Technology has revolutionized the way we form community. Whereas people previously had to meet in person to congregate, social media and digital communication tools have made it possible for us to come together to form very real communities in the digital sphere with people from all over the world, transcending geopolitical, cultural, and even language barriers.
How we define “friends” has changed with social media. How we meet together has changed with FaceTime, Google, and Skype. We can communicate in a myriad of ways with people all over the planet with the touch of a button. It’s nothing short of remarkable.
What’s even more remarkable, perhaps, is that the Church has always done this. Maybe not with the use of technology, but the Church has always been a community that has transcended geopolitical, cultural, and language borders. That’s what’s unique about Christ’s “kingdom.” It defies the way we normally try to identify community, allegiance, and purpose. After all, the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t a place you can point to on a map. You certainly can’t book tickets to travel there. And it’s not what the Evangelists had in mind if we mistakenly think of it as a destination where we go when we die.
In an encounter with Pilate, Jesus says “my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), and he is right. The Kingdom of Heaven (nation, empire, realm, however you want to think of it) defies the way we usually try to separate people with borders and barriers. What unites us is our love of God and neighbor. And Christ is our Lord (ruler, president, prime minister, again, however you want to think of it).
This is radical. Our allegiance is foremost not to national identity, flags, or culture, but to this realm of heaven with Christ as our head. And it’s values are even more radical: compassion, loving-kindness, vulnerability, grace, mercy. These are not the operating values of the geopolitical kingdoms with which we are familiar. After all, I can’t name too many politicians and world leaders that put their own lives on the line for the sake of vulnerable people the way Jesus does. In fact, Jesus sacrifices his own life to save vulnerable and marginalized people. Jesus does so for us as well. Whenever we are in trouble, at the end of our rope, or just having our worst day, Christ stands with and for us against the chaos.
Where this kingdom is, then, is wherever those same values are embodied and enacted: compassion, loving-kindness, vulnerability, grace, and mercy. Caring for the vulnerable and marginalized is a radical way to live, even simply in the way we relate to and care for our neighbors, co-workers, families and friends.
We may think of the Church as a place where we go, but in reality the Church is something that we do, or that we are. It’s nothing short of participating in God’s work of loving this world. And that’s a community that’s worth being part of.