PROPERS: LAST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C
TEXT: LUKE 23:33-43
PREACHED AT HOLY TRINITY, PENSACOLA, ON SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2019.
ONE SENTENCE: The model of Kingship seen in the life and death of Jesus ` is one of sacrificial giving, as opposed to the regal trappings with which we are familiar.
This past Sunday, television streamers were treated with the opportunity to watch the third season of The Crown. Nora and I have now watched seven of the new episodes.
The series, of course, is a speculative, fictional account of life inside Britain’s royal family, with special focus on the Queen, Elizabeth II.
The first two seasons focused on the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. She was played by a wonderful young actress, Claire Foy. Now, the years have moved to the middle of her reign, and age has prompted the role of the Queen to be played by Olivia Coleman.
It is a fascinating – though speculative – look inside one of the abiding institutions of history – the British Royal Family and the House of Windsor. Every scene includes glimpses of wealth, privilege, power, duty, protocol, and massive, glittering palaces.
As a general rule, the public is fascinated by seeing behind the curtain. We love to view the royal family as we assume they exist. We, as a public, did the same with the movie, The Queen, written by the same screenwriter, Peter Morgan.
The overall image is one of glittering life – replete with scores of functionaries seeking to do the Queen’s bidding; opulent living conditions; and a life of supreme privilege.
It is not new to British history. It has been that way for hundreds of years.
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When the 13 American colonies broke away from the British Empire in 1776, the founding fathers were staunchly anti-monarchical. The colonists had cringed under the power of the King for many years, and they wished to create something different – which they did.
The ultimate structure, which was begun in the Constitution, was aimed at valuing the voices of all people. We turned decidedly away from kings and queens and all their pomp, power, ceremony, and divine rights.
Here we are nearly 244 years later. We still blanche at the idea of a king or queen ruling this nation of 50 states. But, we are fascinated with the institution which rules over the land of Great Britain.
That aversion and attraction is interesting to me.
And, now, we are observing the Last Sunday after Pentecost – also known as Christ the King.
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There is a profound and significant difference between Jesus as king and the Royal Family, portrayed in The Crown. One has been worshipped through ages while the other has been saluted for centuries. One wears a crown of thorns, the other is bedecked with glittering jewelry. One is executed on a rugged, wooden cross, surrounded by thieves, spectators, and Roman soldiers. The other walks into any public function as loyal subjects sing God Save the Queen.
Truly curious – how we can apply the idea of royalty to both.
The power… the potency… is in how the royal substance is lived.
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Several years ago, I attended the annual diocesan clergy conference in Mississippi.
We were fortunate to have a well-known author and teacher as our speaker. His name was Rabbi Edwin Friedman. He was a leading teacher of a psychological theory known as Family Systems. His book, Generation to Generation, had been wildly successful.
He spoke to the group of Episcopal clergy about his theories – most of which I subscribe to, within certain limits. A primary point he made pertained to self-definition – the idea that we are each responsible for our own beliefs and behavior, and how we react or respond to a conflicted situation. We are not, for example, responsible for the actions of others. We are to clearly define ourselves – basically, being responsible for #1, ourselves. My summary greatly simplifies a very complex approach.
The idea of each of us being responsible for our own actions, and bearing no responsibility for others, troubled me. It seemed to fly against the message of the gospel.
I raised my hand to ask a question, and Rabbi Friedman called on me. “How, then,” I asked, “do you deal with the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross?”
He paused, thought for a moment, and then responded: “I am always interested in the portions of stories that people choose to emphasize.” That was it.
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My Bishop came up to me afterwards. He said, “David, I had the same question.”
The concept of sacrificial love – as embodied in the reading from Luke’s gospel today – is much more than a selected point of emphasis. It is at the heart of our understanding of Jesus as king. To give and give and give again, what God has given thee.
Jesus shows us, in his dramatic last act as a mortal, that the way to true kingship is through giving-of-self to others. It is the core of the gospel, not a mere side note.
Our attention is drawn to the British royal family because we love the glamor, the riches, the beauty, the majesty, and the drama of Queens, Kings, Princes, and Princesses.
But our hearts and hopes are tied inextricably to the young rabbi, hanging on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. In him, we see none of those typical royal attributes. However, we see our highest aspirations and the model of perfect love – grace, mercy, forgiveness, lowliness of heart, true divinity, and sacrificial love, given readily for those who call upon his name.