"Not From Here," Pastor Kinsey
Some translations of Jesus’ words to Pilate say, “My kingdom is not of this world,” while others say, “my kingdom is not from this world.” Does it make any difference, whether it’s, “Of,” or “From!?”
Today’s gospel is from the trial of Jesus, hours before he is crucified, an odd choice, you might think, for the end of the Pentecost season, as we are about to enter Advent and Christmas! But the connection, of course, is this dialog Jesus and Pilate are having on kingship and kingdoms, on this Christ the King Sunday.
This is the last Sunday of the long, green and growing season of Pentecost, the 27th Sunday, or 6 months, after the Day of Pentecost. After the festival half of the year – which takes us through the celebrations Christmas, Epiphany and Easter – the Pentecost Season is designed to teach the life of Christ. This year, we followed the alternate, or Semi-continuous readings from the Hebrew scriptures – mostly the story of David – instead of the appointed First Readings which were chosen to complement the theme of the Gospel readings. So, if you remember hearing about King David during the Season of Pentecost, you not only get a gold star for remembering(!), but you may be ahead of the class in understanding what today’s readings from Samuel and John are all about!
Today in 2nd Samuel, we hear King David’s final address, his oracle to his followers. David outlines what it has meant for him to be Israel’s first and greatest king. Lutheran professor, Kathryn M. Schifferdecker (nice German Lutheran name!) says there are three main points to King David’s oracle: 1) The king is ordained by, and answerable to God, 2) The king who rules justly is a great blessing to [the] people, and 3) God has made an everlasting covenant with David, and God is faithful (to that covenant).
Remember that God didn’t necessarily want to turn God’s chosen people Israel into a monarchy. God was worried about corruption entering into such a concentration of power. But the people wanted it – they were insisting! – though mostly, just mimicking what they saw all around them, from Egypt to Syria to Babylon. So finally, Samuel, the prophet of the day, tells them, God will anoint a king for Israel, but with a couple of conditions – basically, Schifferdecker’s main points, that God remains the sovereign over the king and nation, and the king will rule wisely and with justice, or else the people will basically suffer in a state of enslavement.
And of course, God gets to choose the king! So God instructed Samuel to visit the home of Jesse, who has a slew of sons, all poor shepherds. Jesse must have been overwhelmed that Samuel had come to his lowly house, looking for a king, and he respectfully parades his sons out, one by one, from the oldest, on down. And for each one, Jesse listens for the Lord’s command. But God passed over all 7 sons that Jesse debuted. Is this all your sons, Samuel asks? Actually, Jesse remembers, there is the youngest, who they left out in the Bethlehem fields, to keep watch over their flocks. No one considered that the least among them, might be chosen – the runt of the litter, if you will.
Well, run get him, Samuel says! God does not see with the eyes of mortals, Samuel reminds us, the reader, dazzled by outward appearances. God sees into our hearts, knowing the true character.
So in runs a breathless young David – who just happens to also be quite handsome, the text doesn’t mind reporting – and Samuel says, yes this is the one God chooses! All the older 7 brothers’ jaws drop in astonishment! David – the least, the outcast, the shepherd boy – is anointed by Samuel to be king.
This is not the obvious pedigree of a king either. David is far from royalty. His father Jesse is not wealthy or well connected, and Jesse’s grandmother, Ruth, was an immigrant Moabite woman. But for those who can see and hear what God is up to – like when God chose Jacob over his older twin-brother Esau, or when God lifted up Joseph, the youngest of 12 brothers, to save Israel from starvation – we know God sees possibilities in places the world does not.
But David begins his kingship with a bang, conquering the big bad Philistine king, Goliath, which only burnishes his reputation as, the least among us, who is on his way to becoming greatest.
But David is far from perfect. One of his biggest sins – after he has become fat and lazy from all his victories – was betraying his closest and best field commander, purposely not giving him cover on the front lines in battle, so that he never comes home, all to cover up his affair with the man’s wife, Bathsheba. David managed to hang on to God’s favor, only after Jonathan’s deft intervention that prompted the king’s confession and repentance. But God’s worst fears were realized in the kings that followed down the line. Israel became so dysfunctional it soon split into two kingdoms, and finally 400 years later, they were so weakened by corruption, that they were overrun by Nebuchadezzar, who destroyed the Temple, and the people were led into Babylon as captives. David had at least struggled to be answerable to God, but the kings who followed, failed miserably to rule justly.
So did this end the experiment in kingship? What happens to the part of David’s oracle promising that “God has made with me an everlasting covenant?”
The Israelites returned to Israel when Cyrus the Persian set them free by conquering the Babylonians. But their grief and PTSD left them conflicted about who they wanted to be, and found it hard to heal – and in their zeal to please God and rebuild the Temple, they adopted a kind of, Make Israel Great Again strategy. They wanted a king like David, at least on his best days, but they could never return to the past. Kingdom after kingdom – from this world – overran Israel, from the Greeks to the Romans. And Israel - answerable to other kings, who lorded it over them – was unable to stand up and claim their own identity. Why, they asked, if God was faithful, was this happening to them?
Thus began the many iterations of hoping for a new anointed king, a Messiah that would save them, right down to Jesus. There were some brigands that rose to power briefly, and overtook the Temple declaring it sovereign for Israel’s God. And, right up to the 12 disciples of Jesus, most apparently believed the, hoped-for, coming Messiah, would be one of these kinds of kings, to establish a kingdom like David’s, who had conquered and ruled the known world.
Just before our gospel reading today, before Jesus is on trial, Jesus had led the people in a triumphant palm parade into Jerusalem, as they shouted, hail King David, blessed are you who comes in the name of the Lord! But without sword or spear, riding on a donkey – Jesus was a different kind of king.
Jesus tells Pilate, “my kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” And it makes a difference that we translate this correctly. “My kingdom is not of this world,” has been a misleading translation for a long time, if it is interpreted to mean that Jesus offer us a spiritualized, Platonic, other-worldly kingdom and realm.
Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, because it is from the royal line of God, from the truth of God’s realm. But its aim, is us! Jesus came to be born into this world to reveal God’s kingdom more fully to us, and even to hand it over to us, here in this life. “Your kingdom come,” Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus died and rose again, to reveal it, and insure we could see it, and receive it thru the gift of the H. Spirit, which the church received on the Day of Pentecost.
The gift we received, the truth Jesus was born for and came into the world to testify to, as John says, is that God’s non-violent love is stronger than lording it over others, that the last shall be first, and Christ is our King. The last son of Jesse, a shepherd boy from Bethlehem, was anointed Israel’s king, becoming first, just as Christ our King was born in a humble Bethlehem manger. And You and I, no matter how lowly we feel, are anointed with the oil of baptismal blessing, as kings and queens! Together, we have all received the kingdom and realm of God, today, through the gracious gift of our humble, yet all-powerful, king.
Hail to Christ then, our crucified, and victorious, Lord of All!