Subversion

This is a lightly edited transcript of a sermon preached on February 20, 2022. For the original audio and/or video versions of this sermon, check the links on the Resources page.

Sermon

I want to talk this morning about the way that the kingdom of God subverts our world — all of our world. It turns the whole thing upside down. It challenges power systems. It challenges structures that we have in place. It challenges society, and I think probably most of the time, when it comes to human cultures, it challenges our cultures, because our cultures are largely built around those systems or at least within those systems.

Our cultures ingrain in us things that we just take for granted as how life is, especially when it comes to power structures, and I think that the kingdom of God is about subverting that. You know? Subverting the way that you think about yourself, subverting the way that you see yourself in the mirror every morning — so this morning, when we look at two separate passages that are going to seem unrelated, I want you to keep that in your mind.

These passages are not about the same topics. One’s going to talk about how we treat our enemies. One’s going to talk about the spiritual body of resurrection, but the unifying theme, here, is that both of the concepts presented in scripture are going to show us that the kingdom of God subverts the systems that we have been raised in — subverts the cultures that we have been ingrained into.

Let’s start in Luke, this morning. Let’s start in Luke, chapter 6. Luke, chapter 6 is part of, basically, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, which is different from Matthew’s.

This morning, I heard a friend of mine mention the beginning of Luke, chapter 6, which I wasn’t going to mention, but I think it’s going to play really nicely into what we’re talking about. He points out that this part of Luke’s gospel opens with.. It’s in verse 17. Luke, chapter 6 and verse 17 opens with a very different view of what Jesus is doing as he starts his sermon on the mount versus what Matthew is doing. In Luke, chapter 6 and verse 17, it says,

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon…

Luke 6:17, NIV

This is different from Matthew, because Matthew, where we get the term “Sermon on the Mount,” takes place on a mountain. Jesus goes up onto the mountainside, and it’s a very different visual, and Luke says his disciples went down with him and stood on a level place. It’s a different imagery.

In Luke, Jesus is coming down to where people are and being on a level place with them. He’s not on a lofty mountain. He’s not up on a mountainside speaking to an audience. He’s down on a level place with everybody else, and this really exemplifies what Luke is doing here, and it really exemplifies what we’re going to talk about — what we are talking about — that the system of the kingdom of God is different from the system of the power structures we have in place here.

So in Luke, chapter 6 and verse 27, he says,

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:27-38, NIV

It doesn’t take much to look at this passage and see how it subverts our society. It doesn’t take much to look at this and see how it subverts systems of power and control in our society and in almost every society in the world.

Don’t hate the people who hate you? Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you? Bless those who curse you? Pray for those who mistreat you? Turn the other cheek? Don’t withhold your shirt? Give to everyone? Don’t demand things in return? Treat others as you would have them treat you? Love and do good for your enemies. Lend to your enemies. And all of this leads to the nature of the kingdom; in this, you will be counted as children of the most high.

It’s completely different than anything you will learn growing up in America. There is no place, no state, no county in all of the United States that’s going to teach you inherently that you should love your enemy and pray for those who are mistreating you. There’s certainly no place where you can live in America that’s going to teach you that not judging your enemy is going to lead you to not being judged by God. These things are counter-cultural in that our culture teaches us that if you are righteous you will condemn the unrighteous. If you are righteous then you will judge the unrighteous. In order to forgive, you must have somebody who is willing and worthy of forgiveness, and God says, well, that’s not true, because your forgiveness is not based on their worthiness. Your forgiveness is based on your desire to be forgiven.

When we love the people around us — even our enemies — we become children of the most high. The emphasis of Luke is not on the great reward but that the great reward comes alongside being children of God, who is merciful. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful, and so that’s what I mean when I say that this passage, even though it’s about loving your enemy, is really about something deeper.

It’s really about understanding the nature of the kingdom. To be in the kingdom of God is to be apart — that is, set apart, outside of the power structures that you’ve been raised in. We’ve been raised in a society that says only the powerful get to be righteous. Only the powerful get justice, but the justice of God reigns down mercifully on the lowly as well as the powerful, and God says if you want to be part of that, subvert the system by doing the opposite of what people tell you. Don’t return hate for hate. Respond to hate with love. Give to everybody. Don’t demand back.

I’m not talking about setting in place, like, a checklist of guidelines. I’m talking about trying to dig down to something deeper. It’s not enough to look at this passage and say, “I just have to enumerate all of these things and then check them off my list every day,” because the power system is trying to do that to you, too.

The power system is taking this passage… For example, in a lot of Christian circles where spiritual abuse is rampant, they’ll take this passage, and they’ll list it out, and they’ll say, “See, here: you complain about somebody taking from you, but you shouldn’t be demanding back. You shouldn’t be complaining about it. You shouldn’t be withholding your shirt,” and they use these things as excuses to take from you more. They want to take from you more by keeping you complacent — by pushing you down into a lowly place and saying it’s a place of honor. That’s so that’s not what I’m talking about [when I talk about applying this passage]. If you’re part of those communities, I don’t want you to sit there and be silent and do nothing.

