Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ride On, King Jesus

The world seems dark as of late, darker than usual.  A rising tide of fear, of desperation, of violence…of all the things that fill the stories of horror and calamity…these are the things that have become so commonplace that we can, like clockwork, sit down to dinner with our families and hear a soundtrack of explosions, gunfire, and weeping playing on our televisions.  And, what's even more frightening to me, we can eat these meals and live our lives without feeling the need to stop what we are doing and profoundly weep for the world and all of the pain therein.  The currency of politicians and pundits has become tokens of fear instead of trust and hope.  And we the people become then a people whose imaginations are stunted, held captive by the nightmares we see unfolding around the world.  On my best days, I say to myself, “The God of love is surely going to put things to rights.”  But even I find myself occasionally lapsing into despondency.  None of us know when Jesus will return to set things right.  It’s a mystery.  But, I find myself wishing that someway his return would find itself on the Lab’s calendar, because then, at least, we would have a very precise and accurate time frame.  But for now, we wait, even as the world cries out for relief.

We've had so much violence, so much pain lately that, if today was the last day there ever was, it's as if the human species has come to it limping, tired, frightened, despondent.  But, speaking from experience, it's when we are beaten down that we can see the Gospel most fully, most truly....most clearly for what it is: a hope that speaks to us in the midst of the darkness and says, “Do not be afraid.  I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Do not be afraid.  It's almost ridiculous to say, isn't it, in the face of the fears we are confronted with day in and day out.  Do not be afraid. But it isn't so ridiculous when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings...the one who himself has conquered death, hell and the grave.  And if he has conquered those things, he can surely conquer anything else.

As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne...As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.  And he came to the Ancient One, and was presented before him.  To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.  We, like Daniel, encounter the Ancient One, the Living God, in the midst of our night visions, of our nightmares in a sense, when all we see around us is pain and misery...agony upon agony.  The writer of the Book of Daniel knew something of pain and agony, writing in response to the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his attempts to destroy the religious and spiritual life of the Jewish people.  Within the story itself, Daniel and his faithful companions are set upon by Nebuchadnezzar, and it is Daniel who has the vision of beasts rising to destroy humanity.  And yet, in a direct confrontation with the visions of death and destruction, Daniel bears witness to the Ancient One declaring an everlasting dominion over all the powers and principalities of the world.  Whatever fears, whatever oppression and destruction, whatever it was that set itself against the power of the Living God, it would ultimately be found empty, vapid, worthless, itself destroyed by the Ancient One.

It is precisely these oracles, these testimonies to the power of the Ancient One that allowed the Jewish people receiving these words to keep the faith in the midst of the chaos and calamity of everyday life lived under a ruthless king.  Like the prophets who gave words of hope to the people of Israel living in exile, they were able to persevere and come out triumphant because they refused to let their hope be swallowed up by the darkness.  Their hope rested on something greater than the pain they experienced.  As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.  And he came to the Ancient One, and was presented before him.  To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

This same song of hope was played in the ears of the early Christians living with the pain and agony of Roman tyrants and bloodthirsty emperors: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  Any student of history will tell us that the world has always been set upon by chaos and calamity.  There has never been a time when peace has covered the earth, not yet at least.  And yet, through the goodness of God, and the continual presence of the Crucified yet Risen Jesus, people have been able to rise above the death and destruction of this present age and create something beautiful amidst the ashes and agony of the world.  Imperfectly, yes, but nevertheless a beautiful testament to the way God is able to take things as fragile as human beings and witness to his everlasting goodness and mercy.  Even when he himself was facing the agony of crucifixion on a Roman tree, Jesus declared there was something greater than the empires of death: My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.

My kingdom is not from here.  In a way, its theological gallows humor.  On the eve of his death, he is still able to declare something other than the power of death. And within that phrase, I contend, is the understanding that whatever game Pilate was playing at, it was a losing one.  Sure, you can hang me upon a cross, but I know a deeper law, a law of love that will have the final word even though right now you seem to have the upper hand.  And three days later, when Jesus burst forth from that tomb, resurrected and glorified beyond all imagination, he inaugurated a new Reign of God that is pushing back the darkness, though the darkness is not yet fully banished.  And whether you consciously think about this truth as you are coming to worship here, I imagine a similar conviction lives within you.  Why else would you commit so much of your time, your money, your very life to something if you weren't convinced that God was here, pushing back against the pain and agony of this present age...if you weren't convinced that you were on the winning team?  It's this conviction that allows me to keep doing what I'm doing...to keep investing in the church as the best way to usher in this kingdom....to keep investing in the church, as fallible as it is, as the best place to become more caught up in the vision of God's reign than in the reign of fear and death thrown at us day in and day out.  As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne...As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.  And he came to the Ancient One, and was presented before him.  To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

We are indeed Moving Forward Together into a New Season of Hope, with the underlying conviction that God is moving at Trinity on the Hill, and that we have been given the sacred opportunity to do all within our power to ensure this parish is the healthiest and most stable it can be in order to take these Gospel convictions out onto the streets and into our community and declare to the world, “Do not be afraid.  Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age.” And so, on this Feast of Christ the King, I will sing with a loud voice that old Gospel spiritual,

Ride on King Jesus
No man can-a-hinder me
Ride on King Jesus
Ride on
No man can-a-hinder me

*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church, Los Alamos, NM.  The texts were Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; and John 18:33-37


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