Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kings and Queens of the Bible: Jesus

Texts: I Samuel 8:10-22a; John 18:33-37

Signs are up in yards, ads are airing, and it’s not just the Girl Scouts going door to door trying to sell you something. Election season is upon us.

While it may have seemed like we’ve been about to have an election the last year and a half or so, now is truly the time for you to go out and register to vote – if you haven’t already – and to spend some quality time educating yourself on the issues and where each candidate stands.

You can pretty much guarantee not another day will pass without someone talking to you about November 4th. Our two candidates will be spending the next sixty or so days explaining to us why he is the answer to our problems, why he is the strong and wise leader we want to follow, why he deserves our backing, our allegiance, and our vote.

We have spent the summer learning about and learning from kings and queens of the bible. While these kings and queens and their stories can’t tell us who to vote for, they certainly can and do whisper to us wisdom and guidance we can take not just to the polls – but to every moment and every decision we encounter.

The royalty we have came from various backgrounds and had different paths to follow and fates to meet, but it is a truth universally acknowledged (in our biblical text, at least) that the kings and queens are most successful when they place God first and foremost. When God’s word, God’s glory, God’s kingdom are the epicenter of will and work, leaders are more likely to see peace, justice, and righteousness.

How fitting it is, then, that the last king in our series is the king of kings, the lord of lords, the alpha and the omega.

Jesus is unlike any of the kings and queens we have heard about thus far; he is unlike any king or queen we will ever hear about. When we say Jesus is king, we know – unlike poor Pilate – that we aren’t talking about someone who sits on a literal throne, or someone who delicately waves to devoted subjects from a balcony, or even someone who is concerned about the welfare and power of one particular nation. We know that when we use this human construct to explain the divine, some things will be clearer than others.

What is clear about Christ as king is that Christ is what we all would want for our earthly leader – and the opposite of what Samuel tells the Israelites that they are in for if they get themselves a king. While Samuel’s king will think only of his own power, his own needs, Christ as king looks to his glory and our good. While Samuel’s king takes your sons and daughters that he wants, Christ as king calls us to him, calls us to be his people rather than forcibly enlist us. While Samuel’s king tried to build up the kingdom in order that all may remember his name across the ages, Christ as king points not to himself, but to his kingdom.

When Pilate questions Jesus about being a king, Jesus does not speak about his power or his might – instead he speaks of his kingdom. “For this I was born,” Christ says “and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Christ’s kingdom is one where all listen to his truth and live that truth. Christ’s kingship is about making God known to the world in word and in deed.

Jesus makes it clear – his kingdom is not of this world – for God is not of this world. But as God is in this world, so too is Christ’s kingdom.

Jesus’ power and kingdom are not symbolized by thrones or scepters; he has no huge convention of jubilant followers shouting out his name as he is crowned our new heir apparent; he does not have the world power or influence one might expect of a man called king.

Jesus the king is the innocent man sentenced to the death penalty, left hanging on a cross on the outskirts of town. That is our king, our ruler, our Lord. The one who slowly suffocating to death, mourned by only a few of those who once shouted his name in praise.

To proclaim Jesus as king is to pledge allegiance above all else – all other gods, all other human leaders – to this man on a cross. To proclaim Jesus as king is to proclaim God in word and deed even if it leads you to your own cross of sorts.

Some of our kings and queens of the Bible understood this. Though they had worldly kingdoms to lead, and though many of them came before Christ, some of this kings and queens knew that they first and foremost had to proclaim God’s word and live as God’s truth directed. Though she may have never mentioned God, Esther understood this. Though he may have strayed a time or two, David understood this. Though he was younger than even our youngest leadership candidates, Josiah understood this.

You and I aren’t destined to be royalty, but we are called to be a part of Christ’s kingdom. We are called by Jesus the king to live for his glory and our good – to live as though his kingdom had come here and now.

Jesus’ kingdom is one in which we look out at the broken world and do not shrug and say, “well, that’s how it is.” We dare to risk to challenge the status quo, to shout aloud the promise of justice for all, to offer ourselves vulnerable for righteousness sake. We may not be powerful kings and queens, but in Christ’s truth, we can move mountains as the members of the kingdom have done the long years past.

We have examples of kings and queens of the Bible to inspire us, but we also have the lives of those saints across the ages have fought for Christ’s kingdom, have dared to believe.

Those saints of ages past have looked at the world and saw not what was, but what could be. They lived with an institutional prejudice against people of African decent, bore the wounds of small humiliations and the larger injustices inflicted upon God’s children because of the color of their skin. They witnessed and experienced the burdens of this false kingdom, and yet dreamed of another way of living. They rose up and spoke out and marched together in peace so that years later an African-American man might stand and accept a major party’s nomination for President.

Those saints saw women limited not by their abilities or their interests, but by their forced position in life. Those saints gathered petitions, rallied together, and even “acted up” so that women could have the right to vote, to own property, and the right to pursue whatever career they felt called to – from doctor to chemist to homemaker to entrepreneur to a vice-presidential nominee.

Those saints watched children dying from curable diseases, from the lack of safe water, and the absence of food and swore that such things need not be. They donated money, offered their talents as medical personal and agricultural experts, wrote their congress men and women, started groups like the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Bread for the World, and more. They dared to believe and they keep daring to hope that we can indeed feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and clothe the naked.

