Kingdom Building: The sinful way versus God's way; which path are you on?
I want to begin this sermon with an obvious recognition of the stark contrast, a contradiction to be precise, between the Kingdom building of Vladimir Putin, and the Kingdom building of God. It is Palm Sunday. We know this story well. Jesus asks his disciples to bring him a colt, a humble donkey. He does not ride in on a war horse with soldiers shooting, blowing apart, torturing or murdering his enemies or his own people, even when they betray or fail to follow him fully. Instead, he rides into Jerusalem, in humility, turning a righteous cheek when falsely accused, and prepares to establish God’s Kingdom by willingly laying down his life so that all people might have true life. Jesus’s willing self sacrifice not only defines true power versus the false power of human war and violence that leads only to further violence and death; his self-sacrifice even to death on a Cross for the sake of all human beings - friend and enemy - defines what it is to be truly human. All else is sin.
And while I am certainly pointing out a glaring public example of a contradiction between living in accordance with God’s Kingdom and its opposite, Lent is a time where we are to recognize not merely the sins of others, but our own; and the temptations to sin - to turn from Jesus’s own path - to which we are all prone. Fortunately, I have plenty of fodder for that exercise! Last year, following an unrelated surgery, I developed a muscle strain in my right leg as I tried to return to running and cycling. I've been doing these two activities six days a week, usually for at least an hour, most of my life. They are like oxygen to me: necessary for living. I felt so exhilarated to be out there getting my endorphin and adrenaline rushes, and was so eager to return to my normal routine, that I pushed too hard, too quickly. My refusal to be patient and measured - to have self control - resulted in soreness and eventually, an inability to walk more than a kilometer, to sleep properly, or to climb stairs. I had to stop training altogether for three weeks. Of course being fearful that I'd lost fitness, control, autonomy, meaning, purpose and prowess, when I came back from the injury, I went too hard, too quickly once again. You can guess the result. This cyclical pattern continued for the next year.
This past Saturday I got out for my first longer outing in a year and a half. At around kilometer 60, I started feeling some pain. I was suddenly struck by the analogous relationship occurring between my training and injury cycle, and our cycle of opening up from COVID shut downs, only to have to close things back down because our health system could not bear any more load. Piled on top of this was the horror unfolding as Russian troops invade, torture, and massacre Ukrainians in an attempt to force them to conform to Vladimir Putin's falsely conceived and dangerous nostalgia of purity and tradition.
In all this, I'd grown weary. I felt helpless, struggling into hopelessness that things would ever get better or get to a point where I, where we, could get some traction, set a new baseline, or see any forward progress where human beings are inspired to freely make sacrifices toward enabling others to flourish. This was of course bound to a novel realization for most Millennials: the realization of how truly finite, unknowing, complicated, and broken we are as a species. These things are often hidden by our daily duties, by the ways we distract ourselves to avoid the pain of looking long and hard, by the confusion of media and social media information intended to sell rather than to challenge people to really think critically.
It was at that point - geographically, somewhere out on the constructed breakwater named Leslie Spit that juts out 5km into Lake Ontario - that heard the words of psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me[us] forever?
How long will you hide your face from me[us]?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me [us]?
The enemy of course is both within us and outside us. The enemy is our own ignorance, our dwelling in uncertainty, no matter how much we know. The enemy is a virus that has swept the globe as has happened thousands of times throughout human history. The enemy is the antithesis of Christ's transformative love that took not the form of violence and war and invasion, but rather of laying down his life for his friends, and moreover, for his enemies, for those who betrayed him, for those who doubted and walked away, for those who embodied violence themselves. The enemy is indifference; doubt that becomes hopelessness grounded in the feeling of being helpless; helplessness that leads to hopelessness, robbing people of their Christ-likeness; snuffing out the Great Commission to go out from our fear of mere fleshly survival to act with courage and perseverance in helping others.
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Perhaps this is why God gave running and cycling to me, at least for the time I will have them: to learn what it is to face trials that break down and build up and break down again with no certainty of progress. To learn to depend not on progress in worldly terms, but to learn the humility of dependence upon God's provision for a given time and place. Through these things I have learned to face into a world of figurative injury; a world where sin and natural evils still affect every aspect of our lives; and yet a world into which Christ has entered as a healing balm, a physiotherapist - to better fit my analogy - to bear me up so that I will take another step, another push of the pedals toward that heavenly kingdom whose foretaste we are called to succour until he reconciles all things. To go out into my daily life, into your daily lives, with creativity, courage, and humanity. To pick up one's cross; to limp; to hobble; to take a painless step; then a second; to swing one's legs slowly pushing around crank arms until the power meter registers wattage progress; to press on with patience, humility and compassion rather than ego and worldly anxiety - not so I can win a world tour - I am far, far away from that - but so that I can support and build up my communities, my teams. To endure trials, to learn what really matters in life, to learn it is not all about me/us, until our sacrifices that have starved us of human interaction, of goods, of jobs, of vaccines received even where there is discomfort, risk and so fear in so doing, allow the widow, the old, the sick, to come out from their figurative tomb of home isolation.
I'm spurred on, or perhaps back from the literal and figurative lighthouse at the end of the breakwater of Leslie Spit. Spurred on by the lighthouse of Christ who illuminates a path of warning about selfish conceit and ambition fuelled by ego insecurity, but also illuminates a safe haven, a true and physical break from those treacherous floodwaters in which we might otherwise drown when we experience exhaustion, frustration, confusion, pain, hurt, fear, and the desire for everything to go back to where it once was when we falsely presumed it was 'all good.' That lighthouse and breakwater provide a great analogy for Jesus Christ with us. The God-man who comes to us, himself frail, very human, hobbling on a lowly donkey; the antithesis of a soldier on horse or in tank or fighter jet on Palm Sunday; the God-man who carries his own Cross; it is this One who is our physical breakwater, our real and true remission from the floodwaters of sin and death, and the light that both gives to us and shows us the truth of life: to live not for ourselves, burying our talents on that Spit, but to give our own talents back to God with interest, returning from the Spit, from the breakwater of Christ, into the dangerous and confusing and sometimes frightening world so that we can help others to God's safe shores. AMEN.