"LET HIM IN"
A Message By Dr. Bruce Havens
BASED ON THE THEME: "WHAT SHALL WE BRING"
ARLINGTON CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, U.C.C.
NOVEMBER 25, 2018
1THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S AND ALL THAT IS IN IT, THE WORLD, AND THOSE WHO LIVE IN IT;
2FOR HE HAS FOUNDED IT ON THE SEAS, AND ESTABLISHED IT ON THE RIVERS.
3WHO SHALL ASCEND THE HILL OF THE LORD? AND WHO SHALL STAND IN HIS HOLY PLACE?
4THOSE WHO HAVE CLEAN HANDS AND PURE HEARTS, WHO DO NOT LIFT UP THEIR SOULS TO WHAT IS FALSE, AND DO NOT SWEAR DECEITFULLY.
5THEY WILL RECEIVE BLESSING FROM THE LORD, AND VINDICATION FROM THE GOD OF THEIR SALVATION.
6SUCH IS THE COMPANY OF THOSE WHO SEEK HIM, WHO SEEK THE FACE OF THE GOD OF JACOB. SELAH
7LIFT UP YOUR HEADS, O GATES! AND BE LIFTED UP, O ANCIENT DOORS! THAT THE KING OF GLORY MAY COME IN.
8WHO IS THE KING OF GLORY? THE LORD, STRONG AND MIGHTY, THE LORD, MIGHTY IN BATTLE.
9LIFT UP YOUR HEADS, O GATES! AND BE LIFTED UP, O ANCIENT DOORS! THAT THE KING OF GLORY MAY COME IN.
10WHO IS THIS KING OF GLORY? THE LORD OF HOSTS, HE IS THE KING OF GLORY.
So you guys are like the Marines, right? “The few, the proud!” Anyone who shows up on a Sunday after a holiday is a “real” Christian right, or maybe I should say you are “serious” Christians? So since you guys are “serious” Christians let’s do some serious theological reflection this Sunday. Wait, was that a groan I heard? Hang in there, I’ll try to figure out some way to keep you awake, I promise.
Alright, serious theology: in Christian calendar terms this is “Christ the King” Sunday or more properly, “the reign of Christ,” Sunday. What that means is this is a Sunday to reflect on the meaning of calling Christ “King of Kings,” or “the King of Glory,” and even more, to think about what it means to say Christ will come and reign over us. This morning we have a Psalm that asks the question, “Who is the King of Glory?” And it tells us this King is at the city gate waiting for us to lift the gates and let him in. Will we do our part to let him in?
I saw an editorial cartoon once that showed different people coming to the doors of a church – a gay couple, a family of mixed races, a family of foreigners and the ushers were blocking the doors like bouncers. The next panel shows them praying and telling Jesus that the church wouldn’t let them in. Then Jesus says, “Don’t feel bad, they won’t let me in either.” Woe unto any Christian organization that keeps the King of Glory out and doesn’t raise the gate to welcome all people – and this isn’t just limited to the church but to our world. God is not limited just to the church. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” declares the Psalm.
So ask yourself, “Who is the King of Glory?” The poet answers his own question saying that the King of Glory is “the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle,” and “the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory.” There are two thoughts that come to mind about this description. As with last week, we remember that traditionally Christians said King David wrote the Psalms. So if it is David writing this it is a tremendous expression of humility that the King of Israel is not the King of Glory, God is. It is like a post-it note the King puts on his refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror – “there is one God and you aren’t it.” It is a reminder some leaders still need today.
The second option is, if it is not King David himself writing this, then it is a not- so- subtle reminder of the same thing: There is one God, one King, and you, David are not it and neither by the way is any other political or religious leader – not the Pope, not the President, not the Prime Minister, not Caesar, not Pharaoh, not now, not ever. The Psalm serves as a prophetic statement that echoes across the centuries to remind us where our true first allegiance lies, where the source of true power comes from and who we ought to worship, and as the Psalm last week reminded us, it isn’t princes or any other mortal because their plans and projects die with them, but God’s purposes will prevail.
Our Christian faith does refer to Jesus as the King, to Christ as Lord – that his power is equal to God’s and that the crown for the King of Glory does fit. We may struggle with that for two reasons as well. First, we have heard so often that Christ was not the Messiah that the Jewish people expected because they expected a human heir to David that would take them out from under Caesar, from under all those who had oppressed them and led them off into exile and the Messiah would restore Israel’s glory. The argument has been used to criticize the Jewish faith and promote Christianity as superior because of it.
But part of that message is tainted because those who tell us that Christ’s power is spiritual but not earthly did so to protect their own power and privilege. Christianity was originally a religion of the oppressed and a religion oppressed by the powers and principalities. Then under Constantine it became the religion of the Empire and the Emperor became the “Holy Roman Emperor” of both the nation and the church. That’s when the message that the only true King is God became “spiritual.” The message that Christ the King ruled over all the earth became limited to things of the heart, and criticism of the Emperor became off limits.
