Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sermon: What does Christ's kingship mean for modern politicians, and for us?

Delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit; Bellevue, NE; 11-21/2-09. Year B, Proper 29: 2 Samuel 23:1-7 • Psalm 132:1-12 • Revelation 1:4b-8 • John 18:33-37, often referred to as "Christ the King Day" or "The Reign of Christ."

I had the privilege of ending my college career with a course called “The History of Modern Germany, 1750-1944.” One of the conclusions I came to in my final paper was that Hitler’s motivation was not to kill all the Jews, not to take over the world, nor even to glorify Germany. Hitler’s motivation was Hitler. This was a man who believed that Germany could not and should not win without him, saying, “Neither a military nor a civilian personality could take my place… the fate of the Reich depends on me alone.”

The Allies, on the other hand, were blessed with leaders who put their countrymen first. Take Winston Churchill. For all his social vices, this was a man who understood what was at stake, who spoke not of himself but of his nation’s values and of the undying tenacity of its people. Which modern king do you think was closer to being Christ-like? The drunkard who fought for a cause bigger than himself, or the madman who thought his own self-glory was the biggest cause of all?

Today we celebrate Christ the King. Here is a ruler who holds dominion but does not dominate; a lord who does not lord our weaknesses over us. Ours is a king who does not demand taxes or conscription, merely His love returned.

Christ’s walk did not end the reign of other kings. Now, we may not call them kings anymore. From the heights of the U.S. to the depths of Iran, most are known as “President.” But no matter what we call them, they’re certainly still around. What can these men and women learn from a king who preceded them by 2,000 years? And for that matter, what does this kingship mean for those of us so far from DC?

An awful lot. The language of the Bible is far more political than it may first appear. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus admits to the governor that yes, he is a king. This is an extremely political thing to say, for in the next chapter, a Jewish faction reminds Pilate that “Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

This affront to Rome is a bit of a running theme in the Gospels. In their book, “The Last Week,” Jesus historians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan write that whenever there was a major Jewish festival, the Roman Governor would come to Jerusalem from his coastal palace to assert a colonial presence just “in case there was trouble.” They describe Pilate’s pre-Passover procession, likely held on Palm Sunday, as “A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses… foot soldiers… banners… weapons... sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: marching of horses… clinking of bridles… the beating of drums… Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology.”

Yet while all this happened at the city’s west gate, a second procession came through the east gate. A second king held his own parade, but in this parade, there were humble donkeys instead of regal horses, liberating palms instead of vengeful spears. It is what Borg and Crossan call a “counter procession” and a “planned political demonstration.” This second king, OUR king, is not about imperial might but about peace, liberation, and love.

Christ carried a very political message, and yet we are also taught that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. This juxtaposition works because before rendering comes identifying: What is Caesar’s? And what is God’s? And what must modern Caesars do to separate their kingdoms from the kingdom of God?

Servant leadership is a good start. One of the many reasons Hitler failed to achieve great heights of leadership was that he regarded himself strictly as a warrior and not, like German leaders before him, as “the first servant of the state.” Christ, however, was a servant, a washer of feet, who told Pilate that kings should not be so quick to use violence. A king should not think about himself and his own strength, but about his people.

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

N.T. Wright, a Bishop in the Church of England, writes that for Pilate, “the only place you get truth is out of the sheath of a sword (or, as we would say, out of the barrel of a gun.)” Like all kings, Christ claims to have truth. He makes this claim, however, not with a weapon but with palms and donkeys, surely a shocking thing for Pilate to hear.

It wouldn’t be hard for Christ also to be a violent or corrupt king. God has far more power than any earthly ruler – but as David says in today’s reading, for God, ruling is about justice, not the other way around. Christ’s rule says to today’s rulers, do not use your dominion; hold it in reserve! Let your people see that you are big enough to lift them up rather than yourself!

So okay, Christ’s kingship is definitely a political thing, but is that all it is? What about those of us hundreds of miles from Washington? What does Christ’s reign mean for us?

First of all, we mustn’t follow leaders who don’t themselves follow Christ’s model of kingship. When our rulers depart from Christ, we must hold them accountable by advocating for the Christian values of love and justice. We do that each week when we pray for elected officials in the Prayers of the People. We can write to and about our lawmakers when we feel they support the wrong policies, and we can vote against corrupt Congressmen. We can also support Christian missionaries and non-violent resistance groups in oppressive places like Zimbabwe or the Sudan. But that’s just more politics. What is the king’s tax, what is required of our daily lives?

