A sermon for Christ the King Sunday. Read John 18:33-37.
Well everyone, thanksgiving is over, so I guess we’re supposed to start saying ‘Merry Christmas?’
Isn’t that the way it seems to go in our world. Our society has already moved on from Thanksgiving, haven’t we? We made it through the madness of Black Friday, which has become its own kind of holiday, and now, according to our culture, we are fully into the Christmas season.
People have already decorated, trees are up, and at Starbucks we have the special red and green cups. Of course in the church we don’t celebrate Christmas until the season of Christmas; that is the season which follows Christmas morning and goes on for 12 whole days. So the season that our culture calls the “Christmas season” is in fact the season that the church calls: Advent.
But, it seems as though our culture doesn’t quite know what to do with a season where in the church talk about things like growing in our patience, exploring the spiritual depths of what happens when we learn how to sit and wait for all that is to come and the joy that comes as we grow in anticipation.
Advent is this spiritually rich season of yearning for an already here and yet to be realized birth of divine love, holy love, sacred love to be made known anew in our hearts and the world.
It seems like nowadays we aren’t really that good at waiting, which was evident in my Facebook feed on Thursday, Thanksgiving night, when multiple people reported that they were in fact already watching their favorite Christmas movies, because, well, Thanksgiving over, so bring on Christmas.
And so, here we are as the church in the middle of this strange Christian year, where, because of the calendar, we have a Sunday in between Thanksgiving Sunday and the start of Advent which begins next week. So as the world has already moved on to Christmas, for Christians the season of Advent has not even begun.
So today is this odd, wondrous, somewhat esoteric, Sunday called Christ the King Sunday, which we celebrate as the end of our church year. Yet another weird thing about the church, our New Year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, next week.
So, this is like the Christian version of a New Year’s Eve, a time to reflect and to remember who we are and whose we are, to recall and reclaim this simple and yet profound belief that Jesus Christ is our King. To recall and reclaim this belief that Jesus is not only our King but is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and that his kingdom will have no end.
If you’ve been around the church or Christianity for a long time then these titles for Jesus, these images and metaphors we attribute to him probably have layers and layers of meaning tied to celebrations throughout the church year or different bible passages you’ve heard and cherish.
But, if you are newer to the faith, or perhaps if you’ve never really stopped to think much about it, these titles: King of Kings and Lord of Lords, probably stand out as being a little bit unusual and probably a little bit archaic. Perhaps they sound a little bit too churchy or irrelevant in our sphere of the world where, for the most part, we are kingless and lordless.
I mean, just take a moment and think- what comes to your mind when you hear the word king?
Perhaps you think about a British child named George, son of a young couple across the pond, whose life is one of wealth, influence and intrigue.
Maybe you think about Elvis Presley, ‘The King,’ whose music and persona were larger than life.
I know a lot of my friends back in Los Angeles are thinking about King James?- You know Lebron James, the basketball player who is considered by many to be not only the greatest active player but also perhaps the greatest player of all time.
Maybe you think about that silly and kind of creepy ‘Burger King’? Or maybe not.
These are the images we have in our day and age of kings. But the truth is this image, this belief that Jesus is the king of kings is rich and full of meaning which I believe is still remarkably relevant to the way in which we live today as people of faith.
So let’s unpack this idea through the lens of the text from the gospel of John which we just read.
This story comes from the final days of Jesus’ life. Jesus is in Jerusalem where he has been arrested and is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler over the Holy Land. Now just to be clear, Pontius Pilate was the most powerful person in the entire region.
Pilate begins to question Jesus about the claims Pilate has heard that Jesus had been making about himself. He asks, “are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus points out that Pilate asks because of what he has heard from others. Pilate is not asking for himself. Jesus then goes onto say
“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…. You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
See in this moment Jesus is challenging societal norms and all of the human notions of power and authority.
Jesus is taking everything everyone thought they knew about the way the world is supposed to work and he’s turning it all over on it’s head. He is challenging all of these ideas and conventions, he’s reshaping and reforming it all into this vision of what he calls the kingdom of God.
And for us to understand what he is doing, what he is claiming here we need just a little bit of context to put it all into perspective. See the backdrop of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is the Roman Empire. Now the Roman Empire was the biggest baddest empire that the world had ever known.
