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Worship and Sermons
December 20, 2020

“Are you a Royal?” 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16  •  Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26   •  Romans 16:25-27   •  Luke 1:26-38

The big idea:  We are part of a royal family, David’s Dynasty which is God’s Kingdom with Jesus on the throne, but it’s an upside-down kingdom.

Application:  As members of this royal family, we serve God by serving others as Jesus did.

Are you one of those people who are intrigued by the British monarchy?  I didn’t used to think I was one of them, but recently I’ve had a change of heart.

That’s largely because our family has become absorbed in the popular Netflix series, “The Crown.”  And, I confess, they’ve got me hooked.

If you’re not one of the 75 million people around the globe who are fans of the show, I’ll give you a quick plot synopsis.  It’s all about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  We are currently in season 4, which focuses on the 1980s.  That means Margaret Thatcher and, of course, Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

With each subsequent season, the response of critics and audiences alike has become more and more favorable.  The queen herself has admitted to watching, as have other members of the royal family.

It’s clear that “The Crown” has tapped into a worldwide obsession with celebrities.  This week I‘ve been wondering what that’s really all about.

Dr. Frank Farley, a professor and psychologist at Temple University, has put his finger on the cause of this phenomenon.  He recently told Time Magazine, “With famous media figures, people we learn about, celebrities, et cetera, we often live some of our lives through them.”

 To varying degrees, all of us dream of “wealth and fame and happiness and style and social influence,” he says.  It starts in childhood with fairy tales that appeal to our fascination with heroes.  That attraction stays with us as we get older.  Like other celebrities, the Royals become objects of this phenomenon.

They represent something to which we all aspire, even if only subconsciously.  So, we develop an emotional attachment to them, even though most of us have never met them.

None of us really believes we have any chance of being part of their world.  We think that’s about as realistic as suddenly discovering that we ourselves are members of the royal family.

Which is strange, because we already are.  It’s just a different family.

The royal family of which you and I are members is the one God called the little shepherd boy David to lead.  God plucked David out of his father’s fields to become the King of Israel and Judah. 

And David spent his life trying to follow God’s lead.  Sometimes he was better at that than others.  But in the end, he united the two halves of God’s Kingdom and became Israel’s greatest king.

Late in life, David turned his thoughts to building a suitable dwelling for God’s ark.  But instead, God told him it would be the other way around. 

God promised to make David a house.  Not a literal house, but a royal household.  The ancestral line of David would be a monastic dynasty that would stretch out to encompass all his generations.  And there would be no end to his kingdom.

When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, the good news he brings her is the fulfillment of that promise.  The son she will bear will ascend to his ancestor David’s throne.  And his kingdom will be like no other.  Unlike any other king, Jesus’ reign will never end.

And that’s not all that will be different.  Jesus will turn out to be a very different kind of king.  Instead of lording it over his subjects, he will give his life to serve them and save them.

Instead of spending his time with the rich and powerful, he’ll choose to eat with rank sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes.  Instead of avoiding the sick and the lame, Jesus will heal them. 

His kingdom will turn out to be an upside-down kingdom, where the last are first and the first are last.  Where humility trumps haughtiness. Where compassion overrides callousness, and the mark of true greatness is love, especially for the least and the lost.  That is the Kingdom of God.

It’s a kingdom where everyone is royal, and everyone is related.  And, friends, you and I are members of that royal family.

So, then what should we do?  How should we live?

Well, it turns out that our job is to do the same thing as the members of the British royal family.  We show our love for our monarch by being his loving presence in the world.

Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic famously said, “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.”

Within the British royal family, no one has exemplified that understanding better than Princess Diana.  Diana is widely credited with transforming the monarchy from one that was stuffy and out of touch with the problems of real people, to a more socially engaged agent for good, especially among the sick, the poor and the disenfranchised.

At the time of her tragic death, she was patron of more than 100 charities and raised countless millions on their behalf.  Although she found the press “intolerable”, she nevertheless used them to help her highlight the social issues about which she was passionate.

In 1987, for example, she visited Britain’s first AIDS hospital and shook hands with an HIV+ patient.  Knowing that she would be photographed, she purposely did not wear gloves in order to refute the baseless fear that AIDS could be contracted through mere touch. 

She did the same for those suffering from leprosy. She invited photographs of herself shaking hands with patients in a leprosy ward, in order to combat the stigma surrounding that disease.  She said, “It has always been my concern to touch people with leprosy, trying to show in a simple action that they are not reviled, nor are we repulsed."

She had a special passion for the suffering of children.  She elevated the issue of removing land mines that cripple and mame so many worldwide, especially children. 

She made regular visits to the Brompton children’s hospital for young cancer patients.  Three times a week, she would spend hours at a stretch sitting with the children there.  "Some of them will live and some will die,” she said, “But they all need to be loved while they are here. I try to be there for them."

You and I are not princes or princesses – at least I don’t think any of us are?  If you are, you’ve been very quiet about it.  But, no matter who we are, we can take our inspiration from Princess Di. 

What made her so effective as an ambassador of Christ’s love was not her title, her tiara or the famous family she married into.  It was something deeper, something most of them seemingly lacked:  the ability to establish a personal connection with others. 

Diana did that in the simplest and most powerful way imaginable:  by being willing to spend time with people of all stations and circumstances, and really listen to them.  In the parlance of pastoral care, that’s what we clergy folk call the ministry of presence.  Diana was famous for it.

Friends, all of us have this ability, to some degree.  And it can be developed with practice.  All it takes is the willingness to be patient as we listen to someone who is hurting, and then let ourselves feel what that person is feeling, to reflect their emotions as they relay their stories.

We call that empathic listening or active listening.  But, whatever name we give it, listening like that is a rare gift, which makes it all the more valuable.  It not only reduces the pain of those who suffer, it can become the basis of social transformation.

 A Duke University psychologist Scott A. Huetell, said not long ago, “empathy is often the pivot point to action.”  In the face of systemic social problems like poverty, racism and climate change, encouraging empathy can be a particularly powerful tool to overcome obstacles to action.

Take climate change for example.  We know we need to reduce our carbon output.  This runs counter to most people’s immediate self-interest, however, and many are reluctant.

But when the motivation shifts to protecting our children and their future, empathy can lead to action.  Afterall, who among us does not want a better world for our kids?

It remains to be seen how long it will take for the force of empathy to translate into the political will required to really address climate change.  But eventually it will.

That’s what happens when empathy spreads.  We often hear that fear and anxiety are contagious.  So is empathy.  Empathy spreads just as surely.  It doesn’t move as quickly, but, when it does, it’s a more powerful motivator than fear.

Empathy inspires acts of love, love that restores hope and dignity in individuals, and love that makes this world look more like God’s Kingdom.

That is our role as members of God’s royal family.  Just as Princess Di did, we start by listening to those who suffer, to those who have been pushed to the margins of life.  We let their stories become our stories.

Who do you know who is suffering?  Who do you know who needs us to lend a compassionate ear?

The press may not be watching as you do, but those who suffer are certainly watching.  And so are their friends and family.  It won’t be long until our compassion spreads through them to others. 

And, if we keep at it, eventually it will spread in our congregation, our community, our country, and our world. 

And, as it does, the upside-down Kingdom over which Christ rules will emerge.  That is what we in God’s royal family pray for above all else in this holy season of Advent.

May it be so. 

Last Published: December 21, 2020 9:45 AM
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