Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost - November 25 2018

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
November 25, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-19; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Oh David. 

Did you hear it?  God’s Spirit speaks through the king!  David is the vessel of God’s blessing to the nation!  David is the beneficiary of God’s grace and covenant!  David will prosper!

Yet did God “cause to prosper all [David’s]…desire?”  The psalm is a promise by David – a confident promise – that he, David, will build a house for God.  “I will not allow my eyes to sleep, not let my eyelids slumber; until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Ps 132:4-5)

Yet we know that Micah the prophet admonished David and said God did NOT intend David to build a temple.

No, I’m listening to David’s voice and thinking to myself he seems pretty arrogant all around.  But then, kings, especially the absolute monarchs, can be pretty arrogant. That old saying is true: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

David may have been blessed in many ways, but the fact remains that a lot of his decisions and choices had catastrophic consequences – if not for him, then for others:  Remember Uriah the Hittite?  David’s daughter Tamar, his son Absalom?

It’s an old, old tradition that the king is the state – that idea wasn’t invented by France’s Louis XIV (1638-1715), the one called Louis the Great and the Sun King, the one who said, “L’etat c’est moi,” “I am the state.”

I suppose we might be impressed by men – it’s usually men, right? – who exercise that level of power.  As long as they are doing things we agree with, or things that increase the nation’s prestige, or things that change the course of history, we might find it acceptable, even laudable.

David ruled over a strong Israel – it had power and international influence, territory and trade, riches and good harvests, not to mention the Ark of the Covenant, the ultimate sign of God’s favor and a decisive weapon of war.

And after David, his son Solomon, who built the first great temple in Jerusalem, who had so very many wives and concubines, who as friends with the Queen of Sheba, and had alliances that spanned three continents!  A great king.

It should come as no surprise then, that after being attacked and conquered and subjugated by so many empires – Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman – that the people of the Covenant yearned for a strong king who would restore favor in the eyes of the world.

I imagine, then, that Jesus came as something of a shock.

Sure, he proved himself with healing and feeding and raising the dead, and he made some startling predictions about the coming reign of God, but to those in power he didn’t look like an important person, at least at first, and to the religious leaders he was seen more as a troublemaker than a credible messiah – his priorities were all wrong!

Who cared about the sick, the demon-possessed, the hungry?

No self-respecting seeker after earthly power, that’s for sure.  Not then, and not now.

We celebrate Christ the King, but what do we imagine a royal messiah to be?  Isn’t it powerful?  Isn’t that what is needed to cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly, to channel blessings galore on his followers and supporters?  Knocking kings off thrones, is more what we have in mind – ridding us of the hated Romans, that’s the thing we need.

How could someone who claims to be the Son of God turn his back on earthly power?  Wasn’t that the point – to have the strength, power, and influence to enforce God’s laws?

Pilate laughed  at him – he was ludicrous.  He was no threat to Rome; but he might be useful as a foil against Herod Antipas and the Sanhedrin and the priests.  He sure didn’t seem like any king Pilate had ever seen or heard of before.

And, of course, he wasn’t.

He wasn’t, because God had never intended he should be. 

God had warned the Israelites, centuries before, about the kings of earth: That they would take their sons to fight their wars; take their sons to work in their fields and make weapons of war; take their daughters to cook and bake for them; take their lands – their grapevines and olive trees, to feast on their food and drink their wine; take their crops, their servants, their herd-beasts; and ultimately, to make them their slaves….

We human beings are fixated on power – we think it is worthwhile and desirable, and we should have power, so we can tell everyone else what they should do.

But I think it’s pretty clear that this isn’t what God has in mind for us.

God has in mind:

  • Vulnerability
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Generosity

Not just among the “little people,” but among ALL people.  And even, and perhaps especially, among the rich and powerful.

We have so much capacity to make things better, but too often we take what power we have and get caught up in it, and think it gives us the right to be greedy and selfish.

When all God wants us to do is to let go, so that all may be fed, and healed, and loved, and valued.

Jesus’ idea of what it means to be a king is pretty much the exact opposite of everyone else’s.  And we still don’t get it.

When he says his kingdom is not from this world, he’s saying his kingship is not like any other king earth has ever known.  This is where things get nuanced – Jesus’ kingship is for the world, this world, because God is for the world, this world.  This is how God loves the world – not by giving us power, but by showing us how to give up power, so that all may thrive, or, in God-language, that all may have life and have it abundantly.

God’s kingship is not human; in this way it is “not from this world,” but it is, through Jesus, in this world, and we can live in it now.  Here.  in this world.

  July 2020  
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