I’ve been a lifelong Rite II goer and will admit that it is my favorite service, but there is one thing that I absolutely love about Rite I: the inclusion of Christ’s two commandments. Right there on the second page, before we even get to the weekend’s lessons, we hear the celebrant say: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself.”

That is what Christ’s kingship means for our daily lives: we must love God, and we do that by loving each other. Revelations tells us that God “made us to be a kingdom.” So when we hear about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven – that’s us! If we are all God’s children, and if God is king, than are we not all princes and princesses? And when we meet a fellow princess on the street, should we not treat her like the royalty she is?

One of the most powerful things we can do for each other is to be kind in the little moments. It’s not just unpractical to be rude, but an affront to the humble king who rode a donkey. Letting that car in front of us change lanes; checking the pew behind ourselves to make sure others have enough room to kneel; smiling rather than scowling in the checkout aisle. These are the little things that can touch one another far more than we sometimes know – especially on the Omaha freeways.

We can also care for each other in the big ways. Being environmentally-friendly is important justice work. From Deacon Betsy Blake Bennett’s diocesan efforts to Ruth Richter and others here at Holy Spirit, I am so excited to have joined a parish already involved in creation care. Other outreach efforts, from the two food pantries to the Boy Scout Eagle projects, are equally wonderful.

Yet for all that, if Christ’s kingship only means one thing, it is this. There will be times when we are rude to one another. There will be times when we don’t see the corruption in a given public policy that we may support. There will be times when we don’t pray the right prayers or read enough Scripture. And all of that is okay, because we can keep trying. Ours is a king who does not say follow me or else; ours is a king who says follow me because I love you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amazing Hathos: The "Christian" Side-Hug


From TrueSlant:

This video makes me very happy. It’s a bunch of happy Christian rappers, acting all street, freestyling the merits of the non-sexual Christian Side Hug. What could be construed for a Saturday Night Live sketch is done here... WITHOUT IRONY!

Yes, now it’s abstinence only for Christian teens when it comes to hugs. The basic message is that “front hugs” should be saved until marriage, This is told to us while using a lot of ghetto rap hand motions. (”Word!”)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Al Gore: Science has failed. Time for teh crazy.

Al Gore's new plan: "So, instead of science, I'm going with crazy. I'm going to start planning trees in politicians' front yards in the middle of the night and tape toy guns to the branches pointed to the door so when they wake up and walk out of their houses in the morning they'll think it's the forests coming to get their revenge."

Could this BE any more awesome?

The Nobel Laureate was also on 30 Rock for his second cameo on that show. But I thought the SNL bit was funnier.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When Bill Nye Was On SNL (Sort Of)

In the late 1980s and early '90s, before getting his own show on PBS ("Bill Nye the Science Guy"), Bill Nye was an actor on a Seattle-area SNL-style sketch show. Here he is as the superhero "Speedwalker."

What's Nye been up to since then, you ask? Why, talking about the need for renewable energy and explaining to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow why blowing up the moon is a good thing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Turning Word Verification On

I hate to do this, but I have to turn comment word verification back on - ie, those annoying letters you have to read and re-type in order to comment. Older posts are getting mercilessly spammed, and while I moderate them so they never actually show up here, it's still a headache for me to deal with. I'll try turning verification off after a few weeks and see how it goes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day

Wow, I did not realize it had been a full eight days since I last posted here!

Here's a video, a day late for Veteran's Day, that I cannot get through without massively tearing up in the first thirty seconds. It's soldiers, sailors, and Marines surprising their children at school upon return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My New Job, Part 2: Church of the Holy Spirit

A few weeks ago, I wrote here that as part of my Omaha Episcopal Service Corps internship, I am working part-time for Repower America. The other major part of my ESC internship is a part-time job at a local Episcopal church, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Bellevue, Nebraska.

I work at CHS three days a week (including Sundays), and my job description is pretty varied. I:

  • Do some administrative work (answering the phones, proofreading church bulletins, etc.),
  • Accompany the priest on hospital and home visits and even go on a few of my own,
  • Help with the youth group,
  • Serve as an unordained subdeacon in the altar party on Sunday mornings,
  • Will lead two adult education courses in 2010 – one on spiritual gifts and one I get to design myself,
  • Occasionally preach (last month would have been my first time if not for the swine flu),
  • Am helping the Christian ed director plan the Christmas pageant,
  • Attend and observe various committee meetings (business, finance, worship, vestry, etc.),
  • Sit in on each Sunday school class at least twice, and
  • Perform all other duties as assigned.

