Year B — Proper 29 (The Reign of Christ)

Commentary for November 25, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 23:1-7
David speaks the words to which we all, as preachers, aspire every time we stand and deliver: “The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.” N‘estce pas?

This word outlines the character of the righteous ruler: one who rules justly, in the fear of God. This ruler brings light and life to the land.


In true Hebrew literary form, there follows a contrasting vision of the godless: thorns that prick and tear, worth nothing but to be piled together and burned.


Let us pray for righteous rulers!


Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18)
The psalmist remembers David’s passion for the worship of God, for a place to serve as God’s dwelling place. Rooted in that same passion and commitment, the psalm prays for God’s blessing on the “sons of David” that will follow as God’s righteous rulers over God’s people in Zion.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Daniel’s apocalyptic vision is of God, the Ancient One, on the exalted throne of heaven. God is joined by “one like a human being” who is given the authority to rule over all peoples, nations, and languages on earth.

This imagery is picked up by John, in the opening chapters of Revelation, and reworked brilliantly into the theme of God’s great power and authority over even sin and death — made known to all of creation in the Lamb of God (and a slaughtered lamb, at that.)

The power and might of the Ancient One, the King of heaven, the ruler of an eternal dominion — in the end will lay claim to the throne through nothing other than sacrifice and love.

Psalm 93
It is the LORD who is robed with majesty, who has acted in strength to establish the world. 

While the image of floodwaters roaring through our neighborhoods is not a particularly comfortable one (just ask those affected by the recent Superstorm Sandy, the Christmas tsunami of 2004, or the still-memorable Hurricane Katrina in 2006) — there is no denying the power and awe of the metaphor.

Revelation 1:4b-8
Jesus rules the kings of the earth, by virtue of his rule over death itself (a power that conquers even the most venerable kings — cf. King Tut, King Nebuchadnezzar, King Henry VIII, and so on.)

One of the connections with the Daniel passage (see above) appears here as Jesus Christ is envisioned “coming with clouds.” 

Not insignificant is the appointment of Christ’s followers as “kings and priests” in his name. What import does this have for the church’s ministry on this Sunday of Christ, the King?

John 18:33-37
Pilate senses that something is up with this Jesus fellow. He seems to be more than the local rulers have cracked him up to be. Pilate’s questions are probing, intense.

“Are you the King of the Jews? What have you done? Tell me, are you a king?”

Those are questions that we are still answering to this day, I think. What does it mean for me to offer my allegiance to a king whose kingdom, by his own admission, is “not of this world?”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In his book “The Canadians” Andrew Malcolm writes about Cecille Bechard.  She is “A Canadian who visits the United States several dozen times a day; when she goes to the refrigerator or to the backdoor or to make tea for instance.  To read and sleep, she stays in Canada.  And she eats there too, as she at the north end of her kitchen table.  Mrs. Bechard’s home is in Quebec and Maine at the same time.” This is because her house was already there in 1842 when diplomat’s sat down in London to create the official boundary line.

Hmm; a citizen of one country who spends most of her time in another country, all the while staying in the same place, somehow that feels familiar.  We, as Christians, are also citizens on two worlds, of two kingdoms.

Most of our life is lived in the urgent now of eating and sleeping and working and playing.  Most of our thinking is governed by the culture in which we live; indeed most of our opinions about most things are shaped by being citizens of and participants in the secular world around us.

But, to be a person of faith is to perceive another reality besides the one that is easily and readily apparent.  To be a person of faith is to live in two worlds at the same time.  It is to perceive the reality everyone else sees but also to see a reality that can only be seen with the eyes of faith.

In our Gospel lesson these two worlds collide.  At the trial of Jesus we find Pilate, a thoroughly secular pragmatist; deciding what to do with hard, cold, real politick calculation. And we find Jesus, no less aware of the stark reality of his situation and the cross that stands before him, but also aware of another reality, another “kingdom” to which he belongs.

Pilate is both amused and annoyed by the whole thing.  He can’t figure out why this man is standing before him, accused of being, of all things, “the king of the Jews.”  This guy?  This backwoods Bible thumper?  After staring at him and his accusers awhile, Pilate asks, “Okay, what have you done?”

This doesn’t really help, because he can’t understand Jesus’ answers either.  Oh, he understands the words; he just can’t decipher the meaning.  “So, you are a king.  Or not.  What are you talking about?”

The problem is that Pilate, and the social and political leaders of Judea, and most of the people who had been following Jesus around and listening to him preach, were aware of only one world and Jesus was living in two.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” he says, and in that moment he is like Mrs. Bechard, looking across her kitchen table to the “other country” where her refrigerator sits.

We are called to live each day in two worlds, two realities, two kingdoms.  We cannot and should not permanently retreat from the real world which surrounds us with its pain and suffering, hunger and disease, wars and violence of all description.  We are called of God to follow Christ and put ourselves into the midst of the worlds need.

We are called of God to struggle with the world we see all around us, to be active participants in making this world a better place for everyone.  We are called to plunge into the secular now, to dive into the messiness that is the world; we are called to get into it up to our necks.

But we are also called to look beyond the obvious to the really real; to look past the daily to see the eternal; to look within the moment to see the mystery; to stare into the face of the truly human to perceive there the image of the truly divine.

For we live in two worlds at the same time and the trick is to not become so enamored of the one that we lose sight of the other.  With Christ the King as our guide, we are called to see the hand of God moving in our midst, holding us up with the divine love, pointing and gently nudging us in the right direction when we lose our way, holding us back from danger and harm, filling the ordinary with mystery and the mysterious with meaning, that we; like Daniel and the Psalmist and Saint John the Divine and Jesus himself; we will be able always to hold on to faith in the “already but not yet” divine world of which Christ is the one and only King.

 Amen and amen.

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