11/22/2020 Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:5-23
I don’t know about you, but I am certainly not looking for a king. Not a human king to be the absolute authority over us, wiping out our ability to use our voices in having a say about who will lead us in these United States, or about how we organize ourselves or where we spend our dollars. We hear about kings and queens in other places around the world, we read about kings in the stories of the Old Testament, but being ruled by an autocrat does not resonate with us.
So why use the king imagery to describe first God and then Jesus? What does it mean to say God is our king? The term is a political one, used to describe God throughout the Old Testament. When the people of Israel wanted a king, God was disappointed that they could not see that the only king they really needed was God alone. God who is sovereign over all of creation, God who truly has no competitors, for God is the Great King (capital K) over all other gods (little g). It is this powerful, almighty God who raised Jesus from the dead, the defining act of love for the people of the world. God’s power upholds the world and all who inhabit it. These are statements of faith that we hold onto especially when the world around us appears to be in utter chaos, when it appears like the world we live in is spinning out of control on so many fronts. I have heard some of you say, in times of trouble or difficulty or grief—“God is still on the throne”. God is still king over all, the absolute authority, the one who truly holds the power.
Let’s look at the psalm which we used for our call to worship, and then read it again with our New Testament passage. The psalmist is clear on why he invites his community to praise God, to sing, to bring thanks, to make a joyful noise, to bow down, to kneel. O Come. O Come. Come and praise and thank God because God is the rock of our salvation, the secure, strong, stable source of their very being as a community. God saved them from slavery in Egypt, an essential ingredient in their understanding of themselves. God has been the constant for them as they wandered in the wilderness, as they went into battle against their enemies, as they weathered earthly kings who were less than desirable. This is a picture of a sovereign God who holds the world in her hands. This God created the world from the lowest valleys to the highest peaks, from the sea to the dry land. The sea is often a metaphor for rebellion or a place of chaos in the scripture. The sea is God’s, for God made it. These words would also have recalled the story of the Exodus, passed on from generation to generation, of the time when the people of Israel walked through the sea on dry land. God made both, the sea and the dry land, creating a path to freedom. This is the God who redeemed them. Let us make a joyful noise then! This is the God who created all that is. Let us sing to the Lord! This is the God who has no competition. Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving. God is king over all other gods– mighty, sovereign, powerful.
And yet, the psalmist says, this great King who has no competition, who is above all, the Lord of the cosmos, is at the same time a shepherd who cares for us like sheep, offering protection and nurture, a shepherd who knows us and nourishes us. This is what makes God great. God is OUR God, we are God’s people, the sheep.
Seeing God as a Shepherd/King gives me comfort. You see, this King of a God offers a shelter from the chaos we face in our lives. I mean the chaos that exists in our own heads, in our attempts to connect with family over this Thanksgiving holiday, in our political tensions, in our fears and frustrations swirling around the coronavirus and the safety of a vaccine. God is the maker of all. God is still on the throne. Do not let the chaos around you overwhelm that truth.
King of kings, Lord of lords. He shall reign forever and ever. Those are words from the prophet Isaiah, and Christians interpret them as pointing toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord is another political term, not too different from King. A lord is someone who you must obey, someone who has authority over you, someone who you owe your allegiance to.
Jesus too is described as having absolute authority by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. Listen: God put his power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (sound familiar? Echoes of the Apostles creed here!) …for above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named…. and he has put all things under his feet.
Jesus is not voted in to this position. He can not be compared to a president or a chairperson or an elected representative. He is Lord. There is no competition. He reigns with God over all things. God made him Lord and Christ, without our permission, without our votes. His power is different from any other kind of power we know on earth, because power always has the potential for corruption, to be used to harm instead of to heal. Jesus’ power comes from his self-giving love on a lynching tree in the shape of a cross. Jesus was raised by God’s power, an undisputed victor over the power of death. Jesus lives so that we might have lives that are nourished and nourishing to others. Jesus is Lord.
Almost 100 years ago the pope instituted the practice of setting aside one Sunday a year to really focus on the lordship of Christ, or Christ the King. It was not always the last Sunday of the Christian year as we observe it today, but it was established to help Christians around the world re-focus on the absolute authority of Christ in a world that had made it through the first world war and the Spanish flu pandemic. There were whisperings of discontent in Germany that would end up with Hitler having absolute power beginning in 1933. Worldly leaders had deceived and disappointed, created pain and suffering for so many. People needed a shot in the arm, if you will, an encouragement that there is more to it, that God is still on the throne—the God who is also a shepherd, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God who reigns with absolute authority. Many Protestants now share this special focus on the Lordship of Christ just before we begin the season of Advent.
As part of his prayer for the Christians in Ephesus, Paul describes this Lord Jesus and his relationship to the church, both the specific congregation in Ephesus, but also the church universal, in any time and place. Jesus is the head over all things. Jesus has no competition. There is no limit to Lordship of Christ. Jesus is Lord of our lives and Lord of creation, Lord of the cosmos.
We certainly have no need for a king as a human monarch. But we do need to claim our faith in a Lord who is above all things. It can be hard to reconcile the constant cycle of news we hear and see with the good news of Christ’s resurrection and the claim that Jesus is Lord over all the earth. You might ask yourself… well, if Jesus is Lord, if he is really in charge here, why are things so bad? It is a good question. Some people choose to make sense of that disconnect by saying that Jesus brought the ideal of God’s kingdom and we followers of Christ need to commit to working hard on our ends to realize that kingdom here on earth– maybe it is standing with the Cease Fire movement or fighting against another liquor store in the neighborhood or making time to talk with others about racism. Others choose to make sense of that disconnect by saying that we are talking about Jesus as King in the future. There will come a time when his Lordship is visible, when all evil is defeated, a time we are still waiting for.
Perhaps a better way to understand how Jesus can be Lord in the face of such chaos around us is to recognize that Jesus is both the Lord who will one day defeat the powers of darkness and the Lord who is already victorious over death. You see, we live in the in between times, between Easter and the End. So, we proclaim a Lord who is and who is to come. We know evil exists—there is no way to ignore that. But at the same time, we must not take evil more seriously than we do God. Evil may always be with us. Evil is strong. But evil is not stronger than God. We can not get disillusioned or even surprised by the evil that shows its face in so many places. No matter how hopeless we may feel about our current life’s situation, or about the possibility for stable housing for people who are homeless, or about being able to bridge the divide in this country, we still trust in the Lord who is greater than the power of evil, one who continues to give us glimpses here and there of the final victory of God’s peace and justice over evil. Jesus is Lord, with all things under his feet. God made him the head over all things, and the church, as his body here on earth, still has work to do! We don’t just sit back and mark the days off on our calendar, waiting for Christ’s final victory over evil. No, because Jesus is Lord, we are at work. Let us indeed praise him with songs, with joyful noise, bringing thanksgivings to the One who is Lord of all, whose name is above all names, who fills all in all. . Alleluia, Amen.