Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 22, 2021
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16 (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Enemies of the Kingdom

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From store aisles and the stages of political debates to overseas airfields and national borders or even the Capitol steps, we seem to see enemies everywhere.  We as a national community speak of our opponents, those with whom we have an intellectual or political disagreement, as enemies worthy of our most forceful, violent even, opposition.  Our language is peppered with near apocalyptic imagery as if Satan himself were leading the forces of evil to our door.

So we have watched the heartbreaking news of store clerks killed, and school board members and simple parents threatened overed a 4x6 in cloth.  And, of course, we have watched hordes of Americans, thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens, desecrate the Capitol while beating and pepper spraying the women and men protecting our elected officials. 

It may seem natural, perhaps even obvious, to say that our enemy is that person there, standing in opposition to me; and yet, it seems that we have the enemy all wrong. 

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

In this morning’s reading from Ephesians, we are reminded that our struggle is not with people – it is not with flesh and blood.  It is not between Jews and Gentiles millennia ago any more than it is between Republicans and Democrats or Americans and Afghans today …. Rather, the struggle is beyond – and within – us all. 

The struggle, first and foremost, is against that very power that projects us as enemies!  Those forces that terrorize our communities with fear – demonizing this group or that, “the gays” or “the dems” or the “Trumpers,” as immoral, un-Christian, un-patriotic enemies

The very posture of enemy-hood, is a fundamental rupture of God’s kindom.  It was Charles Wynder, Chaplain at Saint Paul’s School and one of our Sacred Conversation speaker last spring, who reminded us that God’s kingdom – that beloved community that transcends nation and race, wealthy and gender … that community of which Paul writes in his letter to the Church in Galatia: 

There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

That Kingdom, Fr. Wynder reminded us is fundamentally a kindom a new society of fellowship and brotherhood in which the ancient divides are seen to be paper walls, fallacies that have tragically driven us apart.  The truth of our heavenly kinship, Fr. Wynder reminded us is woven into the story of God and humanity from the first words of Genesis to the last words of Revelation. 

This story of kinship is at the heart of the story of Jesus as well.  Baffling as it was to the religious and political authorities, and even to some of his closest disciples, Jesus refused to live by the ancient divisions of society, choosing instead to see a brother in the face of one standing beside the road or a sister in the face of one reaching out to simply touch his cloak.  Jesus lived a life of opposition, yes; but enemy with which he strove was not the person beside him; but the forces of division that prey upon our hearts.

Consequently, Jesus routinely reminded his disciples – and us still today – that the real struggle is not “out there” but in here, within our hearts.  It is the struggle to remind ourselves that the person over there – across the table, on the opposing side of the debate stage, or the other side of the political aisle or national wall – is not the enemy … just a sister or brother with a different value or distinct need.

Even in the face of the greatest oppression and opposition, Jesus persisted; insisting that even there, the struggle remained within himself, to see Judas, Pilate, the soldiers and Chief priests not as enemy worthy of his fire and fury, but brothers and sisters in need of his grace and sacrifice.

If there is an enemy within this moral and cosmic battle, it is us – when we adhere to the politics division we stand in opposition to, as enemies of, the kindom of God; when we speak of another as a categorical opponent rather than a beloved sister or brother, we stand in opposition to, and as enemies of, the kindom of God; when advocate for violence against, or barriers that divide us from, “the enemy” out there, we stand in opposition to, and as enemies of, the kindom of God.

The challenge of the Christian life is not one of protection from the “enemy” out there – but from becoming an enemy ourselves.  Said positively, the struggle of the Christian life is to live in rich and remarkable kinship with all people – those known and dear to us, yes, but also those unknown and far from us, and, especially, with those whom the world would otherwise proclaim as our enemy.

Such a remarkable life of kinship – the kinship displayed not only by Jesus, but also by the likes of Dr. King and Howard Thurman, by Teresa of Calcutta and Te Whiti o Rongomai – begins with a steadfast commitment rooted, not only in a vision of friendship, but a lived experience of transcendent love.  People the world over have seen the vision, but too few have experienced it in a real and meaningful way.  Which is why this place, this community of radical kinship – a place where a kanaka ‘aina o Hawai‘i ra, and lifelong Michigander can call themselves not only friends but brother and sister – in a world filled with enemies a community of genuine kinship is essential to creating and expanding the kindom of God.

No doubt there is a struggle and an enemy; but it is not “out there.”  It is with us as we, each of us, of strive for the kindom of God and of peace, or struggle against it.