2018 Lent Testimony Series
Today is Palm Sunday. It is when we followers of Jesus remember His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where throngs of the Jewish people lavished Jesus with praises, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” The scene must have looked like “The Return of The King.” Many were sure in their hopes of this messianic figure saving them from the Roman empire and to restore their former glory as God’s chosen people.
But Jesus, unbeknownst to them all, was entering not to the kind of victorious establishment of an earthly kingdom. He was going to the cross, he was heading to his death. His Kingdom was not to be of this world. In fact His Kingdom would not come to pass unless He were to go through betrayal, suffering and death. This Kingdom would cost Him nothing less than His everything.
As Lent season draws to a close, and we contemplate the coming Holy Week climaxing in the passion of Christ, I cannot help but imagining this God/man, man/God living in the extremity of tensions, joy set before Him and sorrow of abandonment by His Father & friends, one mortal life ending and eternal life for all humankind beginning, powers of empire and religious systems of sin and death crashing over Him but to be exhausted forever.
The story we’ll hear today also treads that thin line of tension. How do we wrestle with the reality of Kingdom that is coming but not yet here in the fullness? In our experiences of the “inbetweenness,” who is Jesus?
Hi, my name is Jason, and I’ve been a member at this church for two years. I’m also in the Justice Prayer Group. Today I’ll be talking about how God is showing me what it means to be a citizen in the kingdom of heaven.
In elementary school, there was a new kid who transferred in midway through the year. She didn’t speak much English. Luckily for her, there were many kids of Chinese and Taiwanese descent, myself included, who spoke enough Mandarin who could help her understand what was going on. Except all of us feigned ignorance and didn’t speak a word in Mandarin to her. It was clear that we didn’t want to be associated with those who didn’t speak English. We weren’t about to broadcast to the rest of the white, Indian, and Latino kids that we were anything other than “all-American.” To protect the sense of acceptance I held, I had to draw a line between myself and someone else. I needed someone else to be more different than I was, and not speaking English was a very clear difference.
Over the years I’ve come to wonder what my place is in the social fabric of this country, what my parents’ new home demanded they give up, and what they got in return.
It’s easier to start with what they got. They traded the instability and repression of Taiwan for the prosperity of the United States. My dad got a great education and became an engineer to provide a comfortable life for his family. He was able to raise his kids in Fremont hoping they wouldn’t have to go through the pains of remaking home in a new place. So that my brother and I, by growing up speaking English, could avoid the embarrassment of fumbling over accents. So that we, by growing up going to school here, could make sense of the labyrinthine institutions my parents struggled to understand. Perhaps most importantly, my dad hoped that we would be natural citizens of this country and not have to enter through the immigration process.
It’s more difficult to admit what we had to give up. My dad told me once that he chose to study engineering in Taiwan because it was safer than studying law or the humanities. Becoming a lawyer could lead to advocating for people against government policies and actions which would undoubtedly invite persecution. This conversation made me wonder: in exchange for prosperity and comfort as a tech worker, did I waive my right to speak up against injustices in America for the fear of being cast as ungrateful? Do I let others tell my story and use it to blame those denied justice for their own suffering? When I have something I want to say, in … , I feel hemmed in by all that I am and all that I’m not.
For a lot of people who’re not born in the right skin color or continent, it costs a lot to be a citizen in the U.S., and the benefits feel temporary and fragile. I’m reminded of the internment of persons of Japanese descent, many of them American citizens, during World War 2. Of the verbal and physical assaults against my South Asian neighbors in Fremont in the wake of 9/11. How they had worked so hard to integrate and assimilate into American society only to be treated as the enemy.
In all these questions about my place in this country that seems so ambivalent towards her citizens, God is showing me that there’s another kingdom I can be a citizen of if I so choose. We’ve been studying the gospel of Matthew; in it I read about a man, Jesus, who was in the form of God took the form of man to identify with outcasts and unwanted, eating with tax collectors and sinners (9:9-13).
I read that it similarly costs a lot to be a part of this kingdom: it costs everything. But instead of temporary and fragile benefits, I get something lasting. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a pearl that a merchant sells all of his possessions to buy (Matt 13:44-46). Citizenship in the kingdom of God is so valuable it beckons me to immediately give up everything for it. And it’s what I’ve longed for this entire time. Instead of losing my voice, it now becomes my duty to call out injustice. Instead of excluding others to preserve my precarious status, my duty is to invite others to join the kingdom.
However this kingdom isn’t here on this earth in fullness yet. The world we’re in now doesn’t look like the kingdom ruled by the king who gave everything to serve and redeem his people. It looks very far from it. I find myself asking, “Jesus, why did you leave before restoring everything? What’s the point of being a citizen in a kingdom that isn’t here yet? How much longer do I have to feel uncertain and unsure about my place in this land? How much longer will I and the Asian American community allow the model minority myth to be used in the denial of justice?”
I haven’t gotten a clear answer to these questions. Sometimes I hear bits and pieces from the LORD. He tells me as a citizen of the kingdom-that-has-come-and-is-coming-but-not-quite-here-yet, it’s my privilege to build the kingdom here brick by brick.
There are days where I can’t really even see what we’re building. I only know where God’s telling me to put the next brick, and even that isn’t always as clear as I’d like. I feel that God is calling me to be engaged with the city of Oakland and to pray for the city. These prayers sometimes make me wonder how much worse it needs to be before it gets better.
But God has been telling me that it’s not primarily about how or when. It’s about who. When confronted with the brokeness and injustices that go back generations, it’s easy for me to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what’s happening. My mind tries to think of solutions that encompass all of the interests and institutions on my timeline, but it always comes up short. When I cry out to the LORD in despair about how stuck we are in this mess, he reminds me that Jesus is the only one who will bring about restoration and its through his ways on his time.
God has also been reminding me that this labor is not in vain. He’s been showing me examples of those that have gone before who saw the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living, and those who did not see what they had prayed for and labored towards come to pass in this life. Heroes of faith like Tom Skinner, my personal inspiration, prophetically reminding us that the Gospel is both personal and societal transformation. It’s a result of their faithfulness that I’m up here today.
I know who my king is and I know that he’s coming back.