You don’t have to look very far to find evidence that the world is ruled and organized and manipulated by fear. It doesn’t even have to be the news that you watch or listen to on the radio; it can be our popular entertainments, our talk shows et cetera.
But mostly the news, we all know that. Someone right now, as we are gathered here this morning, someone is pointing to something or someone somewhere and saying that we should be afraid of them and there is a camera pointing at that person. It is a great way to get famous or elected and so lots of people are doing it.
Countervailing voices are dismissed as naïve or ill-informed, or as just the voices of kooks. Ask Elon Musk whose company built the electric car that Terry and Karen drove here this morning in. Despite being a young innovator and the hand that guided Paypal, still guides SpaceX and Solar City he is seen in some corners as a kook because he does not admit that all hope is lost and tries to find a solution to extant problems instead of bemoaning them.
I am a fan. I like the fact that even though some of the ideas he comes up with are a little kooky, he is unafraid to explore them, unafraid to talk about them out loud, in front of other people, to let them make fun of him if they want, but to speak boldly nonetheless.
One of my main problems with the world’s constant refrain of “there is scary stuff out there,” is that it makes us easy to manipulate. Some of the people pointing at the scary stuff are genuinely trying to make people aware of the things that threaten them but some of them, inevitably, some of them are trying to manipulate us to do and to act as they would like us to do and to act. They get power over us if they can guide our attitudes and behaviors and since they want power over us either to rule or to sell, then they will try and make the world scary enough for us to comply.
I am not just picking on politicians here, by the way, one of the greatest fears that has been dropped on us from the satellites over our heads is the fear of smells.
Sounds ridiculous when I say it like that doesn’t it? “The fear of smells,” but think for a minute how much airtime is dedicated to products that will make your home smell like a rain-forest, or a cinnamon roll, or the tent of a Bedouin spice trader. How about the time spent convincing you that your breath is bad and has to be made to smell like a candy store so that people of the opposite sex will want to kiss that mouth?
The French are mocked in this country because they are unafraid to smell like people, instead of English Leather or Windsong or any of the other scents meant to distract us from the fact that people sweat and that’s the way it is.
Your house has to smell like a product from Glade, your car has to smell like a new car and you can buy new car smell which as I recall is the semi-toxic blend of volatile organic compounds that out-gas from vinyl <big sniff> but you can get that smell, it comes in a little can you leave in your car’s console.
If you are young you fear going out in public with acne, if you are older you fear grey hair or losing your hair, if you are a man you fear not being the dynamo you were when you were eighteen and if you are a woman then you fear, well, I don’t know, I don’t pay attention to what women are supposed to fear when I watch TV, sorry.
Those are the assumptions that advertising makes. They move on from there to sell you the remedy for whatever fear you have, or are convinced that you have by the commercials. A brief interlude now to address the notion that a lot of people actually do want to smell like Bearglove from Old Spice or to be an Aqua Velva man or to smell powder fresh instead of sweaty and gross but all I ask is for you to think about all of the messages that you have received over the decades of your life and to ask yourself how much of that started out there, outside of your head and how much of it is yours alone.
Politically it is even easier. We hate the Russians. They are scary and have been for the entirety of my life. They are war mongering, marauding psychopaths espousing an ideology that went from devil-inspired communism to unholy nationalism with only time to burp in between.
Unless you aren’t afraid of the Russians, in which case we have the Muslims over here for you, perhaps you’d like to take a swing at being afraid of them? No? Then we’ve got fossil fuels, the lack of fossil fuels, pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, rain-forest devastation and loads more, whatever your particular affiliations or leanings are, we’ve got some fear for you!
Did everybody forget that the Russians aren’t a nation but a people, like we are, and are not a united monolith? That Communism failed and was probably not worth fearing in the first place? That communists are just idealists with differing ideals than ours?
The same logic applies to all of the other fears as well. Sure, radical Muslims have an unfortunate tendency to blow things and people up but it is less likely than you getting into a car accident on the way home but I don’t see any of you leaving your cars here and walking.
Kings seem so quaint to us, like some old-world holdovers from a simpler time. We like them ceremonial, like the English monarchy and not actually in charge of things, like in Saudi Arabia, or Jordan. Ask anybody in modern American politics and they will answer how little we care for a singular authority, an “imperial presidency” as they say on the television and so an “imperial empire?” sounds terrifying.