    Examples of this last category have so far included pulling pork for church meals and moving furniture in the Sunday school rooms. I am reminded of the words of our program director, who said every good seminary education should include a course on boiler maintenance.

    The goal of this job is to get a feel for parish life for discernment purposes. I’m basically job-shadowing the priest at a suburban church with average Sunday attendance of about 100, many of whom are retired military from nearby Offutt Air Force Base (and when I say nearby, I mean I can hear Reveille and Taps through my office window). With the exception of the large retired military population, the church in many ways reflects most parishes I’ve been a part of in the past: conservative, small, and older. As such, the challenges and experiences aren’t quite what I was expecting nor what the other interns face, but they are still welcome avenues for growth. For example, I'm not a big fan of the main worship space and the music program is fairly limited, but that reminds that God is everywhere and helps me to learn that in ministry, worship is no longer about being fed but about feeding.

    I will say this: the people at CHS are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They manage to be both no-nonsense (as the program director says, “There’s no fooling around when you’ve got to get the crops in on time!) and welcoming at the same time. I will walk away in May with fond memories of these people and a positive impression of the Midwest because of them. Even better, working with Father Tom is one of the two highlights of my time here (along with my job at Repower). He’s a retired Air Force Lt. Col. himself, but is also very engaging and a good mentor. He is approaching me and this program with an open and eager mind but also with a sense of purpose. A relatively new priest, his seminary experience is still fresh in his mind, but after nearly three decades in the military, he is well grounded in life’s wisdom. Like I said, he’s a very good mentor and I’m lucky to be here.

    I miss New Hampshire, I miss Idaho, and I miss being constantly surrounded by politics and policy, but this is nonetheless a good place for me to be right now. Next year I will almost assuredly be back in DC or New England but with a better understanding of myself and of the world around me.

  • Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    I Wasn't Home For Homecoming

    I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but Dartmouth became home for me. The place, the traditions, the setting - everything. I can never be a student again or involve myself in student life, but that's okay. One day I can return for the setting, the traditions, the lectures, Hop events, and such things.

    Dartmouth Night - ie, the Homecoming bonfire - is the second best time of the year, right behind Christmas. I couldn't make it this year, but darn straight I'll be there next year. This video - the Glee Club (which I sang in), the fire, the march - is the next best thing.

    Monday, November 02, 2009

    My Repower Video

    This video was shot for a new project from Repower America called the Repower Wall, documenting videos from thousands of Americans from all walks of life explaining why they support clean energy. You can read about the project and watch clips from Wesley Clark and Bill Nye here, watch my faith-based video below, and watch an even shorter video about the larger project below that.

    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    Congratulations, Brian Prior!

    This is a proud day for my home diocese, the Diocese of Spokane. The Rev. Brian Prior, rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Spokane Valley and vice president of the General Convention's House of Deputies, has been elected Bishop of Minnesota. Fr. Brian is one of the most active people in the Diocese and he will be sorely missed, but what an exciting new ministry this is for him! He used to direct Camp Cross, sits on numerous boards and committees, and was mentor to my home parish's last curate. The Diocese of Minnesota is very lucky to have him.

    You can read the Episcopal Life Online story about his election here, but on this blog I will excerpt an interview the local paper, the Spokane Spokesman Review (for which I used to write) did with him in July:

  • My grandparents lost the family business during the Depression. Through this experience my grandfather engrained in me a sense of stewardship: “Take care of it, and it will last forever.” And he embodied the sense of generosity: “You help folks because you never know when you will need help yourself – and you will.” He went on to rebuild his business that was then passed on to two more generations.

  • They have a mindset that generations have lost. I feel blessed to have and have had both family and professional folks who were scripted during that Depression era.

  • They’ve consistently asked those questions, whether the market was up or down. Regardless of where the economy is, and many of them are doing fine economically and have consistently done fine, they are just so clear about asking: “Can we reuse that bag? Do we need to buy that? Is there another way?” For me that is at the heart of being good stewards, because it doesn’t matter how much they have, it’s a whole approach to life they take. I’ve gained a lot of wisdom from that.