The United Churches – November 20, 2016
Rev. Tammy Stampfli
Probably the most bizarre women’s retreat that I ever attended was put on by a group called “Daughters of the King.” I was a pastor of a small congregation in the small town of Reedsport, OR at the time, and the local churches sometimes co-sponsored events, as there were 14 churches in a town of 4000. As the pastor of the Presbyterian Church and the only woman pastor in the town, I decided that I should attend and show my support. However, I found myself resisting the very first request made by the organizers. We were all to appear at the first event in prom dresses or ball gowns. We were participating in an “Elegant Night with the King.” And as princesses of the king we were to dress according to our royal station. In the merchandise section of this women’s event, tiaras were available for purchase along with Daughters of the King rings and jewelry. Me being me, I probably wore jeans and a tee shirt. All around me women were dressed in beautiful gowns with jewelry and tiaras. Gloved hands were sipping drinks and chocolates were available on the sideboard. (Now mind you, Reedsport Oregon is an impoverished town, as its main industries of fishing and timber were gone.) Once we all were gathered in the auditorium, the event speaker: Pastor Debra, told us that God wants every woman to see themselves through God’s eyes and to know how precious we were. God brings each woman into a place of seeing themselves as God’s Creative Masterpiece, uniquely different than any other, formed and fashioned to God’s own precise desire. The King of Kings wants His Daughters healthy, whole, pain free and overflowing with joy, peace and love that only comes from above.
Each woman who was willing was anointed with oil. Pastor Debra held an altar call for those desiring to give their lives to Christ. Then we were to celebrate together as each received their true inheritance as a Daughter of The King. To be truthful, I was a bit creeped out. I tried to suspend my own judgement as I could tell that the women around me were really touched by this approach. They enjoyed dressing up, putting on makeup and jewelry and seeing themselves as a special princess.
What is our fascination with princesses, or with royalty for that matter? As a culture, we start grooming our little girls with Toddlers in Tiaras. We have numerous beauty pageants, which in this feminist era we try to rebrand as “Scholarship Events.” The prom industry now vies the wedding industry with magazines filled with instructions on how to prepare your look a year in advance. Disney has no less than 11 different princesses with plenty of merchandise to feed little girl’s dreams. We still judge success through the lens of beauty and power. We Americans are fascinated by British Royalty. We were obsessed with Princess Diana and now with William and Kate and their beautiful children.
Why? Why all of this fascination with royalty and celebrity? Robert Fuller, PhD in his article “Somebodies and Nobodies” suggests that many of us may suffer from a “dignity deficiency.” He further suggests “Like a vitamin deficiency, a dignity deficiency can be lethal. Symptoms range from taking a chance on a charismatic strongman to joining a gang or signing up for jihad.” This was in part his hypothesis on how Trump was elected President. American people suffering from “dignity deficiency” and were primed for a celebrity billionaire to rescue them.
Jesus wasn’t that kind of King. Here we are on the last Sunday of the church year. It has been called Christ the King Sunday, or in more expansive language: Reign of Christ Sunday. And check out of gospel reading for today. This is a sadly remarkable coronation for the “King of the Jews” to find his ascension to the throne via a cross. Crucifixion was not an execution method for common criminals – it was reserved for enemies of the state. Crucifixion was saved for people the Roman Empire wanted to make examples of – people who had committed crimes like insurrection, civil disobedience – treason. This is why Jesus was crucified. The message to the commoners by a body left on the cross was simple: Don’t oppose the government or the systems of the state. Don’t mess with those who are making a profit from those systems, because if you do, you will end up hanging at the edge of the city.
We find these three men, at the edge of the city, three crosses propped up on a hill, the sun fading in the background. They are suffocating to death, like a slow lynching. Jesus has been mocked by the leaders standing by, he was mocked by the soldiers who divided his clothing and offered him sour wine, and he was mocked by one who was crucified next to him.
I find it quite amazing that in the midst of this horrible torture, Jesus and his fellow sufferers are having a chat. Seriously, right? The author of Luke must think that the point being made here is PRETTY IMPORTANT if the words are spoken in the midst of this level of suffering. We can go literal here, three guys on three crosses with three points of view. Or we can think of it more figuratively. You can imagine those images where a person has an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. We’ve all had those moments, right? Sometime we think of it as temptation and conscious. Temptation speaks: Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself! Then the conscious speaks: Don’t you fear God? I can imagine Jesus having this terrific battle within himself at the same time I can imagine it being two other people. Conscious (or the guy on the right) eventually says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And then peace comes with the promise of paradise for all.
If you have traditionally seen this story as “good criminal is saved at the midnight hour, while bad criminal goes to hell” I would invite you to look again through the lens of the transformative ministry of Christ. Throughout the gospels, Jesus made it clear that he came for everyone: not just those of us who follow him, not just the churched, not the virtuous. Paradise is not a reward for good behavior, it is a gift of God made in love. Paradise is for everyone.
The path to the Reign of Christ, the path to the Kingdom of God, the path to transformation does not look like an episode of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, it looks more like camping out with the Sioux at Standing Rock. You know how I know this? The Bible is full of imagery of what the Kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is like a wasteful prodigal son returning to a father’s loving arms. The kingdom of God is like a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to look for one that is lost. The kingdom of God is like the feast hosted by the wealthiest of men whose guests were the blind and the lame and the poor. The kingdom of God is like a weed growing in a garden to provide shelter for birds. And as God’s princes and princesses (if you will) we do not need fine clothes or crowns upon our heads, we only need to bless those that persecute us. That is what the kingdom of God is like.
This is the gig that we signed up for as followers of Christ. We follow in the path of the cross to a kingdom that is for everyone, with preference for the least, the lost and the last. I know that there have been a lot of strong and sad feelings following the election. I know there has been a lot of fear. You are afraid that all of your good and hard work on civil rights will be lost. You fear that other faith groups will be targeted and that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer. You fear a third world war. I want to allow everyone’s feelings while reminding us that we follow Christ who was crucified for defying the powers, Christ who committed civil disobedience, Christ who stood up for the poor and outcast. Christ whose kingdom included everyone. Christ whose suffering transformed systems.
I believe that we will continue to bring Christ’s realm, Christ’s kingdom into being. I believe that we will continue to defy the powers. I believe that we will all stand in line to register as Muslims if registration is required. I believe that we will all continue to work to house the poor and care for the disenfranchised. That is who you are. Even if you are tired and sad right now, you will rise up, and bring all to paradise. AMEN