Sunday Night Worship -11/25/07

“Kingdom Come”

Luke 1: 68-79

When I lived in Appalachia one of my favorite places to go camping was a state park in southeastern Kentucky called “Kingdom Come.” Many a weekend I would drive over from Virginia and friends near Hazard, Kentucky, would drive down and we’d spend our nights beside camp fires, telling stories and watching the stars. But the best part of being a park visitor was in the telling – telling others where you were going or where you’d been. As in, “I’m going to Kingdom Come.” Or, “Yeah, we spent all last weekend in Kingdom Come.” Or, “Yep, I’ll be in Kingdom Come by dinner tonight.”

I never heard anyone use the full name: Kingdom Come State Park. Most people just say “Shenandoah,” when they mean Shenandoah National Park. Same thing with Kingdom Come. But of course it sounds a little different to our ears.

I loved that! I loved the folksy, insider way people would say “going to Kingdom Come.” I loved how out of place and poetically jarring that sounded. I loved the idea that God’s Kingdom Come to earth was as close as a drive over the mountain, a place I could get to in an afternoon.

I was thinking about my three years in Appalachia after I went to see the movie, Into the Wild. Christopher McCandless graduates from Emory University, gives his $24,000 life’s savings to Oxfam, and heads west with a backpack full of books by Thoreau, Byron, Sharon Olds, and Tolstoy. He wants to escape the fate he sees as Career Man. He doesn’t want possessions and money and societal status to be rulers in his life. And he is trying desperately to come to terms with his parents. He leaves his family and friends behind and travels for two years without word. He abandons his car in New Mexico, burns the money in his wallet, and re-names himself Alexander Supertramp. After several adventures in the Midwest and southwest, he heads for the Alaskan frontier. He wants to walk into the wild and see what he finds and who he becomes, alone.

As you may know if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, this true story ends harshly. McCandless makes a couple of severe miscalculations and dies alone in the wilderness. Though I felt sad at the movie’s end for this fascinating life gone too soon, I was also happy for him. He didn’t take the easy way, the prescribed way, the way everyone was urging him to take. He was captivated by callings things by their true names. He uses this metaphor several times and then, after two years calling himself Alexander Supertramp, reclaims Christopher McCandless just before he dies.

Watching the movie made me think of my years in Appalachia for a couple of reasons. McCandless and I were born about two weeks apart and graduated from college in the same summer. And while I wasn’t trying to escape my past or my family, I suppose my decision to live on a stipend in Appalachia and work with the poor was my way of calling things by their true names. I wanted to see what it would be like to live out the gospel imperatives of peace with justice. I wanted to see if we could create Christian community with each week’s volunteers and with the families we served. I wanted to see if I could live on $5000 a year and I wanted to explore the ways that, with my middle class upbringing, that sacrifice still didn’t make me “poor”.

There is reason to wish that Christopher McCandless had gotten some therapy for the dark family issues that plagued him. The combination of his energy, enthusiasm, idealism, and naiveté are part of what killed him. Maybe it is the 22-year-old Appalachia-living English major in me talking, but it seems that his hunger for the marrow of life is also part of what saved him. His uncompromising zeal delivered him to the life he had always wanted to live.

Today’s first text from Luke is Zechariah’s song, sometimes called the “Benedictus”. You’ll remember that Zechariah is John the Baptist’s father. Zechariah is very old and his wife Elizabeth is unable to have children when the angel visits to give him the unexpected and happy news. Zechariah has a hard time taking it in and asks how this is to happen. Gabriel, the angel sent to announce all this to Zechariah, punishes Zechariah’s questioning by making him mute – speechless – for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy. As soon as the baby is born and Elizabeth names him John folks start to ask why she has chosen that name, since no one in the family has that name. They go to check this out with Zechariah who writes down “His name is John,” at which point he is able to speak and immediately begins praising God. After this, people begin to ask what and who John will become. (Luke 1: 5-66)

And this song pours out of Zechariah in response, praising the God who turns the tables, the One who chooses to act through an old shriveled couple and to deliver to wayward people like us salvation wrapped in the vulnerable and improbable package of an infant.

Today is the final Sunday in the Christian year. We call it “Christ the King” Sunday or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It’s a full circle moment for us as Christians, as we are about to plunge into Advent next week, and with it our next year. It’s the culmination of the liturgical year, where we start with promise and birth, move through life, death, and resurrection, and then spend a long season of Ordinary Time trying to embody it all. Reign of Christ is both a theological statement and a theological hope, just as it is when we pray together the Lord’s Prayer each week. “They kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is that already-not yet character of God’s kingdom – the reign of God – that can be inspiring and frustrating at the same time. God’s reign is at hand, already happening, already redeeming and transforming all of creation into a new creation. There are moments when we perceive ourselves as new creatures….But there are others when we know we have not yet, as John Wesley would have said, “moved on to perfection”.

God’s reign is already here and is still to come it its fullness. We can taste it in moments feasting at the Table, in opening ourselves to relationships that challenge us and the status quo, in working for peace and justice.

We can also taste how much more of God’s reign we still need. We leave the table forgetting what we have just taken into our bodies and spirits, consumed again by the next thing on our “to do” list. We open up a little bit and then clamp shut on a relationship that may require too much of us. We bring cans for the food bank but get uncomfortable when someone asks why people are hungry in the first place.

Advent begins next week and, besides the incessant commercials and pleas to shop, shop, shop, you’ll be reminded of that humble manger and that unspectacular birth that brought the infant Jesus. With all the fuss, it may be harder to hear the words about Jesus’ second coming. But listen for them.

Maybe that’s why Reign of Christ Sunday comes just before Advent: to help us remember to look forward as well as back. And to look around us! Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Where is that happening now?

What are you doing to bring about the kingdom in its fullness?

Where are you being called to call things by their true names?

How will you hear the Advent promises this year, especially in light of this Christ the King Sunday?

He’s not just the baby Jesus; he’s the Lord of Life. And he isn’t born into the fullness of time only in December. Every moment, every facet of your life is infused with this Presence. Can you feel it?

Living like this is as close as this moment, as real as this room, as abundant as this feast. You don’t have to live in Kentucky to make it to Kingdom Come.

Thanks be to God!

© 2007 Deborah Lewis