FIRST LESSON 2 Samuel 23:1-7
PSALM READING Psalm 132
SECOND LESSON Revelation 1:4b-8
GOSPEL LESSON John 18:33-37
Today is “Christ the King” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It marks the end of the church liturgical year, which began in Advent of last year. Through one year in the church calendar, we trace the story of Jesus’ birth – coming to us as “God with us,” fully human and fully divine; and of the teaching, healing, and ministry of Jesus as he walked the earth – being drawn with compassion to those who were sick, oppressed, and living on the margins of society; we recall Jesus’ death at the hands of an empire, threatened by the subversive power Jesus exhibited over their institutions; we rejoice at Jesus’ resurrection – defeating death that separated us from God; after Easter, we focus on what it means to live as Spirit-filled followers of Jesus Christ, by patterning our lives after his in the ways we offer mercy, compassion, and love to our neighbors. As we come to this “Reign of Christ” Sunday, we consider Jesus Christ as our King, reigning over the kingdom that he came to establish, and which he entrusted to us to continue building and expanding until the whole earth and all of creation is finally restored.
So before Advent begins next week, and we start to think of Jesus once more as Mary’s boy-child, or that sweet baby sleeping silently in a manger… what does it mean to think of Jesus in his full divinity? What does it mean to think of Jesus as our King? Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine Christ the King? What do you see as you look at him? How do you feel as you imagine yourself in his presence? And what do you think you would hear Jesus saying to you? Continue to hold that scenario in your mind as we go to him in prayer… for when we go to his throne room, where Jesus sits on the seat of mercy, we only need to go as far as our own heart.
Prayer: With thankful hearts we pause this day to be reminded of our grandest hope: that the calamities, the demands, even the blessings of this world do not have the last word. You are the one who was and is, and who is yet to come— a ruler of a different kind. Open our hearts to the comfort, the challenge and the mystery of this good news. In the name of Jesus Christ, your faithful witness, we pray. Amen.
Our Old Testament lessons remind us of the Hebrew people’s desire to be ruled by a king like other nations around them. The Lord grants their wish, but warns them not to place their ultimate trust in earthly leaders who will only disappoint them. But we can hardly blame them, can we? Wouldn’t it be great if we had a truly benevolent king who could be counted on to make just and fair laws, and whose responsibility was to keep the realm safe and fed and happy? But that’s the stuff of fairy tales, right? The people of Israel hung all of their hopes on King David, one after God’s own heart! But as in all human-ruled kingdoms, absolute power has the power to corrupt absolutely. And in David’s kingdom, the rule of might became right, and the kingdom became corrupted by adultery, murder, tribal infighting and a constant state of warring with their neighbors. But the Psalm tells us today that even as David reflects on his own failings at the end of his life, he still has faith that one day a true King will come, one from David’s own line who will ‘rule over people justly.’
But when Jesus came, who recognized his kingship? Who was willing to believe that this peasant child of an unwed teen, born in a barn and laid to sleep in a feeding trough was the Messiah they had been waiting for? Who was actually going to follow this nomadic tradesman who wandered the countryside, couch-surfing, hanging out with tax collectors and putting his hands on lepers and bleeding women? Who was still willing to call him “Lord” as he was arrested by the temple guards? And then, as he stood before Pilate, the governor of Roman-occupied Jerusalem, who is there to testify as his witness?
This is just as much a question for us today? What does the Lordship of Jesus look like in our lives, here is the Midwestern suburbs in North America, over two thousand years later? The problem today, as it was then, is that people expect kings and kingdoms to come complete with earthly wealth, power and control. But Jesus did not come to overthrow the earthly powers, but to establish an entirely different realm that exists more in what we think and feel in our minds and hearts than in what we can see, and taste and touch and hear and smell in the physical world. Jesus came to announce that there was an entirely new way of being – of being in relationship with God and with others. When Jesus was questioned by Pilate about whether or not he was king, Pilate’s only concern was whether Jesus was a threat to his own power. But as Jesus tells Pilate, if his kingdom was of this world, his followers would have believed in him – they would have shown up, mob-like, with swords and spears. They would have been willing to fight to free him! Because that’s what they wanted – a king that was going to stand up to the empire! That was going to rule again with physical strength and military might! And when Jesus came in all of his vulnerability, showing mercy to “those” people, weeping with friends, and now – submitting to execution?? This was not their king, after all.
