Texts: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Let’s talk about food for a minute, if you will bear with me. It’s the week of Thanksgiving after all and it’s likely that all of us will share in a holiday meal of some sort. Everyone has an idea of what constitutes a “real” Thanksgiving. Certain foods are expected. Certain ingredients are indispensable.
This is not a time to be reading labels too closely. It will be a day of excess sodium, fat, and sugar of course. No judgement here for this age-old human way of celebrating plentitude. But labels often reveal ingredients that may be masquerading as something they are not.
I’m not taking about substituting coconut milk for dairy milk in your pumpkin pie here. Not disrespecting the choice of fish or roasted caramelized rosemary and garlic cauliflower loaf over turkey. But wondering more about things like those mysterious chemical brews that stand in for real flavors, and vivid food colorings that are not legal to sell or buy in many other countries.
If you’re a guest at someone’s table it’s probably best not to ask, is this the real thing? But it’s food for thought, right? Or, thought for food at least. Besides thoughtfulness about what is a masquerade and what is real is always a good thing.
We can put such thoughtfulness to good use with the book of Daniel. To clarity something first: this book is not by Daniel; it is about Daniel who was an instructive example of a pious Jew living faithfully in a very unfaithful time. In a series of six vivid stories Daniel demonstrates how a God-fearing believer responds to and thwarts various temptations.
Daniel also has visions, and we are plunged into one of these today. There are verses missing from our Daniel text today that would have been helpful for us to understand what’s going on here. God, in awesome splendor, convenes the divine court and heavenly host to pass judgement on out-of-control beasts rising out of the great sea.
But beneath that it’s a metaphor for heavenly judgment upon human leaders and leadership. A certain ruler is masquerading as God’s authorized agent. This ruler speaks falsely, disrespecting God and endangering people. His kingdom is set up to serve his own destructive purposes and promote his personal power. And people are getting hurt.
In Daniel’s vision today, the courtroom is packed and record books are consulted. Absent from our reading are verses 11-12 in which God’s judgment is pronounced. The oppressive human kingdom and ruler is to be replaced with a faithful and righteous being, representing God’s true reign. “…one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.”
In our minds, reasonably enough, this is Jesus Christ. But the time of Daniel predates the coming of Jesus. The Jewish people have always understood this righteous and trustworthy one to be Michael the archangel and protector of Israel. Michael was the heavenly one who was worthy of being honored and served by God’s people.
What is of particular interest to us today is the dominion, glory, and kingship that is described here. It is completely different from all human iterations of kingdom or nation. It is everlasting and indestructible. It covers the whole earth. All people are beloved citizens.
It’s clear that this was never to be a bricks and mortar kingdom with a mortal human ruler. No human reign is everlasting. No mortal human has ever done well with unrestrained dominion and glory. This is the truth.
The Revelation was written by John, a man of deep faith in Jesus exiled to Patmos. Powerful Romans meant to cut him off from his community and silence his voice. But the empire could not control his spiritual vision and his love of God.
John grabbed hold of Daniel’s idea of God’s different kind of kingdom and reign and runs with it. All dominion and glory belongs to Jesus who, “…loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father…”
John’s revelation repeats Daniel’s vision of the heavenly one coming in clouds. Only Jesus, the one who knew our pain and suffering, is worthy of glory and dominion over us. Jesus is more than a king. He brings grace and peace. Jesus is the archon of all human rulers; his authority over them rests on his personal example and influence.
Just imagine the impact of John’s vision on Rome. Imagine a kingdom where everyone is a priest. A nation where every day people serve God by observing the commandment of love. Where all are welcome at the table. Just imagine!
Pilate could not even begin to consider such a king or kingdom. The gospel of John shows that the Roman governor was perplexed and frustrated by Jesus. Pilate had him brought in for questioning which went badly when he asked if Jesus considered himself the Jewish king.
Jesus resisted. He was not accountable to Pilate or to Rome. He replied with his own question – what was Pilate’s motive for asking? It was dangerous territory for any Roman to show personal interest in Jesus, especially Pilate with his prominent position.
Pilate wasn’t a Jew after all. And his next question drove that implication home: “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” But Jesus wasn’t accountable to a religious nation or to priests either.
Instead, Jesus said that his kingdom does not exist in earth’s terms of power or authority. God is the only real power, whose rule is love. Jesus was born to testify to this truth. The word for truth in scripture means something that is reliable. Something that is lasting and trustworthy.
Scientific truth is a theory about reality that has been tested and found reliable. Jesus let us put him to the test by saying, “come, follow me; come and see.” Truth always bears out in the end. Those who accept Jesus’s invitation find that he is worthy of our trust. All the way to the grave, and back again.
This Thursday, as we gather around the table with all our dearest traditions, perhaps the best one of all is being thankful for God who provides the Bread of Life – Jesus.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.