Saturday, November 23, 2013

Upside Down and Inside out

Golden Majesty

The seasons are changing in the desert, and the sunsets are breathtaking.  Yesterday the sky turned to gold as the sun set. It felt as if somehow I had been transported into a a majestic, royal palace. 

At this time of the year, the Christian calendar also reflects this change of season; and so before the dawning of the Advent and Christmas seasons, the church celebrates the grand festival of "Christ the King" -gold vestments, songs of exaltation: "O worship the King all glorious above."

A few years ago I visited one of the most ancient churches (now a museum) in Christendom: The Church of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul - built some 1500 years ago to be the cathedral of the mighty emperors of Constantinople. 

For me, the church actually felt more like an imperial palace than a church. When I walked into the immense structure, I was overwhelmed by an imposing mosaic of Christ the King (The Pantocrator) of the Universe. The enormous mosaic is made of gold and jewels. It hovers over as you enter that palace-like church -  Christ in glory looking down at the world surrounded by the heavenly court ruling over the world.

I recall that, as I stood beneath that "majestic" mosaic of Christ the King, I called to mind what Jesus actually said about himself when he walked the earth; and I remembered what he had taught his disciples:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. (Gospel of Matthew)

In his own time, Jesus looked at the world of empire and emperors and he preached a message that literally turned that world upside down and inside out.  His mission on earth was to proclaim a new way of living- a world order that would stand in radical opposition to a society in which the rich and powerful lorded it over and oppressed the poor and the weak. 

Jesus taught that those who had power were to use their gifts to serve the needs of others. The strong and the rulers were to use their authority to lift up those of lower status so that every might have equal footing in a society of justice and compassion.

Four centuries after Jesus' own time, his disciples had ultimately forgotten, ignored and disregarded what Jesus had originally taught. They turned Jesus' teaching upside down and inside out.  The church had become an empire - Christ, the emperor and king, and the church on earth having authority and power to lord it over others.

As seasons come to an end, new seasons begin, and as the church celebrates the Festival of Christ the King, I want to remember that Christ the King is really "Christ the Servant" who called his followers to follow in his way - turning the world inside out and the prevailing culture upside down.

It also seems to me that you don't have to be a Christian to follow the teaching of Jesus the servant.   There is great wisdom in the teaching that human beings everywhere should embrace and treat one another with dignity and respect. It is a wise teaching that those in authority and people with power should use their power to lift people up rather than crush them down.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

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