In 1981, Mel Brooks gave us one of comedy’s most memorable lines in his film, The History of the World Part II: “It’s good to be the King.” That famous scene produced a lot of laughs more than 30 years ago, but no one was laughing 2000 year earlier when King David led the Ark of the Covenant home to Jerusalem, least of all his wife, Michal. (note: the Chest referred to in this morning’s translation is in fact best known as “The Ark of the Covenant”…..the one made famous in recent times by Indiana Jones.) Yes, it’s good to be the King, but for the wife of the King, who was also the daughter of Saul, dancing and carrying on and taking off you royal robes and dressing and behaving like a commoner was not at all good….and she despised David….and perhaps she was not alone. That’s one of the problems with being the King….good as it may be, the job comes with some very high expectations….Royal Protocols.
However, when the King is also believed to be someone who is anointed by God as ruler over his people, the job description and expectations are nothing short of absolute, and the only way that the King can be removed from his throne….the only way that his people’s bond of obedience can be broken….is for the King to die: either by natural causes or, as was frequently the case with the Tzars of Russia and Louis the Sixteenth, and Charles the 1st, by execution….or as was the case with Kaiser Wilhelm II and King Farouche of Egypt, by abdication and exile.
The reason being that unlike a Constitutional Republic such as our own, in which a President is elected by the people for a designated term of office and must take an oath to support and defend a Constitution…..in the case of a King who rules by divine right or a dictator who rules usually by the force of his personality or the strength of his secret police, the ones who are required to take an oath of obedience are the people over whom the despot rules. The people must promise to be loyal to the despot and obey him without hesitation.
Perhaps the most infamous example of this in recent history was the oath required of all civil servants and members of the armed forces of the Third Reich. Under the Nazi dictatorship, soldiers no longer took an oath to defend the people, the Fatherland and the Weimar Constitution but from the 2nd of August 1934 a new oath was required and it was as follows:
“Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid, daß ich dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes Adolf Hitler, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht, unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will, jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen.”
“I swear to God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German Empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”
“unconditional obedience” to the leader….no questions to be asked….total and complete loyalty….a sacred oath made in the Name of God. And perhaps, this is just fine, as long as it is good to be the king….or at least as long as the person you are swearing before God to obey remains a good King.
But what happens if the King is not so good? What if you find out that the King is doing really bad things?
Well….then you’ve got yourself a major league problem…and that problem is complicated big time by the fact that YOU swore an oath! you made a promise…and as we all know, “Versprochen ist versprochen und wird nicht gebrochen” “a promise is a promise and will not be broken!” So sad….too bad! But wait … not so fast: perhaps there is a way out of bad promises….or better yet, a way to avoid bad promised altogether! Here’s a thought: Perhaps for Christians, no such promises should ever be made in the first place, and most especially ought never to be made to any leader, no matter what their title. Here’s why:
“Original promises always outrank any future promises which may conflict with the original: And in the case of the Hitler Oath, it stood in clear violation of the core promises…the Sacred Oath made by every Christian on the day of their Baptism: having renounced Satan and all the evil powers of this world, the candidates for Baptism then promise as follows: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? I Do. Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love, I Do. Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? I Do.
These were the promises made long before there was a Hitler. Long before people raised their hand in a Nazi salute, they had raised those same hands and made the sign of the Cross. Long before the Jews of Berlin were deprived of their rights and property, the Christians of Berlin had made promises to persevere in resisting evilm, and to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ and to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being?
Indeed…. If those same Christians had remembered their first promises, there would never have been a Second World War in Europe….there would never have been concentration camps and the bombings of London, Rotterdam, Coventry, Dresden, Hamburg, and Berlin. And perhaps there are many other terrible events from the recent past that would have been impossible had we made the difficult decision to keep the original promises we made on the day of our Baptism and renewed on the day of our Confirmation: perhaps if the vows of Holy Baptism had been more fully embraced it would have been impossible for unbridled greed to have thrown the world into depression in 1929; and perhaps decades earlier those who promised to “respect the dignity of every human being” would have worked harder to ensure that all people, no matter what their color, gender, ethic background, sexual orientation, religion or lack of religion might be, would be embraced not as enemies but as brothers and sisters.
Yes, there have been notable exceptions to the rule that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but they are few and far between and more often than not when it comes to Kings who ruled by a sense of Divine Right, those pages were written by the likes of King Herod whose moral compass pointed no further than a promise made to a girl on a dance floor. And while it may be a good thing for the King to be King, and while a small handful of tyrants may have had the ability to wreak havoc on the world…. The Good News for us is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Those of us who have made an oath….a promise…to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord far outnumber all the bad kings who have ever lived! A promise made to a tyrant whose days are numbered is nothing when compared to the millions of us who have made our Baptismal promises to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Which is why God has put us here in the first place and called us to be true to who we are and to the Good News that defines us as his people:
“You are the light of the world….You are salt for the earth…a city set on a hill….planted in the Vineyard of the Lord of hosts to overcome evil with good….to give sight to the blind….to feed the hungry and care for the widow and orphans. Indeed, we are numbered among that great crowd of witness for whom Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues to be addressed, reminding us that “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing….and chosen us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence…..for we have received an inheritance in Christ….we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit….we are God’s own people.”
You see…..it may be good to be the King in a film by Mel Brooks, but as to the true history of the world, it is far better to be a Christian and in the words of Psalm 24, not to have sworn by what is false but instead, to keep the promises we have made and by God’s grace “to continue in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior,” in whose name we prayed as we did with hope and conviction at the opening this Eucharist:
O God, from whom come all desires, all good counsels, and all just works. Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments…. Amen