- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. John Thomas at Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Fairfax, Va.

Today, the last Sunday of the church's worship year, we are given two portraits of Jesus: In the Gospel, as a person without power facing down a representative of the Roman empire; and in the Revelation to John and the prophecy of Daniel as Lord of the universe, exercising dominion over all empires at the final outcome of world history. In both cases, the church recognizes and reveres Jesus as King.

Jesus' death on the cross was given as a ransom for many. Its value was vindicated by His resurrection. It has established a beachhead of eternal life in this world of sin and death. That beachhead is the church, the blessed company of all faithful people.

Jesus redefined power. He preached servanthood, not dominance; sharing, not possessing; mercy and forgiveness over justice. From His temptation in the desert to His temptation in the Garden of Olives, He chose the will of the Father and refused any short cuts.

How, then, do we understand the nature of Jesus' kingdom? People tend to fall into two different camps, and the difference shows in the way they read today's Gospel.

When Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king, a familiar translation has Jesus saying, "My kingdom is not of this world." Some understand this to mean, "Don't worry, My kingdom is a spiritual one, my redemption is interior to each person; it does not touch and will not change the social exercise of power. I am nonpolitical. The Earth is yours. My rule is in heaven."

It's difficult to sustain that reading when both the passage from Daniel and the one from Revelation show God redressing the harm done by historical kingdoms against human freedom. That is why I prefer the translation we have in our Gospel today.

In it, Jesus says to Pilate, "My kingdom is not from this world," meaning, "My standards are from God and what God intends the world to be, not from the typical behavior of fallen humanity. I have real power on Earth, but it is not coercive. My disciples will not meet your violence with violence of their own, but, like Me, they will meet it with principled resistance. This is the truth of God."

Renunciation of violence was central to Jesus' mission, as was setting moral standards often drastically at odds with what the rest of the world holds as reasonable and necessary. Recognition of this difference is essential for faith to distinguish itself from and offer a corrective to the surrounding culture.

If, then, the church is in battle with a demonstrable enemy in the real world, what is the enemy? Paul names it "the principalities and powers of darkness"; that is, the fallenness of humanity that darkens our moral sense and corrupts even the social, political and economic structures we set up as our servants.

Name any of the power sources of our day: the market or the global economy or the right of nations, all intended as instruments of good. But sometimes they become our masters and we acquiesce even as they do damage to the poor or the natural world or the needs of developing nations.

When that happens, then we, who are marked with the sign of the cross, are called to give concrete, countercultural, yes, political witness against such things.

Our task is to show forth a new definition of humanity, a distinctively different way of living and valuing life. That is our power, given in Christ the King.

How shall we at Holy Cross carry out this mission? Let's think about that and talk together about it in the Advent weeks ahead, as we prepare ourselves to remember the birth of our King and as we prepare to meet Him when He comes in glory.

Next week: a sermon by David F. Stevens at 5th Church, Christ Scientist, in the District of Columbia.

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