Kings by suchenfz

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									Kings and Kingdoms
Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6
December 10, 2006
Donna M. Claycomb
Mount Vernon Place UMC, Washington

         We learn about kings and kingdoms at an early age. Many young girls have a Barbie doll
that looks just like Cinderella, and this tiny doll causes us to dream of living in our own castle
one day, married to a prince who works on kingdom issues throughout the day.
         Most of us can probably remember getting up early on the day Prince Charles married
Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. We watched this storybook romance unfold before our very eyes
as a common woman entered the Royal family in a stunningly beautiful gown before making
Kensington Palace her home. When we saw Princess Di, we thought about what it would be like
to be a prince or a princess, and Diana assured us it was anything but easy.
         We walk by the White House often during the day and by night, gazing into the windows
lit by lamps. When we see this famous residence, our minds can turn to thoughts about what
George and Laura really do in the house. How does the first family eat or shop or even take a
nap? Many of us would do anything to attend a State Dinner at the White House as this family
and their residence are the closest thing this country has to royalty.
         I noticed a sign in a children’s Sunday school room while meeting in another church
earlier this week. The sign was rather large and read, “King for the Day.” It was designed to be
worn by one of the children in the class as it had a long string attached to it to put atop a head
and drape in front of a small body. Oh we all want to be king!
         But I wonder what it means for a child to be king for a day. What do you get to do on the
day you are king? Make decisions? Tell others what to do? Order whatever food you want?
Live above all else? And how does it feel when your day of being the king comes to an end and
you have to give up your crown? After all, kings and kingdoms all pass away.
         All kingdoms do their best to protect what is inside by hiring the best security they can
find.
         Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
         All kingdoms face calamities.
         Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
         And no matter what the situation is or how much power the king has, all kingdoms find
that they cannot do everything they would like or need to do.
         And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put Humpty together again.
         Luke begins the passage appointed for this day with a lesson in history. In fact, he names
seven different leaders in the first two verses of this passage. This passage begins with power –
great, distinguished, far-reaching power.
         While Emperor Tiberias was a “lonely and unpopular figure,” he still had an able
administration that accomplished a great deal of success in its foreign and domestic policy. As a
result, Herod Antipas named an entire town in his honor. Tiberias was the Emperor’s own little
kingdom, complete with hot springs and a castle on the hill.
         Pontius Pilate was a bright young star who was appointed governor of Judea at the age of
26. He served in this position for three years – enough time to develop the reputation for being a
“proud, hot-tempered and obstinate leader.” He went down in history as the one who tried Jesus,




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finding nothing for which to punish the King of the Jews. His name is still repeated in our creeds
today.
        Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee and the second surviving son of Herod the Great.
The name, “Herod” would be the equivalent of a Kennedy as the Herods were a longstanding,
powerful, political family. This particular Herod, Herod Antipas, is responsible for imprisoning
John the Baptist later in this chapter.
        Philip and Lysanias, two of the other leaders mentioned by Luke in the passage, do not
have as much history written about them. We do know, however, that they ruled a portion of the
kingdom where Christianity was starting to spread.
        Luke’s leadership roster ends with the mention of the two priests who are ruling in the
temple. Annas was another bright, young leader who was appointed high priest at the age of 36.
Like a family of United Methodist preachers with a couple of bishops within, his family held
most of the distinguished priestly positions within its control. In fact, there were eight members
of Annas’ family who held the top honor of being supreme priest. Perhaps it is because the
family also had a successful side business of trading sacrificial animals for the court of the
Gentiles, and people needed their sacrificial lambs for the atonement of their sins.
        Caiaphas marries into the family of Annas by marrying his daughter. His mark in history
is made as Caiaphas is the Jewish high priest who arrests, convicts and crucifies Jesus. Caiaphas
wields deep political and religious power – the kind of power that many other leaders covet.
        The people mentioned by Luke are powerful. They are political. They are rich. They are
religious. They are in control. But their control does not last. A voice is crying in the
wilderness – a voice with a message that can rock the foundation of every king and kingdom.
        Prophets have been telling us about John for decades. He is the one who will come to
prepare the way of the Lord. Born to the priest, Zechariah, and his elder wife, Elizabeth, John
was sent to turn people away from the world and to the Lord. As the Angel Gabriel announces to
his parents before his birth, John will “’turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the
disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”1
The preparations will not be easy, however, for all people need refinement. And this one called
John will come like fire, seeking to mold and remold all of creation into the image and likeness
of God. This one comes with a simple message: repent and believe in the good news.
        And while the message is simple, following it can be downright difficult for repentance is
one of the hardest things we are called to do. Repentance requires one to look deep within and
discover the aspects of ourselves that need to be changed – the sins that seem rather obvious and
the ones we have grown to love so much that we forget they are sins. Still, we are to examine
ourselves, searching for the places that need to be refined, and then do whatever it takes to make
a change – to take away the edges and come out smooth again. Unlike confession, no one can
repent without changing his or her ways. No one can repent without turning around from one
direction in order to go another direction – a discipline so scary at times that it can be like
making a U-turn on Interstate 95.
        People with power have a hard time turning around. It is not easy to make a decision and
then have to later admit that the decision was a bad decision. If a president has decided to go to
war, to appoint an unpopular person to a cabinet post, or to change tax policies, the president
wants to stay on course instead of admitting that he may have made a mistake. People with
power want to appear perfect instead of filled with faults. People with power want to filled with
might instead of humility; the more power one has the harder it is to get off the throne.
       1
           Luke 1:17.


