Jesus tells us here in these Beatitudes that God blesses those who are merciful, those whose hearts are pure, those who make peace, and then those really tough last verses: those who are treated badly for doing right, those who are insulted, mistreated and slandered because of Jesus… those are the people who are blessed by God. (Makes you rethink what it is to be blessed, right?)
Take a second to think about these people: the grieving, the humble, dependent on God… Who do you see? Where are you in these Beatitudes? Looking it over, do you see? Jesus is introducing himself. Jesus is introducing the way of his kingdom – a kingdom that is not just about beliefs and rules, but about living, walking, with Jesus.
We’ve also spent time with Paul in Ephesians, hearing about that beautiful, grace-filled gift of citizenship we share with the Saints, the body of Christ because of Christ. This citizenship we share breaks down our dividing walls, our labels that we use and abuse, so that we are One in Christ.
Usually, when we talk about citizenship it is only in one way, as a proclamation of who we are -American Citizens. In the time that we have spent with these readings from Matthew, Ephesians, and today, in Luke, it is clear that our citizenship lies beyond borders, votes, and constitution. Our claim to citizenship is not a proclamation for ourselves but a profession of our faith in Christ.
It can be a struggle to weigh these two understandings of citizenship alongside each other. I often hear this struggle played out when people discuss politics, honestly wondering aloud together, what does my faith – what does your faith (or lack thereof) – have to do with politics? This is a good question and one we should continue to struggle with because it is in this question we are bearing the weight our citizenship. We are taking our citizenship seriously and engaging ourselves, each other, and our community. When we feel that weight, that struggle, we are meeting Jesus at the cross.
Jesus, the King of the Jews. Jesus, our God, the King we speak of when we speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, hangs on a cross. Why do we have to go there? Why do we even need to spend time with this right now, of all times? We just got through this election cycle and we just want to ease into our holiday season and think about the good stuff. Jesus dying on the cross is not good stuff. This is not the kingdom we want to talk about… we want to talk about that pretty paradise with shining lights and no more tears and perfect happiness. But that is not real life and Jesus is all about real life. The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus proclaimed is this kind of real life. That real-life Kingdom is why Jesus was killed.
When we claim citizenship to the Kingdom of God, we will meet Jesus here at the cross every time. It is here that we reconcile ourselves to the truth of who we are and Jesus’ truth. While crowds shouted and ridiculed him, simultaneously calling him criminal, King of the Jews, Messiah, the Chosen one, Jesus humbly showed us who he was and what it means to be a citizen of his kingdom. Jesus’ truth, Jesus’ way, was and always is for the Other.
This is Christ our King, for us. With no stipulations, no strings attached, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of others. Without test or judgement, Jesus promised paradise that very day to the criminal who hung beside him. That promise is something for all of us to hold onto. Though what we deserve or don’t deserve may waiver with history, context, lawfulness, and opinion; the person and promise of Christ will never change. If we say we believe in Jesus, this is the promise we are invited to live for each other.
Humanity hasn’t changed much over these thousands of years. When we hear about an assault, crime, murder, war, or death, our collective thoughts quickly shift to whether or not it was deserved and why. The question is whether we will choose a perspective that sets us over and against others, or whether we will choose a perspective – a way of life given to us by Jesus – that relies on who Christ is for us?
Jesus for us, dies on a cross, so that he can be even more fully with us. Jesus for us, breaks the laws of oppression and even death, so that we can be even more fully with him. Here at the cross we meet the result of our laws that put criminals to death. We meet the result of our anger and systemic powers-that-be that cry, “an eye for an eye,” or “Caesar is Lord.” In facing the law we must confess because we will never measure up. We fail our neighbors every day, we let ourselves down, we know that we will never deserve the goodness of God.
At the cross, we also see the culmination of what we have learned about the Kingdom of God – Gospel. Literally, GOOD NEWS. Jesus shows us the way of the Gospel truth, the way of grace. Jesus for us shows us it is not about us and our worthiness, but his. It is Jesus who forgives. It is Jesus who welcomes us to paradise, whether we deserve it or not.
The Law points out all of the ways we deserve death while the Gospel flips the rules upside down with a promise of paradise and eternal life even amidst the death throes of sin. here is an opportunity for us to see a life under the reign of Christ with new eyes; an opportunity to leave behind the old way of understanding self and God so that we may be reclaimed by the love of Christ, living with full reliance on who Christ is, rather than who we are and what we deserve. At the cross, we practice confession and are assured of forgiveness. At the cross, we practice professing our faith in Christ.
This is not easy stuff. It’s okay to wrestle and struggle with it. It’s okay to not be sure where that leads you. I know it’s okay because to live under the Kingdom of this Christ is to live with the assurance that no matter what our struggle, Jesus stands with us, for us. This is Christ the King. When we embrace our citizenship to this Kingdom, we proclaim, “Jesus is Lord.” We profess our faith in Jesus. We embrace the call, the way that Jesus has laid out for us, to stand with each other.
Soon, we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. We see the two bookends of the life of Jesus pressed up beside each other not only to help us remember upon whom our faith lies, but also profess clearly our faith that Jesus- Christ the King- is Lord. Jesus is for us and God is with us. Let us live as citizens of Christ’s empire, with and for one another.