Sunday, November 26, 2017

King and Kingdom

What Kind of Kingdom? What kind of King?

Some years ago, I got to see a real king. A real king in person. 1976, in Seattle – Shilshole Bay Marina. The King of Sweden was going to be part of a public ceremony by the Leif Erickson statue.

I was somewhat disappointed. Everyone on the dais wore standard-issue suits for the occasion. No pomp. No circumstance. No sash, sword, robes, crown, or scepter. Just a man in a nice business suit.

I complained about it to my mother. Her response?

Isn’t that nice! He’s normal – just like us. He gets to walk around and hang with people – just like us.

What a concept! A king who’s able to blend in and spend time with people – just like us.

Some years ago – even further back in time: The Day the Earth Stood Still – a man has come from far away to visit earth – to bring peace. He gets shot and wounded, escapes from Walter Reed where he’s being cared for, and decides to spend time getting to know what kind of people we earth people are. What he discovers is that, for the most part, we’re scared.

We are fearful. Scared of nuclear war; scared of communism; scared of things we don’t understand; scared to change.

That was 50 or 60 years ago, and it seems like we’re still scared.

Every time I turn on the news there’s a new health scare; We see children being murdered in their schools, worshipers being murdered in their churches and mosques; we’re getting older and access to healthcare seems more and more to be at risk; friends and neighbors – people of color – being swept up and detained without access to legal aid.

Fear is a normal, healthy, human trait, but for many of us, that fear has gone into overdrive and become HIGH ANXIETY.

When I was young, our family did not go to church. We went occasionally, though, and in Sunday school I remember the teachers telling us about Jesus. Jesus was a good shepherd. Jesus loved to have children sit in his lap. Jesus told us God is love. But I couldn’t believe it. If there was a God, I was sure I was going to hell. I was sure I could never measure up. No one ever told me God was mean. I never had people stress God was vengeful, and yet there was something about my own self-image that assured me I was beyond hope, beyond help, beyond God's ability to accept, let alone "save".

But then one day – I don’t know how; I don’t know why – it hit me. I had my conversion experience. It’s not about me measuring up, but about God reaching down and hauling me up.

If religion is about me trying to please God and never being sure I’ve made the grade, our faith is about God who opens the door when we knock and goes, “Wow, What a surprise! Come on in!!!”

A young woman tells the story of going to confession. She was in grade school. I don’t know what sort of sins or misdeeds an 8 year old could confess – they should have bounced off the priest like kernels of popcorn – but he looked at her through the screen and said, “You’re going to hell!”

I don’t know what sort of monster he was to say that to a child (I can picture the sign over his booth: “Abandon Hope all ye who enter here”) and while there’s a side of me that would like to think he went to perdition when he died, I think God probably gave him a place at the Pearlie Gates, and his job is to greet people as they arrive and say, “Hi. I’m Father Paddy O’Rourke*, and I was wrong. Come on in!”      * Not his real name

Jesus tells a story: Pearl of Great Price. That’s the Gospel! God is this raggedy little merchant who travels from place to place. Finds a special little jewel: “Ah, I’ve GOT to have that!” Sells all to acquire it. Sound familiar? Selling it all? That’s Good Friday! Gaining the Pearl? That’s Easter Sunday, when the oyster opens up and Christ comes out. The Gospel? YOU and I are the Pearl of Great Price. And out there: More pearls!

“Go get ‘em,” says Jesus. Remember the Great Commission? Go; Make Disciples of ALL people; Baptize them (cleanse, forgive); and Teach them!”

The past few weeks, we’ve been reminded: Be wise, keep your lamps full and your wicks trimmed; take what God has given you and work with it; and this week: We have a king who walks among us. He’s hungry; she’s lonely; he’s in jail; she’s in hospital; he’s scared; she’s thirsty. The Good News? God prepares the way for us; God is a Companion on the way with us; and God resides within to comfort us.

As we close out Year A, I am reminded of Karl Barth, who summarized our faith this way: ♪♪♪ Jesus loves me ♪♪♪ I suggest we go and do likewise, in Jesus' Name.