II Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Readings for Proper 29 (34) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out this


Christ the King November 26, 2006 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Once again, we gather here to listen to three seemingly unrelated and quite different readings. In 2 Samuel we hear the last words of David, from the Book of Revelation we have the opening verses to the last book of the Bible and then in John’s Gospel we have the dilemma of Pilate as a prelude to Easter, and it’s like the hymns and the songs at the beginning of the service – it’s as if we’re being asked once again to contemplate a different worldview to the sensate world of our everyday experience. It’s as if we’re asked to leave behind the language that we know around us, that language which is our familiarity, go somewhere else. But the funny thing is, it’s not going to a place that’s unfamiliar, it’s as if we’re drawn to a place of deeper knowing.

Together with the seasonal feast of Christ the King, we’re given an opportunity today to look again, to reflect where we are, who we are, in relation to. We’re asked to consider our everyday life experience. Is the truth or reality of life that which we apprehend around us or is there a reality of life which we know deeply within us, that seeks to be made real and so to become the reality of life that we apprehend around us?

The feast at the end of the liturgical year is to acknowledge Christ the King and already we have to suspend the language of the Republican debate. The feast of Christ the King calls us toward the question, ‘Who is our ruler?’ and when it’s phrased like that you can almost feel yourself recoil from it. In today’s world, in our world, we reign supreme. From the generation of baby-boomers onward we’ve rejected authority, we’ve asserted our rights, we have stated and continue to state ourselves as a free people – independent, capable, self-sufficient. Yet as we listen to the readings on the feast of Christ the King they speak to us and they raise questions within us. Our minds and our intellects may well have been shaped and formed by a post-Enlightenment self-centredness, but our imagination and our deeper knowing are still open - we’re open to the obscure and the abstract, to that which shapes and forms the possibilities of tomorrow.

Let’s just open our imagination just for a moment and see if we can gather within ourselves an image from the verses of 2 Samuel. Picture ‘one who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land’. One who rules – now the image that you have, is it John Howard, Kim Beazley, George Bush, Tony Blair? My guess is it’s none of those. Those words that invite us to look at a ruler didn’t take us in the direction of the rulers of this world. And so they ask us to look within and to ask of ourselves the question in verse 5: ‘Is not my house like this with God?’ Is not my house like this with God? Like what? Like the light of morning. My house - does it rule over people justly, does my house offer hospitality in the fear of God? Like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, is not my house like this with God?

The last words of David that we hear in the Samuel reading are called an oracle, as it says in verse 2, ‘The spirit of the LORD speaks through….’ What we get with oracles is the divine word revealed through another, in this case through the last words of David. The psalm that we then had following that reading provides us with a human response, not necessarily directly to those words, but today the psalm has been chosen to echo and reflect on the last words of the oracle that is David. So there’s a dialogue set up between the oracle in 2 Samuel and the words that we have in the psalm, there’s a dialogue between creature and creator, and it’s an opportunity for us if we can mirror that as a process, it’s an opportunity for us to dialogue also with the divine, to discover within ourselves not just a response to how we hear the divine word, but maybe also to find within ourselves where the divine word is being heard, because we don’t hear everything with our ears. That piece of music this morning, ‘A Candle is Burning’ was not heard with our ears, because when it started our ears were listening to something else. It was heard somewhere else, it was heard with an inner knowing, with a memory that is much deeper within us.

When you look at the words of the psalm there is a cry to the divine in them and the cry is - this is the creature crying out to the creator - ‘remember’. It’s almost a desperate cry, a cry that seeks to reclaim a covenant. Read through it, it’s a plea with God: ‘Remember the covenant that you made with David and through David, with us’, and it suggests that the psalmist was aware that something had been lost. Something was now longer recollected within. It’s as if in the encounter with life the psalmist suddenly realizes, there is more than this and I know it. I know there is more because deep within, my deepest desire tells me so. And so I seek to recall the covenant relationship, I seek to recall into my life the process of love. ‘For your servant David's sake do not turn away the face of your anointed one.’ I want you back, is what the psalmist is saying, remember the covenant, I have remembered, and now my plea is that you will remember.

Having had that dialogue in those first two readings, we then get those beautifully confirming words, the revelation from the Book of Revelation. This is the opening of that wonderful book: ‘Grace and peace from the one who is and who was and who is to come.’ Grace and peace - not from three persons and not from three moments in time: this is the divine singularity, the eternal One. This is the constant birth, death and rebirth of Love - who is, who was, who is to come. It goes on: ‘and grace and peace from the seven spirits who are before the divine throne’. The seven spirits, like the seven charkas, speak of wholeness and fullness. Wholeness and fullness? We can recall that somewhere within; if you look through your emptiness dying at the bottom of the pile, probably waiting to be put into the garage sale at the fair in a tiny little box, might not have been out for a long, long time - wholeness and fullness, wholeness and fullness. Where do I find them? Bring them out to the place before the throne. Stunningly difficult to bring out your wholeness and fullness if you eat a double whopper with chips and diet coke in a plastic cup – just somehow doesn’t seem to fit. There’s another place to be.

The introduction carries on: ‘And grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ.’ Very important, because this is not the Mel Gibson man from the Hollywood Easter story at all, this is Jesus Christ. ‘Grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness’: we are the body of Christ. ‘Grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead’: we are the body of Christ. ‘Grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the ruler of the kings of the earth’: we are the body of Christ. The Book of Revelation imagines a paradigm of wholeness and integrity; there is a process where birth and death, Alpha and Omega, are one, where creation, that which is birthed in love, is and was and will be. Eighty percent of the church is hanging its hat on the second coming: read the book of Revelation, it says, ‘He is coming with the clouds, says the Lord who is and who was and who is to come.

Right we’re confused at this point we’re wondering what on earth is this all about, so we now turn to the Gospel. What we find in the Gospel today is Pilate taking on the role of the twenty-first century Christian, because Pilate wants to know. In verse 33 he asks, "Are you the King of the Jews?" It’s an important question, because like us, Pilate actually knows himself as the ruler. He knows himself as the supreme power, he knows that he is in control, he knows his status, his achievements, his wealth, his riches, he knows and can depend on himself. And yet he asks this question, "Are you, are you the King of the Jews?" He really does want to know. By the time we get just a little way in, he betrays the fact that his truth is his own not knowing. Jesus says to Pilate: ‘Good question mate. Did you make it up yourself, or did others suggest that, no’ Pilate replies: ‘I’m not a Jew, how would I know?’ He’s almost caught out, there’s almost an embarrassment.

What Jesus is really calling is, ‘Well you do know who the ruler is don’t you?’ Pilate starts to back away from it; then we get in verse 37, he can’t let it go. He listens to what Jesus has to say and then he says, ‘All right, so you are a king’. He wants the answer, he really, really wants the answer, he wants to be told in black and white. Pilate is asking of Jesus, ‘Give me a simplistic, evangelical “YES”, that’s what I want.’ And the response he gets, which is the response that we receive to our dialogue with the divine - the response is not a solution to a theological proposition, it’s not a one-liner that changes one’s whole life and the life of the whole planet, rather it is descriptive of the process that is divine encounter. So we get, after Pilate has asked, ‘Do tell me, you are a king,’ Jesus replies, ‘I was born….’ It’s the start of the process - it’s birth, it’s creation, it’s genesis. ‘I came into the world’ – there is presence, there is incarnation, making real, making manifest. ‘I testify to the truth’ – I make evident and bring into evidence the reality of life. Then he finishes with ‘belong’: ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Belong to my voice - we are the body of Christ.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humprhris