Study Guide: Subverting the Empire

Sunday December 12, 2010 | Seth McCoy

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Our culture is run by an empire built on the foundation of greed, selfishness, and consumerism. Jesus came to this world to subvert any empire other than the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught us the true meaning of freedom, peace, justice, and love, and He wants us to use these to subvert the empire.

Extended Summary:

Jesus’ birth brought about a new world that is meant to subvert the empires of this world. In our culture, we have an empire of greed, consumerism, selfishness, and pride. To subvert this empire with Jesus’ birth, we must clothe ourselves with the freedom, peace, justice, and love that Jesus defines.
To subvert means to overturn something from its foundation or roots. In order to subvert an empire, we must first know what the empire is founded upon. Historically, empires are the economic, military, and political superpowers of their time. The Roman Empire in Jesus’ time had carved out its territory through military might. The American Empire arose from years of westward expansion propagated by war. Now, we sit as an economic powerhouse that finds the best way to let the terrorists know they haven’t won is to “get out and spend”.

Empires are usually run by an emperor, but a democracy is unique in that the empire is run by the people, you and me. We wield the power of this empire. This puts us in a unique position to subvert the American empire, or rather to subvert ourselves. Jesus calls us to put to death whatever our earthly nature is calling us to do, and this earthly nature is the foundation of our empire. Subverting the empire begins with us realizing how the empire defines the ideas of freedom, peace, justice, and love.
The American empire defines freedom as doing what we want, peace as the absence of conflict, justice as the bad guys getting what’s coming to them, and love as self-gratification and romance. This is born out of a consumerist and selfish culture. Whenever we promote these definitions, we are giving power and credit to the empire. However, Jesus defines these terms differently, and when we follow His definitions, we promote and give credit to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus defines freedom as being free from the things we want the most, peace as reconciliation, justice as living the way of Jesus everyday, and love as self-sacrificial and meant for the betterment of others. When Jesus was born, and brought these definitions with Him, He had already defeated the empires of this world. It is our calling to continue this subversion of the dying empires until Jesus comes again and brings the new Heaven and the new Earth.

In subverting the empire, we must clothe ourselves with these definitions and ways of Jesus. In doing so, we subvert our earthly desires, and therefore we subvert the empire that is run by you and me. So how do we subvert the empire during the time of Christmas? We subvert the empire by waiting, being faithful, patient, and through prayer. In this way, we delay self-gratification and consumerism and open up more time for God to show us new ways of lovingly subverting the empire. In this way, we are faithful to Jesus.
Don’t be angry, don’t hurt each other, and tell each other the truth—these are the tenets of subverting the empire. Wrapping ourselves in compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, and submission to one another is the way to give our power away and follow the Kingdom of God. This is the opposite of our culture, but it is how we overthrow the empire from its foundation.

Many of us have a hard time waiting for the new Earth that Jesus is bringing. We want the freedom, peace, justice, and love of Jesus to manifest itself now. Through patience and prayer, we begin to manifest the Kingdom in part, while waiting in faith for Jesus to come again.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most from the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. Think back to the foundations of the American empire. In what ways do you see the empire in your life?
  3. List again the ways to live out the Kingdom in contrast to the empire. Which of these is easiest for you? Which of these is most difficult? Why?
  4. When you think about this Christmas, what are some practical ways in which you can subvert the empire?
  5. Who can you ask to hold you accountable to these practical subversions, and how would you implement a plan of action?