People in power don’t generally want to share that power even with God. So God becomes limited to “spiritual” things and Governors and governments do what benefits the privileged and powerful and the powerless and poor are told that God cares about their “spiritual” lives but they will only get material things – oddly enough – in the spiritual afterlife. If heaven is only spiritual, how are material luxuries going to be given out then? And the kingdom of heaven became something for the afterlife. They said that God didn’t intervene in human affairs or with human governments. But that was never the way God was portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and it isn’t what Jesus was talking about when he talked about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was talking about everyday human affairs here in this world.
So the Scriptures remind us that God as the ruler of the world. So let’s spend some time trying to visualize what God’s reign. What it would really mean to mean it when we say Christ is King? Some Christians today see this as a theocracy that would enforce “Christian” laws that, to me, often sounds a lot like a Christian version of the widely feared and widely misrepresented Islamic “Sharia law.” Most of those I hear wanting to make this a more “Christian” nation really mean a fundamentalist, exclusivist, hate-driven and narrowly sectarian version of Christianity. But this goes back to the ways the Bible has been used to protect power and privilege while relegating the power of God and Christ to “spiritual” things rather than letting the Bible’s message of God’s justice and love permeate our actual, material, and governing principles.
The Bible contrasts God’s reign with human Kings. Jesus lived during the reign of King Herod, who was violent and unpredictable. The Bible tells us he ordered the killing of innocent children, the execution of John the Baptist to satisfy his wife, and had a hand in Jesus’ crucifixion as well. Caesar claimed the power of a god, ruled with the greatest armies of the time. His power was violent, cruel and his peace was the peace of armies, the execution of his opposition, and suppression of freedoms. The writer of the Psalm remembers the examples of Pharaoh who enslaved the people of Israel. Later rulers dragged the Hebrew people off into captivity in foreign lands and used their power to steal Israel’s economic and human resources. All of these fail to compare with God’s reign and rule.
When Christ first began to proclaim God’s rule Luke tells us he came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind and the year of God’s favor, which in Israel’s history meant the forgiveness of debt for people and a Sabbath year for the land to lay fallow and rest. In the Gospel of Matthew, in one of Jesus’ first public speeches, what we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” he proclaimed the kingdom of heaven would be a blessing to the poor, to those who thirst for justice, and for those who are peacemakers. This is a very different set of values than most economic and political platforms today.
The Psalm also proclaims that all of Creation belongs to God. Most theologians would say this means we, as God’s subjects, are called to be good stewards and caretakers of the earth. I am horrified that some Christians actually seek the destruction of the earth, either by catastrophic war or by ecological disasters. They believe this will bring about “the Rapture” or “the end times.” Most of these concepts are actually misinterpretations of Scripture, ironically enough, by those who claim to take the Bible literally. The fact is the Bible never once uses the term “rapture,” and the events described in that popular book series are not Biblical.
The governing principles for the reign of Christ that I hear in the Scriptures sounds like this to me:
“The one among you who wants to be great must be servant of all.”
“Let the little ones come to me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.”
“Let the one of you without sin cast the first stone.”
All the Gospels testify that he healed and for those who understand he did this to show what the reign of God is about: healing and wholeness for everyone, not for the profits of a few or for those who have the “right” faith – those he healed were generally seen as sinners, as outcasts, as unworthy of God.
Walter Brueggemann, professor and theologian wrote once, “The gospel narrative…makes a claim…that in Jesus of Nazareth the things of the world are settled on God’s terms,” [Kate Matthews, Weekly Seeds, ucc.org, 11/25/18. ]. So while some leaders may think of themselves as kings of glory and may be asinine enough to say that they are thankful for themselves, I will remain thankful that God is the true King of Glory and has already settled the things of this world for the benefit of all people not just the few. God’s love and blessings are for everyone including people who human governments and human prejudices reject. God welcomes the “outcast” which means the refugee, who are no threat to anyone but still have to leave their country because their lives are at risk. God’s love and blessings are for people who have cancer but have no health insurance and homeless people facing another winter on the street. In fact, in almost every case God welcomes those humans reject and rejects those humans honor believe it or not. The Scriptures proclaim that God is the true King of Glory. God’s reign will come. Christ settled that by defeating the power of Caesar and of the cross. His resurrection is the ultimate promise that God’s power trumps would-be Emperor’s of every age.
The King of Glory stands at the gate waiting for us to lift it. Our job is to “let him in.” Let him in so that we might be part of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, the reign of Christ. Will we let him in? Are we ready to join him in bringing the reign of Christ here and now? AMEN.