Sunday, November 23, 2014

King of the Jews or King of Kings?

  King of the Jews or King of Kings?
A sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds
Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church, Richmond, CA
Christ the King Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34. 11-24 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? 
20 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.

Ephesians 1:15–23 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Today is the last Sunday in the Church’s lectionary year A, as Presbyterians read through the Bible in a three year cycle.  Next Sunday begins the Season of Advent and the start of Lectionary Year B. Advent starts with the church empathizing with Judean peasants anticipating deliverance from oppression and looking out for a deliverer. 

As we move from Advent’s anticipation, we weekly read through Jesus’ revelation as the miracle working Son of Man and teacher of subversive wisdom, later hear his question to his disciple Peter, who do you say that I am? (Mt  16.15).   

After the Cross, Peter is confronted by a servant-girl who accuses him of being in league with the Crucified one.   Peter denies, saying “I do not know the man.” (Mt 26.74). 

The Lectionary year climaxes with the Resurrection and then the church goes on in the rest of the yearly reading cycle to try to make sense of it all:

the prophecies, the teachings, sin, grace and mercy,
 the creation of the church, and the prediction of an end time where God transforms the earth with the promise of judgment, the triumph of justice, and the life after death.
So now, we are at the 52nd Sunday of Lectionary Year A and here is where the church of disciples concludes with its answer to Jesus’s question to his chief disciple,
“Who do you say that I am?”  

We in the Presbyterian Church use many names for God and many names for the Trinity power of the Son.In the Bible, Jesus is called by many names and titles.
 Jesus is Rabbi, Master, Word, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Son of God;
Christ is Prince of Peace, Lord, Savior, God Incarnate, Bread of Life, Ancient of Days, Bridegroom, Cornerstone, Emmanuel, First and Last, High Priest, Lamb of God.

Yet this Sunday in the yearly cycle, our Church has named, “Christ the King, or Reign of Christ” Sunday where our church confesses:

“Christ Jesus, we say that you are King over all.”  

Naming Christ Jesus as a King--a King of Kings--involves a political as well as religious commitment. It is a dangerous act which risks in the world a different kind of politics for the sake of a different kind of world.

After a pastor in Texas was shot by the husband of a woman in the congregation with whom the pastor was having an affair, a group of pastors last year debated whether it was permissible or even prudent for pastors to carry concealed guns.[1]  Some conservative pastors agreed that it was okay to carry a gun and conceal it under their robes and garments, and to arm their congregants likewise during worship. 

I argued otherwise. 

One pastor proposed that Jesus indeed carried a weapon.  
Ps 144 starts off,  Blessed be the LORD, my rock,  who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.  
The gun wielding pastor argued that this is David speaking, and that David is a “type” for Christ, so that Christ is trained for deathly battle.  This argument goes along with the idea that the Book of Revelation describes an earthly battle and a Christ bloodied with the stains of his enemies. 
A retired general who leads a conservative organization asserted elsewhere that Christ comes back to earth blazing an AR-15 assault rifle.[2]

King David was a military leader who felt that he had escaped so many deaths in battle that he attributed his life and leadership to God whom he calls his Rock to which he could flee in danger. After all of his violent battling and serial murders,[3] David’s later years were haunted by chronic sin and family dysfunction. 

His son Solomon inherited David’s throne, got off to a good start, but in his later life he participated in the idolatries and false worship of his harem wives and indulged in militaristic display, trading with arch enemy Egypt to amass chariots and horses.

300 years after Solomon, the last good king of Judah, Josiah, was presented a rediscovered book of the Covenant in the Temple, which was what we call Deuteronomy.

 Deuteronomy Chapter 17 details a law for the King. There, we learn that the ancient Israelites were concerned with overweening , aggressive, and wealth seeking in their leaders.  This critique of kingship is one of the most important themes of the Deuteronomic scriptures. From the foundation of the institution of kingship in Biblical Israel, kings were judged for their failure to bring in God’s blessings of security and sustenance to the common people which was living worship of a living God. 

According to Deuteronomy 17, the Law of the King, the King must not have too many horses, wives, or gold. He must study the Torah law daily under the instruction of the priests.  Yet few kings or political leaders drawn from the rich and powerful have complied.

From our Old Testament reading this morning, we see Ezekiel’s prophetic critique of the political leaders who are the shepherds of the people.  The Israelite shepherds-- its political leaders--played favorites with the rich and overstuffed sheep, allowing them to take all the pasture and befoul the water of the deprived sheep. 

