Benediction Online

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Song Goes On

Last week’s readings were about the end times – when life as we know it ends – in contrast today, the last Sunday in Pentecost, our readings are about the stability of the true world order. Even though things in our lives are fleeting and temporary, there is an underlying stability which tends towards peace and justice.

In the first reading we heard one of the visions of Daniel. Those of you who went to Sunday School may remember Daniel as the guy who was throw into the lion’s den but came out unscathed; you may also remember his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were thrown into the fiery furnace. They also escaped unharmed. The book of Daniel is also the place we get the term “to see the writing on the wall” – at a feast given by King Belshazzar a disembodied hand writes an undecipherable message on the wall. Daniel is called and interprets it as meaning doom and the end of the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar loses his throne to Darius the Mede.

Obviously the book of Daniel makes pretty exciting reading! It is the Old Testament book of the apocalypse. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is the New Testament equivalent. Apocalypse means revelation – the revealing of supernatural events which will happen in the end times. Fortunately, the good guy – God – always wins in the end though along the way his people often suffer terrible wrongs. Apocalyptic writings were very popular whenever there was persecution and especially in the tumultuous years 200BCE to 100ce when these texts were written.

They are very popular today too. It seems that we have just as much need today to read novels and watch movies in which terrible things happen to other people. But today it’s not at all clear that the good guy wins, or even that there is a good guy.

Daniel tells us that in his vision,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

This idea of a king who has complete dominion is not one which sits very easily with us today unless we find it in a myth or fairytale. Yet it is an important image in our faith narrative - the king whose kingdom shall never be destroyed – the one who will bring peace, justice and stability for evermore.

When the image is picked up in our second reading, this time in an excerpt from Revelation, we hear
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
This makes it clear that this king is not a distant dictator but one who knows his people and has made us into a kingdom  - has knit us together into one society -  in fact making us all priests in our own right, why? Because he loves us.
So the image of Christ the Sovereign is a powerful one. The ruler who is in control and whose reign is one of love, justice and peace will eventually be fully revealed to us and the problems and injustices we suffer will all disappear. The matrix of sin will be fully exposed as having no power and we will find our fulfillment in serving as priests before the heavenly throne.
This is the reign of God. It is in the future but it is also here and now. Scripture is very clear that Christ is not waiting on the sidelines for the heavenly coach to call him on to the field. Christ is already on the throne. The kingdom of peace and justice is both here and now as well as not-here and not-yet.
We can call it the inner planes, heaven, the imaginal realm, the reign of God – it’s all trying to express the same thing. There is much more to life than meets the eye. We all live in the outer, visible world, but those of us who are disciples of Jesus are also called to consciously live in the permanent, unchanging world where Christ already has dominion. It is in that world that prayer functions. It is in that world that our intentions, aligned with the Spirit of God, bring powerful change in this world.
In the gospel reading we see the two worlds collide. Jesus is not a king in the way Pirate understands kingship. Jesus says, "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."
So the reign of God is not one of fighting and violence. It does not look like any earthly kingdom however peaceful. In fact, its values are quite different from this world’s. What we imagine as success may not be at all important in Christ’s reign. The things that our government is concerned about – the fiscal cliff, economical stability and growth, health care, debt, job creation - are not the concerns of God’s reign.
The apocalyptic writings show us a kingdom where, after the great battles are over, the principal activity of the people is praise and worship.
This week I was deeply moved by a poem of Rainer Maria Rilke’s:
Oh, tell us, poet, what you do?
I praise.
But those dark, deadly, devastating ways,
how do you bear them, suffer them?
I praise.
And then the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze,
how can you call it, conjure it?
I praise.
And whence your right, in every kind of maze,
in every mask, to remain true?
I praise.
And that the mildest and the wildest ways
know you like star and storm?
Because I praise.
Because we praise. This is the foundation of the reign of God. I am not for a moment suggesting that if we praise God we can sit back and do nothing else. We still live in this world and, as you know, I am sure that as disciples of Jesus, as priests of God, as servants of the God of peace and justice, we are called to work for peace and justice to the best of our ability. But I am suggesting that the fuel for our work comes from praise.
God does not need us to praise him. She does not need us to keep telling her what a good job she’s doing. But praise is what gives us the energy to go on, it is what keeps us in touch with the reign of God operating right here right now, seen and unseen. The very energy of the universe is a song of praise and joy. It is the song of the Trinity, it is the song of creation, it is our song.
Even when the end times are upon us let us be sure to keep the song going, loud and clear. God is love. God is sovereign. God be praised.


Post a Comment

<< Home