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         Chief Executive Officers do not want to step down into an administrative or janitorial
position when the board elects a new leader.
         United Methodist District Superintendents expect a high steeple church to pastor instead
of a tiny country church when their time with power as a member of the cabinet ends.
         Coaches with teams of senior players who make it to the Final Four of the NCAA
tournament have a hard time going back to coaching an inexperienced team of freshmen.
          “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” cries the voice from the
wilderness. The Lord is coming to do something new. The Lord is coming to rock the thrones
of this world. The Lord is coming to judge all people. The Lord is coming, and his kingdom is
the one kingdom without end.
         “’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and
every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough
ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”2
         There are plenty of valleys around us. There is a valley outside the doors of the church
filled with a poor man and his belongings. It is a valley that can make me sick when I look down
and see his belongings and the food with which he tries to sustain himself. This valley should be
filled – filled with justice and righteousness that ensures that no person should ever have to live
this way in the richest country in the world.
         Every mountain and hill shall be made low. There is one hill in this city where a great
deal of power is amassed. It is a hill that is in the process of undergoing significant changes as
one party has been brought down while another one is being exalted. While there is good done
by both parties on this hill, there are also things done by both parties on this hill that forget the
individuals who are lying in the valley. While there is good done on this hill, there is also power
used on this hill in ways that are anything but righteous.
         Castles and Capitols are almost always built up high, on hills – where those with power
can look over their kingdom – where those with power can quickly become out of touch with the
commoner walking on the street. This church was built up high in 1917, requiring people to
ascend a monumental staircase in order to enter the stunning sanctuary with priceless stained
glass windows. When we are up high, we have a hard time taking notice of those who are
walking the sidewalks or spending the day on the lawn. When we are up high, we have a hard
time seeing those who dwell below. Certainly we know what it is like to have been humbled to
the downstairs theatre at the end of August. Perhaps this process of being humbled is why we
have had more growth recently than we have had in a long time – both as individuals and as a
congregation – for we are finally at street level – where people can come just as they are.
         The crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways shall be made smooth. While we
are quick to label people like former Enron executive Kenneth Lay as crooked individuals who
need to be made straight, each one of us has something within us that is a little crooked and in
need of some straitening. Whether it is the tiny, white lie we told our friend when we wanted to
stay at home instead of going out last Friday night or the expired coupon that we gave the cashier
at Giant, hoping she would not look at the date, we all need to be made straight and smooth.
         Luke makes three things very clear in this passage. First, John is a prophet who will do
whatever it takes to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Second, Israel is to act in a new way. A
new ethic is being inaugurated where nothing – valleys, mountains, and rough ways – will go
without being touched and transformed. Third, salvation is extended to all people. Salvation is
not just for the Jews or the Gentiles – it is for everyone. “’All flesh shall see the salvation of
       2
           Luke 3:5-6.


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God.’”3 It is quite a vision – a vision that seems too great to ever become reality. Thankfully,
the vision belongs not to princes or presidents or kings but to God – to the one who has the final
word on all things. God is Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. What began from
dust shall return to dust once again. God’s kingdom shall have no end.
         The prophet Malachi warns us about John’s coming to prepare the way, using words that
elicit visions of fire and refinement. Malachi does more than warn us with his writings,
however. He also offers a word of hope. “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all
the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the
Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my
name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like
calves from the stall.”4
         But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its
wings.
         The sun of righteousness shall rise. The Son of God is coming with healing in his wings.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Christ is the one for whom we prepare
during this sacred season of Advent. Christ is the one for whom we refine ourselves, repenting
of our sins, making the changes we need to make, and preparing for the day when we will go out
leaping with joy.
         Kings and kingdoms will all pass away but there is one kingdom that shall never end.
This one kingdom is open to all people. This king is not seated on a throne but he is here – in
this place – and everywhere – around the world. This king is not kept away from us with fancy
security or eggs sitting on a wall, but this king longs to greet us and to befriend us – to know us
and to make himself known to us. This king’s kingdom and castle are open to all people. And
this king will take care of all people – for this king is like no other king. He is the King of all
kings and again, his kingdom shall have no end. Thanks be to God.




       3
           Luke 3:6.
       4
           Malachi 4:1-2.


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