November 26, 2006

A Different Kind of King

Sunday, November 26, 2006
Reign of Christ Sunday

John 18:33-38a

Have you ever met a king before? Can you picture a member of some royal family, all dressed up in fine silks and bright colors, with a crown of gold studded with emeralds and rubies on their head? Perhaps trumpets announced his arrival and all bowed as he walked past. Maybe there were attendants surrounding the king, protecting him from any angry commoner or subject as he sat upon his huge throne raised above the level of the common folk.

Such an image is not an everyday occurrence for us in the United States. We are not ruled by a king; in fact, our forebearers were trying to escape the rule of a king. But we are still familiar with royal language. We’ve seen the royal family of England on tv or read about them in the newspaper. As a matter of fact, my childhood scrapbook contains a newspaper clipping of Prince William on his first day of preschool because it was also my first day of preschool. At the top of this page in my scrapbook there’s a photograph of me standing outside Little Preschoolers wearing a plaid jumper and carrying a little backpack, and at the bottom of the page there’s a photograph of Princess Diana walking Prince William into his preschool.

If you haven’t followed the real life royal family, then perhaps you’ve at least seen kings and queens, princes and princesses in movies and read about them in books. They are always dignified, sophisticated, regal. They have crown jewels and golden scepters and they rule their kingdoms with absolute power and authority. What they say goes – no questions asked and no hesitation. And everything they do is interesting. Scandal and lies in a royal family are worthy of a major motion picture, while death and deceit in other lives are just part of an ordinary day. Yes, the title of king brings authority. Authority brings power. Power brings intrigue. And soon all are watching.

This morning we are watching Pilate in his exchange with Jesus. Pilate is an earthy fellow. He knows how the world works. The strong rule the weak; the powerful judge the actions of the not so powerful; status can be used for intimidation, investigation and interrogation. Pilate knows that this weak, beaten man before him is no ruler in his world. Pilate knows that he holds the power of life and death over this prisoner of the Jews. He also knows that this power has been given to him by the chief priests who didn’t want to deal decisively with this intriguing man.

Pilate also knows something about kings. Caesar was to be honored, even worshipped, as supremely powerful. Ultimately, Caesar held the power of life and death over all persons, including Pilate, within his wide realm. Pilate knew that Caesar’s authority rested upon his own shoulders. What he didn’t get was that authority and power of another kind rested on Jesus’ shoulders.

It was easy to miss. During the preceding night, Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and arrested in the garden by soldiers and officers of the chief priest. Simon Peter cut off a soldier’s ear, only to get berated by Jesus. Later on that night he would deny Jesus. Betrayal, blood, denial – sounds like the making of a royal family scandal. Yet, Jesus did not react as one would have expected a king to react. Jesus was bound and taken to the high priests for questioning. In the early morning, Jesus was removed from the house of the high priest Caiaphas and taken to the headquarters of the Roman occupation force for interrogation by the governor of the province of Judea.

And Jesus didn’t shout out that he wanted his advisors and councilors notified, that he wouldn’t say a word until his lawyer was present, that all cameras must be removed. Jesus silently obeyed and was transported around and through the Roman system. So it’s easy to see why Pilate is confused about Jesus’ status as a king. He certainly didn’t look like or react like anyone with power and authority.

But that’s because Jesus’ power and authority are different. His life hasn’t looked like that of a king. If Pilate is trying to find evidence of Jesus being a king, he has his work cut out for him.
  • Jesus wasn’t born in the midst of a grand celebration, a prince who would one day take the throne. He wasn’t lifted high for all to see as lion cub Prince Simba’s birth was honored by all of the animal kingdom in the opening scene of The Lion King. Jesus was born in a lowly stable behind an inn with not even a spare room for a pregnant woman and her husband. His first days were not spent in receptions but on the run in the cover of the night.
  • Jesus didn’t receive the royal treatment as a child – golden rattles, tutors and nannies watching over him, stories being written about his first day of preschool. No, he ran around causing his own mother to search wildly for him and he had a thing or two to teach his own teachers.
  • Jesus didn’t keep company with all the VIPs of the nations and towns. His schedule wasn’t full of appearances and speeches and benefit dinners. Instead he dined spur of the moment with sinners and tax collectors and lepers and fishermen – those at the very bottom of the hierarchy of society, those with whom a king should never have to associate himself.
  • Jesus wasn’t the marshall of any special parades … well there was that one, but even then he was riding on the back of a donkey. It wasn’t really a grand entrance.
And so Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” because he’s heard some of the rumors about his life. Plus, this man is before him and he’s got to figure out what to do with him.

