Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 22nd, 2009. Last Sunday After Pentecost. Christ the King

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All the lessons today are about kings -- King David and his descendant, Christ the King. The collect reminds us that Christ is not just a king, but “the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

These texts were written in cultures where kings and queens had more real power than most of them do today. If/when the Prince of Wales becomes King Charles III of England and Scotland, he will control lots of money and a huge estate, but like his mother, he will exercise almost no power over the various governments of his realm. In being so closely identified by Scripture as a monarch, does Christ the King suffer a similar, if unnoticed loss of status? Do we with modern ears imagine Christ the King in charge only by title and rank but not by power and control?

Does Christ even want to be king? Does he want his subjects bowing before him in splendid ceremonies that assert his majesty and glory?

Suppose your spouse were to greet you on rising, “Good morning, your Majesty” or on bedding, “Rest well, your Majesty.”

Nor can I find a modern political title that would communicate for us what ‘King’ communicated for the bible’s original audiences. “Christ the President” or “Christ the Commander-in-Chief” or “Christ the Prime Minister”…. all offend.

Jesus said: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Is that kind of candor reserved only for those in the upper room? Are we to imagine that to the rest of us his followers, Jesus says, “Mind your place”? Jesus sternly scolded his disciples when they talked about which one would be the greatest with him in heaven: he counseled that the greatest are those who serve, not those who are served. What kind of king is that? Does calling him King of kings distract us from what Jesus really wants of us?

In his new book Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell Bishop John S. Spong warns that we have created a God who is to be flattered, as if God “needs” flattery.

Concerns for one’s grandeur or title or rank distances the concerned. Those concerns do not bring one closer to the object of reverence.

In Adam Bede, George Eliot counseled, “If you would maintain the slightest belief in human heroism, you must never make a pilgrimage to see the hero” (Chapter 17). Eliot suggests that no human being can stand the tests of real heroism at close range.

Of course Jesus is a divine hero, not a human one. For John, Jesus passed all the tests for reliability at close range, and John insists that Jesus wants us as friends, not as subjects.

It's easier to be a subject. Being a friend requires much more responsibility.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Given the candor that Scripture gives about David’s sins -- his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder in the second degree of her husband Uriah, his sometimes abusive conduct in battle… -- it is fascinating to see the place that he secures for himself in Hebrew Scriptures, and even in the genealogy of Jesus in Christian Scriptures. He’s an arch sinner that it’s hard not to love if you are on his side.

In his “last words” David praises himself (and we who repeat him, praise him) for his good government:

One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
Is not my house like this with God?

My father loved the rituals of his college fraternity. When I complained about various misdeeds of some of our heroes, he often quoted The Sigma Nu Creed “To keep green the sainted memory of our loved and lost, their faults forgotten, their virtues enshrined in our hearts forever.”

I am not a cynic but prefer the counsel of poet Thomas Hardy: “If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst“ (in his poem 'de Profundis').

I am glad that Scripture includes details of David’s failures as well as details of his achievements.

Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19)

Like many of the powerful in history, David revels in what he claims as God’s promise to him not just in his lifetime, but in posterity. Note that the promise for his posterity is explicitly conditional: “If your children keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their children will sit upon your throne for evermore."

I have seen several dozen thrones in museums plus a few more in drafty old castles; and not one of them has looked comfortable. I cannot imagine being pleased with the notion of sitting upon a throne forever more, even if only metaphorically.

Ezekiel has no trouble at all imagining it: “I saw the dome that was above the four winged creatures, and on it was the sapphire throne“ (10:1). I take that as strong evidence that gay queans will be in heaven, because who else could advise God about an antique store where he could find a sapphire throne?!

Revelation 1:4b-8

John the Divine had no trouble at all imagining Jesus’ throne either.

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

I highly recommend reading the whole of the Book of Revelation aloud occasionally. Candle light and sherry can enhance the experience.

In the 1960s I fell asleep before my fireplace after reading the whole of it aloud. Later I awoke, or thought that I awoke, to see a metal saucer upside down in the great lawn before my home at St. Andrew’s school in Middletown, Delaware. The saucer seemed only about 5 to 6 feet high, but 60-70 feet in diameter. There was little noise on its take-off, save the heavy rustle of leaves. I fell back asleep, or thought that I did.

At dinner, I made the great mistake of telling the lads at my table what I had dreamed (or by then thought that I had dreamed). I wish that I had kept the experience to myself. Most likely the wild imagery of the Book of Revelation had prompted my dream. At the time, and the few times that I have remembered the experience, the dream has meant nothing; it tells me nothing. But for months I felt like a prime kook for giving evidence to several who wanted to make more of it. Some were angry that I did not report the episode to the Air Force. Heavens to Betsy, No! I am glad that I have had no such experiences, real or imaginary, since.

John 18:33-37

I have great sympathy for Pilate in this episode. It could not have been a plum assignment to be sent to Israel, and it must have been especially annoying to have the indigenous leadership among his subjects to ask him to crucify someone whose crime, if any, was clearly more against the local leaders than against Pilate himself or by extension against Rome.

And the prisoner is not cooperative. Most gospel writers show Jesus as largely saying nothing when his accusers speak against him. In this apparently private audience, Pilate seems to pursue the possibility of a rapprochement. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks straight-forwardly.

Jesus might have said, “That’s how my enemies mock me. You can see for yourself that I sport none of the grandeur or aspirations of a king. It’s a ‘Jewish thing.’ I am sure you have seen how worked up my people become over disagreements about our doctrines. Obviously you have to decide how to appease them. I wish you well. I am glad that I don’t have your job!”

Jesus said no such thing.

Or Jesus might have said, “Yes, I am the son of God. I am Christ the King. I am Lord of Lords.”

Jesus said no such thing.

Instead, he was vague:

Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Okay. What am I as Pilate to do with this testimony? What do I know now that I did not know before I asked? I can’t make heads or tales of what he has said. He seems strange but is apparently innocuous. He hardly seems a felon, yet how will I be able to use anything that he has said to me as evidence to save him from the crucifixion local leaders are demanding for him?

Maybe I can get around it by offering to release him in my annual pardon of a felon. I’ll offer them a truly unsavory character instead, Barabbas. That will bring the priests to their senses. They'll never choose to release the thug instead of this guy. That’s what I’ll do.

Isn’t it about time for Happy Hour? Christ the King indeed!

See also

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