As I shake my head sorrowfully at so much I see in the news this week and saw in the news last week and the week before that, my memory turns to this sermon from last year about Jesus' way in this wounded world.
For the past few weeks we have been reading
about what a fine fellow King David was.
Actually, he had a pretty rough rise to power
and was something of a motorcycle gang outlaw
before opportunistically laying claim to the throne.
But a lot of 2nd Samuel and all of Chronicles appear
to have been written by the royal press secretary.
A couple of weeks ago we read how David gathered thousands of his people
and fed them all a decent meal.
King David was an impressive benefactor to his docile servants.
Still, we have today’s lesson
in which we see how that power has corrupted the good King.
It isn’t just the adultery. It’s the murder of Uriah.
Israel’s first king, Saul was crazy as a coot. David was a murderer.
Solomon was an oppressive tyrant who taxed half his people into ruin
and forced the rest into involuntary military service
so he could greedily expand his empire.
After that the kings got really bad.
Flash forward a few centuries to our Gospel lesson.
Jesus had been teaching about a new kind of Kingdom,
the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom built on love
instead of dominating power, a Kingdom of peace, justice, and mercy.
So the people got the notion he was campaigning for office.
Then Jesus gathered thousands of them as David had done
and he fed them as David had fed them.
The crowd reasoned, if it walks like a king and quacks like a king,
it must be a king.
So they planned an insurrection to make put Jesus
on his granddaddy David’s throne.
But that isn’t the kind of kingdom Jesus had in mind.
In a few months, Jesus would be waiting in a garden
for people coming to take him the cross.
That time he stood his ground.
But this time, when they were coming to take him to a throne,
Jesus high tailed it.
Yes, the Romans were a gang of thugs
but having them overthrown by another gang of thugs
wouldn’t change anything.
They’d done that before when Jewish rebels threw out the Greeks,
then turned out to be oppressors themselves.
The road to peace is not war.
The kind of power Jesus wanted and already had
was not the dominating power you exercise from a throne.
So when Jesus heard they were going to make him king,
I suspect he did it somewhat because he didn’t want the job;
but mostly he did it for us.
He knew we didn’t need that kind of a king.
We needed a savior who moved the world with love.
We are apt to underestimate love.
We think love is soft and won’t really do much.
But Francis Spufford, author of Unapologetic, says:
“The universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient
act of love.”
Dante wrote about the
“love that moves the sun and all the lesser stars.”
Lady Julian of Norwich had a vision of a hazelnut
and asked God what that little nut was.
God answered, “That is the entire universe.”
Lady Julian said, “How can it exist? It is so small.
What keeps it from falling into nothingness?”
God answered, “It exists because I love it.”
There are so many things in the world we cannot compel
with guns, tanks, and armed drones.
We cannot create life with the means of death.
Only love can do that.
So Jesus, who taught us about this different kind of kingdom,
the Kingdom of God, would not wield the worldly power
of domination – only the heavenly power of relationship.
Our Epistle lesson tells us what that means for us.
“I pray that God may strengthen you in your inner being
with power . . . and that Christ may dwell in our hearts
as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”//
I hardly know where to begin saying why I love this text so much.
First, it is about strengthening us.
Our religion isn’t about being nice and namby pamby.
It’s about being strong – not a brittle surface strength –
but deep strength.
“That God may strengthen your inner being with power.”
And it’s about our being filled with power.
Now look where that power comes from.
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts.”
Our religion is about a Christ who isn’t just up in heaven
helping us out when we are in a fix.
This is a Christ who rejected the worldly throne
because he wanted to live in us instead.
Linda and I used to live with a Christian community
of musicians named The Fisherfolk.
They sang a very simple little song with these verses:
“The Lord desires a throne not of gold nor of silver.
The Lord desires a throne in you.”
This Christ who lives in us is the one who calmed
the raging sea.
He healed the sick, the lame, and the bind.
He looked Pilate in the eye blinking.
He broke open the gates of hell.
And he conquered death itself on Easter morning.
And he lives in us.
That power is in us.
God puts it there.
But what kind of power does God give us?
It is the power of love.
It is the power that grows inside us, Paul says,
“as we are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Our power is none other than the power
that sustains the universe “by a continual and infinitely patient
act of love.”
It is the same power of love that in Dante’s words,
“moves the sun and all the lesser stars.”
It is the power of love that God told Lady Julian
holds the fragile cosmos in being.
It’s big power. Really big.
But it is not the life crushing power of violence and dominance.
It is the life giving power of caring.
The other words I love in our lesson are
“rooted and grounded.”
This love is not an airy-fairy thing.
It isn’t a passing feeling, a mood, or an emotion.
It’s deep and solid as the earth, only more so.
An Episcopal priest named Becca Stevens
has founded 22 Magdalene Houses
to shelter, educate, and heal
drug addicted street prostitutes.
Becca took one such woman in recovery, Doris,
to the ocean in Florida.
As a Nashville streetwalker,
she’s never seen the ocean and was just amazed by it.
Standing in the water as the tide was rising,
she threw her hands up to the sky and said,
“Has this been happening my whole life?”
Becca said, “Yes, Doris, as long as the moon has been
going around the earth, these tides had been moving.
But long, long, forever long before that,
But long, long, forever long before that,
a greater power was moving – the power of God’s love.”
And that’s the power in which we are rooted and grounded.
When we confirm a new church member,
we don’t pay, “Oh God make this person nice.
Oh God teach this person the rules and scare her into obeying.”
We pray “Strengthen O Lord your servant with your Holy Spirit.
Empower her for your service,
And sustain her all the days of her life.”
We embrace this faith, we receive these sacraments,
We study God’s word to be “rooted and grounded in love”
-- “O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” another hymn says.
and that’s the love God instills in us.
That love will get us thorugh the hard times of life – Praise God –
Because we all need that.
But it’s not just for getting us by.
It’s for becoming a force that will change this broken,
fallen, suffering world into the Kingdom of God.