It’s Good to Be the King

Who doesn’t love Mel Brooks?  This particular song was from the soundtrack of History of the World: Part I.  The idea of a king ruling over us is not particularly well received here in the US, or is it?  Our nation was built on Judeo-Christian principles.  We were firm believers that our rights come from God, not man.  However, over the past few years many of our citizens either have forgotten or no longer believe that.

History teaches us when you have a ruler who controls the population it never ends well, which is why the Founders gave us a Republic so that man could rule himself with as little government interference as possible.  To quote Abraham Lincoln, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  So what happens when these people decide they want a king or queen?

I’m reminded time and time again of 1 Samuel 8, when Israel rejects God as their king and demands a man to rule over them.  Even when God, through Samuel, tells them they will relinquish many of their freedoms, they still demand a king.  They want to have what other nations have—a false sense of security at the price of oppression and loss of liberty in service to the king.

As a serf in a kingdom you are entitled to what the king or queen bestows upon you.  However, many don’t realize what the king or queen gives you—the king or queen can take away.  If you’re a friend of the ruler it means a lofty position, land, money, all on the backs of said serfs (you).  Serfs get to work for low wages and pay high taxes to the ruling family to provide their “free stuff” but more importantly to provide a lifestyle fitting for a king and his royal friends. Sounds familiar?  Yeah, but this ruler will be different.  This ruler will take care of us.  He or she will protect us from the bad people who say mean things, or want us to follow the Constitution, or want to do us harm.  So we give up our God-given rights in the false belief that the ruler will bring us security.  After all, he’s going to build a huge wall around the castle!

What images appear in your mind when you think of a king? A  crown, huge castle, opulence, greed, trumpets and great fanfare, a dungeon to jail those who speak out against the monarchy? You think huge, you think loud, and you think extravagant.  There is no question the boisterous voice is heard over the quiet, but does that mean what comes out of the loudmouth is always correct?

Let’s take a trip in the time machine back to 1960’s.  We all remember the riots, the days of rage, Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, as well as the civil rights movement—Malcolm X and MLK.  Did the violent win over the peacemaker?  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a man of God, stood for the rights of Black Americans.  Was he vulgar, ostentatious, or violent?  No, he was the exact opposite; actually making his followers pledge an oath of nonviolence.  Did he promise African-Americans free stuff?  No.  He looked to a day when people would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.  Did he say rise up and demand the rich pay their fair share?  No, he said whatever you become, become the best at it. If you want to be a garbage man, be the best garbage man. And yet he won.  Why? He had truth on his side—God’s truth.

Unfortunately, the history revisionists have left out the religious side of Rev. King.  It’s quite remarkable since almost all his speeches and writings were steeped in scripture.  Was he perfect? No.  None of us are.  He will be remembered as a modern day Moses.  How many rulers or overlords can you say will be remembered as such?

As America turns further and further away from God and instead turns to a king for a false sense of security, there are days I feel like the prophet Jeremiah, reluctant to speak yet compelled to do so.  Feeling I am not qualified to state the obvious yet I hear Him whisper in my ear, ‘Fear none of them, for I am with you and will keep you safe’ Jeremiah 1:8.

I have quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer so many times but never before has his words had more meaning than they do now.  “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us innocent. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  I know when I meet Jesus face to face I can tell him I spoke out.  I did my part.  I tried to be a good watcher on the wall (Ezekiel 33:6).  Jesus told us, “I am the truth, the light, and the way,” (John 14:6) “and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

As we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, it’s good to remember that the King of Kings entered the world not as a flamboyant king, but as a humble, defenseless child.  He didn’t live in a castle; He was born in a stable.  His parents were not wealthy aristocrats.  We do know He never condemned or threatened those who spoke out against Him or those who even plotted His death.  He didn’t join the local Occupy Jerusalem movement or support Jewish Lives Matter.  Instead of a gold crown He was given a crown of thorns. He stood in silence as His own people mocked Him, spat on Him, and humiliated Him.  He did not raise a hand against those who tortured and crucified Him.  Instead, He forgave them all.

Jesus accepted everyone, even tax collectors and prostitutes.  He also cured a Roman Centurion’s servant and offered life giving waters to a Samaritan woman.  You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know prostitutes, repentant thieves, tax collectors, outsiders, and a soldier from a conquering empire not your own would not be welcome in a king’s court.

Where we go as a nation I have no idea.  I can tell you if we stay as divided as we are now it will only bring about disaster.  “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Matthew 12:25.  However, I have hope.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Who would you proclaim as your king and savior?  A man, or the King of Kings?

 

Advertisements

Check Yes or No

You don’t have to be a country music fan to love George Strait.  I’m trying to figure out my favorite Strait song but I love them all—including this one.  It’s a song about two small children, a boy and a girl.  The little girl slips the boy a note asking if he loves her and if he does, check yes or no.

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.  The angel Gabriel visited a young Mary, probably a girl of about thirteen years old, a little older than the children in the song mentioned above.  He calls out to her and asks her in a much more eloquent way, Mary, God has chosen you over every woman in the world.  Will you be the mother of His Son?  Check yes or no.

I’m sure Mary was startled.  She asked the angel how she could be pregnant when she’d never had sex with a man.  A logical question for a human, but Mary didn’t hesitate to check yes, in all CAPS.  Mary had free will, but my guess is God knew Mary would agree.

I don’t think this story is all about Mary.  It’s a lesson for us all.  Every day God asks us to check yes or no.  It may not be something monumental as giving birth to Our Lord, but it is He who is asking us to do something.  It may be small, like being kind to a friend or relative.  Call or visit someone who is ill.  Buy the homeless man or woman on the street a cup of coffee.  Help out a co-worker.

