Reading Ramblings – November 25, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: November 25, 2012,
Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday

Texts:
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Contextual
Notes:
This is the last Sunday of the liturgical
church year – Christ the King Sunday. The previous two Sundays
have begun focusing us on the return of Christ, the end of sinful
human history and the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth that
are unified, not separated. This Sunday focuses on the regal, royal,
and awe-inspiring power of Jesus Christ as King of Kings, before whom
every knee will bow and tongue confess (Romans 14:11 paraphrasing
Isaiah 45:23). 

As Americans, this is a bizarre concept. We have no
king, we have no Lord. Our elected officials at least nominally bow
to our authority as an electorate. There is no one who is above
reproach or beyond recall – at least on paper. While we are
obedient to our officials and their delegates, we do so
philosophically out of our own volition. What are we to make of the
fact that we have a Lord who commands our obedience and is not
subject to our votes or approval polls? If we cannot tolerate the
temporary authority of one we disagree with, how can we tolerate the
absolute sovereignty of God?

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 –
I selected this from the two possible verses for the day (Isaiah
51:4-6 was the alternative) because of the focus on the glory of God
the Father and God the Son. Daniel does utilize these titles, but
as we let Scripture interpret Scripture, it is very clear who these
two divine personages are. I liked Daniel’s emphasis on describing
the glory of God, his radiance and power. 

Though we affirm that God
the Father is true spirit, not human flesh, Daniel is being given a
glimpse of the glory of God in terms that he can make sense of. He
is seeing God in the throne room motif that is recurrent throughout
the prophets and into John’s Revelation. We cannot conceive of a
God that is not physical, so God appropriates a physicality and a
setting that we can make sense of – a divine king and judge who is
beyond compare in terms of power and glory. Daniel, who would be
used to the pomp and circumstance of his Babylonian captors and king,
conveys the true grandeur and glory of God as incomparable. And
before this glory there is only one person who is capable of standing
to receive authority and glory and power – the Incarnate Son of
God, Jesus Christ. Whatever our conceptions of heaven may be like,
if they conceive of heaven apart from the overwhelming awe and
majesty of the full presence of God, we are not imagining it
correctly!

Psalm 93: A beautiful
psalm of glory and honor to the all-powerful creator of all things.
Louder than the most persistent thundering sound on earth, the sound
of waves crashing against the shore, the voice of creation will
praise its maker. God alone is eternal, from all eternity, and
therefore is solely appropriate to reign in all power and majesty.
As the creator of all things, God alone is the fit recipient of the
praise of all creation. If the waves themselves sing the praises of
their creator, how is it that humanity could even consider
withholding praise?

Note that the embodiment of God is the
Word of God in the final verse. God is not separate from his Word.
We are not free to conceive of God and what pleases him on any basis
other than his own revealed Word. It can’t be truly said that we
can’t conceive of God, because we can conceive of him using the words
and descriptors and statutes that He has revealed specifically to us.
It is the Word of God that we should study and meditate on, rather
than on vague imagined ideas of divinity.

Revelation 1:4b-8-
The alternate reading option was Jude 20-25, but I preferred the
Revelation text because it focuses us squarely on the glory of God
and not on ourselves. Note how John begins his revelation. What
follows in his revelation might be terrifying if it were not for the
assurance of who Jesus is, not just as the firstborn from the dead
and ruler of the kings of earth, but as the one who
loves us and has freed us from sin

(v.5). 

I have had discussions with people who struggle with the idea
that they might need to fear God, because for them fear is a negative
emotion and God should not engender any such negative emotions. But
the natural reaction to anything so much greater, so much more
powerful, and so much more different
than ourselves is fear. A lack of fear indicates a level of
confidence in something, either that we stand apart and unaffected by
God, or that we somehow stand over God. Neither is true! We fear
the power of nature, how much more ought we to fear God – but how
much more ought our fear of God be tempered because of his love for
us. Without that assurance of his love, without the incarnation and
crucifixion and resurrection and ascension and promised return of the
Son of God, our only possible
reaction to God could be fear. But because of the Son of God in
human time and space, we are free to love God, knowing how deeply and
firmly He loves us!

John 18:33-37:
Though I like the Mark 13:24-37 alternative text option, I think the John
text more accurately conveys our dilemma regarding the kingship and
authority of Jesus Christ.  If the focus of this morning is on the Kingly glory and authority of our Lord, we must also recognize that we are peculiarly unable to accept this and act upon the truth of it.

We
are pragmatic people. We are grounded in the day to day events of
reality as we know it, and so while we confess Jesus Christ as our
Lord and Savior, we have practical issues that we need to deal with
that sometimes push our appropriate response to this confession
aside.

Pilate
knows that Jesus is innocent of the charges made against him. He
seems genuinely puzzled and intrigued by this enigmatic teacher and
healer who he has undoubtedly already heard about. Pilate doesn’t
have difficulty believing that Jesus conceives of himself as a king.
But Pilate’s response is so often our own – even if Jesus is a
king, the truth of this is easily lost in a pragmatic world. We can
hear Pilate as perhaps the first postmodern, the first person to
utter what has become the mantra of our culture today – “What is
truth?”. If it exists, how can we know it? If we can know it, how
can we attune ourselves to it? And if we attune ourselves to it,
what difference will it make in the big picture? There are things
that need to be done. Money that needs to be earned, bills that need
to be paid, people that must be placated or loved or raised or cared
for. Jesus may in fact be a king, but the fact of the matter is that
the constant demands of the moment are what truly reign in so many of
our lives.

Pilate
has issues to consider. He has a restless population to keep
satisfied. He has a career to nurture and advance. He has a wife to
deal with. He can’t be distracted by petty concerns such as truth –
he is a pragmatic man who knows that all too often the truth gives
way and is ground under whatever private interests demand to hold
sway. Jesus may well be a king, but that won’t make the crowds
outside any quieter. Jesus may well be a king, but that won’t
satisfy Pilate’s higher-ups when they demand to know why he wouldn’t
agree to the demands of his constituency.

Christ
the King Sunday should force us to confess that Christ is often our
King in name only. It should drive us to repentance for placing
ourselves and others before his will and truth. And it should afford
us the assurance that the King has forgiven us and has raised us back
to our feet to once again seek to obey him. While that may seem
impossible, he assures us that his yoke is easy, and his burden is
light (Matthew 11:29-30).

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