November 25, 2018 – Christ the King
33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “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. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Christ the King Sunday was established in 1925. As far as liturgical holidays are concerned, this one is just a child. There are no real traditions for Christ the King Sunday – no wreathes, no tree, no tongues of fire, no Easter eggs, and no fireworks. It was really established as a political act of resistance as the rise in fascism and hardened dictators in Europe and around the world began to take hold. These demigod-like political rulers were seen as the saviors of their country and would often pull from the Bible in order to support their political agendas – agendas like institutionalized racism, military aggression, and genocide. And, in the midst of the shifts of power which would eventually bring about WWII, the Roman Catholic Church planted a small seed of resistance. In a world that supported the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, who spoke persuasively and forcefully and violently against those who opposed them, Christ the King stood opposed.
The depth of what this means is made even more evident in our gospel lesson for today. We are celebrating Christ the King, singing “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, and yet our gospel lesson finds itself in one of Jesus’ most vulnerable times. He is not marching toward a throne, leading an army with a scepter in hand, but will soon be crawling toward a cross, bloodied and wearing a crown of thorns. He’s been condemned by the social and religious elite, he’s standing before a puppet ruler of a vast military empire, and he’s asked a single question, a question which will help Pilate decide if he should live or die.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” What he really means is: Are you willing to side with us, or are you here to establish your own kingdom? Are you going to support our violent rule or will you become a victim of it? Are you going to play nice or are you going to make us angry? “Are you the king of the Jews?”
In his answer, Jesus neither confirms, nor denies. Instead, he tells Pilate that his kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is not yet established but it is very much real. I hope we can see this as more than some pretty, spiritual idea; this as a truly political statement. The gospel is always political. It is political because it forces us to examine our behaviors and our laws and ask the question: is this of the kingdom of God or of the empire of humanity? Does this delight in God’s creation or dominate it? Does this show love and forgiveness, or fear, violence, and hatred? The gospel invites us to reflect on how we act, how we care for the poor, and how we treat others who we see as different from us. Our gospel today tells us that there is a Kingdom which is coming and is here and that should make us ask ourselves if what we do, what we say, how we act and live is in line with the Kingdom or the Empire.
Jesus spends a lot of time in the gospels talking about the Kingdom of God, using parables, sermons, and his own lived example to show people the way. The way of the Kingdom is a way of peace and compassion and sacrifice. And you are a citizen of that Kingdom now. In the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of communion, in the grace-filled holy moments of our lives we are reminded of our place in this Kingdom. It is marked with peace, forgiveness, humility, generosity, and compassion. When you see that, wherever you see that, if ever you see that, whoever you see doing that, that is the Kingdom of God breaking into our world.
The Empire, however, shows a much different side of humanity. It stands in opposition to the Kingdom of God. Its marks are violence, fear, hatred, and isolation. You see it on the news, in the comment sections, in political debate, and in the way we, both individually and communal, fail to care for each other. It is an unfortunate reality that many who claim to seek the Kingdom of God are not living in a way which would make it known to the world around them, but, in fact, seek to hide or ignore it all together.
This sounds political, I know, because the gospel is political. But the gospel is not partisan. It is not reserved or controlled by the political parties and celebrities of the day. It is not Republican or Democrat. It is not Tea Party or Green Party. It is not liberal or conservative. It is God’s and God’s alone. However, there is good news. Because the reality is that, because it is God’s, you have been given citizenship in this kingdom. God gives freely and, in place of walls and gates, we see an ever advancing, boundaryless vision of God’s love and grace sweeping over the world. It advances, not with the engines of war and violence, but with expressions of love and peace and forgiveness. This is the way of the Kingdom. This does not mean that we never get hurt, angry, or feel the pains of sorrow. But it mean that we will respond, first and foremost, out of love, confident that the Kingdom is advancing.
Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, states that we when we pray “thy kingdom come”, we are not in the driver’s seat of the Kingdom. He writes, “In fact, God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.” This comes about “whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through his grace we believe his Holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.” Essentially, the kingdom of God is here if we have eyes to see it and the courage to live according to it. And living well, living “godly lives” as Luther puts it, is not a key to the kingdom, but a result of you being invited in already.
God’s kingdom is coming, even in spite of what we do that might work against it. God’s kingdom is coming, even in spite of the violence that empires across the world have used to advance their borders and agenda. In the face of tyrants, Christ is King. This is good news, especially for those who have been pushed to the margins and told they are not worthy. This is good news, because in Christ’s kingdom the poor are fed, the captives are freed, the silenced are given back their voices, the homeless and wandering are given homes, the estranged are reconciled, and victims of injustice are given the justice that the empire has denied to them. This kingdom extends beyond the borders we place around us. It includes people of every time, place, language, class, faith, and gender. And it includes you.
You have been given a place in this kingdom. This is your story, too. The blood that Christ shed is for you. The victory over sin and death is for you. The kingdom that the empty tomb gives witness to is for you; and for all creation. This king we celebrate today is a king of radical love, peace, and forgiveness. This king chose a cross instead of a throne. This king chose the truth over false narratives that the empire of Rome was telling. This king chose you and all of creation, knowing that the kingdom can never be fully known, fully realized, fully in place, until each and every person is given a place in it. In the face of tyranny, Christ is King. In the face of injustice, Christ is King. In the face of violence, Christ is King. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Amen.