I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, "I shall never be moved." By your favor, O LORD, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!" You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (ESV)
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Kings and Princes
14 February 2014
Having been born in a foreign land puts me in a no-win situation. When I visit family and friends in my native Canada, they tease me because, according to them, I have picked up an "American accent." However, it is not unusual that here in Texas someone will look strangely at me when I am speaking and say, "You're a Canadian, aren't you?" Guilty as charged. I am often given away by "out and about," which comes out "oot and a-boot." I just can't win. Texans, as you know, are pretty proud of their little (no, big!) corner of the world. Having lived here for 17 years, I do see that they have plenty of grounds for their pride. It is a wonderful place to live. I love living here. However, if you had asked me 30 years ago, if I saw myself serving the church anywhere in the deep south of the United States, I would have said, "Absolutely not. I have no desire to serve the church there." Oh, dear. The Lord mocks our plans, as Thomas a Kempis wrote, "Man proposes. God disposes." I proposed one thing. The Lord disposed of me the way He saw fit. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
The sense of being a foreigner everywhere is good for us Christians to experience. We must continue to confess that we are strangers here; heaven is our home. I often feel that I belong nowhere but in the church. This is as it should be, because that is the only permanent citizenship and home we have. All the rest of it; society, family, nation, genetic origin, has all been superseded by our connection to Christ. We have been adopted into a family and national origin that transcends all human connections. I am always delighted when I serve the Holy Communion to the members of the parish I serve, because I see at the altar rail people of many different national origins. We are one body under the one head, who is Christ (Col 2:19). We are all from different places, like Canada, but we are all royal priests in the kingdom redeemed by the precious blood of Christ our King.
We are kings and princes in the church. Our status is permanent and unchanging because it depends on the divine election. Our heavenly Father chooses to give us exalted status for the sake of His precious Son, Jesus Christ. We can easily mock the status the world confers with titles or media frenzies. It is never permanent, because of the greed, wickedness and cupidity of the world. Take Sir Thomas More, who was Lord Chancellor for King Henry VIII of England. He had reached the pinnacle of English society, was the confidant of the king, and was sought for favors by the elite. However, his conscience got in the way of his status. He fell from grace when he declined to say in public that Henry's divorce of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was acceptable. He was executed at the Tower of London on 6 July 1535, declaring himself to be "the king's good servant, but God's first." His high honors, conferred by the world, were as easily taken from along with his life. The world does not give anything certain, only God does.
"Everyone who has a noble attitude has one country, the heavenly Jerusalem, in which we store up our citizenship (Phil 3:20). We all have one family, if you look at what is here below the dust, or if you look higher, to that in-breathing of which we are partakers (Gn 2:7), and which we were bidden to keep, and with which I must stand before my Judge to give an account of my heavenly nobility, and of the divine image (Gn 1:26-27). Everyone then is noble who has guarded this through virtue and consent to his Archetype. On the other hand, everyone who is ignoble has mingled with evil, and put upon himself another form, that of the serpent.
"Our earthly countries and families are the playthings of our temporary life and scene. For our country is whatever each may have first occupied, either as a tyrant, or in misfortune. In this we are all equally strangers and pilgrims, however much we may play with names. The family is accounted noble which is either rich from old days, or is recently raised. The family which is considered to be of ignoble birth is that which is of poor parents, either owing to misfortune or to want of ambition. For how can a nobility be given from above which is at one time beginning and at another coming to an end; and which is not given to some, but is bestowed on others with the letters patent [of the Emperor]? Such is my mind on this matter. Therefore I leave it to you to take pride in tombs or in myths. I will endeavor as far as I can, to purify myself from such deceits, that I may keep if possible my nobility, or else recover it.
"For these reasons I, who am small and of an insignificant country, have come upon you, not of my own accord, nor self-sent, like many of those who now seize upon the chief offices; but because I was invited, and compelled, and have followed the scruples of my conscience and the call of the Spirit. If it is otherwise, may I continue to fight here to no purpose, and deliver no one from his error, but may they obtain their desire who seek the barrenness of my soul, if I lie. I am come, and perhaps with no insignificant power (if I may boast myself a little of my folly). Who of those who are insatiable have I copied, what have I emulated of opportunism, although I have such examples, even apart from which it is hard and rare not to be bad? Concerning what churches or property have I disputed with you; although you have more than enough of both, and the others too little? What imperial edict have we rejected or emulated? What rulers have we fawned upon against you? Whose boldness have we denounced? And what has been done on the other side against me? 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them' (Acts 7:60), even then I said, for I remembered in season the words of Stephen, and so I pray now. 'When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat' (1Co 4:12-13).
"If I am doing wrong in this, that when oppressed I endure it, forgive me this wrong. I have suffered oppression by others too; and I am thankful that my moderation has brought upon me the charge of foolishness."
Theological Oration, 33. 12-14
Lord Christ, help us to bear up under persecution and ridicule for the faith. Grant us the courage to esteem our eternal citizenship above any worldly honor. Send us Your Spirit that we might know ourselves to be kings and priests in Your kingdom, no matter how foolish the world thinks we seem. Amen.
For Tom Cedel, who is undergoing therapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and healing under His caring hand
For Joel Green, who will lay to rest the mortal remains of his wife Lydia, that the Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, would grant him the peace that surpasses all human understanding
For all those who will misunderstand the gift of love this day, that they might know the self-giving love of Christ in their lives,
Art: MEMLING, Hans Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014