Game of Thrones
This is a special Game of Thrones edition of our Palm Sunday service. “But Pastor,” you may be asking, “how can you talk about something so violent on such a holy day?”
On the TV show Game of Thrones, a person’s eyes are gouged out ~ which can also be found in the Book of Judges. A man is killed on a toilet ~ which can also be found in the Book of Judges. Body parts are sent in the mail ~ also in the Book of Judges. There’s also rampant sex and mass murder, which can also be found – you guessed it – in the Book of Judges, as well as throughout the Old Testament. In fact, if you like Game of Thrones, you’ll probably love the Book of Judges, and vice versa. Fans of the show may also point out that there are dragons. These can be found in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
But more importantly, in the Old Testament, as well as on Game of Thrones, there are kings ~ lots of kings. They fight each other, worship idols and false gods, get greedy, fall from grace, occasionally repent and in some cases try to win the people’s trust. Others rule with an iron hand, executing those who get in their way.
These kings can be found in 1 and 2 Samuel, which some might call prequels, featuring Samuel and Saul. Then there’s the main event, 1 and 2 Kings, and the “remake,” 1 and 2 Chronicles. So many kings! But there are only three good ones that people remember: King David (except for that thing with Bathsheba), King Solomon (except for his harem) and King Josiah, the last good king.
Then what happens? The kingdom becomes weak, and splits in two: Israel and Judah. Then they both fall to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and the people are taken away to exile. After that, history turns into March Madness and the Final Four. Persia beats Babylon, and the exiles return home under Cyrus. Then the Greeks beat the Persians under Alexander the Great. Then there’s a huge upset, as Cinderella team Israel beats Greece and is left alone for a hundred years. But then in the finals, Rome beats Israel under Pompey, eventually setting up King Herod. It’s a Game of Thrones!
There are 300 pages of kings in the Old Testament, and 300 more pages of prophets. What do prophets do? Mostly confront kings, which doesn’t go well. They warn the rulers not to worship idols, and the people to be holy. But they also prophesy that one day a good king will come to unite the realms. The Lord will send this king, who will be just, righteous and fair, and he shall reign forever.
Then one day, it actually happens. A child is born, and he is called “Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.” And King Herod hears of it, and he’s not happy. He gives orders for every child under 2 to be killed. (At this point, the Bible turns more violent than Game of Thrones.) The order is similar to that of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Joseph and Mary flee to, of all places, Egypt, returning only after King Herod dies.
Now let’s flash forward a few decades. Jesus is all grown up. Caesar is the king. Beneath him is a new Herod, the governor, and under him, Pilate. The job of the lowest person is to keep the peace; otherwise, they may be tortured and killed.
And here comes Jesus, riding on a donkey, and they are calling him king, shouting, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” And Peter is ready to raise his sword and fight. And Jesus rides his donkey all the way to the Temple, where he makes a whip and drives out the moneychangers. Then he stays there, day after day, in plain sight, teaching and preaching and healing on the front steps. And Pilate hears of it.
The people were waiting for a Messiah: a military leader with an army, ready to move on King Herod and maybe even Caesar. This righteous king would unite the kingdoms and rule forever through his descendants. But Jesus didn’t claim to be this leader; when asked about taxes, he said, “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He spoke of a heavenly kingdom, the kingdom of God. He taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Pilate has Jesus arrested. At his trial, Pilate asks Jesus point blank, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it was, my disciples would fight for me.”
Now Pilate is nervous. He tries to set him free. But the people respond, “If you do, you’re not the Emperor’s friend ~ you’re a rebel!”
“Here is your king!” Pilate tells the people.
“Crucify him!” they respond.
The words “King of the Jews” are written on a sign that hangs above Jesus’ head. The people ask Pilate to correct the sign, to write, “This man said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.”
Let’s pause here to ask ourselves some questions. What kind of king are we waiting for? When we met Jesus, what kind of king did we hope to find? When we pray to Jesus, do we get what we ask for? And if not, are we disappointed?
Some people want Jesus to heal all their sickness, but more often he offers spiritual healing. Some want no one to die, but more often he offers comfort. Some people want this world to be fair, and his response is, “It will be, but not yet. You’ll have a new spiritual body, but not yet. You’ll see your loved ones again, but not yet. There will be peace on earth, but not yet. Today I offer peace for your soul. I offer wisdom, courage, love, hope and grace.” Is it enough?
Some people say, “What good is a god who allows suffering?”
Our God responds, “You allow suffering, whenever you fail to come to the aid of others.” Our God says, “One day every tear will be wiped away from every eye – but not yet.” He says, “Trust me.” He says, “Wait.”
It’s easy to wave a palm when we think we’re about to get what we want. It’s easy to wave a palm when Jesus is right there. It’s harder to wave a palm when we’re suffering. it’s harder to wave a palm when we’re not hearing God at all, or when what we’re hearing is “No.” It’s harder to wave a palm when Jesus is on the cross instead of walking on the beach, leaving footprints. It looks like he’s lost. It looks like we’ve lost. So will we trust him? Or will we turn away?
This season on Game of Thrones, we will find out who will ascend the Iron Throne. One strong candidate, Jon Snow, has already died, come back to life, and gathered disciples. Some people are asking, “Could this be the Prince That Was Promised?” If this sounds familiar, but you’re not sure why it sounds familiar, you should come to church more often.
Next week, we will celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is crowned with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne. And He shall reign forever and ever. Will this be enough to make us tune in? Is faith in the next life enough to give us hope in this one? When we are engulfed in darkness, will we still believe in the light? Who will win this game of thrones? Come back Thursday and Friday for our special midweek episodes, and next Sunday for a special episode we call “The Resurrection!”
The Reverend Richard Allen