Ezekiel notes that God himself will search for his sheep. And he will judge between sheep.  God will appoint a shepherd over his sheep to feed them. This role for the just king is consistent with what we read in Psalm 72:

   Ps 72. 1      Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
    2      May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
    3      May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
    4      May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

Jesus throughout the Gospels identifies with the poor, sick, and oppressed (Luke 4),
and gives his disciple Peter the task to feed his sheep (John 21).  Jesus exceeds the requirements of the law of the King by forgoing wives, military arms, and money. He practices the virtue of asceticism—forgoing earthly pleasures and the fortified walls of security.  Jesus is the ultimate trustworthy leader by the values of the Old Testament. The New Testament is relaying the shocking good news, “the story of a new king, a new kind of king, a king who has changed everything, and a king who invites us to be part of his new world.”[4]

In the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul makes the claim that Jesus is now seated as the Christ, the anointed king, at God’s right hand.  The right hand of the host was a place of honor at a banquet, yet also the right hand held the sword in battle.Christ, not David, is at the right hand of God and is the implement of God’s victory.

Earlier I noted that Psalm 110 sings that David’s lord sits at the right hand of God, as part of his enthronement as King.  Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians is identifying David’s lord as a superior king, the King of Kings, the real right hand of God.

It is not haunted militarist David but the sinless and whole Jesus Christ who holds the weaponry and applies the mercy of God. David’s violent military power is subservient to Christ’s power, which is the power of non-violence and forgiveness. 

Paul in Ephesians identifies Christ in charge of all powers and principalities, so that forgiveness follows military action carried out to feed the shepherd’s sheep. Who are the Shepherding King’s sheep? Ezekiel 34 notes that the common good of the nation has been ruined by the excesses of greedy sheep.  Christ as King of Kings in control over the powers and principalities of nations subjects them to judgment for their effectiveness and justice in establishing the common good, which includes feeding and watering the deprived and undernourished. 

Therefore, I think that all political power--whether kingly or constitutional, whether military or angelic--is subject to the requirement of the just shepherd to feed all of Christ’s sheep:

Ezekiel 34.15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.
16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak,
but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
War and violence in furtherance of further enriching the greedy sheep while neglecting the deprived sheep fail the test of righteous leadership. Wars of aggression to enrich corporations while letting battlefield veterans to return to joblessness and homelessness fail the test of leadership. This is the King of King’s message for societal justice and the common good.

 Ezekiel says to the wealthy masters,

34.18 When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?

Yet in this country and state, clean water is being fouled by the industry of fracking.[5]  Clean water, historically a plentiful resource, is being turned into a scarce resource by the greedy exploitation of corporate and government powers.   Detroit, a city split along racial and economic lines, is suffering a clean water crisis as costs escalate out of the ability of its unemployed poor to pay.[6] 

God gives rain as grace to the just and the unjust alike (Mt 5.45), Jesus says, yet some who consider themselves righteous by the standards of wealth and power deny God’s grace of clean water to those who are unable to pay. The CEO of mega-conglomerate Nestle proposes to privatize water for corporate profits.[7] 

This is how finance intensive capitalism is functioning: creating scarcity through pollution, while proposing to allocate the now scarce resource according to the standard of willingness to pay weighted by ability to pay.  The corporate animals are dirtying the water of the deprived sheep as they make it more expensive.

Their wealth is increased by others’ “illth.”

A second implication of our calling Christ King is what Martin Luther called “Two Kingdom” theology.  That is, the sheep of Christ live by the non-violent and prayerful ethic of the Sermon on the Mount, while those who don’t identify with being the sheep of Christ are ethically subject to the judgment of kingdom of Heaven for their use of state violence and war. 

The principle of justice for those outside the peaceful flock is their answer to the Judge’s question: does this warring action help the poor, the blind, the imprisoned, and the oppressed?[8]  Political leaders with access to the state’s monopoly on violence will be judged for their violations of justice and the common good.

For the designers of war, it is good and necessary to keep in mind that Jesus said in John 10.16,

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.

I believe since God is the God of the whole earth, it is imperative never to target non-combatants who are following the Sermon on the Mount ethic of non-hostility— for they may be the non-violent sheep of another fold. 

The collateral targeting of wedding parties and family members of insurgents in Pakistan and Yemen by U.S. drones[9] fails this two kingdom theology of Christ the Shepherd King of the Peaceable Kingdom. This violation of the peaceful and meek brings forth Christ the Judging King of the Warrior class. Political leaders plotting to target for assassination practitioners of non-violence like the Occupy Movement[10] and Martin Luther King[11] face the same judgment.

These are the two kingdoms with Christ lord overall:  the non-violent world subject to the hope of grace and the subservient kingdom of the weapon subject to the judgment of justice.

