Glory be to God! We gather this day to celebrate and rejoice as we hail Christ as King! It is Christ the King Sunday – the final Sunday of the church’s calendar year. While we have but a month and a half left in 2015, with the advent of … well, the advent of Advent next Sunday, today marks the end of this year in the life of the church. Advent – which begins next Sunday – marks a new beginning.
To celebrate Christ the King Sunday, we have heard this passage from 2 Samuel – a book from which we learn a great deal about another king – King David.
These words, offered in verses 1-7 of chapter 23 are touted as David’s final words. Verse one makes this clear: “Now these are the last words of David.”
I’m sure the author is well meaning in naming these words as David’s final, but in reality, David does speak much more. He speaks throughout the 24th chapter of 2 Samuel, a number of times in the first chapter of 1 Kings, and even once more, offering a lengthy monologue in the second chapter of 1 Kings before he goes to sleep with his ancestors.
The author, in calling us to hear these words as David’s last, is utilizing a literary tool seen throughout the scriptural texts to place additional emphasis on these words, which are labeled as the final words. We see the final words of prophets and disciples alike taking on significant meaning both for the community of faith in those days as well as significant meaning for us, the community of faith in these days. Even the final words from Jesus carry significant weight. Each of the gospel writers identifies Christ’s final words, with each telling the story slightly differently, placing importance on different words based on their understanding of Christ’s significance. In the varying text, Christ’s last words are, “It is finished” or “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” or “today you will be with me in paradise.”
To hear one’s final words is considered a blessing. It is a rare joy to be in the presence of one as they speak their final words. As you kneel beside your elders, yearning to hear those last few words of experience roll off their tongue in the form of an eternal memory, we yearn to hear the stories once more, to share in life lived once more, to connect and to glean that we may live even a bit more faithful, more abundant, and more authentic because of those spoken words.
Though these spoken words of 2 Samuel 23 may not be the actual last words of King David, they are identified by the author as carrying significant weight – they are labeled as the final words, and so we give them the reverence they deserve.
The first few verses define these words as coming from a person of significant importance. These are the oracles of David – a man who was exalted by God – a man who was anointed by God – he was a favored one of God. Make no doubt that these words are worth hearing for they come from one person who no doubt speaks with the favor of God.
David begins, “The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me …”
The words to follow are being set up as if they are spoken not just from a king among men, but they are hailed as the words of God – David is being portrayed as a prophet, not a simple king. The words to be spoken are not words of this world, but words that seemingly flow directly from the mouth of God. If there was question about the importance of these words following, the words touted as the last words of David, it is made clear by David, these are not just his last words, but the words flow from the mouth of God. The reverence they deserve being understood as David’s final words increases exponentially as hear them not as simply mortal words, but as words from God. And so we seek to hear today, not just the words of a favored king, but the words of the Lord Almighty.
Continuing in verse 3 and reading verse 4, David offers these words of God that name what God favors most. He speaks, “One who rules her people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”
The just ruler is likened to the light of sun. Frank Yamada, President of McCormick Theological Seminary, names that the just ruler should be seen in equality with the rising sun for the two flow from the nature of God – they both sustain life and cause created order to flourish.[i]
The King of all Israel, speaking on behalf of the voice of God, offers a great vision in these few words that can be identified as God’s desire for appropriate and faithful political administration today. Walter Brueggemann picks up on this theme in his commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel, saying, “In its lyrical imagination, Israel likens the power of good public administration to the power for life in a well-ordered creation. The king does indeed hold power for life or for death. The ‘just king’ is one who knows that all life and all power belong to God. The royal office is derivative. This is the meaning of ‘fear of God.’”[ii]
To rule in the fear of God means to not assume the power of life and death that may be granted by the people upon one’s installment as ‘king of the people.’ In a world that continues to quarrel and wage war over the differences found in cultural, religious, and economic definitions, the easiest and most befitting of human design is to rule and govern with a flavor of big stick diplomacy – but such ruling does not fit within God’s ordained covenant, which calls for kings – earthly leaders – to rule as just kings, who instead of taking life in an attempt restore order, should be seeking to sustain life and working to find ways to allow this created chaos to flourish.
In the palpable hatred that is witnessed each day in the news media and throughout social engagements, such a glimpse of a just king – justice anywhere in the human realm – is seemingly harder and harder to recognize. In a day and a place where those who desire to be hailed as king – though not yet given such a distinction – are asking to re-imagine the kind of evil and hatred that defined the Holocaust and the pre-World War II prison camps – practices that draw explicit attention to the differences of those with whom they disagree, and assume the worst of such differences – in such a day, one must wonder, is there such a thing as a faithfully just leader?
As I have been hearing and reading about the proposed ideas of many of our elected officials and those seeking office, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Have we created a climate in America that scares off and devalues those who desire to rule with a governing principle of justice? Or have we just lost sight of what justice really means? Have we allowed ourselves, those who would speak with a faithful voice of justice, to be silenced, relegating ourselves to the quiet majority?
It is these such questions that David asks himself in the midst of naming God’s desire for reigning kings to lead with just rule. David questions his own rule in verse 5, “Is not my house like this with God? Is not my house a just house, one that sustains life and helps the created chaos to flourish?
It is easy to identify fault in David’s rule – during his reign we see adultery, murder, and a split within his own house. One cannot, even in the hailing David as a favored one of God, fail to recognize there were unfaithful disasters in his reign. Yet, David offers some assurance in verse 5, saying, “God has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.” He has this confidence in God’s faithfulness. But amidst his confidence in God, there is again a glimpse of hesitation as he questions again, “Will God not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?”
In questioning himself and his reign, David then make clear the distinction between the idealistic view of the king and the realistic outcome that is experienced by those who fail to live into the desired model. David speaks, “The godless are like thorns that are thrown away. They are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.”
Once more, I turn to the words of Frank Yamada, who says, “Royal favor is like divine favor. Those who stand in the Sovereign’s good graces will flourish, but those who do not fear the Lord will bear the consequences.”[iii]
As we bring this church year to a close, we come to our climax on this day, Christ the King Sunday. These final words of David remind us, that what God desires is a world where justice is likened with the eternal sun that makes life possible, that sustains life, and that brings into faithful connection the created chaos. It is a reminder that when people speak of justice in any other way, their witness is a failure of faithfulness.
For all that the kings of Israel did wrong – for all of the times adultery and murder superseded God’s vision of life lived well with God – God knew a better vision and a better way. In the place of the lineage of the kings, in the line of David, God brought forth a better revelation of a king – one who did not rule by sword and peril – but one who ruled as the defining measure of what it means to be a just king.
And so we praise this day, and celebrate the example and the faithfulness of Christ the King. For in Christ, as the just king, we see a new vision and promise of God’s covenant. We are invited to join in the work of this king – to be like the rising sun that brings new life with each new day. We are invited to be followers and members of kingship of Christ. We are invited to join in the goal of offering justice to all who are marginalized and delivering life for those who seek it.
In celebrating and rejoicing the love of God as witnessed in the life and gift of Christ, hear this good news, Christ was raised to power as the ultimate king, who rules justly, who bears God’s abiding commitment, and he invites you and me to serve as just disciples. He calls on us to share the good news of God in Christ, that all who seek the light may find it, all who desire love may receive it, and all who yearn for a new life may find in you one who welcomes and embraces the life possible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To Christ the King – to the Lord, may all glory and honor be given. Amen.