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Who is the King of Glory?


Old Testament Reading: Psalm 95:1-7

New Testament Reading: Acts 2:22-36

Responsive Reading: Psalm 24:3-10


Text: Daniel 7:13-14 "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."


Let me begin with a bit of explanation, or exegesis if you prefer, on the scripture readings you just heard. Psalm 95 is one of the great Psalms of Yahweh's enthronement, part of a ritual celebrated every year as part of the Feast of Tabernacles. It commemorated the ancient creation myth in which Yahweh had won kingship of the gods by his heroic deed of combat against the sea dragon Leviathan. Having crushed its seven heads Yahweh formed the earth and the firmament from its carcass. He was enthroned and hailed as king of gods! (You may read more about this in Psalms 74 and 89.)

The New Testament text, part of the Pentecost sermon of Peter, is a much later updating of the same basic mythical archetype. Based on his triumphant deliverance from the power of Death, the crucified Jesus has now been elevated to the heavenly throne to reign as second-in-command beside Yahweh himself. He is the King of Glory! This idea grows out of Psalm 110, which Peter quotes, as well as the vision in Daniel chapter 7, where one like a son of man approaches the heavenly throne to receive authority from the Ancient of Days. In turn, this goes further back to the old Canaanite myths in which the young god Baal receives divine sovereignty from his father El after his resurrection victory over the death monster Mot. What is the importance of all these images of the heavenly king? It seems that in ancient myth and ritual we find that gods are always pictured as kings, either king over fellow gods or king over the world of human beings, usually both.

In our time some would dispense with the monarchial image of God. This is apparently for reasons of political correctitude.  Such clerics and theologians want to start calling God "Enabler" instead of "Lord." Perhaps what bothers them is that in ancient and medieval times the idea of the heavenly king was a tool used to safeguard the thrones of earthly kings who appealed to their supposed "divine right" to oppress and exploit their subjects. If they were God's viceregents on earth, who could gainsay them? But surely that day is over! Surely the liberal theologians have little to fear from the impotent monarchs of Denmark and Belgium, the bent-reed sovereigns of Japan and England! Having secured nominal egalitarianism on earth, they seek to storm heaven, too, and like the crowds of Paris in the French Revolution, they want to tread the divine crown underfoot. For them there can be no hierarchy in the universe ... no other, that is, than that of the liberal thought-police themselves! They will act as the vanguard of the revolution on behalf of the rest of us, who think more slowly than they. Witness the birth of "Citizen God"!

But we cannot do without the mythology, the archetypal imagery of the heavenly king. Why? Simply because we cannot do without the reality of a _transcendent source of meaning and value. The human heart still cries out, with the Psalmist, "O lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!" I see in the attempt to eliminate hierarchy from theology a scarcely veiled attempt to eliminate from religion any transcendent reference whatever, to demote the whole enterprise to that of a mundane, this-worldly, social gospel. The new creed will be "Jesus is Comrade!"

I say that without a transcendent realm, without a higher horizon symbolized by the heavenly king, we will have no sacred canopy beneath which to order our values, no North Star to steer by. None but someone's little red book promoting some ideology that is here today, but likely gone tomorrow. Without the belief in a heavenly King, the Lord Yahweh or the Lord Jesus, we fall victim to what H. Richard Niebuhr* called henotheism. That is, we no longer have one Ultimate Concern which places everything else in perspective. Our lives become billiard tables on which a dozen ricocheting interests never cease to collide! The Monarch is the one ruler. If too many cooks spoil the stew, too many kings result in chaos in the realm, and that is no less true in the realm of your life. You need some central focus to bring order out of chaos.

But suppose that one focus is something unworthy or inadequate? Suppose it is money, or some mere hobby? Or self-adoration? In that event, you have a weak king. That is why religious faith is so important. That is why Jesus Christ makes a good king. He is able to bear the burden of your life. "The government shall be upon his shoulders."

But Jesus Christ is called King of Kings, and that implies that he is not the only king, but rather the chief among kings. Who are the others? Let me read you another text, from Psalm 8. "When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor" (verse 3-5).

What? Man -- a second king of glory?

This is important to see: the relation between you and God is not that of slave to king -- that is the cringing "slave morality" that Nietzsche attacked -- but rather that of a king to the King of Kings!

I like the terms used for this first by Kant, then by Tillich. Suppose we as a race, as individuals, as a religion, simply took orders from God (or, God help us!, from his self-appointed representatives). Suppose Jerry Falwell were right (something that has never happened, as far as I know!) that Christians are like slaves who ask no questions. The word for this state of affairs would be heteronomy, i.e., the rule over us of an alien (heteros) law, a law that tyrannizes. But for us to rebel against that kind of control (as we must, or there will be no true humanity to speak of!), to do and think as honestly seems best to us, that is autonomy. The law of the autos, of the self. If you have autonomy, you are a law unto yourself.

Protagoras wrote the great charter of human autonomy when he said, "Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are; of the things that are not, that they are not." In those areas appropriate to reason, reason must never abdicate! That is autonomy! And the autonomous man or woman has resolved never to be duped henceforth nor to let someone else make his or her decisions.

This sounds like a very modern notion, and indeed it came into its own only in the Enlightenment. But the ancient Greeks knew it. And according to Robert Bly, author of the interesting book Iron John, so did the tellers of the ancient tales. Often in the ancient stories of the hearth or the bedside, the figure of the king stands sometimes for the heavenly king, but also sometimes for the inner king as well. That is the king that makes the law of autonomy.

The inner king is the hidden center of value inside you, the deep voice of destiny and preference that you learn to ignore when your parents or society or school or employer tells you you cannot live as the inner king, the real you, commands you to live. The king still commands! But his subjects do not listen! They heed the bullyings and deceptions of alien voices, the commands of rival kings. Our lives are lived by us, but they are not our own. Others are at the wheel, and we have moved to the back seat.

The inner king inside each of us is what Heidegger termed "the Call," the inner voice of authenticity, that yet whispers the commands of the true self, that reminds of the direction of the true life. It says to each of us, as it once said to the Prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." That voice has spoken to me, and I do not take it lightly!

It is struggle enough to sharpen one's ears and give heed to the troublesome voice of your destiny, that king who commands you to be what you really are. But I mean to lay yet another burden on you this morning. I ask you to reckon with the summons of the King of Kings as well!

I have said you are being disloyal to that inner king, the one described in Psalm 8, when you heed all the other, outer voices instead, the ones that bid you compromise your destiny. Now why is not the voice of God simply one more voice tempting you to break with the inner king? It is because the heavenly King, the King of Kings, is the source of the inner king!  He is the father of the young king within! If you knew it, they are the same king!

If you knew your self at its best, if you knew the law of your being, and you trusted the divine King who made you, of whom you are a part -- you would know that your destiny is the will of God. You would rejoice in it like the strong man who runs his course with joy! And you would listen to his ancient, scriptural commands and let them enlarge the wisdom that is already in your heart.

Your relation to God, to Christ, would not be that of grudging or fawning submission, fit only for a slave, but rather the genuine fealty, freely offered by the great to the greater! By the king to the King of Kings!

"Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in!" 


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