The Two Kingdoms

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 72
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Borders can cause all sorts of problems. In many ways, many borders around the world are totally artificial, and that shows in the chaos which ensues. In 1787, the Treaty of Paris basically laid out which British territories would go to the freshly victorious American rebels, and which would remain part of British Canada. The treaty said that the Americans would get all the British territory “through the Lake of the Woods, to the northwestern most point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi…” The only problem was, the map they were using wasn’t very accurate, and the source of the Mississippi was actually farther south, so if you follow the instructions precisely, you end up with 123 square mile of Minnesota up in the middle of Canadian territory, which still exists today. It’s called the “Northwest Angle,” and can only be accessed from the United Sates by land by crossing into Canadian territory first. This means that the citizens of the tiny Angle Township must check in via videophone to the Canadian customs authorities when they want to leave their village, and with the American customs authorities when they want to come back.

Another example is the town of Derby Line, which was already there when the United States/Canada border was drawn on a map in London in 1842. The border passes right through the town, even through some buildings and homes. In some cases, a family at home cooks its meals in one country and eats them in the other. Derby Line is also home to the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which was purposely built on the border (you wouldn’t get away with that today!). The opera stage is in Canada, but the entrance to the opera, and most of the stage seats, are in the United States. Because the building straddles the border, it has two mailing addresses, one for the United States and one for Canada.

In Europe, you’ll find La Cure, which is a small village located five miles north of Geneva, Switzerland. Part of the village lies in Switzerland, and part in France, with the boundary dividing not only the village itself, but at least four structures within it. One of these structures is the Hotel Arbez, in which the dining hall and other rooms are bisected by the border. Elsewhere in Europe, the Vatican City is technically a landlocked independent country, surrounded by Rome. [This makes Rome and the Vatican City the closest two capital cities in Europe, which is always useful to know for pub quizzes].

In the UK, there used to be rather more detached parts of various counties, until they were tidied up, some as late as the 1970s. My first church was in a village just outside Reading, but large parts of the village used to be a detached part of Wiltshire – criminals had to be locked up overnight before taking to Marlborough to be dealt with, until it was all transferred to Berkshire in the 1840s. Perhaps the most famous of these was Barrow-in-Furness, which was a detached part of Lancashire.

Closer to home, the Hampshire-Surrey border runs through the village of Rowledge. Much of the village is in Surrey, but the some, including the church and the school are in Hampshire, but the church is in the Guildford Diocese.

Imagine if you were one of those people living across the United States-Canada border, spending most of your time in another country, all the while staying in the same place? Yet, somehow, I think that might feel just a little bit familiar. We, as Christians, are also citizens on two worlds, of two kingdoms.

Most of our life is lived in the urgent now of eating and sleeping, and working and playing. Most of our thinking is governed by the culture in which we live; indeed most of our opinions about most things are shaped by being citizens of and participants in the secular world around us.

But, to be a person of faith is to perceive another reality besides the one that is easily and readily apparent. To be a person of faith is to live in two worlds at the same time. It is to perceive the reality everyone else sees, but also to see a reality that can only be seen with the eyes of faith.

In today’s Gospel reading these two worlds collide. At the trial of Jesus we find Pilate, a thoroughly secular pragmatist, using hard, cold, real politick calculation, to decide what to do. And we find Jesus, no less aware of the stark reality of his situation, and the cross that stands before him, but also aware of another reality, another “kingdom” to which he belongs.

I think that Pilate is both amused and annoyed by the whole thing. He can’t work out why this man is standing before him, accused of being, of all things, “the king of the Jews.” This man? This preacher from out in the sticks? After staring at him and his accusers for a while, Pilate asks, “Okay, what have you done?”

This doesn’t really help, because he can’t understand Jesus’ answers either. Oh, he understands the words; he just can’t decipher the meaning. “So, you are a king. Or not. What are you talking about?”

The problem is that Pilate, and the social and political leaders of Judea, and most of the people who had been following Jesus around and listening to him preach, were aware of only one world, and Jesus was living in two.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says, and in that moment he’s like the people whose houses are on the United States-Canada border, looking across their kitchen table to the “other country” where their fridge is sitting.

We’re called to live each day in two worlds, two realities, two kingdoms. We cannot and should not permanently retreat from the real world which surrounds us with its pain and suffering, hunger and disease, wars and violence of all description. We’re called by God to follow Christ and put ourselves into the midst of the world’s need. We’re called by God to struggle with the world we see all around us, to be active participants in making this world a better place for everyone. We’re called to plunge into the secular now, to dive into the messiness that is the world, up to our necks.

But we’re also called to look beyond the obvious to the really real; to look past the daily to see the eternal; to look within the moment to see the mystery; to stare into the face of the truly human to perceive there the image of the truly divine.

For we live in two worlds at the same time, and the trick is to not become so enamoured with either one of them that we lose sight of the other. With Christ the King as our guide, we’re called to see the hand of God moving in our midst, holding us up with the divine love, pointing and gently nudging us in the right direction when we lose our way, holding us back from danger and harm, filling the ordinary with mystery and the mysterious with meaning, that we, like Daniel and the Psalmist and John, and Jesus himself; we’ll be able always to hold on to faith in the “already but not yet” divine world, of which Christ is the one and only King.

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