Luke is purposeful in the way he tells his gospel story. One of the repeating messages that winds its way through the narrative is who is and who is out. Those who believe they are "in," are usually out and the "out" are in. We see this most plainly in the parable of the Publican and the toll collector, but still there are other places where this message rings. It's all about the kingdom of God.
Let's start in the beginning (it's a very good place to start). Think of the birth narrative. The shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus' birth, shepherds who lived outside of the community, shepherds who were not supposed to be in the "in" crowd. Right away Jesus' ministry begins with him being ousted to the "out" group (see Luke 4:16 - 30). But the truly most prominent expression of who was in and out relates this phrase that we seem to take for granted -- the kingdom of God.
The basilea tou theou can be translated as the kingdom or realm or empire of God. We need not to forget that the Roman Empire was a great force. In its day, there was no other empire. In the days when Luke's gospel was written, it was treasonous even to hint that there was another empire. The Roman leadership proclaimed that Caesar was the representative of the gods. His authority was absolute; his reach of his power was beyond far, but even to the ends of the earth (or so they said).
Jesus comes along and proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near. First of all, the phrase the kingdom of God implies a kingdom other than Rome's. Secondly, the kingdom of God implies that God's authority and power are greater than the other roman gods. In our day, we would acknowledge that the roman gods were no gods at all, but stories. The implication is that Rome, who believes they are all powerful, that they are the "in" ones are, in fact, out. And this is only a description of roman layer of this onion we call the kingdom of God. There is still an entirely unexplored section of the Hebraic understanding of the kingdom of God (or heaven). Perhaps I'll blog about that some time in the future.
But what does this all mean for us? Today in my sermon, I discuss the expectation of opposition. We are on a mission from God (a la the Blues Brothers). There are powers and principalities that work against God and God's plans for creation. Furthermore, no one wants to hear that they are "out." Those who have been in power do not generally give it up without resistance. That was the opposition to which I was referring this morning. Who in our community benefits from the cyclical and systemic poverty? Who benefits from addicted to drugs? Who benefits from those trapped by violence?
As we answer these questions, we will know from where our opposition will come. Those who profit from poverty will not stand by as their profits decline, and their slum-rated rent houses remain empty. Those who inject poison into our community will not give up their addicted customers quietly. Those who thrive on violence will not suddenly give up their only form of power. Those who live by Sin in this world have worked hard to make our community believe there is no other kingdom but the one they offer.
We are, indeed, lambs sent out among the wolves. We're on a mission from God (a la the Blues Brothers). And we are not unarmed. When we proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near, we carry with the weight and the power of the kingdom of God. Ours are not just words, but a reality that God is with us; God is among us, and God has not given up on us. Furthermore, our mission is not just words, but actions. We are called to go out and love our neighbors -- that is real love, messy love, love that gets involved and takes risks, love that bravely stands in opposition to Sin, and shows that it has no real power. We can do this because; we don't have to destroy Sin. God has done that and is doing that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So the good news is good news! Praise be to God.