So what about us? Can we believe in a vulnerable, weak, pacifist King like that? One who teaches us to love our enemies, and to pray for them, and that if they strike you to turn the other cheek? And more than that, if we say we believe in him, do we live like we do? Does the way we live our life show our allegiance to Jesus Christ as our king, by working to build and expand the peaceable kingdom? Or do we live like we’d rather wait for a king who rules with a little more earthly muscle?
Every year about this time, I start seeing the posts on social media about “Keeping Christ in Christmas.” And I have to say that I’m really tired of this one. It says nothing about our witness to who Jesus really is to look down our nose at those who don’t celebrate the same holidays we do. Did you know that when colonists first came to northern America that the Christmas holiday was banned by the religious puritans, who thought any religious celebrations were heretical?? In fact, our denomination officially came into existence on Dec. 25, 1784, because when the general conference was scheduled for that day, it was just any other day, nothing special. In fact, Christmas wasn’t even declared a federal holiday in America until 1870. So there was a time when some Christians considered Christmas itself to be very un-Christian.
I think a far more worthwhile thing to consider is how to keep “Christ” in “Christian.” How do we as Christ-followers live a life that is humble and vulnerable enough to make the King of Love our King? To be willing to give up our own control so that Christ can reign in and through us? Especially here in the U. S. A. we are conditioned our whole lives to believe in the superiority of the individual over the community. “You do you.” “Go for it!” I sound like my dad now, but here’s one of his favorites, “If it itches, scratch it.” In other words, we are indoctrinated with marketing messages all day long that are aimed at convincing us that we deserve whatever we want; that we don’t have to deny ourselves anything, we can rack up credit to support our self-indulgences, and we don’t need to concern ourselves with how our choices affect others – especially not when it comes to corporate success! Even if that means kicking the can down the road for our great-grandchildren to deal with.
When Jesus answered Pilate, he said, “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.” Pilate responds by asking, “but what is truth?” Proclaiming the truth, being the truth, and even belonging to the truth are what make Jesus a king. His kingdom is not defined by earthly terms, but neither is it some ethereal, imaginary concept. Jesus comes from and belongs to God’s kingdom. Jesus lived out this Truth by crawling on his hands and knees to wash the dirty, stinking feet of his disciples; he was willing to make himself ‘unclean’ by touching the sick, hungry, homeless, and hopeless; by owning no earthly possessions that we know of; and he certainly didn’t build a castle and sit on a throne, to rule over us from a distance. He came to show us an up close and personal God, who loves us through humility and vulnerability.
Truth can be transforming if we seek it by trying to understand what it means to be obedient to Christ as King of our lives; to do that we must look deeply into who we are and what we have become, in order to try to live into what we can and should be. By looking deeply, we must look at what is right and wrong in our own actions and in our attitudes toward others and within ourselves. This means that we challenge ourselves to look beyond what we may have come to believe thus far, in order to see the truth that Jesus himself is God, is love, and is grace. We do this by coming here on Sundays – by engaging in community worship, prayer, small groups, and all the other ways we gather as people of faith to be active witnesses in the world.
The Greek form of “Christian” means “little Christ” – to live in the truth is to live as “little Christs” in this kingdom-ly realm, by living, loving, and showing mercy and compassion just like Jesus did. His kingdom comes every time we allow him to love through us, every time we share a cup of water or bread with a neighbor, every time we visit the sick or lonely, every time we bite our tongues to keep from passing judgement or making an insult; every time we welcome into our inner circle one who has been left out. And make no mistake, we do not do this because we simply agree with Jesus’s teachings – we do this by allowing our self to die along with Jesus, in order to be made new with him in resurrection, and then by allowing Christ’ Spirit to live and reign through us; to submit to Jesus as the King of our lives.
Today we have an opportunity to make or to re-make our commitment to Christ as our King in this counter-cultural way; to commit to worshiping regularly, to engaging with God daily through reading God’s word and through prayer, to giving to God out of our time, our talents and our financial resources to support and advance the mission of God’s church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and to be a witness for Christ in the way we live, in the way we treat others – and ourselves – and in the ways we tell others of the wonderful things that God has done.
As we sing this hymn of response, you are invited to come forward to make that commitment today. Part of the way you can do that is by bringing your commitment cards forward and placing them in the basket up front. If you’re not quite ready to make a financial commitment today, you can still bring forward your connect card, as an offering of your intentions to connect in worship, prayer, service and small groups. And I’ll be here to talk with anyone who wants to talk about any next steps in your own life of commitment to Christ. As we stand and sing, I invite you to respond as you are moved to do so.
Prayer: Dawn on us, word of truth, like the light of the morning, like a lamp to light our way. Amen.