Sermon: Last Sunday after Pentecost Year-B–Christ the King–November 25, 2018
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
I am occasionally asked why I go to the movies as much as I do. Partly it’s just a lazy way to spend a day off, an escape from being available, where I’m happy to turn off my phone. But on a deeper level, watching a good movie can become a contemplative experience in which my ego goes quiet as I sit in the dark, my heart opens up, and I’m transported into a different world, a different reality. Many of the images we get from the bible invite us to treat them as if we are watching a movie, so our egos can go quiet, our hearts open up, and we can experience a different way of seeing the world, not just for that moment, but for every moment. The whole purpose of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, by Jesus, the apostles, and followers ever since, is to awaken imaginations to a new reality, or better, to awaken our imaginations to a new way of seeing the Reality we are actually in. This is not an escape from what is, but an entry into what really is and how best to live there.
In the reading from Daniel, we are watching, not a romantic comedy, or an historical drama, but what is called apocalyptic, what we normally call a fantasy. It’s like watching the Wizard of Oz, in which the imagination is turned on so we can see in color and not be afraid of the man behind the curtain with his big voice and fake image. We are told in verse one of Daniel chapter seven, “Daniel had a dream with visions in his head”, which alerts us to the fact that what follows will be a fantasy, weird and powerful, that can help us see more deeply.
It continues, “I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.” Then he lists the beast in order: a Lion with wings, a bear with three tusks, a leopard with 4 wings, and lastly a terrifying dragon that threatens to devour many people. These are Fantastic Beasts, negative versions of the ones we see in “The Crimes of Grindlewald”, another J. K. Rowling prequel to Harry Potter that’s playing at the Showcase Cinema.
Scholars tell us that the four beasts represent 4 empires that have risen and fallen: the empires of Babylon, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. Then, as the dream goes on Daniel sees a heavenly scene of the Ancient One, the Ancient of Days, sitting on a fiery throne, as he destroys the last beast that has been destroying the people, and then, we hear:
“I saw one like a human being, (like a son of man),
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.”
The first Christians, who knew Daniel 7 by heart, see the death and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfilling of this dream: one like a “son of man”, which is the title Jesus uses for himself, coming on the clouds, into the throne room and given power, dominion and authority that shall never be destroyed.
And when does this happen? It happens when Jesus ascends to the cross and pours out his life to ransom us from the power of sin and death. This is the defeat of the beasts that enslave God’s people.
Our second reading, from the Revelation to John, is also Apocalyptic writing—a fantasy, like Daniel 7, to create hope in Jesus who is coming to overthrow the beasts who rule their lands.
When we let our imaginations be touched by these fantasies, they change our mental landscape and reframe the picture of our life. We can see this transforming and reframing going on in people around us who once were stuck in destructive narratives of despair. Just go to the AA Meeting held in our parish hall on Friday nights to see this.
Some of the prisoners that come to the Catholic chapel have been in prison for decades, but they are not crazy or violent or living in despair. Why? Because their minds are being set free by a different story, the story of Christ the King, who loves them and gives himself for them, who daily destroys the power of the beasts that threaten to overwhelm them.
These men may be in prison on the outside, but they are free on the inside.
They’ve seen the movie of the enthronement of Christ on the Cross so many times they now live inside that story. They reside in Concord-MCI but they live in, they are citizens of, God’s Reality where Christ is King.
The early Christians living under the Roman Empire are not naïve. They know they are poor, uneducated, and powerless. But when the fantasy of the conquest of Christ gets inside their heads, they are set free to let Christ live in them and through them. They are free to care for the sick and bless those who curse them. They are free to love no matter who sits on the throne.
Some movies get into my head. Movies like “The Sound of Music”, where faith made flesh through singing creates a family and empowers them to escape the grasp of a terrible beast.
Or “The Matrix” which uses science fiction to describe what happens when humans are enslaved to the lies they are told by the Rulers of this Present Darkness and how we are saved by those who can show us how to live and love in the real world.
Through fantasy and science fiction we are enabled to see, as Gerard Manley Hopkins sees in one of his poems, that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Jesus tells Pilate his kingdom is not from this world. His kingdom is from God but it is for us—Jesus’ Kingdom is FROM heaven but it is FOR earth.
This kingdom is described in the Biblical story through different genres just like our movies: some stories are historical, some romantic, others comedy, fantasy, or science fiction. As we sit with these stories, letting our ego go quiet and our hearts open up, the Spirit empowers us to live inside the reality in which God is Love and Christ is King.
Then we have a story to tell about the violent beasts who are daily conquered by the Human One. Then the church can live out its mission, which theologian John Howard Yoder says is to form people who can live as if Christ is King. People, he says, who can:
+“risk being peaceful in a violent world”
+“risk being kind in a competitive world
+”risk being faithful in an age of cynicism
+”risk being gentle among those who admire the tough
+”risk love when it may not be returned
He says we can live this way “because we have the confidence that in Christ we have been reborn into a new reality.”