And Jesus replies to Pilate’s question in his typical fashion – with another question: “Why are you asking me about this? Have you heard what the others have been saying?”

Pilate is quick to deny any relation with the Jews. He tries a different question: “What have you done?” Perhaps he thinks he can sort this whole thing out by at least finding out what it is that Jesus has done to cause this uproar.

And Jesus declares “My kingdom is not from here.” The kinds of things you associate with a king are not the things I have done in my life. For I’m not concerned with having jurisdiction over provinces and soldiers. My concerns lie elsewhere. You may think that because I am here in this place I would be ruling here. But that’s not it at all. You see my kingdom is not from here. My people and I may be located here right now, but my kingdom gains it’s power from above, from God my Father.

And in his answer and its expanded meaning we see that Jesus is different than any king Pilate knows and any king we might know, and therefore his kingdom is different also. Jesus’ kingdom exists in the tension – the tension of his kingdom being “already” possible but “not yet” realized; the tension of his kingdom being made strong by its weak and marginalized members; the tension of his kingdom existing with more questions than answers. For all will be reversed in his kingdom by the power of the Word. And one day, this kingdom will be here on earth. One day this kingdom will come in this place in the way that it is in heaven.

And with Christ as King, the weak will become strong, the marginalized and oppressed will be lifted up and truth will reign. With Christ as King, we are all heirs … children of the King … part of the royal family. Like the children this morning, we get to wear a crown, too. And that means we can approach the throne of the king … because Christ’s throne is not one of brute force, high and mighty above the commoners; but of mercy and grace and strength, on exactly the same level as the people.

And all these things sound good, and they are good, but they are far from being normal and safe. Like the four children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe realize, the king is not always safe. In the book, four children are transported to another world, Narnia, through the back of an old wardrobe; there the children hear about the perpetual winter that exists in Narnia due to the evil White Witch. Only Aslan can put things right; for Aslan is the King; he’s the Lord of the whole wood, the King of the Beasts, and the great lion. The children are excited to hear that someone can stop the White Witch but are frightened by the description of Aslan, the great lion. One child asks, “Then he isn’t safe?” Their host, Mr. Beaver, replies “Safe? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

Like the lion Aslan, Christ is good and Christ is not safe; but Christ is King and Christ reigns. And because Christ reigns as a different kind of king over a different kind of kingdom, we are called to be a different kind of people. We get some of the same privileges as the king – a relationship with the Father, a claim as royal heir. But as part of the royal family, we also inherit some responsibilities: serving others, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, being salt and light in a world where it’s not always easy to be salt and light … in general, we must enact the ways of the kingdom that is not from here and only give power to Christ.

Because there is only One who reigns in power over all – Jesus the Christ. Remember that as we head into a season of waiting expectantly for Christmas. Remember that it’s not the advertisers or the media or the shopping centers or the best deals or Black Friday that reign supreme. It is Christ and Christ alone.

So, come these next weeks to worship – to sing and praise and lament and pray and be in community with fellow believers as always, but come also, children of the King, to a kingdom that is not from here, a kingdom that is not maintained by the rules of this world; come to see and discover a different kind of King anew, so you may live as a different kind of people.

In the name of the One who reigns in power, forever and ever; Amen.

November 21, 2006

Why My Life Will Never Be Boring

There was a session meeting at church tonight. An incident in church on Sunday (which I missed because I was still at Continuing Education) led to an intense discussion about proper conduct in church and how to handle those whose behavior is absolutely inappropriate (ie loud cursing during the sermon and the Lord’s Supper).

It was decided that the pastoral staff (which includes myself and the male pastor) and two other male congregation members would be in charge of addressing future outbursts. At this point, a session member asked if she could make a motion to fatten me up first …

November 15, 2006

Where do I belong?

I have the week off for continuing education – it doesn’t make much sense to me that a seminary student doing an internship gets continuing education leave, but it’s part of my terms of call for my internship, so I’m taking it.

I’m back on the seminary campus and it’s weird.

I don’t belong with my classmates anymore. They are starting to think about what they want to do after graduation and filling out paperwork for searching for a call. Some are starting to get senioritis.

I don’t belong with the class below me yet either. They are in classes I’ve already taken and they still have ords looming before them (I’ve passed all of mine – yeah!). Next year they will be my classmates and we’ll graduate together.

