Only The Kingdom of God Will Endure

Sunday is the feast of Christ the King. Last Sunday, Jesus reminded us that even God’s holy temple will fall to the ground. All the institutions of this age will crumble to dust. I am reminded of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Daniel 7 shows us four great creatures rising from the sea, kingdoms that are part human, part beast. Like Ozymandias, they are powerful, boastful, brutal and lethal. Then we see the Ancient of Days on his throne. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. The beast was slain. Its body was was destroyed and its carcass cast into the fire.

In the place of the beastly kingdoms comes the kingdom of the Son of Man, the human one, the one who represents true humanity. The kingdom of God is the only truly humane kingdom.

I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14

The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. Alleluia. Amen.

Poll: Neighbor Love Still in Second Place

Mark 12:28-34

The polls are in and neighbor love is still in second place. Well, actually, it was only one poll of one person, and it took place nearly 2000 years ago. And the question was this: Which commandment is the most important of all?

Neighbor love should feel pretty good about finishing second. Putting God in first place is all over the Torah. It’s the first of the Ten Commandments. Lightning flashes and thunder peals to announce its importance. Neighbor love – at least in the the specific form we’re given – is hidden away in a list of also-rans in Leviticus. It’s really only half a commandment.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NRSV)

If this were college football, the love of God would be Alabama. Neighbor love would be Vanderbilt or Wake Forest. How they would rejoice if someday they could shout, “We’re number two! We’re number two!” Who would ever expect them to be ranked second?

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Christian Worship, Song of Solomon Style

There’s a lot to complain about in contemporary worship songs – the kind accompanied by guitars and drums. My children call it 7-11 music: 7 words repeated 11 times. The lyrics are often repetitive, trite and sentimental. The music is equally forgettable and wanders all over the place.

My two biggest complaints, however, don’t have anything to do with artistic merit. First, it often sounds like you are love-struck teenager singing to your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s almost sexual in tone. Is this the way we approach the King of Glory enthroned above? Where is the weight of majesty? Second, the lyrics often lack any connection to the language and themes of the Biblical text. Modern praise music often worships a disembodied Christ, a spiritual presence detached from his story in the scriptures.

And then I read the Song of Songs, an erotic love poem with nothing to say about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses or David. Nothing about God’s victories over his enemies. Nothing about the law, the temple, the priesthood or the history of Israel. Nothing of the prophet’s call to justice. Nothing about wisdom beginning with the fear of the Lord. It’s just a sexy love song – or possibly a collection of love songs- and a really cheesy love song at that.

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Solomon’s Prayer on Dedicating the Temple

This Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Old Testament contains a portion of King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:22-53).

Solomon:

  1. Begins by praising the God who keeps his promises.
  2. Recalls God’s dynastic promises to David through the prophet Nathan.
  3. Acknowledges that God is bigger than the temple. The whole universe cannot contain him or constrain him.
  4. Affirms that God has condescended to establish a house where his name might dwell.
  5. Asks God to:
    • Hear the prayers of his people when they face toward the temple and pray. Most of the petitions make it sound like people pray in the direction of the temple, not necessarily in the temple.
    • Forgive the people when they repent; lead them to fear God and do what is right; and keep them safely in the land promised to their ancestors. These requests pop up repeatedly throughout the prayer and qualify many of the petitions.
    • Render justice in disputes brought to the temple for adjudication, presumably through some act of divination.
    • Bring God’s people back to their covenant homeland whenever they are defeated militarily and taken into exile. This petition is repeated twice, with the second petition being the longer.
    • Deliver relief from drought, famine, plague and military threats whenever they occur.
    • Grant military victory when God sends the people to war.
    • Hear and answer the prayers of foreigners who come to the temple because of God’s name, so that his renown might spread throughout the whole world.
  6. Closes with an appeal to God to hear Israel’s prayers based his election of them as his inheritance, and the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt under Moses.

Overall, the prayer affirms that God has chosen the people of Israel in a singular way, that he delivered them from Egypt and gave them the land of promise, that he expects them to live according to his law, that all people sin, that sin has consequences, that there is no hiding the truth from God, and that God can forgive and restore the penitent.


The most surprising petition of Solomon’s prayer is his appeal on behalf of foreigners. The postexilic tenor of the prayer in its current form is obvious. Given that the text came to us through people who survived the exile,  this petition is remarkable. Even when the nations of the world wreaked havoc on the people of God, their tradition reminded them of God’s hope for the nations, that the Gentiles might be drawn to the glory of God’s name and that he would hear their prayers.

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Echoes of Exodus in the Land of the Gerasenes

Mark 5:1-17

In the story of the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus invades enemy territory and defeats a powerful army to deliver people from bondage.

Jesus enters enemy territory in two ways. The land of the Gerasenes was on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was part of the Greco-Roman region known as the Decapolis, or “ten towns.” It was Gentile territory, the land of foreign gods, a place of idolatry. Additionally, the encounter takes place among the tombs, an earthly realm of the dead, so to speak. Here, then, Jesus faced two of God’s enemies: hostile spiritual powers and death itself.

Unsurprisingly in such a place, Jesus finds a man possessed by unclean spirits. The man howled day and night and cut himself with stones. His fellow citizens tried to restrain him in chains – a horrible way to treat mental illness, by the way – but he always broke free. In Mark’s thinking, the man’s extraordinary strength is evidence of supernatural bondage. The man could break his earthly chains; he could not break his spiritual ones.

When Jesus asked the man’s name – always a good way to start a conversation – the demons replied, “We are ‘Legion’, for we are many.” A legion is a Roman military unit consisting of four to six thousand soldiers. Some of my Christian brothers and sisters see this as coded language referring to a confrontation with the political and military power of Rome. I don’t see anything of that sort in the story.  I’ll take Mark at his word; he’s thinking of an army of demons, not an army of human soldiers.

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