I congratulate this community of Richmond by turning away the political designs of Chevron in the recent election.  I believe this country needs to turn back the grant of power to corporations and return it to democratic community.
I am given hope by the California voters for passing Proposition 47 that reduces prison terms for certain non-violent crimes. 
I hope we see may see Christ our King working through these victories.

A third implication of calling Christ our King comes from a theology of the Cross. 
Usually we speak of the Cross as the place where Jesus’ pronouncements of abandonment accompanied by forgiveness triumphed, and/or where Jesus took on the penalty of the accumulated sin-debt of humanity in some manner of substitution or sacrifice to an angry God. 

But I think there is another facet to a theology of the Cross, which is how the Roman imperial power validated Jesus’ earthly ministry by condemning it.  

Pontius Pilate turned Jesus’s question to Peter around, by asking him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, σὺ λέγεις  You yourself say so (Luke 22.70).

Pilate thus places his answer to Jesus’ identity on the sign he ordered hung on the Cross:
 INRI, Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum (Mt 27.37). 

INRI, dead, is how violent imperial power saw Jesus: 

As a teacher of subversion, a would be but failed king, hanging dead for the world to see.

This is how violent power will always see Jesus on the Cross: 
as their victory—
Jesus is INRI, King of the Jews: a failed, dead, would be king.

From the Cross we learn that Jesus’s teachings were recognized by established and oppressive power as subversive and thus dangerous to its continuing.From the Cross, we learn that Jesus’ earthly teachings were the foundation of the deadly opposition from worldly power to his spiritual and political Kingship. 

Christ says we will see him in his glory.

 The kingdom and the cross are linked, where we see Christ in his earthly kingly glory, a mix of suffering and triumphing, refusing to curse and therefore never oppressing. 

Did Peter really know who Jesus was when he blurted out, “You are the son of the living God” (Mt 16.16)?  Did Pilate know really know Jesus, when he placed his sign: Jesus the king of the Jews? Or rather does Peter’s three times denial after the Crucifixion demonstrate that he really didn’t know who Jesus was?  

Peter’s claim under duress, “I don’t know him,” may be more truthful than we often preach. Peter expected something from Jesus besides his crucifixion.

 What does Christ Jesus the King look like?

For me, these lessons have us look for him on Earth from those currently experiencing the drama of Cross, suffering and forgiving. Christ reserves to himself revealing his heavenly glory as judge when we come, as promised (Rev 22.4), face to face with him.

Are we like Peter, thinking we know what a King of Kings looks like, but we don’t really know the inner thoughts and judgments of the person who is destined to become King of Kings? 

Some Christians I know say they just want others to see Christ in them. I have learned it may be more important to try instead to point out Christ in the world, sometimes suffering, sometimes triumphing.
 I take the Holy Spirit’s call to diligently try to find Christ in the scriptures, follow his words that point out that he lives in the world in the powerless and oppressed today.

 On earth, our king is the unkempt and homeless stranger,
 emaciated by malnutrition and illness,
haunted by solitary confinement,
traumatic stress, overwork, and mental illness.  

“Crown him with many crowns…Crown him the Lord of Love…Crown him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
“From pole to pole, that wars may cease…his reign shall know no end.” 

In Jesus’ day, there was no distinction between religion and politics. I think as we look to the Kingdom of Heaven, we recognize for the King’s disciples that there is no distinction between religion and politics. Being disciples of the one we call King of Kings is a political and religious act and has political as well as religious demands.

We Christ’s disciples use the methods of non-violence to loosen the concrete grip of self-serving, greedy mammon over the resources needed for living by the majority of Christ’s people, the people who are undergoing the drama and trauma of the Cross on a daily basis. King language accepts and acts on Jesus’s risky political involvement and messages.

Thanks be to God that we who are blessed with life and living hope from our faith and the testimony of a cloud of witnesses (Heb 12.1-2)  to the resurrection of the Son of Man who has become King of Kings:

Jesus Christ who is revealed to be the author and bearer of human salvation, the redeemer from the curse of death.

He is risen and living among us and with God, who sends the Holy Spirit from unseen light for guiding and sustaining our mission to love and assist others into his Kingdom.

Trinitarian power, mysterious and wonderful. 

“Arise, shine, for your light is come!
Fling wide the prison door,
Proclaim the captive’s liberty
Good tidings to the poor.
Arise, shine for your light is come,
Rise up like eagles on the wing,
Bind up the broken-hearted ones.
God’s power will make us strong!"

[3] Baruch Halpern, David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. 2003
[4] N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.
[8] What John Rawls in The Theory of Justice calls the “maximin” principle of distribution of scarce moral goods.

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