I’m starting to realize that I belong or rather identify more with the class that just graduated, with the people who are in their first calls and figuring things out as they go along. One of the great things about my internship is that I’m treated more like an associate pastor than an intern. And so I’m figuring things out as I go along and get to know these people, this pastor, and this church more and more.

But what is it about this need to belong, to identify with others?

November 14, 2006

Reflections on being a “Real Life Pastor”

Some delayed reflections (because work and life has been busy lately) …

The pastor was out of the office on vacation from Thursday, October 19th through Monday, October 30th. During this time, there was also no administrative assistant in the office. I was in the office alone and functioning as pastor, secretary, and intern for 12 days.

There wasn’t one particular event that caused a pastoral dilemma; it was deciding how to spend my time when there were so many different things that needed to be done. It was a busy time in terms of building management and contractors. Phone calls, opening doors and gates, finding out about the projects, and being in the office during specific times each day ate up a lot of my time – much more than I would have predicted. It was an unusually busy week in terms of these things, but they were things with which I had to deal and manage and some weeks will be like that.

I was often surprised at how much of my day was already gone after I had only met with or talked to the contractor, answered the messages on the answering machine, and gone through the mail and email. Other normal weekly tasks continued to fill my days: volunteering at the outreach center on Tuesday morning, preparing for Bible Study and leading it on Wednesday evening, working with the Elementary Youth Group on Fridays, tutoring. Plus there were additional meetings those weeks. Add to that planning for worship and putting the bulletin together and I was left with little time for much else. Yet, I also wanted to make some pastoral visits and needed to write a sermon for worship on October 29th. To do both those things, I really needed to get out of the office. However, I felt stuck at the church and unable to get away to do such things. Therefore, I only made one pastoral care visit and wrote much of my sermon on Saturday.

This experience was invaluable and overall I loved it. It was definitely a taste of being a “real life pastor.” I really like being in a church and working as a pastor and this experience provided additional confirmation of my call to congregational ministry. It also made me reflect on how a pastor must continually assess and prioritize the things that need to be done each week. In such a profession, there will always be more to do and more that could be done than will fit in a work week. Time management skills are essential. I believe good boundaries are also a necessity. I could have come in on Thursday (my day off) and gotten some things done and visited some people, but I didn’t. It was tempting, but I had two friends in town who made sure I took the whole day off. I did what I could in 50 hours and the things that remained on my to do list would be addressed the next week.

So, at the end of the 12 days, I still wanted to be a pastor and I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

November 05, 2006

A Halloween Adventure Anecdote

I didn't have any plans for October 31st, so when Mrs. M invited me to dinner on Tuesday evening I accepted. I had been trying to call on Mrs. M for some time, but she's quite busy even though she lives in a retirement community and is in her 90s. I was to meet her at 4:30pm at her apartment. Then we would ride the tram over to the dining hall for 5pm dinner.

I arrived at 4:30 and found her place. I took a quick tour and met the dog before we caught the tram to the dining hall. Upon entering the dining hall, I saw about a dozen people from the church (lots of the older folk in the church live at this particular place). Mrs. M and I had dinner with three others from the church. During dinner, she mentions that there is a Halloween party that evening at 7pm and she would love to have me join her.

(Sidenote: the pastor had been out of the office on vacation for the past 12 days and October 31st was his first day back in the office. It had been a long day of catching up on things. I had only planned on visiting with Mrs. M until 6pm)

However, I figured "why not?" and told Mrs. M that I would stay for the Halloween party. Dinner did end around 6pm. At that time Mrs. M and I went back to her place to walk the dog and visit. I also helped her get into her Halloween costume - a spiderweb pinned to the back of her black sweater.

Now I didn't realize that I would be attending a Halloween party so I didn't have a costume. I had received a pirate's eye patch in a wonderful care package a few days earlier and this would have been the perfect time to wear it, but alas, it sat at home on my dining room table.

Around 7pm, Mrs. M and I catch the tram back to the main building where the party is. The room is all decorated. There is red punch and chocolate dirt desserts. There is a band playing and singing ... there are two members of the band ... they play the accordian and the trumpet ... it is hilarious. There is Halloween bingo and prizes ... it is rather tricky because the squares have such things as one bat, a bat by a pumpkin, or three bats in them ... difficult distinctions for older folk ... there are many false bingo alarms.

I leave the party around 8pm ... it continues until 9pm. I arrive home at my senior citizen condo community which also hosted a Halloween party. Their party is over and they are locking up the clubhouse. I am definitely living in the wrong senior community.