“Majesty”

ISam17

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

For over a year, journalists have written about the “Arab Spring.” And although the rebellions in Arab countries have taken different forms, all of them started small. Each movement for democracy faced a powerful leader who ruled the country with an iron fist. It seemed impossible for amateur rebels to succeed against those leaders.

And so journalists’ accounts of the various revolutions have often referred to a Bible story about unequal power: the story of David and Goliath.

Even those who rarely read the Bible know about these two. Our long First Lesson today presents most of the original account of their historic battle.

The Hebrew people are menaced by the Philistine army.

The leader of the Philistines, a giant warrior named Goliath, has proposed a creative way to avoid casualties on both sides. He suggests that the conflict be settled by man-to-man combat. All the Hebrews need to do is offer their own challenger to Goliath.

We can imagine that the soldiers in the army of Israel aren’t pleased with this proposal. But God seems to be making the fight even more lopsided. For he chooses a young shepherd called David to be the challenger to Goliath.

Saul, the Hebrew king, naturally questions the divine selection. He says to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

David nevertheless heeds God’s call and goes out to face Goliath. He is too slight even to wear armor or carry a sword, so he’s armed with a mere slingshot.

But with God on his side, the slingshot is enough. David launches a stone; it hits Goliath’s forehead; and the giant falls over dead. As a result of this victory, David eventually becomes a great king of Israel.

This theme of the weak triumphing over the strong by the help of God is found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Earlier in the Bible Moses leads the enslaved Hebrew people out of their bondage to Pharaoh.

But, for Christians, the greatest influence of the story of David and Goliath has been the impact it has had on the way we see Jesus, in particular, on the way Jesus exercised power. For the Messiah heralded in the Old Testament was seen as a successor to David—a new king of Israel.

So, as it happened, like David, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And, like David, Christ came to be viewed as a King—as the Christmas Carol says, Jesus was “Royal David’s royal Son.”

Now I would grant that this title for Christ isn’t much used by American Christians. Our political tradition long ago replaced a hereditary monarch with a president and a Congress. Like the supporters of the Arab Spring, we see unelected leaders as the enemies of freedom.

So, for example, in our church, the Feast of Christ the King is no longer celebrated with the enthusiasm it once received. And democracy is encouraged in the management of the church.

The hierarchy which in the past thought of itself as ruling over the church with a strong hand now values “servant leadership.” Major decisions in Protestant churches are made by delegates to national conventions—like the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which will be meeting in a couple of weeks.

And, of course, this emphasis on democracy makes a point. All Christians, not just a powerful elite, have vital roles in God’s plan.

Yet the modern disinterest in monarchy isn’t really relevant when we approach Jesus. For the Bible, in fact, goes out of its way to contrast Jesus with earthly kings like David.

After all, Jesus never engaged in hand-to-hand combat. As far as we know, he didn’t even own a slingshot. Christ’s kingdom was the Kingdom of God. And his war was against the dark forces of sin.

So when our liturgy refers to the “majesty” of God, the term can remind us of the power and glory of the Divine beyond ourselves.

At the same time, this language calls us to work freely and cheerfully for the “kingdom” of God. We’re not being slaves as to a royal despot when we try to obey Christ’s teachings. Rather, we are acting in our own best interests, following the perfect wisdom of God.

Notice, too, that when we use “Kingdom” in this theological way, the term suggests not arrogance but modesty. The democratic mindset is that it sometimes leads individual Christians to think they know just what God wants them and everyone else to do. Reminding ourselves that we are under obedience to a higher authority can put us in our place, and remind us that we don’t know everything.

In this regard, it is useful to remember that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England—our founding Church—is a monarch.

I happened to be in England last month for meetings about the link program between the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London. At that time, the British were getting ready to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, and I couldn’t help getting caught up in the excitement. Even for those of us who are happy with representative democracy, even for us, the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II is impressive.

A book about the Queen that appeared a few years ago had the one word title, Majesty.

And the example of Queen Elizabeth suggests a way to appreciate the majesty of God. For Her Majesty the Queen is about as far from being a bullying despot as we can imagine.

She spends much of her time visiting hospitals and orphanages and other charities. Her visits give these institutions publicity as well as a burst of pride. By her royal “presence,” the Queen shows ordinary people that their good works are valued by the whole nation.

And Queen Elizabeth’s example reminds us Christ’s majesty was also expressed by his presence. When his disciples were with him, everything seemed better. Their anxieties disappeared; they felt new hope for their lives; they were able to sense that God cared for them and loved them.

Christ’s majesty was in his offering of himself.

In Christ, the disciples glimpsed a Kingdom “not of this world.” And so they had courage, like David, to stand up against the bullying Goliaths of the world—to witness to the true kingdom, and power, and glory.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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