SERMON 11/25/12 The Feast of “Christ The King”
Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Being a kid in the summer, in mid 1970’s, you could on any evening find me and my neighbors playing outside. There were no Xbox’s to keep us inside. There was only three television channels to speak of, so we made our own entertainment. Football in one of the neighbor’s yards, baseball in the middle of the street, skateboards and bikes anywhere and everywhere, these were the games we played. A ritual of sorts happened almost every night at about the same time; parents would call kids home for dinner.
A distinct voice called from my house, and that was the booming voice of my dad. Let me tell you, when my Dad called you by name, you had better put your bike up and come on home. My dad was a good man and I know he loved us, but like the absolute sovereigns over earthly kingdoms of old, he was the head of the house, he ruled, and we listened. the was a power structure of sorts in the house back then, and we dared not mess with it.
Earthly power structures, whether parents who rule the house, executives that oversee large groups of employees, or monarchs who rule over vast empires, we humans exercise dominion over each other. The kingship of Christ, as described in the scripture readings today, is far from any earthly notion of kingship or human dominion. On this day, we commemorate Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the one who calls all of us by name, into the Kingdom of Heaven.
This feast day is a 20th century addition to the church calendar. In 1925, Pope Pius XI in response to growing secularism and nationalism, instituted the Feast of Christ the King. It is observed not only in the Roman church, but in the Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1969, Pope Paul VI gave it a new date, the last Sunday after Pentecost, which is the end of the church year. I have to admit, I struggle with this feast day, because my knowledge of Jesus and my limited knowledge of monarchy’s and royal courts, seem to be at odds with each other.
I mean, Jesus was raised in poverty, lived in humble service to others, was betrayed, beaten, and crucified. Something doesn’t add up does it? This way of life isn’t what we think of when we think of kings. There seems to be a disconnect between the royal trappings of crowns, thrones, power, pomp and circumstance, and the humble trappings of a manger birth, poverty, service, vulnerability, and a cross. I find it interesting that the readings for this feast are set in the context of the trial of Jesus before Pilate.
Pontius Pilate tried to understand Jesus’ kingship. There was some self preservation concerns for Pilate if for some reason, this rabbi was relly after a power grab. At Jesus’ trial Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responded, is this your question or did someone else tell you this? Pilate responds to a question with another question, I’m not one of your people am I, what wrong have you done? Then Jesus responds in a way that clears up any misunderstandings about him, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.”
Ah HAH! Now maybe we get it. Jesus kingdom is not about the wielding of power or force, but the revelation of truth. Jesus the King declares, without royal trumpets blaring that his kingdom is based on vulnerable love. It is so obvious when we consider his meek birth in a manger, his life of poverty and preference to the poor, his service to the outcast and down-trodden, his ultimate vulnerability to power, all of which, led to his death on the cross. The God who created all, whom the seas obey, by whom the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind have sight, and the ostracized find justice, is the King of vulnerability identifying clearly with those whom he saves.
Now you may say, wait a minute Eric. That humble Jesus all sounds well and good, but I want a powerful king who will come in at the right time, wield a sword of power, come with clouds, horses, tanks, and jets and turn this world back to God. Really? Don’t forget, this Jesus we call Lord, this Jesus we claim as the ruler of our lives is not a king of power, but vulnerability, humility, and mercy. Are we sure this is the king we desire? The whole notion of a king who rules over a people is an unfathomable notion for Americans who have a democratically elected government. and most of us wrestle with what life would be like under a sovereign ruler. So, how do we deal with the imagery of Christ as King?
When we speak of sovereignty in secular terms, we are referring to a monarch’s supreme, absolute, exclusive, independent authority over a people. When we refer to Christ as King, we are speaking of his sovereignty over our lives not by an authority wielded by force, but authority that aligns with the purposes of God which is love. When we identify with Jesus who was born in a manger, lived in poverty and offered preference to the poor, who served the outcast and down-trodden, who was ultimately vulnerable to the power of the world, and who was obedient unto death on the cross, we are living under Christ’s sovereignty. We are living life in the Kingdom of God. The kingdom over which Christ is king is not merely a futuristic, apocalyptic, cloud-covered returning event some time and some place out there, it is a present reality . The kingdom of God, the reign of Christ as King in our lives, is upon us now. The question is are we willing to enter the kingdom?
Who or what reigns and rules your life? In who or what do you find the ultimate truth? How or where do you find peace and promise? For many of us, we submit to the economic authority of consumerism. Many of us hand over the power in our lives to our need for self fulfillment. Some of us journey through life never expanding our circle of love beyond, self, family, or even close friends. The Jesus who was vulnerable, who was humble and self-giving beyond imagine, who never wielded power over others, who died at the hands of his oppressors, is the same one today that we proclaim King of Kings.
The “Christus Victor” we have behind the altar in our chapel, depicts Jesus on the cross, adorned with royal raiment and crown. this is the image we think of most often, when we consider Christ the King. We may imagine Jesus adorned in clouds with power and sword. When we think of Christ the King, as some futuristic possibility, with merely images of power, we reject his true kingship. When Jesus said, “My kindgom is not from this world,” he was declaring that he rules and reigns all of creation, not through the ways we expect by earthly power and force, but through the divine power of vulnerable, risk-taking love. If Christ is truly King over our lives, if we truly hear and heed his voice, we will like our King, renounce power, influence, and force of human injustice, self service, and apathy and embrace grace, mercy, love, humility, and justice. Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” So, the question is, are we really listening, because the master is calling us by name and he is inviting us to enter the kingdom.
2 The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Metzger, Bruce M. (editor), Oxford University Press, 1993, Oxford, p. 408