The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2000-2001

A King Worthy to Serve
Revelation 1:4-8
The British tabloids gave Prince Charles a respite this week. After spending the first weeks of November filling the headlines with juicy tidbits about the antics and alleged antics the heir-to-the-throne and his staff, not a single story graced the front page. Given the public's fascination for gossip on the royal family and the media's lust for readers, few expect the tabloid reporters to neglect the subject. Britons seem to enjoy raking over the charred remains of Charles's failed marriage to Princess Diana and his love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.1

Prince Charles is not the first heir to the throne who has been embroiled in scandal and controversy. In 1896, the then Prince of Wales also had a credibility problem. His string of mistresses were well known amongst the ruling class, he had a walk on part in a gambling scandal, was considered lazy and extravagant. His only passion was shooting and the racetrack. Queen Victoria did not trust him and denied him access to state papers until he was 50.2 However, in 1896, the royal servants would never have considered revealing secrets of the royal family. TV reporters and the paparazzi had not yet been born and fast cars and underpasses did not exist. 

While the transgressions of the current Prince of Wales may not have been as bad as his great-great-grandfather, he is already considered an inevitable failure as king. And the latest episodes continue to fuel speculation that Charles might not succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. 

Credibility is a very important quality for a leader. When a leader's credibility is called into question, people are hesitant to follow. They are reluctant to trust the leader's decisions, sacrifice in times of national crises, or alter their own plans to support the leader's vision. In the written account of his vision, the author of Revelation wants the listeners to know that they are following a leader who does not have a credibility problem. John tells us that unlike kings and queens who are self-serving, self-absorbed, self-indulging, manipulative, and greedy we serve a King who loves us.

Our culture craves love. We long for a relationship that gratifies our sexual desires, affirms our personhood, and satisfies our emotional isolation. But increasingly love has become an elusive experience. Broken promises, broken relationships, and broken marriages litter the romantic landscape. Love appears only true in fairy tales.3 The title of one popular movie-Love Stinks-captures our cynicism. 

The seeds of mistrust and fear have been planted in our hearts. We are suspicious of others even when we have been the guilty party. We may transfer our disappointment with others to God. We wonder why he allowed someone to hurt us? Why did he allow the pain to continue for so long? We become reticent to entrust our lives to his Lordship. We avoid nurturing a relationship with him through prayer. We allow the activities of living to distract us from reading his Word. We abandon our responsibilities. But even when we have deserted him, God comes seeking us to tell us that he loves us.

Michelle and Dale fell in love just after graduating from high school. During their earlier years together, they delighted in their love for one another. But after six years and three children later, Michelle was standing in the kitchen looking at a stack of dirty dishes in the sink and a pile of dirty diapers on the floor. She decided that enough was enough, so she took off her apron and walked out the door.

She called home to check on the children and talk to her husband. At the end of every call, he told her how much he loved her, and asked her to come home. She refused. Desperate, Dale hired a private detective to find his wife. 

After a few days, the detective told Dale that she was living in a second-class hotel in Midwest. Dale packed his bags, asked his neighbor to care for the children and got on a bus. He found the hotel and climbed the stairs. As he knocked on the door, his hand trembled because he did not know the kind of reception he would receive. When his wife opened the door, she stood in shocked silence, and then fell apart in his arms. Together they packed her bags and returned home.

Later that night when the children were in bed, they sat down to talk. He asked her the one question that had long troubled him: `Why wouldn't you tell me where you were when you called? You knew I loved you. Why didn't you come home?' "She replied, `Before, your love was just words. Now I know how much you love me because you came.'"4

God did not reside on a mountain thundering his law and demanding our obedience. He did not remain silent while we wondered in the darkness. He did wait until we completed a religious self-improvement course. In a letter to a church the apostle John would write, "Herein is love not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his son...(I John 4:9)." God demonstrates his love by taking the initiative to come to us in human flesh.

Freedom is a cherished word in the English language. We believe it is an inalienable right and defend our freedom with our lives. But we have twisted God's intended purpose and have treated our freedom with careless neglect. We justify our inconsistencies and imperfections with a flippant, "Well, no one's perfect." But our King has come to set us free from sin, not too sin. Christ has liberated us from racial prejudice, selfish greed, and insensitive apathy so that we might live courageously for him.

From an early age, Tom had been driven by racial hatred. During high school, Tom opposed desegregation. By the age of 21, he was a designated terrorist in the White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, once described by the FBI as the most right-wing terrorist organization in America. But now Tom sat in a Mississippi prison reading and wondering how he could salvage his life. He knew that he should not be alive. Somehow, he had survived two bloody shoot-outs with the FBI, loosing a friend in each. He faced a thirty-year prison sentence but knew that if something did not change he would never complete the term. But Tom was not reading just any book he was reading the Gospels. After several weeks of reading and soul searching, Tom surrendered his life to the King of Kings. Slowly the animosity toward blacks began to dissolve. He renounced the Klan and his past life of racial hatred. Miraculously Tom only served eight years of that thirty-year sentence.

Since his release, Tom worked to promote racial reconciliation. He has a biography, The Conversion of a Klansman and co-authored with Dr. John Perkins, a black minister, He's My Brother. He was also ordained and has served as a campus pastor and parish priest in Washington DC. He is now serving as the President of the C.S. Lewis Institute. I had the privilege of attending classes with Tom during my studies in spiritual formation. We talked about the prisons of his past and the freedom he now enjoys in Christ. His life is a beautiful witness to the redeeming love of God; a love that sets us free from the bondage of sin to live in freedom over sin.

The office of priest first took shape in the Sinai desert when God instructed Moses to set apart Aaron from the tribe of Levi and designate to him and his descendants the duties of worship. The priests were not ordinary citizens of Israel. They could only come from the tribe of Levi. They had to maintain a strict code of conduct. Their lifestyle had to be exemplary to the community. With the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost the regulations of the Levitical code were dissolved and the role of priest extended to all members of the community of faith. The priesthood of all believers is one of the foundational tenants of the Reformed faith. We do not need another person to intercede for us in prayer. We have direct access to God but this privilege brings responsibility.

When you joined this church, you were asked to renounce sin, turn and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be his faithful disciple, obeying his word. I wonder if we take those vows seriously enough. For many they have become an empty ritual. But just as the Old Testament priest was called to an exemplary life of obedience, every Christian is called to that exemplary lifestyle. Obedience is not limited to those who seek ordination. It is not optional for the average pew sitter. Knowing that we serve a Risen King, the passion pursuit of good works should be the priority of every believer. We have been not been freed from sin to wallow in misdirected pleasure. This runs contrary to popular opinion that defines freedom as permissiveness, the absence of duty, and the lack of obligation. But any Michigan football player will tell you that in yesterday's victory over Ohio State, they were only free to perform their best when they obeyed the assignments of the Lloyd Carr's game plan.

To weather the scandalous storm winds, Prince Charles has hired a public relations firm. He hopes they can devise a strategy to persuade the people of England that he is still worthy to be their King. Only history knows if he will accomplish his goal. Only history knows if he will ever be a King worthy of the throne but our King has already proven in history that he loves us, has freed us from our sins, and is now worthy to be served.

1. Robert Barr, "Prince Charles' Agony Abates, for Now," Atlantic Journal-Constitution, Online:

2. Simon Heffer, "God Bless the Future King," The Spector, November 8, Online:

3. The phrase comes from the song, Love Was Out to Get Me, sung by the Monkeys.

4. Adapted from Stephen Brown, If God Is In Charge, Baker Book House, October 1994

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