But, to give ourselves over to a community of love, to give ourselves over to something outside the system — to say, “I’m not going to demand back from you because I want vengeance. I’m not going to demand back from you because I want to be powerful over you. I’m not going to vie for the same power that you have. I’m not going to hate you so that I can try to be more powerful than you are…” To step outside of that system and say, “I’m not going to play that game” — that is what lets us become part of the kingdom of God, children of the most high.

When we’re part of systems that don’t exemplify that, we can be certain that we are not part of the kingdom of God — that that system doesn’t belong in the realm of God — so keep that in mind when we jump over to this next passage, which is in 1 Corinthians, because when we look at [Luke 6], it’s not about loving your enemy. [1 Corinthians] is going to seem unrelated, and I submit to you that the relation is in what it reveals about the kingdom of God subverting power structures.

This is 1 Corinthians 15, and we’re going to start in verse 35, but let me give you some background, here. 1 Corinthians is all about dispelling the struggle for power within the Corinthian church.

In 1 Corinthians 1, he opens up and talks about how they still vie for political and societal power They want to be most well known in their communities. They want statues built of them. They want to be able to say that their teachers are the best teachers. They want to say that they are the best and most eloquent speakers. They want to be publicly recognized for who they are, and when they come into Christianity — when they adopt Christ as the messiah and acknowledge that — they bring that power structure with them, and so he opens up and says in chapters 1 and two: don’t do that.

Being a Christian is not about having public recognition. It’s not about having public power and authority. He doesn’t say you will never have those things. He says if you’re still vying for those things, then you’re still operating out of the flesh and not out of the Spirit.

He continues in those kinds of examples, even in chapters 11 and 12 when he starts talking about spiritual gifts. He says you still vie about spiritual gifts. First you argue about public recognition, public authority. Now you argue about spiritual gifts. You try to one-up each other. Who’s got the better gift; who can speak in tongues better; who can prophesy better; who can lay hands better and teach better; and one person has one gift, and you say my gift is better…

They’re still in that power structure. They’re still in that system that says there’s a way to one-up somebody else; there’s a hierarchy even to our spiritual status in the kingdom. And so, when he gets to chapter 15 and he’s talking about the resurrection, we’re still talking about that same thing. There’s still a power structure in the Roman empire that says your body — your physical body — determines your status, and we shouldn’t be surprised by this, because even today, in the 21st century, we still struggle with this.

There’s still things in our society where we say certain skin colors are more advantageous than other skin colors and should be inherently privileged, right? There’s a reason that Black Lives Matter exists. There’s a reason everybody’s talking about people of color. There’s a reason that everybody’s talking about white supremacy, right now, in 2022. These things are still there.

That’s the backdrop of 1 Corinthians 15, so in 1 Corinthians 15 and verse 35, he says,

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”

NIV

So, when you read that, we’re not talking about a bunch of people sitting around just waxing philosophical about the resurrection. They’re not just hanging out going, “Oh, I’m curious what my body will be like when I die and I’m raised from the dead with Jesus.” They’re asking because, just like the rest of 1 Corinthians, they’re wondering what their status is going to be.

This is the same issue that Jesus ran into with his disciples when they were arguing with each other [about] who was going to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus has to turn and rebuke them. Or when James and John go to Jesus and say we want to sit at your right hand and your left, and they try to make that request of him before the others make that request. Same issue.

What kind of body will I be raised with. Will I be raised with an upper class body? Will I be raised with a lower class, marginalized body? And if I know the answer to that, then I can Lord it over my fellow Christians.

He says, in verse 36,

How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

1 Corinthians 15:36-50, NIV

Don’t overlook all the different examples he puts in there. There’s a reason they seem like they’re all over the place, and it seems confusing to us, because we operate off a different understanding of bodies.

When we talk about bodies in modern society, at least in America, we talk about physical bodies. I don’t use “body” to refer to the spirit. The body and the spirit are two different things, but in the Greek world, in the Roman world, that wasn’t the case. In Paul’s time, body meant spirit and physical matter. It was a different kind of body, but they were both considered bodies.

That’s why he talks about the stars, here.

There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

1 Corinthians 15:40-41, NIV

Why are you talking about stars, Paul?

He’s talking about stars because he’s talking about bodies, and stars have bodies, and spirits have bodies. They’re just different kinds of bodies. You see, the the idea of a body and a spirit being separate is not a thing in Rome; it’s not a thing in Greek. A person is a person, and so when they ask what kind of body will we be raised with, they’re not asking, “Will I have a physical body, or will I not have a physical body?” That’s not what they’re asking.

They’re asking, “What will the nature of my body be? How will I look? How will I feel as a spirit or not a spirit” — that is, the way we think of it — “as a ghost or not a ghost?” They’re still concerned with status, and Paul says there’s all kinds of bodies in all of creation — heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and heavenly bodies differ from heavenly bodies, and there’s different kinds of splendor for different bodies, and there’s Jesus’s body after the resurrection, and there’s Adam’s body when he was created out of dust, and who knows what you’re going to be.

