Sermon for Year B, Last Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 29)
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
November 25, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Today is marked as Christ the King Sunday on our calendar.
I suspect most Americans might have sort of a tough time with that designation.
After all, Didn’t we fight the Revolutionary War to escape one tyrannical king,
Partly in order to avoid having to deal with one of our own?
Or so the thinking goes; and that’s a piece of the story, of course,
But it’s hard to argue the point.
Perhaps the collective American psyche is too weighed down
With the baggage of its past for Jesus Christ to be our King
As opposed to, say, our President? No, probably not our President either.
This past week, I was having lunch with my wife in a local park
And we were approached by a nice woman who gave us this $1 million bill.
On the front it has Grover Cleveland
And on the back it tells you you’re going to hell for pretty much everything,
And that if you don’t square it up with Jesus right now, that’s it.
Without getting into specifics,
And since I had a sandwich in my mouth,
I told the lady we were Episcopalians.
It didn’t seem quite sufficient.
She came back later, burning for my soul to know Jesus,
And she asked me whether I thought I was going to heaven
Because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross
And the expiation of my terrible sin,
Or because I was satisfied with being an Episcopalian.
In other words, did I think I was getting to heaven on my own wretched hook?
I tried to say that as a priest, if I’d learned anything over the years,
It was that salvation is something that at best we live into our whole lives.
I could see, however, that I was going off script;
The die was cast; I was now the proud owner of a million dollars;
President Cleveland (who by the way was a Presbyterian)
Likes Jesus and gives him the thumbs-up.
And as we finished our lunch and our conversation,
It struck me that this was a pretty perfect summation of this whole problem:
We don’t want a king in America, but if we have to have one,
It should probably be a dark horse like Jesus who’s nominated by the President.
Jesus is great, but he can’t get into our hearts on his own;
He needs a way in, and what gets your attention faster than American currency?
Endorsing Jesus as King is a political move that goes way back;
Emporer Constantine did it for the Romans in the year 312,
And that date is seen by many as one of several low points in the history of our faith,
Because the Good News, like the Spirit that blows the Good News around,
Is not meant to be tamed or institutionalized or put on fake money;
The longer it resides at the top, the more corrupt it grows.
Ah, but everything gets all swirled up;
We can’t help but stir politics into our religion, and religion into our politics.
So yes, for Americans, the idea of a divine king produces a series of sticking points.
Even so, did you hear that reading from Daniel this morning?
It’s an apocalyptic vision of the heavenly throne room,
Where God is enthroned as the king of judges,
And where he justly and fairly judges over the beasts of the empire,
Dispatching those bad things that threaten his people.
This is a God who requires no endorsement.
The usual bulletin insert with all the scripture readings on it
That was designated for our lections this week
Completely skipped Daniel,
And instead opted, for the first reading of the day, for a reading from 2 Samuel:
The last words of David. Very stirring, very striking words.
The other option, not printed in the usual insert, was Daniel chapter 7.
But even if we’d chosen to read from it,
We’d have ended up not reading the part of Daniel
Where the beasts of chaos and destruction are punished,
That we did manage to read this morning.
Even if we’d gone to the trouble of making up a special insert as we did for today
So as to include Daniel,
It would still have been completely sanitized
Had not those two small verses been brought back in and included.
If God had not dealt with the monsters … if that had been left out,
Well, we wouldn’t have been saying very much
Other than that God is a just king
Because God is good, God is nice, and don’t push it any further.
So by going all the way back into Daniel as we have today, from its heart,
And publishing this special insert,
And by publishing the whole of this section,
We are saying how very much we need to hear all of it;
We are saying that what had been originally left out for today with such care
Is, surprise of surprises, precisely the thing we needed to hear the most.
Those two little verses.
We don’t need a sanitized Bible reading
That makes us feel good about ourselves,
And we don’t need to think of ourselves as the earthly subjects of a heavenly king
Who is weak or benign, or nice for nice’s sake, some sweet old man.
That’s a Grover-Cleveland-nominated king,
Which is some pretty weak gruel if you ask me!
To think that way robs us of our capacity
To witness God acting in the world with power and authority.
I mean, if God is just some benevolent throne-sitter, then what’s the point?
We don’t need that.
We need, instead, to hear that in God’s good time,
The monsters have in fact been banished from the kingdom,
Just as those verses that have been so carefully excised
Are striving so hard to communicate to us today.
The monsters have been dispatched.
Who were the beasts envisioned to be at the time of the writing of Daniel?
In this moment, it’s hard to say precisely,
But the Jews certainly had a lot of natural enemies to pick from –
Historically speaking, the most likely candidates for beasthood would have been
Bigger bullies on the block like the Babyonians or Persians or Greeks or Assyrians:
Anyone capable of closing in and doing harm, overtaking things,
Ending life as they knew it.
The point, I suppose, is this:
Daniel had no use then in pretending there weren’t any monsters;
Neither should we.
There are monsters about!,
And if we are to have a king,
It should be a king who reconciles the monsters to justice.
These monsters live inside us – no use playing around or denying.
What are their names?
Apathy. Indifference. Denial.
Being forced to live a lie, having to pretend to be something we’re not.
Greed: greed that encourages us to step on the necks of anyone who gets in our way.
(For a good example of this,
You can Google the video of people punching each other to get smartphones
Last Friday morning, Black Friday.)
Superficiality is a pretty big monster. Shallowness.
Fear: Dreading the future, or maybe the fear of thinking
That at some point our past is going to catch up with us.
A feeling of immobilization:
A feeling that the world as it comes to us
Is just so overwhelming and hectic and frenetic
That about all we can do is shut down and hide from it.
The do-nothing monster.
Deep, cutting irony is a monster. Deep, dark satire and snark.
Humor that we employ at the expense of other people
Because it’s cheaper and easier than stopping to really see people and love them.
That’s a terrible monster of our day and age,
And one I’m only just waking up to in my own life.
Those are just some of the monsters we can’t see.
The ones we can see and hear are equally frightening:
Hunger. Unemployment. A lack of sufficient housing or clean water.
Lack of education, no access to health related resources.
It goes on and on like that,
And of course there’s the monster inside us all that sees those things
And makes us want to turn away from the problem.
Corporations can be considered people for certain purposes,
But corporations, especially very large ones,
Are run by groups of people motivated by larger shares of increasing profit
And the myth of infinite growth,
And that’s a big monster we need help with.
Companies that aren’t piloted by a passion to change the world for the better,
And that don’t have leaders gifted with moral imaginations,
And that aren’t willing to listen to and value their employees,
Need, by our effort, to begin to see themselves
As being under the “most gracious rule” of Jesus.
See, the list of monsters is almost infinite.
We face a war within ourselves virtually impossible to fight and win.
Yet do we cling to this one hope:
That Jesus, our good and gracious king,
Also shows us by his life
How to confront the monsters of empire and culture.
That Jesus’ life is a sufficient treatise on how to wage war on the monsters and yet live.
He doesn’t require endorsements;
He requires followers whose lives speak to his power and grace.
Followers who face up and slay the monsters within and without
Because he has shown the way.