26th Sunday after Pentecost (November 25, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Dan. 7:9-13; Psalm 93; Rev. 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
We attended Washington Community Fellowship, Nov. 18, and spent a delightful afternoon and evening with members of the small group we were part of during our D.C. years.
We celebrated U.S. Thanksgiving this week with all of our children. On Wednesday evening, Holden and Heidi hosted the family at their new home in Penn Laird, Virginia. Granddaughter Sydney provided the entertainment. On Thursday, Cheryl and Mark Keeler, Daryl’s sister and brother-in-law, hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and extended family time at their home in Grottoes, Virginia.
In the region this week:
- In spite of bad weather, Jordanians continued on Friday to protest dramatic cuts to government fuel subsidies.
- Egyptian officials brokered a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
Below is the sermon that Daryl preached at Zion Mennonite Church in Broadway, Virginia, Nov. 25:
A month ago I received an email from a friend who had just started a blog about “old things.” Her first posting was about a silver spoon made in 1881.
Old things fascinate us. They connect us with history. They make us feel part of something bigger than our own generation.
Still, I had to laugh when I received my friend’s email. In the part of the world were we now live, 1881 is considered like yesterday. Old things in the Middle East are Roman ruins from 2,000 years ago — or ruins from the Persian Empire that preceded it.
About one half mile from the MCC office in Amman is the Citadel – a hilltop fortress where more than 3,000 years ago, King David sent Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to be killed on the front lines of battle. At the Citadel, one can still find the ruins of civilizations that have come and gone for more than five millennia.
But even in the Middle East, known for its ancient history, change is happening rapidly these days. Longstanding regimes are crumbling as the Arab Spring spreads from country to country.
The Common Lectionary readings for this last Sunday before Advent focus on Christ the King. Unlike earthly rulers who come and go, Christ’s dominion is forever and ever.
The reading from chapter seven of Daniel depicts a scene of heavenly judgment. In Daniel’s dream, God, the Ancient One, sits on a throne of fiery flames. God’s clothing is white as snow. God’s hair is like pure wool (v.9). Daniel writes: “A thousand thousand served God; ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.” (v.10)
In this heavenly judgment scene, God destroys a beast that represents an earthly ruler who defies God’s purposes and harms God’s people. (v.11) In place of the beast, God gives dominion to a new and permanent king – Jesus Christ.
“I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven,” writes Daniel. “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.” (vv.13-14)
John, the writer of Revelation, describes Jesus as: “The ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5a) and the one who is worthy to receive glory and dominion for ever and ever (v.6).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells Pilate: “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.” (John 18:36)
What we believe
These are powerful claims: An everlasting dominion, a kingship that shall never be destroyed, the ruler of the kings of the earth, a kingdom that is not from this world.
But as Christians, this is precisely our affirmation of faith about Jesus and the kingdom he has established.
What do these beliefs mean for us practically speaking? What does it mean for how we live today and tomorrow? What is to keep these affirmations of our faith from simply becoming lofty and empty words?
In Amman, we live near the King Abdullah Mosque – one of the most prominent mosques in Jordan. The mosque has a massive dome covered with blue tiles. The dome is also blue on the inside because the architect believed that our faith should be the same on the inside as on the outside.
In the same way, as Anabaptist Christians we believe there is a close connection between what we believe and how we act. That is to say, our beliefs are not abstract ideas. They have a direct effect on how we live.
If we really believe something, it shapes our actions. There are many examples from daily life:
- If we believe that the temperatures will drop well below freezing, we drain our outdoor faucets and put antifreeze in our car engines.
- If we believe that a major storm is coming, we stock up on food.
- If we believe that a serious flu epidemic is spreading, we get flu shots.
How we act
The same is true about our faith. It influences how we act. These texts suggest several practical actions that should grow out of our belief that Christ has an everlasting dominion; that his kingship shall never be destroyed; that Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth; and that his kingdom is not from this world.
Our beliefs effect who we worship
On several occasions during our years in Jordan, we have had opportunity to meet members of the royal family. On one occasion, we met the late King Hussein’s brother, Prince Hassan. We were ushered into a large formal greeting room at one of the royal palaces and seated in a semi-circle. When everyone was in place, Prince Hassan entered. Everyone stood as a sign of respect. Then Prince Hassan went around the circle and greeted us personally, one-by-one. It’s an exciting experience to be in the presence of royalty – but it pales in comparison to being in the presence of the king of kings.
If we truly believe that Christ has an everlasting dominion and that he is the ruler of the kings of the earth, then we will stand in awe; we will worship him alone; we will give him our total allegiance.
But worship is more than standing in awe, singing songs and saying prayers. Worship has to do with what we look to for ultimate meaning and purpose in our lives. It is about who we trust and where our allegiance lies. In this day and age, there are many things that compete for our loyalty and allegiance. Political leaders promise us security and prosperity. Giant corporations promise us success and purposeful life if only we will buy their products.
