Affairs of Kings
|During the month of December we looked in Luke’s
gospel. What Luke had to say to us was about the preparation and the
coming of Jesus into the world. Luke is a wonderful storyteller. And the
main characters in the stories that he tells are the common every day
people of the world he lived in. Mary was a peasant girl, not unlike 92%
of the world at that time, destitute poor, just one of the masses. Joseph
was a menial carpenter. Those were the kind of characters Luke’s message
to us included; that God and came and revealed Himself through those kinds
of people. It’s always interesting and important to me that we let there
be a natural tension between Luke’s gospel and Matthew’s in
regard to the coming of Jesus. They each give it their own simple angle
that has profound messages underneath the wonderful stories. You see
Matthew didn’t deal with common people. Matthew dealt with the Affairs of
Kings. For him he saw what we would call ‘the global sense of the coming
of Jesus into the world’. The irony of Matthew is that though the King who
ruled in Palestine at the time, Herod, not only rejected but also feared
the coming of Jesus into the world. That these Gentiles, these people who
were not of the covenant, these wise men, these kings from afar came and
not only worshiped Jesus, but testified to the message that he was to
give. There are lessons to learn in Matthew’s story of Christmas. It is
told in that grander scale story of the Affairs of Kings. There isn’t the
romanticism that we find in Luke’s gospel. There is this crushing reality
of a darkness of human nature and what it can do at its worst. King Herod,
you remember, lived in such fear that he might loose his power that he
murdered his wife and two of his sons. There’s family values for you. He
lived in constant fear that the power he had amassed would be taken away
from him. He lived in fear of this young boy, who showed up born in that
manger, this peasant’s child, and he sent people to kill him. It’s Matthew
who tells us about Joseph and Mary ironically fleeing to Egypt with this
child. It is Matthew who tells us about the killing of the innocents as
little children were murdered because of the fear of a man of power.
Now I want to hold back on that just a little bit, because I want to tell you one of my old favorite stories about the wise men, and a newer one that came in a Christmas card to one of my daughters. I had my first appointment out of seminary back in West Virginia; a culture very different that this one. First of all that one is matriarchal; this means that the women are in charge, and that there is a matriarchal head of every family. Translate that to mean that there is a grandmother that bosses everyone around. And there is always a matriarchal head of every church. It just takes you a while to figure out who she is but that’s okay. I had three small churches yoked together. One of those churches was called Mt. Olivet. And the matriarch of that church was named Mary Frances. Mary Frances was a big woman…. not just in body, although she was a big woman in body, but in voice and in how she carried herself. It was almost Christmas time. The people in this church had always referred to themselves as poor country folks. Now the truth was that they were very well off with landed gentry, but they saw themselves as poor country folks. Once a year they loved to find a family that they could do a Christmas thing for. They would feel very proud about, and display their picture up on walls. In a small town what dignity these people had would have completely been lost after this exercise of love and graciousness. Well, I told them that there was a 70% unemployment rate in that area, and what I would really like for them to do is to put the money in my Pastoral Discretion Fund and that it was much more practical to use that money in that way. This was at the Administrative Council meeting, which all Methodists know this is the place where you make decisions. Except in West Virginia! Essentially they did what they always did at Administrative Council meetings. They agreed with the Pastor. Because what they knew was that they were going to have a Sunday School meeting, which by the way the Pastor would be off preaching at another church so he would have no say, and that is where the real decision would be made. Mary Frances got to that meeting and talked them into reversing the decision, and also threatened them not to say a word to me till after Christmas, because after all I might reverse it, and she didn’t want that to happen.
So, I came in after Christmas and I saw this annual display of their “so-called” charity, and I was outraged. And angry, not only that they had done that to this family, but that they had lied to me and I didn’t like that. So, I went to see Mary Frances and she looked at me and said in her good Biblical interpretation, “The wise men didn’t bring Jesus practical things; they brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Now what am I going to say to that? She had interpreted that text her way. That was one of my humble lessons as a young pastor, that not only would I not always get my way, but that there would be times that my disagreement with congregations would be over my attempts to help them move to where I thought they ought to go and that they didn’t see a need to do that.
My other wise man story is that my daughter got a Christmas card from someone, and it said what would happen if the wise men had been wise women instead? That they would have brought Jesus practical gifts. They would have helped her clean the stable and they would never have run into King Herod because they would have asked directions in the first place.
Now let’s get back to the Affairs of Kings. What is it in this story that may have some relevance to those of us that live in the year 2003? Is it always true that when we amass power in our lives that we are always looking to see who might take that power away from us? The more we accumulate, either through power or material things or through influence, leaves us feeling vulnerable like someone may want to take that way from us. And we develop fear that somehow we need to protect ourselves. What we need to understand is that King Herod was an exaggerated version of what is simply a part of human nature. As we look at the year 2003 we come to understand that the darkness that was in the world of Jesus’ day, in many ways is still there. Our world is full of tyrants. I read every week in newspapers on the Internet around the world, about people and power, because they are scared that someone may try to get what they have, are oppressive, and kill people, and build up guns and weapons to defend themselves. We live in a world that is in crisis in modern times. We Americans live in relative affluence; even the most poor among us live quite comfortable. We too live in fear of the rest of the world. We live in fear of what they might do to get what we have. We need to always remember that when we act out of what we are afraid of, we not only hurt ourselves, but we hurt others as well. We need to see the power of Epiphany that was revealed in Jesus so long ago; that God’s power and God’s kingdom have nothing to do with fear, human arrogance, or with all of those things with which we traditionally associate with as to what we need so that our lives will be okay. The message of Epiphany is that wise men, women and children, who follow the star that leads to the manger, will discover that the kingdom that Jesus came preaching is that when we live as righteous and moral people and we live the way that God has called us to live, there will be justice, there will be peace, and the world will run as it should. We live in times that are scary. We live in times in which we are afraid of what will come. Because we know of the dangers of a world that is in a fragile state, as we come this table to feast on this meal today, to accept Jesus’ living presence into our lives once again and come to know what those wise men knew; that the Affairs of Kings will always be difficult. Because people in places of power will always be afraid of what it is that they might loose. But what is clear to us is, that there are those wise ones among us still who will give their lives to the kingdom which Jesus brought. The kingdom of justice of love of humility and of mercy. May we be challenged to live in that kingdom in this coming week and thereafter.
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