Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bending the Moral Arc: The Season of Kingdomtide

The poor are invited to the feast. Luke 14:15-24
Once Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Luke 17:20-21

At the end of the Selma march, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech titled, “Our God Is Marching On.” And at the end of the speech, he wove together a rich poetic tapestry of Bible verses with hymn texts by Julia Ward Howe and James Russell Lowell. Then he adapted a phrase from the great abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker and declared that although it had been a long struggle for Civil Rights, in the end they would be victorious because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

I don’t know whether King would see his phrase about the “arc of the moral universe,” as interchangeable with “the moral arc of the universe,” but I prefer the latter.

If we believe in the Kingdom of God, then we believe that the universe itself has a moral arc that bends toward justice.

Jesus told his disciples that the Kingdom of God was already among them although it was not yet fully realized. This is what God is doing in the world. The moral arc is bending toward justice. Jesus called his disciples to join in what God is already doing, to share in bending the moral arc of the universe.

The liturgical season of Kingdomtide began last Sunday. That is, if we still celebrated Kingdomtide, it would have begun last Sunday. In the old Methodist liturgical calendar the Sundays from the end of August to the beginning of Advent were known as the season of “Kingdomtide.”  It was a time to reflect on the biblical promise of the Kingdom of God and to ask ourselves what the world would look like if we were serious about building the Kingdom of God on earth. 

The loss of Kingdomtide is not a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the world, although sometimes it seems to me as if it is. And the loss of a liturgical season will not stop the bending of the arc or the coming of the kingdom. But it is still a loss. 

Jesus preached the “good news of the Kingdom of God.” He announced that God was already at work in the world, and we were invited to live in the new reality that God was creating. The idea of the Kingdom of God begins with Jesus, but it grows out of the experience of the people of Israel. And a primary theological component is the liberation of the Israelites in the Exodus.

For Jesus, this alternative community was a place where the poor were lifted up, where everyone had a place at the table, where love governed both individuals and institutions. It was a place of radical hospitality, egalitarianism, inclusion, mutual concern, self-sacrifice, and social justice. In this biblical vision, everyone has enough and no one has too much.

“Against the data,” as Walter Brueggeman would say, Jesus declared that this “Kingdom of God” was already among them. In spite of the Roman occupation. The world did not belong to the emperor, it belonged to God. And God was at work in the world. The disciples were invited to live into the new reality; this alternative community.

Although Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God occupies the overwhelming majority of his teaching, it has too often been ignored by modern Christians. The popular misinterpretation is that when he talked about Gods’ Kingdom, he was talking about heaven. But he wasn’t. He was talking about happens (and doesn’t happen, but ought to happen) on this earth.

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