You’ve been away from the church for various reasons and He misses you as a father misses one of his children who have strayed.  I’m sorry, God.  I want you back in my life.  But Father, you can’t possibly want me.  I had an abortion when I was young.  I was wild and have lived an impure life.  I left my wife/husband for someone else.  I’m in prison.  I’ve cursed against You.

But He does want you.  He does love you.  He wants you back.

Remember what the father did when the prodigal son returned home?  Did he tell him to get out?  No, he dressed him in the finest clothes and hosted a huge party in his honor.  His child, who he once thought was gone to him forever, returned.

Tell God you’re sorry, but He already knows that.  And next time you hear that small voice in the quiet ask you, “Do you love Me?”

Check YES.

My Sacrifice

One of Creed’s best known songs shares the title to my article. Many people say this is a prayer song, not surprising since lead singer and songwriter, Scott Stapp, a troubled man, is a Christian.  The lyricist is actually talking to his younger self, reflecting on life experiences that form his person, and how all those bad times helped him persevere.

I chose the title because we are approaching the season of Lent.  As children in Catholic school during the 1960’s we were basically taught that during Lent you had to sacrifice something you loved.  In children’s terms that meant candy, cookies, or a favorite toy.  While we are still encouraged to abstain, emphasis should also be placed on taking on more, such as penance and prayer.  We should be preparing ourselves for Easter by attending Stations of the Cross, Mass, a weekly holy hour, personal prayer, and of course making a good confession.

Lenten practices have been with us since the earliest of times, becoming more regular around the time that Christianity was legalized in 313 AD.  What does Lent mean?  It means “Springtide” and is also the word for “March” the month in which most of Lent falls.  We leave the darkness of winter for the renewal of life that spring brings.  Trees, flowers, and plants that once lie dormant burst with life once again. Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead.

Do you remember as a child attending Stations of the Cross with your class or with your family?  Or visiting neighborhood churches on Holy Thursday?  Do you recall how mysterious the dark churches were and the statues covered up in purple cloth?  Good Friday, always a day off school, was spent in silence from Noon to 3PM before heading over to church.  Holy Saturday meant lots of baking and cooking and of course bringing the baskets of food to church to be blessed.  All we would think about was receiving our Easter baskets and indulging the next day!  Of course all this led up to Easter Sunday, which entailed dressing in your new clothes, going to church, which was once again filled with light, and then an early dinner at Grandma’s.

Most if not all of these church activities survive today.  However, there are less and less faithful attending.  If you ask any child today what Easter is all about they will tell you the Easter bunny, candy, and toys.  In fact, Easter has turned into a mini-Christmas.  The same way the culture has secularized Christmas it’s doing the same to Easter.

So why should we perform all these sacrifices?  Why fast, pray, and do penance?  Ask anyone who is getting ready for a big event in their life.  What do they do before the big day?  Prepare.  Ask any child what they do before a big test—study, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.  Or an athlete who is participating in a big game—practice, exercise, pray/meditate, eat well, and condition themselves.  The preparation can be grueling on the body but it’s needed for the soul.  You get the idea.  We need to get ready.  We need to put gas back in the tank for God.  And yes, the process can be quite draining but the reward is great.  Just think if the child or the athlete does not prepare.  What happens?  They fail.  We don’t want to fail.

If you’ve ever lived or vacationed in the southern states you’re acquainted with the Passion Play.  I attended an outdoor version in Arkansas.  Several Hispanic parishes take part in the Passion of Christ Via Crucis.  There are still a few in the Chicago area who walk the way of the Cross through busy Chicago streets.  The most well-known is in the Pilsen neighborhood.  All are amazing and if you’ve never seen one you should.  During each walk, even though hundreds of people are participating down busy city streets—you can hear a pin drop—except for the orders yelled out by the actors portraying the Roman soldiers.  For that moment, buses, cars, and all foot traffic stop and stare.

Before the movie, The Passion of the Christ, most people, including Christians, never realized the true torture and horror Jesus experienced leading up to and including the crucifixion.  Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) of the suffering servant was fulfilled.  He endured it for us—for our sins.  Jesus was the Lamb of God.  It was the ultimate sacrifice.  Yet, we are not even willing to spend an hour with Him on a Sunday morning or give up a hamburger or a cookie for a few days.  A Stations of the Cross service lasts about 20 minutes—are you too busy or too tired?

A popular commercial for cold medicine shows either a woman or man popping their heads in what appears to be an office door and telling someone they need to take a sick day.  When they show who is in the room, you expect it to be their boss but it’s a very young child.  The announcer states moms or dads don’t take sick days.  Well neither does God.  We call out to Him in prayer or just expect Him to be with us in times of trouble.  What if He were too busy or too tired?

Almost all of us will partake in some festivities on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Paczki Day, or Carnivale, whichever name you call it by, but know why we celebrate it.  It’s the last hurrah before Lent begins and it ends abruptly at midnight. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  A day when we recognize our inevitable death coupled with repentance.  Do you remember in the Old Testament when someone sinned they would dress in sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes?  It’s the same thing.  We are telling God we’re sorry for sinning against Him and promise to repent and never do it again.

The best thing about God is He’s our father.  Like all good parents we get a second chance.  In many cases, we get several chances.  You can always turn back to Him at any time and all will be forgiven.  In fact, Jesus states in Luke 15:7, “There will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need to repent.”  How cool is that?