(Part 2 of a conversation with myself about the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ)
1. Then a Kingdom
What is the central message of those who follow Jesus? We can answer by using the words of Jesus:
"The time is fulfilled,
the kingdom of God is at hand,
and believe the good news." Mark 1:15
2. Now an "Empire"
In the culture of Jesus' time the word "kingdom" summarized how power was understood and organized in the world. "Kingdom" described how human capacities were perceived and mobilized to run the world a certain way. Today the word "empire" is a more accurate description of how human resources are mobilized to run the world. So as Jesus' followers should we not be announcing that "the empire of God is at hand," or, given the wildly conflicting meanings of the word "God," that "the empire of Jesus" is coming into the world?
3. To Save the World
It seems that the fulfillment of our lives depends--somewhat mysteriously yet quite relentlessly--on discovering that we need to turn outwardly to get ourselves organized inwardly. We need a purpose and task beyond ourselves. Could it be that our creative task is to heal the world? To say "yes" to the good news that we mere humans can join in God's great project of saving the whole world (cosmos) through Jesus (John 3:17)?
4. By the Cross
This would be a different way of running the world, a way which has its source and character in the being and will of the Creator God, and in untapped and ignored human capacities. Jesus devoted his life and teaching to revealing this new way of living in this world. At the center of his teaching were these words: "Seek first the empire of God and its justice" (Matt. 6:33). And the great act of his life was to live in such a way as to risk and ultimately accept the wrath of the empire by crucifixion, because he sought justice for the victims of the empire's quest for invincible power. The cross of Jesus disclosed forever the bankruptcy of homicidal imperial power and intentions.
5. Creative Power
For Jesus, this "empire of God" is about this world, and a new way to use human capacities and power to organize and run it, not about some other time or world. But it identifies and uses a different form of power for the project--not the destructive powers of hierarchy, domination and homicidal force, but the creative powers of empathy, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation. These are human abilities, gifts of the Creator God, as real and innate as the human certainty that 2 + 2 = 4.
6. For Healing the World
We live in a damaged and challenging world. The rich and powerful oppress the needy and weak. There are conflicts to be resolved and we're afraid of people we perceive to be enemies. How can we achieve a just sharing of Earth's resources? There is an ecosystem to be understood and loved if we are to survive. So what is our way, what are our resources, for meeting these challenges? The empire of the world says "Destroy the opposition, by whatever means necessary." Jesus says, "Seek the unity of community with everyone, for you are a part of everyone and everything. You can live in this world in a new and nonviolent way. The way forward is by healing, not destroying."
7. By Reconciling Enemies
Jesus voices this truth most dramatically with the words "love your enemies." This is the first command, or imperative, which Jesus speaks in the gospel of Luke (ch. 6). He says to us and to all, "Consider your response to the person or group that seems most other and alien to you, not a part of yourself, and make that response a nonviolent one of seeking the restoration of relationship."
8. Through Nonviolent Love
This is not a way of escaping this world into another world, or avoiding the difficult task of making this world work, but another, creative way of living in this world and making this world work. And so we invite people into the church community as a nurturing home for learning and practicing Jesus' nonviolent way of running the world.
9. In a Living Community
The church is meant to be a representation, flawed but real, of the human vocation as defined by The Human One, Jesus. He invites us to repent, that is, to change our minds and adopt this creative new way of thinking about how to run the world (Mark 1:15). This is the "empire" of Jesus, a community of peace. And it is good news!