I was in a pew with in the Kensington Community Church, United Church of Christ, with our San Diego family last Sunday. The preacher, the Rev. Darryl Kistler, reminded us that Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God and that whenever he was asked about the Kingdom, when it was coming and what it would look like, his answers were enigmatic, not at all what people expected or wanted. “The Kingdom of God is among you,” he said once. On another occasion he said that the Kingdom would be quiet, almost invisible: like a tiny mustard seed or like the yeast that does its important work in bread baking without fanfare.
It was the reminder I needed this morning because I am worried about the particular kingdom I am currently living in. It has not been an easy, hopeful time since the presidential inauguration in January. Not long after the ceremony the President’s strategic advisor, Steve Bannon, warned that what we would be seeing from the White House in the days ahead was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” What Mr. Bannon meant, and the President has begun to implement, is the dismantling of many of the federal programs, created with mostly bipartisan political cooperation over many decades, to intercede in the national life and economy on behalf of the American people. That process began during the Great Depression when the federal government established Social Security, banking regulations, and invested heavily in public spending to provide work for the unemployed as well as enhancing the nation’s infrastructure. The Public Works Administration built roads and highways, planted trees, constructed dams and put thousands back to work. More recently the federal government interceded in the economy to protect consumers from unsafe products, the food we eat, the drugs we take, the automobiles we drive, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Many of the safety precautions we take for granted, such as seat belts, came about as a result of the federal government acting on behalf of the public welfare. For many people my age the high point of government action on behalf of the American people came in the Civil Rights Act which finally guaranteed equal access to public facilities and the Voting Rights Act which finally provided for free participation for all Americans in the political process regardless of race.
The “deconstruction” Mr. Bannon described is nothing less than a declaration of war on that entire system of regulations and protections. Many in the business and manufacturing community are obviously delighted by the prospect of fewer regulations and the requirements to build safer and more environmentally friendly products. But for some, myself included, it sends us in a direction away from the fairness, justice, compassion and generous hospitality the government has stimulated and protected in the past.
For several months I have been thinking a lot about – struggling actually – with the matter of a faithful Christian response to what is happening. I have no illusions that the liberal state the United States has developed during the past century is the Kingdom of God. Federal programs and regulations are not perfect. But in general, it seems to me, our nation gradually has institutionalized many of the values that are part of my Christian Faith: hospitality and welcome to the stranger, fairness and justice for all people, protection for the weakest and most vulnerable, education and health care for all. The reversal of all of that not only redefines what America is about, it moves the nation away from precious Judeo Christian, human values.
So I needed the reminder that God’s Kingdom is among us in ways that are not dramatic; quiet, inconspicuous and yet powerful and pregnant with meaning and hope. The preacher Sunday went on to tell us about a remarkable event that happens at the Mexican – American border, about a 30 minute drive south from here, every week. Members of American Christian congregations travel to the border to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion with Mexican Christians. They stand looking at one another through the large metal border fence. They are not allowed to pass the bread and wine of communion through the fence, but a common Eucharistic liturgy is conducted simultaneously on both sides. “This is my body…This is my blood…Do this in remembrance of me” in Spanish and in English.
I don’t think I’m desperately grasping at straws here but I do believe that the Kingdom of God comes at the Mexican-American border as followers of Jesus Christ express their solidarity and the truth and beauty of the Gospel that transcends every political regime and structure. “Like a mustard seed” Jesus said. “Like yeast.”