Fear or Faith

A sermon for Christ the King

A Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19), Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

The airwaves have been nonstop with news about the terrorist attack in Paris Friday a week ago. I have been deeply troubled by the response of half our states’ governors’ call not to allow Syrian refugees into their states. Republican Presidential candidates have made similar statements. Late last week the House passed legislation that places new extraordinarily stringent restrictions on Syrian refugees. A part of me understands, but I deeply disagree with the approach. Part of me is concerned about crass political manipulation that seeks, no, is creating /ratcheting up fear, and then promising to keep us safe. It’s likely why Trump’s poll numbers are climbing.

There has been responses from those who disagree with all this. Some have quoted Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus on the base of the Statue of Liberty

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!”  cries she
With silent lips.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Presiding Bishop Curry released Be not afraid, in which he wrote:

Often in the gospels, fear grips the people of God, and time and again, either the angels, or Our Lord himself, respond with the same words of comfort: “Be not afraid.

Curry, as do I, acknowledges the fear is real. but he continues: And yet, especially when we feel legitimate fear, our faith reminds us “Be not afraid.” The larger truth is that our ultimate security comes from God in Christ. He also reminds us of a lesson from Leviticus: [where] God says to the people of Israel that,

the foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt (Curry).

David Sellery in Episcopal Café wrote “[the] peace of Christ not a product of conquest it is a labor of love.”  Before we can build the kingdom we are called to build we must overcome the kingdom of fear (Sellery).

Last Friday’s attack on the Hotel in Mali only exacerbates the fear. That is exactly what terrorist seek to do, invoke fear, and cause us to give up the values we cherish most, and they fear most.

 

You know I am not a believer in God’s manipulation of life on earth. Nonetheless, I find the synchronicity, that all this is happening the week preceding the Sunday we set aside to recognize Christ the King, provocative. The appointed lessons speak directly to our response to such crises as we experienced last week.

Last week we read from the first chapter of 1st Samuel, about Samuel’s birth; today we read from near the end of 2nd Samuel and David’s last words. Though we’ve not lived under a monarch for better than two centuries, when we hear ‘king,’ we think of power and hierarchy. And yet David, Israel’s prototypical king, is sharing a view of human government that is centered on justice and acknowledges that such virtue is only possible for king because of divine presence (Klein).

From John’s Gospel account, we heard from the passion when Jesus is interviewed by Pilate. When asked about being a king one thing Jesus says is “My kingdom is not from this world.” It is a subtle language bit; Jesus is not talking about a physical location; he is revealing of the source of his authority. This is one of two times ‘kingdom’ is in John’s gospel account, the other is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Both occur in the presence of a progenitor of power: Nicodemus a ruler from the Temple and religious establishments and Pilate, a ruler from empire, and government (Lewis).

Revelation is always difficult for us to understand. We struggle to let go of the idea that it is a prediction of the future. But as with all apocalyptic literature, it is expressing the hope of an oppressed people. A key to understanding is in this morning’s opening verse: “who is and who was and who is to come,” Listen to the sequence: “… who is, and who was and who is to come….” It is not in time sequence. The divine voice begins “who is.” In short, the most important message is that the Kingdom is right here, right now (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And for an oppressed people, for a people living in fear knowing that God is here and now, that God will not let go and that God will make it right, enables you to survive anything (Hoezee).

A common element in all these lessons is that divine kingship is not about power or land, it is about the relationship; the relationship between ourselves and God, and the relationship between each other, between all God’s people. It raises a question about our faith, our trust in God. Do we really trust God will take care of it all?

You may recall the story of Gideon defeating the Midianites. The Lord told him his thirty-two thousand troops were too many and sent those who were afraid home. There were still too many so the Lord had them drink from the water and sorted them by how they drank, choosing the three hundred who lapped from the bank.  Why? So Israel would not think they did this on their own (Judges 7:1- 7). In 1st Maccabees when Judas is about to lead an inferior force into the field he rallies his troops: it is better to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary (or the Temple). But as his will in heaven may be, so shall he do (1 Mac 3:59-60). His call expresses a clear trust in God, no matter the outcome.

What do these and similar biblical stories reveal to us about our engagement against terrorism when we always seek numerical, political, technological, logistical, strategic, and tactical advantage? What does it reveal that we have not seen the results we expected even after a decade-plus effort?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there should be a forceful response. Still, as Dr. Martin Luther King wrote: Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that (Lose) (King).

To balance a forceful response love requires a national public well-reasoned examination of our moral priorities. We must determine:  Do we put our trust in God or in our own prowess? And by the way ~ rants about sexual purity are not a well reasoned national examination of our moral priority.

“Jesus, what is the source of your authority?”  is a very real question for Pilate. It is a very real question for us (Pankey). We will begin to know the answer when we can pray with honesty the Collect for our Enemies, which asks God to guide them and us from prejudice to truth; from hatred, cruelty and revenge to stand reconciled before the Lord our God (BCP).

I owe David Brooks a note of thanks. It is his column Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts that seeded my journey along this path. He draws on the work of Rabbi Johnathan Sacks whose greatest contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power (Brooks).

No doubt there will more violent fear filled events in the days, months and years to come. Only we can decide if we will choose to live in fear or to live in faith.

 


 

References

Brooks, David. “Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts.” The New York Times (2015).

Church, The Episcopal. Book of Common Prayer. 1979.

Curry, Michael. “Be Not Afraid.” Episcopal Church Public Affairs. New York, 18 11 2015. web. <publicaffairs@episcopalchurch.org>.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Text Revelation 1:4b-8. 22 11 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 22 11 2015.

King, Martimn Luther. “Where Do We Go From Here.” King, Martin Luther. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. 1967. 62.

Klein, Ralph W. Commentary on 2 Samuel 23: 1-7. 22 11 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Kings of Relationship. 22 11 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Christ the King. 22 11 2015.

Pankey, Steve. “Whence Cometh Thy Power.” 17 11 2015. Word Press: Draughting Theology.

Sellery, David. Thy Kingdom Come. 11 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-thy-kingdom-come/&gt;.

 

 

 

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