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Nov 21, 2021

Within and Among

Within and Among

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: November 2021

Today's Scripture: Daniel 1:1-17, Luke 17:20-21

Today's Sermon


"Within and Among"


Daniel 1:1-17
          1In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.

          3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

          8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. 10The palace master said to Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.’ 11Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12‘Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.’ 14So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.


Luke 17:20-21
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

Within and Among

            There are many entry points to a sermon’s topic. Today, let’s enter through the hymns. Hymns are almost always instructive, poetic interpretations of the tradition.  You may not always like the hymns we choose.  By the way, don’t blame RuthE. for that; except for specials such as Lessons and Carols, the preacher usually picks the hymns.  We try to select at least one familiar and/or singable one when we introduce something new or different, but I’m sure at times I miss the mark.  Just remember, though, your favorite hymns were all at one point the new hymn that people didn’t like or couldn’t sing.  In any event, today’s hymns really speak to the occasion.  Do you know the occasion of which I’m speaking?

            It’s Christ the King Sunday, when we proclaim Christ reigns supreme.  Our opening hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory” begins with a request for divine power. It’s in verse two, however, that I believe the pearl is found: “Lo! The hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!”  All too often, Christians have battled with others and each other about Jesus’ identity to the neglect of his way.  Many struggle with the some of the claims about Jesus, but few, even great skeptics, articulate trouble with what Jesus was about.

            It’s the way of Jesus that should return to the center for Christians and for the church.  That’s the path not only to authentic and transformative spirituality, but also to vitality in the church.  In the prologue to his book, Saving Jesus from The Churchphilosophy professor and congregationalist pastor Robin Meyers writes, “We have a sacred story that has been stolen from us, and in our time the thief is what passes for orthodoxy itself…Arguing over the metaphysics of Christ only divides us. But agreeing to follow the essential teachings of Jesus could unite us.  We could become imitators, not believers.”[1]  It’s not a new problem.  One of the reasons some struggle with The Apostles’ Creed is not for what it says (there’s that too), but what it omits.  It says virtually nothing about Jesus’ life, his teachings, his healing, his words or deeds.  Some of our contemporaries who proclaim Christ seem likewise to have forgotten how Jesus actually lived, and they have come to embody the opposite of that for which Jesus stood.  Sadly, much of the public assumes we are all guilty of that.

            Why not, then, have a “Listen to Jesus Sunday,” rather than “Christ the King”?  Well, maybe that’s a good idea.  It would work for the Transfiguration, when Jesus’ identity and way are united – “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him” (Mk. 9:7).   Many churches now refer to this Sunday as The Reign of Christ Sunday as an attempt to capture better the essence of Jesus and move away from monarchical language, away from empire speak.  Empire in Scripture and theology is not just a term used to describe certain regimes, it represents a way of being in which power is sought and exerted through force, employing the threat of violence and punishment.  The cross that adorns virtually every Christian space was such a tool of empire that Christianity has converted into a sign of love. Empire ideology is alive and well, not only in geopolitics, but also in business, group dynamics, and even interpersonal relationships.  In empire, the goal is to win by dominating and taking advantage. Empire is zero sum; it builds itself on the backs of necessary losers. To proclaim the reign of Christ is to proclaim a different set of values and methods, in service of a different vision.

            Our opening hymn offers a biting critique of empire in service of a greater way.  Verse three: “Cure they children’s warring madness; bend our pride to thy control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul.” Violence, pride, selfishness, materialism, spiritual poverty—these are the markers of empire.  “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.”  God’s kingdom has a different goal.  Jesus’ way is integrated and interconnected, interrelated.  Neighbors are to be loved not exploited, loved not as much as ourselves—that’s applying a value to it—loved asourselves.  “Us and them” does not exist, and it doesn’t take much study to recognize this interrelatedness reaches beyond the human species.  The whole “objectify, dominate, and commodify” model is breaking down before our very eyes. 

          People who are connected to God, to Spirit, want to extract themselves from that way of being.  I don’t know how well you followed that first reading from Daniel, though perhaps Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ring a bell somewhere in the recesses of your Christian memory.  The King of Babylon requests some Israelites to be brought to serve, and thus they are supplied with all the perks of the king’s palace; they are to be fed accordingly. However, they refuse the royal staples because they do not want to be fed by the fuel of empire.  Notice, though, how careful Daniel is in resisting.  He recognizes this could get the palace master in trouble.  Indeed, it could cost him his life, someone just caught up in the system, if they start to look malnourished.  Daniel says, I tell you what, let us eat vegetables and water, and after 10 days you can check to see how we’re faring.  Sure enough, they appeared even heartier than those eating the royal rations.  The message?  They are nourished from another source.

          When the Pharisees ask Jesus about the kingdom of God, which some assumed would look like empire, Jesus also responds not by looking for the external or the material or the traditionally powerful. “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”  It’s among you.  In other words, it’s found in the way you relate to one another, relationship, not objectification.  That turns others into things, “means” to draw on Kant.  The Greek word translated here “among” also has another meaning, “within.”  The kingdom is within you, and of course, you is plural.  You don’t have to externalize your rescue.  It’s within.  You won’t find it out there.  It’s in here (heart) and through here (community of faithful) we are called to manifest it out there. 

          It is for this reason that I can sing the closing hymn, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…” without flinching.  It doesn’t have to mean forced conversions to Christianity, the kinds of which we are literally uncovering at old Christian schools in North America, digging up a violent past, a violent misunderstanding of Jesus’ way.  We can sing about lifting up the way of Christ, the way of love, the way of assuming there is light in the other.  Philip Newell tells a story about speaking in Canada about this Celtic Christian notion of trusting the light is in all people and listening for God in them.  It was an event done in conjunction with First Nation’s Peoples, and one from among them said in tears after, if only your ancestors had come here expecting to see the light in us, it could have turned out so differently for my people.[2]

          So, yes, I can sing that hymn full-throated, the hope that every tongue would confess this way.  If you think I’m just playing fast and loose with the hymn, imposing my own sensibilities, look at the fourth verse: 

Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With his Father’s glory o’er the earth to reign;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,         
and our hearts confess him King of glory now.

What meets upon his brow?  The wreaths of empire.  What’s the brow?  It’s where the crown of thorns rested when empire crucified Jesus.  When Christ returns in fullness, when the way of Christ finally reigns, it will be the way of empire instead that will be put to rest forevermore. That is an occasion for celebration.



[1]Robin Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus(New York:  HarperCollins, 2009), 10. 

[2]Told at speaking events. 



Please note, the video feed goes dark at about the 22nd minute, but you can still hear the audio.