About that idea of a kingdom . . .

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

Read a version of the sermon here:

Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, famous for show collection and other eccentricities, famously explained a bit of herself by saying, “the poor always look for a star in the dark of night.”  Glittering like a star, Imelda and her husband stole billions from the Philippine people and bankrupted the country, but even with convictions here and there over the years, she was still being elected to public office in 2016. In 2018, she was convicted of funneling $200 million to Swiss accounts, but at age 89, she will probably never serve a day in prison.

If we shake our heads at the audacity of politicians in our day—here and in other countries, we should remember (rephrasing the quotations about Ginger Rogers)—it’s all been done before, even in high heels.

But it’s not just the poor who might look for a star in the dark. The majority of people want a king or a queen. 

One of the earliest stories of this in our faith tradition comes from the First Book of the Prophet Samuel.  Samuel was a go-between, standing between God and the rulers of Israel, called judges.

But in 1 Samuel 8, the elders of Israel come to Samuel to complain about Samuel’s sons, who were the current judges. The elders say to Samuel works that echo through time. They say, “appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” Samuel feels rejected and prays to God. 

But God says to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’  (1 Sam. 8: 7-9)

He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”  (1 Sam. 8:11-18)

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, ‘No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

This goes back and forth, but eventually leads to the anointing of Saul to be the King over Israel.

Ever since, people have continued asking for, praying for, and demanding a king or queen—someone out in front, in charge, ready to make decisions, unafraid.  And in former times and present times, the details don’t really seem to matter—the policies, the morality, the character—whether we’re talking about King Saul or King David, Margaret Thatcher or Aung San Suu Kyi, the Marcoses or the Trumps…. A lot of people just want their star.

Jesus knew this and wrestled with this throughout his ministry. The disciples get confused every time Jesus talks about the kingdom of God—they argue about the positions they’ll have, the order in which power will be taken, who will be in and who will be out.  In Matthew 20, the mother of the disciples James and John approaches Jesus, gets on her knees and begs Jesus, “Promise me that when you’re king, my boys will be on your right and left.”  Throughout, Jesus points to a consistent development of not so much the KING-dom of God, but more the KIN-dom of God, a commonwealth where real leaders show their strength by serving.

You want a king? You want to know true royalty, Jesus asks? Look for the King of Love in the stranger who is welcomed, in the naked who is clothed, in the hungry who is fed, in the imprisoned who are met, in the lonely who are visited, in the sick who are offered the healing of friendship and prayer.

This image of a King who is among us all is not new with Jesus.  In the first scripture reading, Ezekiel points to a God who is unwilling to rule from afar. This is not a God on the sidelines, who might regard creation without passion or without interest. Instead, God gets in the middle of things. God likes to get dirty—after all isn’t that the very picture of God creating humankind: God stoops down into the mud and fashions friends. In Ezekiel, God is like a shepherd who searches out the lost sheep and rescues them to “bring them out, and to gather them, to feed them and to nurture them.” These were encouraging words from Ezekiel to the people of Israel who were exiled in Babylon. They were longing for their homeland, longing for the familiar, and longing for a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

Regardless of how our current political tension is eventually resolved, this side of heaven, there will always be a lot of people who need a star, who demand their king or queen. 

But with the movement of the Holy Spirit, there will also always be ordinary people of faith like us who stumble along loving, serving, visiting, feeding, helping, and healing—beginning to experience the kingdom of God right here.  By practicing “kingdom living” now, when our time in this life draws to an end, we will clearly hear that voice saying, “Come, you that are blessed, enter into the kingdom of love that has been prepared before all time.”  May we grow stronger in the love and service of Christ. 

 

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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