centered on carrying out God’s will, even if it means sacrificing one’s own interests.

Third, they have a contrast in scope: the world’s kingdom is tribal in nature, and actively seeks to defend and advance one’s own people, group, nation, ethnicity, religion, ideologies, and political agendas. Thus, the kingdoms of the world are characterized by perpetual conflict. The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is universal in its scope, and centered on loving as God loves, and seeks to share the love of God in Christ with all people, at all times, and in all places without conditions.

There is a fourth contrast – their responses. The kingdom of the world’s motto is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Its nature is to return evil for evil, violence with more violence. The kingdom of God returns evil with good, turns the other cheek, and as Jesus states in our Gospel reading for today, loves our enemies, and seeks their well-being.

A final contrast is in the battles they wage. The kingdom of the world squares off against earthly enemies, and fights earthly battles. The kingdom of God fights spiritual battles, understanding that the battle is not against flesh and blood, but principalities and cosmic powers of this present darkness.

We are followers of Christ in the middle of both kingdoms. When we draw two intersecting circles, we see that there is an almond shape at the center where the two circles overlap. That is the point our lives intersect with both kingdoms, and our challenge is in how to live in both kingdoms.

It takes no genius to see that the Kingdom of God is far from running the planet right now, and remains unfinished. Theologians make reference to the kingdom of God being active but not fully realized as the “now but the not yet.” Scripture can help us as we look for examples where the kingdom of God is already coming, particularly in the Lord’s prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.

There’s the phrase “God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.” Is there sickness in heaven? Is there poverty in heaven? Is there any starvation in heaven? Are there any addictions in heaven? Are there orphans in heaven? Is anyone lonely or homeless in heaven? Is anyone spiritually impoverished in heaven? Is anyone unloved in heaven? No, of course is the answer to all of these.

Where on earth is the kingdom of God already happening, or is it just a pipedream? Whenever a homeless veteran is helped to find shelter, and the opportunity for work the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever a hungry family walks up to Annie Lea’s Little Pantry and finds a meal for their family the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever a mother with three small children comes to our clothes closet and they all leave with summer play clothes and shoes, the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever someone is spared from eviction the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever a widow at home alone and ill and receives a warm meal from a parishioner the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever an alcoholic or addict walks into a 12-step meeting and finds hope and sobriety the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever a senator or representative enacts legislation that relieves the burden of the oppressed the kingdom of God has come. Whenever a judge meets out justice for wrongs committed and the offender repents of their wrong the kingdom of heaven has come. Whenever a gay person is warmly welcomed into the church for the first time after years of being rejected, the kingdom of heaven has come. My, my, my, dear friends, in the midst of all the bad news, there is the good news that the kingdom of heaven is coming all around us. God’s reign has not fully come, and this awesome kingdom work is unfinished, but we are invited to play our parts! Amen!

[1] Boyd, Gregory, A. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids, 2007) pp. 46-8