One King, One People

One King, One People

“Jesus is King!” Is it just me, or does that statement sound… political? I’m not trying to be political; I’m trying to be liturgical!  Today is “Christ the King” Sunday, a day on our church calendar when we remember that Christ is our King – and if you think about it, we talk about it a lot more than just today. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe that Jesus “sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” In the Lord’s Prayer we ask for God’s kingdom to come. When we recite those phrases out of rote memory, and they don’t sound fighting words… partly because they’re not.  Jesus said that his disciples wouldn’t be fighting for him because his kingdom isn’t of this world (John 18:36).  Later, Paul would reinforce that by encouraging the early Christians to respect the authority of their government (Romans 13:1).  Jesus can be our king even while we’re citizens of the Roman Empire or the United States of America. It’s cool.  It’s fine.  “Jesus is King” – we say it all the time. So why does it feel a little edgy to say it this year? I’m thinking it’s the midterm elections.  They were so intense, it’s like they left a political charge on everything.  But instead of dismissing that feeling, maybe we should indulge it for a moment – because when Christ was first discussed to be King, the words had a dangerous charge. In the first-century Roman world, there was no king but Caesar.  To make a grab for that title was a capital offense; it...
Two Dollars, or Everything

Two Dollars, or Everything

Mark 12:41-44 This is my favorite kind of story – the one where the underdog comes out on top. So it’s strange that I’m not too fond of it. Jesus is in the temple, watching people put money in the treasury.  If we translate this to today, we might put Jesus in a church balcony.  From his bird’s eye view he watches the service take place:  hymns are sung, prayers are said, a sermon is preached.  Then it comes time for the offering.   He watches the plates pass from one pew to another.  He sees a few people get out over-sized checkbooks and fill in the extra-large “amount” boxes.   They place their checks in the plates, unfolded, so everyone on their pew can be impressed as all those zeros float by. But not Jesus.  He’s not impressed.  His attention has moved elsewhere. Jesus is focused on a little old lady sitting in a far back corner.  The ushers either forgot her, or assumed she had nothing to give – the plate never came to her pew.  So she gets up and goes to the back of the church where the ushers are standing.  She places two crumpled up dollar bills in a offering plate.  The ushers smile politely. Back up in the balcony, Jesus waves and points to get his disciples to see what he’s seeing.  “What?  What happened?” they ask, a bit confused; some of them were daydreaming. “Did you see that widow give two dollars into the offering?” Jesus asks, his eyes a little misty with tears. “Yeah, I saw it,” one disciple responds.  Without thinking, he...
The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Psalm 146 “Praise the LORD!  Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have being” (Psalm 146:1-2). Let me tell you about this “praise” that the psalmist is talking about. For the most part, it means about what you’d think it means: praising like saying good things, bragging on someone.  But the Hebrew word halal has another meaning that interests me, something like “to act the fool.”  That struck me as odd; what do praise and foolishness have to do with each other? Then I thought of the exaggerated way that infatuated lovers brag on each other, multiplying their new boo’s good points to the extreme.  That kind of “praise” is wonderfully foolish. That’s what we’re supposed to do for God, for our whole lives long:  praise to the point of acting the fool. We do this because God is better than any lover we’ve ever been infatuated with.  God breathed us into life; God has saved us from our last breath.  From beginning to end and without our deserving it, God is at work for us. We praise God because God is good (all the time; and all the time, God is good!). And we also praise God because the alternative is so bad. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish” (146:3-4). What we praise is what we value.  When I praise my children or my husband...