Proper 5 The Rev. Austin K. Rios St. Paul’s Within the Walls June 7, 2015
There it was stretched out in all its glory before me.
70 meters of 1000 year-old embroidery, that faintly glowed behind protective glass and curved around a darkened corner within its special chamber in the French museum.
The Tapestry of Bayeux, as it is known, tells the story of the Norman conquest of England, which culminated in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and saw William, the Duke of Normandy, ascend to the English throne.
The tapestry is filled with scenes depicting all the markers of monarchy: crowns and cavalry, archers and allegiances, divine sanction and royal deceptions.
The tapestry serves as both an amazing work of art, when considering the intricacy of the stitching, and a historical record of the exploits of the kings of that generation.
The final panels illustrate the Battle of Hastings, where the Norman army, leaving carnage and destruction in its wake, finally decimates Harold’s army.
A hacked off arm lying on the ground…a head separated from its body.
Such was the cost of kingly ascendancy 1000 years ago.
Since the beginnings of monarchy, which we heard about today in the first reading from Samuel, ruling power has always come at a cost.
In fact, the whole beginning of scripture, from Genesis to I Samuel, has the question of ultimate allegiance as a constant background theme.
“Who told you that you were naked?” asks the God who created the man and woman who begin to shrink from the providence of God alone, and look for it in earthly inferiors, like the serpent or the forbidden fruit.
This search, conscious or not, for an authority outside of the one provided by God, runs throughout the story of the Exodus…as we witness what happens when the people of God turn from pharaoh, slavery, and its trappings and face the wilderness with God as their guide.
They struggle with Moses, with feelings of abandonment, with wilderness weariness, but eventually enter into the promised land of freedom.
Joshua and the Judges arise, but eventually, the people no longer want such leadership.
They want a king.
And though God warns them of the price of kingship, and how it will sap their freedom and conscript their allegiance in ultimately unsatisfying ways, they clamor for it.
One cannot fail to hear in the people’s cry to Samuel, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us,” the chant of the mob at Christ’s crucifixion, “We have no king but Caesar!”
Monarchy, which from the Ancient Near Middle East all the way to Norman England and beyond, was seen to be divinely sanctioned, still remains a pale and inferior form of governance when seen in the light of God’s direct lordship.
That would be the preferable arrangement, but for all sorts of reasons, we humans are uncomfortable with it.
So when Jesus comes on the scene in the Gospel today, it is understandable that those around him, including his very family, cannot understand his radical vision of a different sort of kingdom than the ones that his world had known.
He feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and casts out the demons, becoming a popular phenomenon in the process.
So those who have much to lose, the religious and political authorities, come to discredit his supposed claim to kingship before it can even get to Jerusalem.
He is in league with the devil, they say, because lies can be justified as long as they are in the interest of supporting the status quo…if you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones.
But as we all know, from having just experienced the Passion of Christ, and having been shown just how different the lordship of Christ is from the reigns of the kingdoms of this world, such games are not truly and ultimately satisfying to play.
Christ calls us to a new kingdom, one that is not defined by familial bloodlines, nor political status, but one forged from the common effort to follow and enact God’s will as members of one mystical, but very real, body.
Citizenship in such a kingdom is based on doing the will of God, on loving God, and of loving neighbor…to an ever greater degree as we follow the Lord who showed us the way.
The question each of us must face, with seriousness and with honesty, is this: Am I supporting this kingdom of God with my life decisions and actions, or am I investing more in the lesser reigns and kingdoms that our world so readily preferences?
It is a question that takes on new meaning the more we ask it, and the genius of our God is that once we begin following the way that leads to life…because make no mistake…it does indeed lead to greater life…we begin to see just how stark the difference is between the kingdom of God and the lesser reigns, and we are strengthened for our sojourn through the wilderness.
It is a dynamic that cannot be simply taught… it is a reality that has to be experienced.
The church exists, or at least it should exist, to both connect people to the Lord who leads us, and to strengthen the members of the body to journey onward and share the fruits of this alternative kingdom widely with others.
I pray that St. Paul’s will be faithful in this way, and that each of you will share your special gifts, that God has given to you, for the extension of God’s kingdom on this earth as it is in heaven.
This week we mourned the passing of a member and servant of God who put these principles into practice, planting the seeds of the kingdom in the soil of his own life, and sowing them widely wherever he went as well.
Scott Sieben, beloved vestry member, who went back to the States to care for his cancer-stricken sister, died this past week after a month long fight of trying to recover from a traumatic motorcycle accident.
All who loved and knew Scott are deeply saddened by news of his death, and we especially hurt for Linda, Caleb, Nick and Nate, as they face life without this very bright light to accompany them.
But we also celebrate the life he shared among us, and rejoice in the assurance that Scott spent his earthly time investing in the kingdom that lasts beyond the frailties of this mortal coil.
He gave generously to those in need, of his time, talent and treasure. He sought to praise and proclaim the Lord in all things. He made the lives of those around him better, wherever the road led him.
Accompanying the news of his death, Linda referenced a particular passage from scripture…one that has increased meaning considering Scott’s service here in Rome.
It comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and underscores a major theme of Paul’s theology:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Tapestry of Bayeaux may remember the exploits of William the Conqueror, but the fabric of Scott Sieben’s life pays tribute to a kingdom that is beyond conquering, and which makes each of its members more than conquerors through him who loved us.
May we strive for that kingdom and boldly leave behind anything lesser.