The Rev. Jerry True, November 25, 2018
I more than once have heard it said in these or similar words,
“I thank God that when he chose to save the world,
he did not send a committee.”
In these somewhat skeptical sounding words, I admit I have at times found myself to be in sympathy. Democracy can be so difficult to live with. To a person with strong opinions, it can be so annoying to be forced to listen to those who challenge or question or disagree. How can intelligent people be so misguided? Perhaps even worse are the times when agreement can lead to disinterest, complacency or even boredom. Some meetings wind up being meetings whose purpose seems simply to be able to say that we have meetings. David Johnston, David Melrose and I are, or rather have been, organ builders, voicers and finishers of organ pipes and pipe organs. We teach organ pipes how to sing. They need to be fiddled with and adjusted to make just the right sound.
We have a mutual friend with whom we used to work who loudly opines that the collaborative result of meetings is not wisdom, but more often ignorance. I do not share in that theory, at least most of the time.
I have heard it said that while democracy may be imperfect, it is the best way of governing in an imperfect world. I suspect that may be true, but I sometimes feel like taking the risk of being seen as un-American if I ask, is it truly the best?”
I have sometimes felt that by nature and temperament, I may be more in sympathy with the idea of benevolent monarchy. Certainly more so than with the present downward tilt toward anarchy in our own beloved America.
On this day the Episcopal Church pays tribute to our relationship with the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Influential in helping the nascent Episcopal Church in the former English colonies, the relationship between our two churches may mark its true beginning with the agreements leading to the consecration of the then Reverend Samuel Seabury to be the first bishop in historic Catholic orders for the Episcopal Church here. He was sent by a convention of clergy and people from Connecticut to the Church of England to be so consecrated and ordained to the historic episcopate.
The just forming Episcopal Church in the United States was made up of parishes, priests and other church members and leaders who had been attached to the Church of England in the colonies. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary war against the mother country and her Church, they were without real organization and scattered about. Some of those church leaders and members had been loyalists and some were patriots, but among them there were many who wished to come together in an American version of the Church they had always known. There were no bishops of the Church of England on American soil, in large part because in England the bishopric was seen as not just a religious office, but also as an agent of the government and of the King, and for reasons of politics, none of them were willing to take the risk of coming here.
He was sent by the Connecticut convention to make the arduous and often dangerous journey to England to seek consecration in valid Holy Orders recognized by the Church of England. When he arrived, Seabury was refused consecration because, as an American, he would not vow loyalty to the King. Seabury and the other representatives from America then appealed to the Episcopal Church of Scotland for Consecration.
The Episcopal Church of Scotland was headed by the so-called nonjuring bishops, formerly of the Church of England, who fled to Scotland when they refused fealty to the usurping William of Orange from the Netherlands and his wife Mary who had been proclaimed as joint monarchs over England as a result of the Great Revolution of 1688.
After the consecration of Seabury in Scotland, the English Parliament soon relented and did allow the Church of England to consecrate two more Bishops for America without requiring loyalty to the King. As a result, the American Church now had three validly consecrated bishops of her own, three being the number required to ordain and consecrate the new bishops which would be needed as the Church in America expanded and grew.
Today we also celebrate the feast of Christ the King. I wholeheartedly rejoice in that sentiment and celebration and yet; I wonder how Jesus might feel about that description. He certainly never bragged about being a king.
From what I think I find in Scripture, our Lord seemed rather uncomfortable when he heard himself so described.
Oh, he spoke of a coming kingdom – the kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God – but his preferred title for himself was “Son of Man,” a somewhat puzzling description of a status for which there was no clear preconceived popular notion. As I contemplate Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s question, “Are you a king?’ in my mind I hear him say, “That is your word, not mine. It is you who ask me if I am a king.” He then goes on to describe his own meaning for his ministry, position and purpose:
“Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered,
‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born,
and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’” John 18.37:
About one thousand years before the time of Jesus’ ministry, the new ideology of kingship was forming. It was probably in the late 11th century BC, that a transition from a tribal society to statehood began to take place among the rather loose collection of tribes now known to us as the nation of Israel. They saw the success and power of the nations which surrounded them, and they wanted Israel to become a state of worldly importance. They believed that a key to their hope to become a respected, powerful nation lie in a system of government that had arisen in those nations they most feared and admired. They observed that those nations which boasted a strong monarchy seemed to be the most successful and powerful. God had sent them Moses and the prophets, judges and even oracles to call his people to faith and repentance, but the leaders of Israel now believed that they, in order to be successful among their neighboring nations, must have a King.
Scripture tells us that God appeared to resist their plea for a king, saying that it was enough for them that He, the great I AM, was their king. But they persisted again and again in their demand. And so the story goes, God relented and gave the prophet Samuel the commission to anoint a king for Israel. According to the tradition, a son of a man named Kish, of the family of the Matrites, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, was chosen. He was to reign as king over a united kingdom, which included the ten tribes of Israel to the north and the two tribes of Joseph and Judah to the south. His name was Saul.
To avoid confusion among any Old Testament scholars present, the tribe referred to here as the tribe of Joseph included the more commonly named tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
In Saul, the notion of kingship which saw the function of a king as that of a Godly and just caretaker descended to that of a manipulative, deluded jealous and vengeful lover of personal power. Sound familiar? In the history of kings and emperors and kingdoms, there have been times when monarchs such as David and Solomon and the many who have held sway in Israel and in many other countries, sometimes aspired to the more noble roles of benevolent monarch, but almost always there reared the ugly head of tyranny, privilege, narcissism and self-seeking power. Is it any wonder that Jesus was not comfortable with the worldly notion of kingship?
When Jesus and his disciples had come to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’
34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Mark 9:33-35
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers (who had argued over who was the greatest). 25But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.26It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ Matthew 20:24-28
Frankly, I have not been entirely sure what to do with today’s joint themes: our gift of friendship, support and faith from our sister Episcopal Church of Scotland and then the notion that we embrace Jesus Christ as our king.
I have come to the conclusion that yes, probably in this imperfect world, democracy, properly done, must be the best form of government. I still believe that democracy is our the brightest and best hope for just government – for now.
But you see, in a perfect world, monarchy would be the best form of government. In this as yet imperfect world, monarchy would be the best except for one major flaw: There is only one perfect Monarch, and we are still waiting for him to come again. When he does return, all will be well.
For now, we keep on keeping on. Living by the light that in his mercy the Holy Triune God uses to draw us nearer to himself in his infinite and unconditional love.
Today is also celebrated as the Last Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost and the Sunday next before Advent. The king to which all of us can properly owe our life, our love and our allegiance is coming. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
The King of Love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am His, and he is mine for ever.
Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.