And on thing to know about the Roman Empire is that it was built around this central notion: the way to true power, absolute power was through coercive violence, oppression and fear. The Romans were ruthless, completely ruthless. They would march into your home, your village, with the largest and strongest military you’d ever seen, and they would say: declare your allegiance to Caesar, proclaim Caesar is the Son of God, Caesar is Lord or die. It was conversion at the end of the sword. And make no mistake about it everyone knew that Caesar was the King of all the Kings and Caesar was the Lord of all the Lords.
So these words King and Lord, these titles, were reserved for the most powerful, most wealthy, most untouchable human being that had or would ever live, Caesar, the ruler of the world.
But, then this man emerges, a carpenter, this guy from Galilee, a rural, backwater kind of place, a man who calls fisherman and tax collectors to follow him, a man who’s teaching, engaging and empowering slaves and Samaritans and women. His name was Jesus.
Jesus who’s healing the sick and touching the untouchable and he’s having dinner parties with all the wrong people, like all the known sinners in the village, come over let’s have dinner together.
this man who’s challenging the structures of power in this world by making these radical claims like the way to true power isn’t through coercive violence and fear but humble, sacrificial love for all people.
Jesus, who is inviting people into a different kind of life, living into a different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of God, a kingdom ruled by grace and mercy, where the meek inherit the earth, where the poor and the poor in spirit are blessed with divine favor, where lowly are exalted, and those who have been last, time and time again are finally first and those who have been first since birth are last.
Jesus is proclaiming the good news of God’s unbounded love and overflowing joy for all people, all people, especially for those who know what it’s like to have the boot of the empire on their neck, those who have been used up and spit out by the powers of this world for their own gain and their own profit. Jesus says no you have inherent sacred worth, you are created in the image of God, follow in my way because
Jesus, not Caesar, is the way to an abundant life; Jesus, not Caesar, will offer us salvation, wholeness and a peace that is beyond all understanding.
Jesus, not Caesar, is king of kings and lord of lords.
See what he’s doing here? These loaded and powerful word, these politically charged and dangerous titles, Jesus is taking it all and flipping it upside down. Jesus revealing to us the very nature of God’s love as we see it in scripture time and time again, a God whose love and power is revealed in powerlessness, a God who creates each of us, no matter who we are or where we find ourselves, in God’s sacred image,
a God whose compassion and mercy are without limit or condition, and a God who calls and empowers us to live lives where we give ourselves away for others in love. A God who says to us, if we do this, if we live in this way, we will be set free from all the binds us and we will be made whole.
Ok so the question for us is how does this make a difference in our life of faith? What does this mean for us in our world which, like I said earlier, is Kingless and Lordless?
This Sunday gives us a point to pause in our life and to ask ourselves these questions: is our relationship with Jesus first and foremost in our life? Are we listening to him? Are we following him? Are we living by his truth?
You know, the reality is that there are other things in this world that try to creep into our hearts and tell us that they are a better king than Jesus. There are other things in our world that try to take his place in our hearts and in our life. There are other things that say, hey follow me, live by my truth and not by God’s truth.
We have these things that insert themselves into the place of Jesus in our lives. We have these things around which we order our lives and all of our relationships. I like to call this our organizing principle. What is your organizing principle. What is the thing that is at the heart of your life that you organize the rest of your world around. What is the thing that controls your calendar? Theologian Paul Tillich called it that with which we are ultimately concerned.
But when we say Jesus is our Lord, it means that following Jesus is our ultimate concern. It means that we have professed and believe in our heart of hearts that the way of Jesus, the way of humble, sacrificial, life-giving love is better than all the other ways of being in this world.
If Jesus is lord, then our job isn’t, if Jesus is lord then our country and our politicians aren’t, if Jesus is lord then the size of our bank account isn’t, if Jesus is lord then he is our organizing principle, he is the thing around which our world gets ordered.
So what are we to take from this into our week this week? Maybe we can take some time, before the start of Advent to think about the things in our life that have tried to take over, they’ve tried to creep in and uproot our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. What is taking you away from living and loving in the way of Jesus?
As we prepare for Advent, spend some time meditating on this question and see what comes up. Name those things for yourself and ask God to help you to find ways to decentralize whatever it may be, in order to find our true center in God’s unbelievable and unconditional love in Christ.
So as we prepare to go out into the world, may we listen to our King, the one who calls us to give ourselves away in humble life-giving love, following him above everything and everyone else. Thanks be to God. Amen.