November 24, 2013
Christ the King Sunday Reflections
The church is a funny place. Hopefully funny ha ha sometimes, but the church and its life and its calendar are just different and sometimes hard to follow. First of all, today is the last day of the church year. That’s right; the church does not follow the normal lunar calendar. Today we finish the church year with a celebration called Christ the King Sunday. Beginning next Sunday, which is the first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new church calendar year.
We end every church year with Christ the King Sunday. It’s our last chance to try to figure out who this Jesus is, and was, before we begin looking for him to come again to us as a child in a manger. Today we will explore 4 different scripture readings that can help us understand what it means to be a king and how we as Christians can call Jesus our king.
In just a few weeks we will sing the hymn “What Child is This?” and proclaim in the refrain three times, “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” But what kind of king is Jesus? And what kind of king is Jesus not?
During the time this passage from Jeremiah was being written, the term “shepherd” meant “king.” Jeremiah uses the term shepherd to describe the kings living in his lifetime – kings that he makes very clear have caused the fall of Israel. Their greed for power and prosperity leads them away from the justice they are called to provide for the people – especially the poor, the widowed and the oppressed. But Jeremiah has expectations for a new kind of king – a righteous king, a king that Christians find fully realized in Christ Jesus. This king is not a military ruler, but provides a different leadership model – a model whose ethic is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b) This is the model we are called to emulate.
Christ our king lived not by brute force like the earthly rulers of Jeremiah’s day, but by caring for others who needed him. Christ’s power is not one of might, but one of love. He is our Lord and our shepherd and because of him we shall not want. Jeremiah rejects the kings of his day and points us to a new kind of king or leader – to the righteous branch of David, manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
Psalm 46 is a much loved psalm. Maybe that’s because it steadfastly proclaims faith in God’s protection and presence while still being realistic about the way things actually are in the world. This psalm offers us a vision of a faithful life that acknowledges the dangers and difficulties that swirl around us, but also helps us maintain an attitude of trust in God in the midst of these challenges. And what kind of God are we putting our trust in? Who is this Lord of hosts that is with us?
This is a God who is with us in the face of natural disasters, a God who is with us during political chaos and this is a God who is in the city with us providing us with a place of peace and protection. This psalm takes us through many of the themes of Christ the King Sunday: sovereignty – or who is in charge and who is the voice of authority; protection – from the evils of this world; and power – because in this psalm God takes away the power we have over others by destroying the weapons of war. It is God who is in charge and protects us. And Psalm 46 reminds us that this powerful God is with us – in the midst of the city, in the midst of our lives – God with us, God perpetually with us – Emmanuel. This ever present God is the one king worth following.
Paul writes this letter to new Christians who are struggling to understand and follow Jesus. And he writes this letter to us – because we are all struggling to understand and follow Jesus. And when you are trying to explain Jesus, it means being confronted with new ideas and new world constructs. Paul’s worldview begins with and is shaped by Jesus Christ, “the first born of all creation.” (v.15). This is a radical shift that utterly changes the way we look at the world. This is Paul’s attempt to sort out the powers of the universe. “For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him” (v.16). Paul doesn’t differentiate between heavenly and earthly or between spiritual and material. For Paul everything, everything, all things and all powers, have their being only because of God in Christ. And everything, all things and all powers, exist to serve the purpose of God’s creation as it comes to its focus in Jesus. We are now transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son – in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin. The rules are now different and the ruler is different. All the assumptions about heaven and earth are changed because of Jesus.
The only way I can think of this different worldview is to remember when the Wube family came to the US from Eritrea and started to be a part of this congregation in 2004. As we watched Mekonen and Abrehet and Keflome and Tesfome come into our midst, I remember thinking just how much their lives had changed. It was not just moving from a foreign country and a refugee camp in Ethiopia. It wasn’t just hearing English being spoken and not understanding it. Everything was different for them – the food, the housing, the smells, the sounds. They were forced to make an incredible adjustment.
And Paul tells us that becoming a Christian is just like that. It’s not simply a matter of fitting Jesus into our present way of thinking. Instead we are changed, transferred, moved, and deported from one kingdom to another and from one way of living to another. Nothing is as we have known it.
Paul says that to follow Jesus, to allow Christ to be your leader and your king, is to orient one’s life in a new way. Paul’s insistence that in Christ all things hold together is another way to say that. Our faith in Christ gives us a way of looking at the world that is both large enough and consistent enough to address the questions and problems that confront us. To then proclaim Christ as King is to acknowledge his lordship over all of life and over all of creation.
Gospel Lesson – Luke 23: 33-43
It wasn’t until I got until this point in writing the sermon that I realized the issue we have been talking about in all four of our readings today is the issue of power. Jeremiah tells us that God’s power is love. The psalmist tells us that God’s power is protection and presence. Paul teaches us that all the powers that exist in the world have their being only because of God in Christ. And then Luke comes along and talks about human power – human power at its worst. Not only is Jesus executed; he is humiliated. The leaders scoff, the soldiers mock, a criminal derides. It’s as if this passage is saying “we’re not killing Jesus because he is powerful, we’re killing Jesus because he’s a Nothing who is pretending to be powerful.” This is a very different version of power than our other scriptures today.
When Jesus was not the powerful sword waving Messiah that would clean up the nation of Israel and defeat the Roman Empire he disappointed his followers. He was mocked on the cross because he would not do something “king-like” and save himself from death. It’s like us saying “If you’re really God, then please act like it and answer our prayers – use the power that you have to help us!”
But what kind of power does Christ our King have? It is not the power to save himself from death, but instead is the power to forgive. Luke tells us that Jesus accompanies us, and even asks for forgiveness on our behalf, even in the midst of violence and brokenness of all sorts. Jesus exhibits abilities and powers that are so different than ours – it is the power fit only for a King of kings.
As you step into the next church year and its first season of Advent, my hope is that we can grow in our awareness of to what, and to whom, we give our own power. To whom do we give the power to tell us who we are? Who has the power to tell us whether or not we are valuable or successful? Who or what has the power to shape our moods and our minds, influence our decisions, tell us whether we are safe or unsafe, and help us to discern what is important and what is not? How might we act differently if we understand that through God, Jesus Christ is the Power of Powers? The power of love, the power of presence and protection, the power that rescues us from darkness and gives us redemption and forgiveness. It is this power that we are looking for when we say with the criminal dying on a cross – Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (v.42) Amen.
Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, Proper 29 (Reign of Christ).
“Reflections on the lectionary,” Christian Century, November 13, Katie Givens Kime.