Jesus tells Pilate that if he were a king like the ones the Roman had known before, his followers would fight to keep him here. But he is not. He is a king whose kingdom is like nothing Pilate has known, like nothing we might know apart from the grace of God. And as his followers, we do not fight to keep him physically in this world, but we do fight to bring his kingdom to this world. We are the saints today – with many wrongs to set right and many places where God’s light needs to shine. Through the Spirit of the Living God, we fight injustice, work hard, pray fervently, so that Christ’s kingdom of glory and good will be here, where we live and worship.

We have a momentous event coming up in our own nation. This election has gathered more interest and excitement and hope than any many of us have ever seen. Who our next president will be is a question we’ll be asking and debating until November 4th. While we may become passionate about one candidate or another, in one way, perhaps it does not matter who will win. For no matter who wins, we have a leader beyond polls and elections, beyond terms and human failings. We know where our true guidance lies, we know where our true hope and help comes from, and we know who is first and foremost in our hearts and minds. It is Jesus Christ, our rock, our shepherd, our king. Amen.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Scotland - in review

Wow! What a wonderful two weeks I had! So many of you have asked to see pictures and hear stories, so I thought it only appropriate to do a little of both here on my blog.

I truly had an amazing time, spending one week in Iona and another exploring Edinburgh and Glasgow. My traveling companions were dear friends Teri and Elsa, fabulous young clergy women who provided a lot of laughs and good conversation. While I can't afford to go back anytime soon (oy vey, the dollar is hurting!), I would go back in a heartbeat if I could!

Week One - Iona

The first week we spent on Iona at the Abbey. To get to the island you take a train from Glasgow, catch a ferry in Oban to Mull, drive across Mull in a chartered bus, and then catch a ferry from the other side of Mull to Iona. Quite a long way out! It's hard to believe that Christianity on the British Isles originated from this tiny, remote place.

In this picture you can see the Abbey on the right.

We arrived at the Abbey just in time for dinner! The food was stellar all week long (and they always had yummy veggie options for me, Teri, and the other vegetarians!). Staying at the Abbey that week were about 50 people - including 14 folks from the Twin Cities (I got to practise my Minnesotan accent) and a handful of people who had come for a blessing ceremony later that week. We made several lovely friends that week - including a future Presbyterian minister who's a senior at William and Mary!

During the week we ate together, bunked together, worshipped together, and did chores together. Yes, chores. Part of the Iona Abbey experience is creating intentional Christian community and scrubbing toilets or chopping vegetables is an intrinsic part of that process - or so they tried to tell us. :)

It was almost surreal living at the Abbey - how easily it felt like home, and how odd it was for these tourists to be coming and poking around our home during the day!

Here's a picture of me (the gal in the blue) outside the Abbey with some tourists!

One of my favorite experiences of the week was the pilgrimage we took on Tuesday. In the rain and fog (it was a typical Scottish day for our journey) we walked all around the island - about 7 miles - stopping at certain significant spots like the hill where legend says St. Columba communed with the angels and of course, the bay where St. Columba landed after fleeing from Ireland those many years ago. We prayed, sang songs, carried lobster traps (that one was not a planned part of the trip!), meditated on scripture, and more. It was cold and wet and wonderful.

Not everything on the island was holy, holy, holy. Teri, Elsa, and our new friend Ginna, and I indulged in cream tea and cards, danced traditional dances, and participated in a "guest concert" - at least I did. I was recruited by a darling man to be the princess in a comedic Greek tragedy.

Here's the cast in action!

It was ridiculous and fun and a great way to break down any sort of walls I might put up (I know, I'm not really a wall woman, but still) and make new friends.

While I loved the people and the Abbey, I think perhaps my favorite thing about Iona is the isle itself. The sights, the sounds, everything. It really does just get under your skin.

Week Two - Edinburgh and Glasgow

After a moving and marvelous week at Iona, Teri, Elsa and I headed off for the big city - quite a change. We stayed right off the Royal Mile and enjoyed all the touristy things to do. Of course, all the touristy things that clergy women might do!

When we went to the Castle one of our favorite things was a wedding taking place at St. Margaret's Chapel. We took a picture with the bagpiper and then - gasp - saw the Scottish minister complete with Geneva tabs! And lo and behold, we took a picture with him!

We ate fantastic food - and it's a good thing we walked several miles a day because all those pastries were dangerously good. One of the places we had breakfast we were amused to find advertised itself as the "birthplace" of Harry Potter. So of course, we had to take our picture. Now, I have to confess, I was the one who asked our photographer to take our picture, and I did it by asking this woman walking by if she had a few seconds... she looked very nervous and when I asked if she could take our picture, she relaxed, smiled, and said "I thought you were about to proselytize." Hee. I couldn't resist telling her, "no, but we three do happen to be clergy!" She had a good laugh too.

One day we went to St. Andrews, yes, golf mecca, but didn't hit the fairway. We say ruins of the castle and the cathedral.

This is me, guarding the castle!

The cathedral may be my favorite place outside of Iona. It's in ruins and truly beautiful, eerie, and inspiring.

In Glasgow we did much of the same in Edinburgh - food and walking around looking at the sites. Of course, looking at the sites often consisted of "oooh, that looks like a church. Let's go check it out." You can take the preacher out of church but not the church out of the preacher!

An amazing two weeks - filled to the brim with memories. I'm so blessed to have been able to go and thankful to have just as wonderful a place to come home to!