Week of Proper 1: Friday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Plan for Versailles Palace and Its Grounds, 1746

Monuments to Human Egos

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 11:1-9 (Revised English Bible):

There was a time when all the world spoke a single language and used the same words.  As people journeyed in the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another,

Come, let us make bricks and bake them hard;

they used bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said,

Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves, or we shall be dispersed over the face of the earth.

The LORD came down to see the city and tower which they had built, and he said,

Here they are, one people with a single language, and now they have started to do this; from now on nothing they have a mind to do will be beyond their reach.  Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they will not understand what they say to one another.

So the LORD dispersed them from there all over the earth, and they left off building the city.  That is why it is called Babel, because there the LORD made a babble  of the language of the whole world.   It was from that place the LORD scattered people over the face of the earth.

Psalm 33:6-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts,

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin,

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

13 The LORD looks down from heaven,

and beholds all the people in the world.

14 From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze

on all who dwell on the earth.

15 He fashions all the hearts of them

and understands all their works.

16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;

a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.

17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;

for all its strength it cannot save.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him,

on those who wait upon his love,

19 To pluck their lives from death,

and to feed them in time of famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD;

he is our help and our shield.

21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,

for in his holy Name we put our trust.

22 Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us,

as we have put our trust in you.

Mark 8:34-9:1 (Revised English Bible):

Then he called the people to him, as well as his disciples, and said to them,

Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self; he must take up his cross and follow me.  Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will save it.  What does anyone gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his life?  What can he give to buy his life back?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this wicked and godless age, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

He said to them,

Truly I tell you:  there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

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The Collect:

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Versailles Palace, outside Paris, France, is a tourist attraction and an art museum today.  Yet it began as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII (reigned 1610-1643).  It was certainly a very nice hunting lodge, but it was not a palace.  Louis XIV, the “Sun King” (reigned 1643-1715) began the process of expanding the hunting lodge into a palace, and made it the seat of his court and the architectural symbol of his absolutist rule.  Versailles Palace was a monument to the royal ego.

We students of history know what happened to that royal line, do we not? Hint:  The French Revolution.  Afterward, three kings governed France, and two of those died in exile.  The last king had to evacuate his throne in 1848.

Monuments to human egos outlast the people who build them.

Let us turn now from history to mythology, whereby the Book of Genesis provides a fictional account of the origin of languages.  (Study linguistics for the actual account.)  The people in the city in this myth seek to disobey the divine command to spread out across the planet.  So they establish a building program, one goal of which is to establish their name.  This is about ego.  So God gives them no choice but to obey his command.  The actual meaning of the name “Babylon” is “Gate of God,” which the city in the myth does not become.

Jesus points away from ego and disobedience.  He says to renounce self, take up a cross, and follow him.  Therein lies spiritual life, which no mere mortal can take away from us.  This is life as the worshipers of ego do not recognize it, and it is superior to their concept.  Our glory is in God, not ourselves.

You might have noticed, O reader, Mark 9:1, in which Jesus says:

Truly I tell you:  there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

This text begs one overriding question:  What is the Kingdom of God in this saying?  Let us use textual context.  Consider Mark 1:14-15 (Revised English Bible):

After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:  “The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

The ministry of Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God.

Mark 9:2 begins an account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Let us distinguish between the Kingdom of God coming in power and people seeing the Kingdom of God coming in power.  At this point (9:1)  in Mark, the Kingdom of God has come in power, that is, the power working through Jesus.  People will realize this very shortly, Jesus is saying.  The Transfiguration reveals this fact to Apostles, and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus render the Messianic Secret no longer a secret.  Furthermore, the surviving eleven Apostles, as history tells us, spread the Good News of Jesus far abroad.

The definition of the Kingdom of God is ambiguous here, but it pertains to the authority of Jesus.  Evil continues to exist, of course, but (to get jump ahead in the story) the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the superior power of God in Jesus.  This is one theological understanding of the Atonement present in the writings of Church Fathers.

I posit that since Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God almost two thousand years ago, it is still here on the earth.  Appearances might seem to indicate otherwise, but consider this:  The presence of Jesus on earth did not mark the end of the Roman domination of Judea and terminate injustice.  Recall that part of the message of the Gospel of Mark is to argue against the idea of conqueror Messiah.  (See the devotional for the Week of 6 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 1.)  So why, if we are paying attention, should we expect the continued presence of the Kingdom of God among the faithful to accomplish anything similar in our time and place?

But let us follow Jesus, sacrificing that which God commands us to sacrifice, obediently.  There is justice with God, and the schedule for that is beyond human comprehension.  So be it.  May we seek to become what we can in God, and not to strike out in foolish directions.  God will handle the rest.

KRT

Published originally as Week of 6 Epiphany:  Friday, Year 1, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 27, 2010

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