Except, he says, except the flesh — he says in verse 50, the “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the [im]perishable,” okay? In other words, your new body, whatever it is, whatever it looks like, this spirit body, as you’re raised with Christ in the resurrection — whatever it looks like, it’s going to do away with your conception of the physical power structure here on earth. Your flesh and blood system, your “I’m higher than those people because of how I look, because I’m not deformed or I don’t have the wrong skin color” — that idea of power structures based on your body is going to go away.

What do we lose if we say let’s blind ourselves to all of the systems that separate us based on our bodies? What do we lose? We lose racial discrimination. We lose sexism. We lose sexual orientation discrimination, because the body doesn’t matter, and so Paul says, in another place, there will be no slave or free; there will be no jew or greek; there will be no male or female. Everybody will have equality and equity in the kingdom of God.

But if you say that, you will be challenging and subverting the power structures of our society. In the same way that loving our enemy as [ourselves] and not seeking after vengeance out of hate subverts our society, so does imagining a resurrection in which your status has nothing to do with your body — imagining a resurrection in which your status doesn’t have anything to do with your skin color, your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, or anything related to the physical body.

Paul says, “I don’t know what kind of body you’re going to have.” It’s going to become some kind of spirit-body, like Christ, who had holes in his hands, in his side, and thomas could put his fingers in, and yet he could pass through walls and just be in a room with a person — who could sit there and eat fish with his disciples, and yet he could ascend into heaven on the clouds. Whatever kind of body that is — whatever kind of spirit-body that is — it’s not going to be under the authority or the hierarchy of your flesh and blood bodies here on earth.

And the reason this is a problem — the reason you’re not going to hear people talk about this — is because the pervasive Christianity in America is White Christianity, and what I mean is this: if your Christianity has to have a white Jesus and white angels and white messengers of God and white leaders, then it is a flesh and blood Christianity that will not inherit the imperishable kingdom of God. No system of power that requires a certain kind of body lives in the system we call the kingdom of God. No system of power that requires a specific kind of response to your enemies will inherit the system of the kingdom of God.

That’s where these two passages meet: the system that we call the kingdom of God, the kingdom of grace, the realm of heaven — whatever you want to call it — that system levels the playing field. It doesn’t give preference to somebody because of how they look, because of how they sound, because of how much hate they project, because of how much vengeance they can take, because of how powerful they are… It doesn’t care about any of that.

It empowers the lowly and raises them up. It humbles the proud and brings them down. It levels the playing field. It gives us bodies in the resurrection that subvert all of our expectations about who should belong in the kingdom of God, who should reign in the kingdom of God, who should be better than who in the kingdom of God.

And so, this is what the world sees when they look at us, and this is what we offer them. If we are offering the world a Christianity that says, “There’s a power structure, and you have to play into our expectations of it, or you don’t get to be there,” that’s not Christianity. That’s not the kingdom of God. That’s not the realm of grace. In order to do that — in order to embody that now, the kingdom of heaven now — we have to embody a system that says you are not favored because you are more powerful; you are not favored because of how you look; you are not favored because of where you live or where you were born or what you own. Instead, we are the same; we are equal in the body of Christ.

That’s what Paul calls this new body. This new body is the body of Christ. Don’t throw that term around loosely, because as soon as we claim to be part of the body of Christ, we are responsible for what we do as part of that body. We’re responsible as representatives of that body, and if our response is not filled with love, if our response is not filled with the outpouring of grace and mercy, then we are not part of the kingdom of God.

Prayer

Please pray with me.

Lord, we want to be part of your kingdom. We want to experience the grace and mercy of God every day in our lives. We want to be part of showing the world extensions of that grace. We want to be part of showing the world that kind of system that we call the kingdom of God, that system that we call the kingdom of heaven. We want to be part of a world that lives outside of the expectations and the status quo of our society.

Help us, Lord, to do that. Help us to be the kind of people who love our enemies. Help us to be the kind of people who not only empower the lowly and empower the disenfranchised but also humble ourselves to exemplify love in the face of oppression. Help us to be the kind of people who don’t look at the outward appearance of a person and decide what their status is or where they belong in the kingdom. Help us not to be the kind of people who chase after hierarchies and glory for ourselves. Help us to be the kind of people who embody the image of God in how we live, that we can share in the sufferings of Christ but also share in the way that his life empowered communities to be more than society said they could be. Help us to be the kind of people who are love incarnate in the world, to be the kind of people who are Christ-like, who are transformed and transcended into some glimpse of that spiritual body and the body of Christ in this time, in this place. Help us to be that this week as we go, not only for others but also for our own sake, Lord, because we know that the mercy we show to others will be returned to us, pressed down and pouring over into our laps. We want to be empowered in that way by your grace and mercy, Lord.

We love you, and we pray these things in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s