Rev Frank’s Nov 23 Sermon
November 23, 2013
Westmount Park United Church
We have heard of two kings in today’s scripture readings, David and Jesus. Those two kings have several things in common. David was the king of Israel and Jesus was called the king of the Jews. David was anointed to be king over Israel, and Jesus was called the messiah or the Christ, words which in Hebrew and Greek respectively mean: “the anointed one.” They both had a strong popular following. It was by popular demand that David was made king of Israel, and Jesus entered Jerusalem, the city which David first made the capital city of the Israelite people, to the welcoming cheers of the people.
But there are some striking contrasts between David and Jesus. One obvious difference is that David really was the king of Israel, while the sign on Jesus’ cross which read “The King of the Jews” was in mocking derision of a helpless man being crucified. After being anointed David reigned for forty years, while Jesus only managed to live for a few days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But the really important difference between David and Jesus is this: David grasped the reins of power firmly and even took advantage of his authority to satisfy his own personal pleasure at great cost to weaker people, while Jesus claimed no power or authority for himself at all. He never called himself a king – he called himself a servant, the very opposite of a king. He did not set himself up as one with authority but always pointed beyond himself to God. Yet Jesus was indeed the messiah, the long awaited Christ of God who had come to restore the throne of David. The crowd that welcomed him with waving palm branches and shouts of victory were expecting him to be a messiah that would rule the way David had. What better way to restore David’s throne than to recreate the same sort of kingly authority that David enjoyed when Israel was a strong and independent state? What the people of Jerusalem didn’t realize was that Jesus had not come to rule as David did, but to rule the way a true messiah or anointed one of God is supposed to rule.
There had actually been quite a bit of resistance to establishing a monarchy in the first place in Israel. The anti monarchists pointed out, and rightly so, that Israel already had a monarch. Their God was the one and only ruler of Israel, and any king who would govern God’s people would have to do so only as a representative of the only true monarch of Israel. Notice that God’s charge to David at the time of his anointing is: “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.” [II Samuel 5:3] David is just a prince who governs under the true ruler who is God. The anti monarchists feared that if Israel became a monarchy their kings might overstep the bounds of their authority, and indeed their fears were realized as with every succeeding generation the kings who followed David succumbed to the temptation of ruling like the kings of all the other nations, instead of ruling as a servant of their one true monarch.
The kings of Israel and Judah failed to rule as humble servants of God, and in latter years the people of Israel, who longed for the restoration of the throne of David, failed to understand that when the messiah came he would rule as a humble servant of God. Jesus, the Christ, rules as a servant of God, and our worship of Christ the King, is a celebration of the reign of a servant king, not a military king. David gave peace to Israel by having a large and lethal army to quell invaders. Jesus, as it says in our reading today from Colossians, “makes peace by the blood of his cross.” [Colossians 1:20] Not peace by threat of war but peace by personal sacrifice.
David assumed for himself a sovereignty that only belongs to God, just as the anti monarchists of Israel feared. Jesus, the messiah who came to restore the throne of David, rejected the temptations of the Devil to make the same fundamental error of grasping at earthly power. Jesus rejected the temptation to become a “David” style king and became instead a faithful and obedient servant of the real monarch of the universe because he truly was the messiah.
The people of first century Palestine wanted to make Jesus into a “David” style of king, and in the centuries since then the Christian Church has been inclined to make the same error as the crowds who first followed Jesus, wanting him to be a triumphal exalted ruler rather than seeing Jesus as still the humble servant who always points beyond himself to the one true monarch who is God. Worse still the Church itself becomes triumphalist, trying to imitate David instead of Jesus. Christians have even gone so far as to use force of arms to fight for the reign of Christ instead promoting his rule by being humble, self sacrificing servants of the servant king who makes peace through the blood of his cross. According to our epistle reading, “We have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.” [Colossians 1:13] We share in Christ’s rule, but it is not to be a triumphalist rule, not a David style rule but a Jesus style rule, always dedicated to serving God rather than glorying in ourselves.
Let me tell you a parable to show you the folly of a church glorying in itself instead of being dedicated to serving God. Once upon a time the king of a large country summoned people from all over his land to help him rule wisely and well. He heard that in one of his far flung provinces there lived a very fine carpenter who could be of great service to him in planning and constructing public buildings. So the king sent a messenger to the carpenter asking him to come to the king’s court so that all the land could benefit from his great skill. The carpenter set out at once, very pleased and honoured that his talents had been recognized. It was a long journey to the king’s castle and on the way the carpenter stopped to rest for a few days in a small town. While he was there he told the villagers about how he had been chosen to be chief carpenter for the king. The villagers were very impressed, and the carpenter, enjoying the admiration of the crowds, decided to demonstrate his great skill by building a house. It was a magnificent house, certainly a place worthy of the Lord High Carpenter, chief of all carpenters by royal appointment of the king. Eventually messengers arrived from the king asking why the carpenter had been delayed. But, alas, the carpenter was unable to continue his journey, because he was in the middle of enlarging and beautifying his ornate residence. It was, after all, dedicated to the king whom he was called to serve. There was a big brass plaque in the front foyer which read, “To the glory of the King and in loving memory of my great aunt Bess.” So it was certainly fitting for the carpenter to tend this noble monument, and he was also busy entertaining the thrilled villagers who came often to see his eminence, the Lord High Carpenter, chief of all carpenters by royal appointment of the king.
We are called by the great monarch of the universe to come and serve God’s kingdom. We have a part to play in Jesus’ glorious reign in that kingdom, but we must imitate the style of the true messiah Jesus, and not the style of King David. We must be about serving God and not ourselves. Those who would be a part of the reign of Christ must, as servants of the servant king, live to be servants of one another.