If we truly believe that Christ has an everlasting dominion and that he is the ruler of the kings of the earth, then we will worship him alone. The demands of government and the allure of material things must be secondary. As Christians, we name Jesus as the only one deserving of our full allegiance.
Because we believe that Christ is king of kings and his dominion lasts forever, it effects who we worship.
Our beliefs effect who we serve
What does it mean to serve? Some in this congregation work in customer relations roles. You know that the customer is always right; that the customer’s wishes take priority. It is hard to imagine walking into a restaurant and placing your order, then having the waiter or waitress tell you, “You know what? I don’t want to bring you the baked chicken. I prefer that you eat liver and onions.”
We have come to appreciate Middle Eastern hospitality. Because the climate of the desert is so harsh, the Bedouin of the Middle East had a practice of offering three days of hospitality to anyone who passed by their tents. This hospitality was extended even to their enemies.
In Middle Eastern culture, guests are seen as an honor, not an interruption or imposition. Even when you show up unannounced, your host will typically drop whatever they are doing to welcome you and tend to your needs.
Not only do we stand in awe of Christ the King, we are to serve him. God doesn’t just want lip service. As servants of Christ our choices are constrained by his wishes. We listen to his voice.
Daniel writes: “All peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”(Dan. 7:14b)
In Revelation, John writes that God has made us to be a kingdom of priests, serving God (Rev. 1:6).
Jesus tells Pilate: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
How are we using the gifts and resources that God has entrusted to us? Are we using them for our personal gain or to serve Christ and his purposes for our life?
We work with some amazing partners in Iraq and Jordan. In northern Iraq, Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus run Kids House — a kindergarten for 3 to 5-year-olds. Most of the children who come to Kids House are from internally displaced families who have been uprooted from their homes because of the violence in Iraq. The Sisters provide a structured and stable environment where traumatized children can heal and learn. But Sisters of the Sacred Heart don’t just open their doors for children from their own Chaldean Catholic tradition. They open their doors to Muslim children and children from other minority faith groups as well. All vulnerable children are welcomed at Kids House.
Caritas Jordan – another MCC partner — has been busy distributing MCC relief kits, health kits, school kits and blankets to refugees, who have fled their homes in Syria and crossed the border into Jordan.
There are so few things that refugees are able to control. They are living in a strange place and have few resources. They can’t work legally. They don’t know when they will be able to return to their own country or if their houses will still be there when they eventually do return.
One way that Caritas seeks to serve the refugees is by offering them choices – even in small matters like selecting the MCC blanket that they like the best.
Recently a Syrian refugee widow named Fatima went to the Caritas distribution center in Mafraq. Caritas volunteers gave her a health kit and a blanket. With a shy voice Fatima asked, “Is it ok if I choose another quilt, I don’t like the color I have?”
The Caritas volunteer told Fatima to go to the box and choose the color she prefers. With an indescribable facial expression, Fatima ran happily to the box and took a few minutes sorting through the blankets. “This is my favorite color, is it ok to have this one instead?” Fatima asked holding a blue one. “Of course!” the volunteer responded.
Because we believe that Christ is king of kings and that his dominion lasts forever, it effects who we serve. Christ has called us to serve the least of these.
Our beliefs effect how we respond to the chaos around us
It is easy to feel discouraged about all that is happening in the world today. The economy continues to flounder and many are having difficulty finding good jobs. There is violence in many places and the constant threat of even more violence. In the Middle East, it increasingly feels like things are ready to explode.
Just this week, Israel bombed the Gaza Strip and militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel. More than 37,000 Syrians have been killed in a civil war that has now raged on for 18 months. There is constant threat of a military attack against Iran. Even in Jordan – a country thought to be one of the most stable in the region – protestors are increasingly emboldened in their demands for major reforms.
Sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t intervene to stop all this chaos. Why does God allow earthly rulers to make such a mess? They seem to have so much power. They are capable of unleashing so much violence and doing so much harm.
If we believe that Christ’s dominion is everlasting and that he is king of kings, then we are able to keep in perspective the troubling events around us. These kingdoms will come and go. Their relevance pales in comparison to what God is doing. From our perspective, things may sometimes seem out of control; but we must acknowledge that we see only a small piece of the big picture. Only one king is everlasting. Only one kingdom lasts forever.
We may be troubled by what we see; but we are not hopeless. For we believe that the way of Christ – the way of nonviolence and service — will ultimately prevail. And so we commit ourselves to that way of living even now. We have the audacity to believe that tiny seeds of justice and mercy and peace are more powerful than mighty armies and acts of violence. And so we plant those seeds, knowing that they will someday sprout and grow.
Our beliefs effect who we worship; who we serve; and how we respond to the chaos around us.
I’d like to close with a prayer by the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in the 1980s because of his work with the poor; work which was seen as a threat by leaders in that country.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
(God’s) kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen