All of my life I’ve been hearing those words from Psalm 24. They speak to me of the sovereignty of the King of glory over all creation.
At Phoenix, we will hear these words again as one of four key scripture passages shaping a convention entitled “Citizens of God’s Kingdom – Healed in Hope.” Within that frame of reference, perhaps we will hear them in a new way, almost as for the first time.
Some of us have just finished three grueling Sunday school lessons from MennoMedia on the book of Daniel (Beyond the Present Time, Spring 2013). Though the dramatic images of Daniel may seem very different from Psalm 24 or from what we expect to find in Phoenix, there is a similar emphasis: God’s claim over our public life – what Jesus in Matthew referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven” and elsewhere in the gospels as “the Kingdom of God.”
From Daniel 7, we read words that formed the bedrock of Jesus’ identity: “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” And yet more: “The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy one of the Most High.”
From Daniel 8, we saw the specter of a terrible future when through violence, cunning and deceit, political rulers would cause fearful destruction and “destroy the people of the holy ones.”
From Daniel 9, we heard the call to repentance “for we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God . . . set before us by his servants the prophets.” Daniel prayed not for deliverance from what was to come but for the restoration of the LORD’s name: “For your own sake, O Lord our God, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name.”
After these three lessons from Daniel, I find myself drawn to a paraphrase of Psalm 24: “America is the LORD’s and everything in it.”
As citizens and residents of the U.S.A., we seem to be living in a Daniel 8 sort of time. The self-righteous deceit with which our nation unleashed the violence of the atom on the world at Hiroshima and Nagasaki has taken root deep within much of our public life. Now, newly energized by a contrived sense of 9/11 victimization, many claim our country is the “indispensable nation.” By virtue of its moral superiority, it is authorized to roam the earth, skilled in intrigue, strong in power, causing fearful destruction and succeeding in all it does. Daniel 8:23-4 provides these images and they fit to a “T”.
So what comes next? Do we pass a series of resolutions to reform our national institutions? I expect we are well past that by now. Repentance will be closer to the mark – not to save our own skins or to set the government straight but as the way to restore the name of our Lord and Savior to the glory it deserves. For the One who dedicated his life to loving and costly labor on behalf of his friends and neighbors is viewed in today’s world as irrelevant. Oh no, not spiritually irrelevant; most everyone still piously claims Jesus is a perfectly acceptable ticket (one of several) to Heaven. But relevant in a Daniel 7 sense of public life? Relevant in Psalm 24 earthiness? That’s almost embarrassing to contemplate.
Except at Phoenix in July, it won’t be an embarrassment. There, we will find a group of people who confess Jesus as Lord over our public life. Who recognize that the power among us is not in our numbers or our strategy but in our embodiment of the way of Jesus. Who, despite moments of doubt, bear public witness to nonviolence as the path toward healing and hope within our fractured world.
Wow, that will be interesting to watch! And something I want to experience.
Berry Friesen is a Minnesota native transplanted to eastern Pennsylvania, father of two daughters and grandfather of two more. He attended prior conventions in Philadelphia, Wichita and Pittsburgh and is the author of Water from Another Time: Today’s Questions, Yesterday’s Wisdom.