But that is what King has meant for the longest time. Remember, the Magna Carta was only signed in 1215, less than a thousand years ago and until that time kings were absolute monarchs, centers of unbridled power, according to their press agents, and nobody else had any rights not given to them by the king.
The legends of ancient Greece were to the people of Israel in Jesus time, like the stories of the revolutionary war or the war of 1812 are to my generation, you know, before they stopped teaching history. You knew the characters, you knew the legends, the sides were well defined and when you spoke of the coming of Xerxes you knew that an absolute King was descending upon the people and all who obeyed were granted life, and all who defied were granted death, all from the magnificent hand of the King.
That is what Kingship meant. Even in the Old Testament, the ancient kings of Israel were not an enlightened bunch. By the power and command of God they laid waste to whole peoples, slaughtering civilizations out of favor, removing them from memory.
The correct response to a king was to be afraid. The descriptions of the Kings, the way that they were announced when they entered a town or a region was meant to make the people afraid to cross them, to step out of line was to court destruction, in ancient pacts the preamble always listed the great accomplishments of the king, like “I Shupiluliumash, greatest of the Hittite Kings, slayer of the horse peoples at the battle or the three forks, destroyer of the temples at Ag-Naboth, enslaver of the unbelievers across the seven ocean provinces do hereby command you.”
When Jesus is proclaimed King by the people, this is what Pilate is afraid of. Despite being a vassal of the Roman Empire, one of your better empires to be honest, he feared anyone making that claim on his watch because the actual emperor, usually confessed to be better than a king, would rain actual destruction down upon him on behalf of the Empire over Christ’s kingship.
To be honest, that is also what the crowd was hoping for when they proclaimed him King, for someone mighty in deeds and in power to allow the pendulum of the Israelites to swing back toward them being powerful; them ruling; them slaying the horse people et cetera, et cetera.
Jesus would be like national deodorant for them, all of the stink of their shame at being on occupied nation washed away and replaced with the sweet smell of victory and triumph.
They wanted Daniel’s vision of a King. “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 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.”
Yeah, that’s the king you want, one who doesn’t take any stuff off of anybody and will drive your oppressors into the sea. Suddenly all of your fears would melt away and peace would reign.
Well, that’s not exactly how it turns out, is it?
Except in one way. In one way, Jesus is the King that all expected, that Pilate feared, that, if He were followed and worshiped, would deliver His people in a way that no other King could ever have achieved.
Jesus could reign forever. Jesus could bring peace to His people forever and need no successor to carry his reign forward because in Christ, we are all inheritors of the throne.
You, me, everyone heirs through faith in Christ and as such maybe not kings, but at least princes and princesses, standard bearer for the true king. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when He said to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world because he knew that it would take time for the message to spread, that his heirs would be the ones to carry His message to the far flung corners of the earth, that His heirs would speak His name and see the healing of the world, that his heirs would live lives without fear because the Kingdom of God was not just coming, but was alive whenever they would speak His name, claim his baptism and death and live on in faith.
Christ is King when we name Him King of our hearts and live as He would have us live, unafraid.
I was pleased to see that a friendly soccer match between France and England went on despite the Paris attacks and the English fans all joined voices in singing La Marseillaise. I don’t know how much you know about the history of England and France but that’s something like us singing the Soviet national anthem before a Yankees game.
It was an expression of their sympathy but also of their decision not to let fear rule them. It would have been easy to stay home.
If we want Christ to be King then we must live like He is, like fear is not something to dwell upon but rather something to get past, to continue moving in the direction Jesus set us on and live.
Sure, we’ll still buy deodorant and Febreeze will still be a part of our lives and we’ll all want teeth so white they outshine the sun but death? Nah. Humiliation? No thanks.
We can live in Christ because ours is the inheritance of the kingdom, plain and simple and we should live as Kings, free from encumbrances like fear and despair. We will carry with us the name of Christ and it will banish fear in our wake and we will live the lives of those baptized, those joined with Christ in a death like His and therefore joined with Him in new life.
Or we can sit back, turn on the tube and let the fear wash over us, letting others be king while we watch. As Joshua says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the lord.” Maybe by so doing, we might see Christ as King, and not fear.