Sunday, November 22, 2009

RCL - Proper 29 B - 22 Nov 2009

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
RCL - Proper 29 B – Sunday 22 November 2009
Christ the King – ONE Sunday

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37


As today’s collect suggests, nations long to be freed from sin and united in peace and truth. We yearn to move into the accomplishment of God’s desire for humanity. We hope that we all may be One with the God who is, who was, and who is to come.

In our season of Pentecost, which comes to a close, our longing for unity with God began to be fulfilled by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

In the beckoning season of Advent, our yearning for oneness with God is in the memory of Jesus’ incarnation and in the hope of God’s renewed, unmediated presence to all of us.

*****

We cannot speak of God but in human words and metaphors. And God surpasses any and all of these metaphors. “Kingdom” is a metaphor that Jesus himself seems willing to play with but not without giving us a workout about what He might have in mind when using that metaphor.

*****

Our first reading of today comes from the second of the two Books of Samuel. These books evoke the transition of Israel, as the chosen people, from being ruled by Judges to being ruled by Kings. And this transition does not seem to be God’s first choice for Israel.

A ruler provides guidance. The rules are there to direct and keep people in the right path. Under the Judges, Israel is ruled by the covenant with God. In a way, God is their king.

The judges, who then rule Israel, are scattered amongst its many tribes. The judges have the subsidiary responsibility to arbitrate conflicts in the interpretation of God’s covenant with Israel. Under the judges, there is no centralized power but God.

But Israel fashions itself as a modern nation -- like its neighbors, really -- and these neighbors all have kings. In addition, to ruling, kings are expected to protect their people from harm. Israel thinks it will be safer with a human king. The prophet Samuel warns Israel in vain about kings and their abuses of power. But God eventually agrees to have a king anointed.

Clearly, a kingdom is not God’s first idea of covenanted relationship.

*****

Our reading from Second Samuel offers the meditations of an aging King David (the second king of Israel) on the essence of his own reign. The essence of David’s reign -- David comes to recognize -- has been God.

Whenever David was at his best, he reigned in awe of God, in obedience to God, and as an instrument of God’s justice.

David sings: “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 dew on the grassy land.”

More often than not, David also failed to rule that way. But always he repented and turned to God again, as the foundation of his kingship. And it is this faithful repentance that makes David one to look up to in the biblical narrative.

*****

Our second reading comes from the Book of Revelation.

It is too often overlooked that this book is actually a letter to 7 churches of Asia Minor who are buckling under the domination of Empire (in this case the Roman Empire).

Each of these 7 churches are made to notice the difficulties of each of their sisters. And they are made to feel one. They are made to feel one in their belonging to a reality, in space and time, that goes well beyond the Roman Empire.

And in order to make that clear to them, the seer of Patmos Island subverts the language of the hegemonic power of the time and refers to the symbols from these churches’ jewish heritage.

The seven churches are encouraged to focus on a heavenly Jerusalem that transcends the mightily earthly Rome and brushes away the ruins of the earthly Jerusalem. This is where the seven churches are reminded that they belong to a kingdom where they all are priests of God the Father rather than servants of Caesar Imperator or clients to a temple elite.

*****

In the words of one of my favorite compline hymn, they are reminded that “empires pass away but God’s kingdom stands and grows for ever till all thy creatures own thy sway.”

If you look up this last noun “sway” you will see it means power, dominion, but also “the ability to exercise influence or authority.”

God is inviting us to become co-leaders of God’s plan for humanity until we all exercise that stewardship together as One, with God.

*****

And this brings us to the clash of Pilate and Jesus’ respective understandings of truth. Pilate as a good Roman praetor attempts to judge Jesus according to the political and cultural facts of the situation.

But Jesus also seems interested in whether Pilate is seeking truth on his own behalf or is just the instrument of circumstances; “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

In this passage, I hear again Jesus-the-teacher asking “What is it you want me to do for you?” as he asked Bartimaeus and the sons of Zebedee, James and John.

What is it that you are asking for, Pilate? Do you want to know truth? Or do you seek the convenience of arguments that fit the moment’s purpose?

*****

And the argument that Jesus is the King of the Jews fits the moment’s purpose for Pilate. If Jesus does not renege on this claim, made for him by third parties, Pilate can have him executed as requested by the local religious authorities. Pilate wants to assuage these authorities on the eve of this major religious holiday of Passover.

*****

So Jesus plays along with the Kingdom metaphor for a while; but only as a negative used to project the positive image of what Jesus is about. “My kingdom is not of this world… My kingdom is not from here.”

*****

Jesus concludes this conversation with Pilate saying: “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.”

Is testimony the major attribute of a king? Jesus always points to a kingdom of another nature and of which is a witness.

And what are we called to in the presence of this divine witness? We are called to listen. We are called to exercise discerning obedience. Chewing and masticating and ruminating God’s will until the way forward for our life becomes known to us.

Where have I heard this recently? Oh yes, the Rule of St Benedict which I recently professed to use for the rest of my life as a guide to turn again and again to God.

Here are the first two sentences of that rule:

“Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend to the message you hear and make sure it pierces to your heart, so that you may accept with willing freedom, and fulfill by the way you live, the directions that come from your loving Father.”

*****

So on this feast of Christ the King, Reign of Christ, I invite you to listen to, pull apart and re-construct, the many metaphors Jesus allows us to play with in order to open our hearts wider to God.

God desires us to be ONE; not to remain alienated and rebellious subjects; but to exercise whatever influence and authority we have to turn to Him, to turn into Him. As this conversion happens, with our participation and His grace, we will not be able to help but be instruments of God’s Love.

*****

Let us pray.

Beloved, You are the Alpha and the Omega. Let us not loose our alphabet of love, in-between the book-ends of history. Be our ruler, give us direction, keep us on the right path. And whenever we get lost, shed light over our steps; let us hear your voice again; that in the end, we all may see the light of your countenance as One.

Amen.

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