Remember Daniel in a lions’ den and in a furnace of fire? Before those awesome saves, Daniel did what no magician could do. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. and marched thousands of Jews 900 miles to Babylon to live in exile. He had some young men from Israelite nobility brought to serve in the palace including Daniel and three friends given new names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream. He demanded wise men tell him both what he dreamed and what the dream meant. They replied: “No human can do that.” Enraged, the king commanded all the wise men be killed.[i]
Daniel said he would do what the king asked. Daniel went to his three friends and with them prayed for God’s mercy. Daniel had a vision that night which revealed the mystery. Daniel prayed thanking God.[ii] Then Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar both the dream and its interpretation. We heard that read tonight. There’s a large statue with layers of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay. A stone cut not by human hands strikes the statue which completely breaks apart and is swept away. What this means is that Nebuchadnezzar all subsequent kingdoms will all fall away when God makes an eternal kingdom.
Feast of Christ the King
Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14
I must confess that I find this feast, or at least the title of this feast, problematic. What are we to make, living as we do in a republic, with something call the Feast of Christ the King? In Canada, which is in fact a constitutional monarchy, and not a republic, this Sunday is now known as The Reign of Christ. Yet even there, images of royalty, inherited privilege, power, and immense wealth, raises hackles. At the same time, we see in the news how prime ministers are becoming more presidential, and presidents more imperial, as political power and authority become more localized and focused in one person, or office. It doesn’t help that the tabloids rely on people’s appetites for embarrassing tell all tales of the rich and privileged to maximize sales. All of this makes a feast dedicated to the kingship of anything, a complex and complicated proposition. Maybe it’s time simply to reclaim the Prayer Book tradition and refer to this Sunday as The Last Sunday after Pentecost, or The Sunday Next Before Advent, which is what we called it when I was growing up.
However, having said that, today’s feast is not a promotion of some kind of imperial portrait of King Jesus, although there are lots of pictures of Jesus crowned, seated on a throne, holding orb and sceptre, wearing imperial robes. Nor is today an attempt to advocate for some kind of divine right of kings (or presidents!) ruling from Pennsylvania Avenue or Buckingham Palace. Rather, today’s feast is an antidote to all of the images, real and fanciful, we associate with the word king. It is an antidote to King Anyone because the world has in fact never seen, except once, the kind of king we mean, when we speak of Christ the King.
When I was a parish priest in England, my church, St Mary’s, stood right in the middle of the town, and in many ways was at the center of the community. Every year on our Patronal Festival, we organized a week of celebrations, with a carnival and street market, and concerts and events taking place every day inside the church. A large proportion of the town community thought of St Mary’s as their church, even if they only worshipped there occasionally, or not at all! Many of them were baptized there, and expected to be married and buried there. We were open and welcoming to anyone who turned up.
The only other church in the town was one of the oldest independent churches in England. Its members were direct descendants of those Puritan men and women who set sail a few hundred years ago to land on these shores of New England. They took a very different view of the local community, having little to do with it, and certainly nothing to do with us. Those who worshiped with them had first assented to some very specific theological doctrines, and tended to keep themselves separate from the secular world, which they saw as essentially ‘fallen’.
Amos 8: 4 – 6, 9 – 12; Psalm 119: 1 – 8; Matthew 9: 9 – 13
There is a saying that I am fond of quoting. You have no doubt heard me, as I use it in any number of different contexts. It goes, if you pull a string, you’ll find that the universe is attached. To be fair, it is a misquote of something the naturalist and conservationist John Muir said: when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
I feel this way a lot of the time. I especially feel it when I read Scripture, and today is no different.
On the surface we have the story of the calling of Matthew to be a disciple of Jesus. In many ways, it’s quite simple. Jesus calls. Matthew follows. End of story. But nothing in Scripture is that simple. This story is not just about the call of Matthew to be a follower of Jesus. It is a story about how God’s reign of mercy, justice, and peace breaks in upon us in unexpected ways.
Matthew, as we know, was not a good boy. He may have been a good ole boy, but he was certainly not a good boy. He was a collaborator with the oppressive imperial Roman occupation. He was on the side of the bad guys and represented everything that was wrong and evil during the dark days of the Roman occupation of Palestine. Yet it was to this man that Jesus said, follow me, and, amazingly, he got up and followed him. Luke tells us that Matthew got up, left everything, and followed [Jesus].
We are reminded in our Rule of Life that [the] first challenge of community life is to accept whole-heartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will. Clearly that was a lesson needed by those who asked why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? My hunch is, that’s a question even some of Jesus’ other followers were asking. Why on earth him, Lord? I’ll bet looking around at the other Brothers, it’s a question you ask yourself, every so often. I know I do.
Today at both Morning Prayer and the Eucharist we are confronted with a scandal. In both places the original audiences would have been shocked by what Jesus was saying. They may have been listening as Jesus spoke, thinking yes, yes, I quite see that. Suddenly, they would have been startled by what they heard. Perhaps they turned to their neighbour with a quizzical look. Maybe they asked someone near them to repeat what they thought they had just heard. Perhaps they tried to clean out their ears, thinking they had misheard the Teacher. But if we read the gospels carefully, what we heard this morning is not new. Jesus repeats it over, and over. Indeed, Jesus lives it. We could even say that Jesus dies it.
Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.
‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured…’
Earlier this year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee. I remember seeing her on the television, her tiny figure standing at the front of a boat as it made its way down the Thames, with thousands of people waving and cheering. I lived in England for the first 44 years of my life, and every day of my life I must have seen her face, on the coins, the bills, the stamps. Her presence was everywhere. It was ‘her majesty’s government’,’ her majesty’s prisons’, her majesty’s army, navy, air force ‘and even, every April, the dreaded envelope would land on the mat, bearing the words, ‘from her majesty’s inspector of taxes’!
I must say I didn’t expect it from him. I was caught off guard, surprised by what he said. It didn’t fit. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not from him. Not from them. I wasn’t supposed to like what he said. But I did. I heard a most encouraging interview with a national Christian leader last week: Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. Yes, that right-wing evangelical powerhouse founded by Dr. James Dobson who was so aggressive in his mission.
Focus on the Family has been on my “other” list. I expect to hear things I strongly disagree with, or get mad hearing about from them. That in itself is a reversal. I grew up listening to Dr. Dobson and was positively nurtured by Focus on the Family as a child. But as a young adult I cut ties. I distanced myself so far from them that it is rather shocking to be impressed by and grateful for Jim Daly.