This morning we’re celebrating the Feast of Christ the King…It’s the last Sunday of the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Next week, we begin the Advent season, a four-week preparation period in anticipation of Christmas. Today, we celebrate the present and future reign of our King – Jesus Christ. Next week we begin our preparations to receive our past and always King – Jesus Christ. The celebration of Christ the King Sunday can be traced back to the Franciscans, followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. It’s a celebration of the ultimate kingship of Jesus in our lives; that we are a people who, like Jesus, choose to live in God’s kingdom and none other. It all has to do with our making a choice…A choice of who we recognize as the authority over our lives.
If Jesus is King, how should the church look? How do we behave under the authority of King Jesus…present and future, past and always? Just who is this King and what do we do about it? Let’s look at our history…Male and female God made us in God’s own image. The way we represent the image of God in this world is through our freedom. Unlike any of God’s other creatures, we alone have been given the choice of whether to respond to God as God wants us to, or to go another way. And so, into God’s good creation comes a creature who says “No!” to God’s dream for God’s good creation. Because, as the story goes, being created in God’s image wasn’t enough for us…Very soon we became those creatures who found and still look for every possible way to misuse the freedom God gives us. We call this “The Fall.” It was the first of many falls: the choice human beings make against the lordship and sovereignty of God.
Throughout history, our story tells us, God appointed various leaders to bring us back to a life lived with God – Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. In the wilderness for forty years with Moses, God’s people rediscovered all the things God wanted them to do to live into The Dream of God…They carefully wrote them down…And read them over and over to themselves and to their children…most especially to the children. Then Joshua marched them into a new land, a place to call home…And whenever a crisis arose, God would raise up new leaders, men and women known as “the judges,” who would come on the scene, direct people back to The Dream of God, and then disappear from the landscape of history with no heirs to their leadership and power. By the time of Samuel, the last of the judges, however, the people and tribes were more secure in their homeland and had time to look around at the other nations. What they saw were Kings. So they came to Samuel and said, “We want a king to govern us like all the nations”…“Like all the nations…” We don’t want to be different. Samuel is upset at having to make such a request of God, and tries to talk the people out of this king idea, but is reassured when God says, “…they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”
This is “The Second Fall”: the people reject the kingship of God and become like all the other nations, beginning with the likes of Saul, David, and Solomon. All because the people demanded the security of systems and dynasties. Over time the whole system breaks down. The problem with kings is that they are inevitably succeeded by other kings and emperors, who move in and take over…And with them come their gods. It’s in this period that a small number of people rediscover what it means to accept God as king and lord over all…It was the wilderness sojourn all over again…
Then God raised up new leaders like Paul and Peter. Paul had even been a part of the empire’s attempt to squash the new movement of God’s people; yet Paul was still raised up as a new leader! For several hundred years the emerging church of Christ was persecuted by the empire. Until the time of the Emperor Constantine…then, in the fourth century, that the world saw the people of God choose the kingdoms of this world instead of the kingdom of God. A time when, in the words of an overly optimistic Christian historian, “the Church subdued the state”. Perhaps it is the American historian Barbara Tuchman, who gets it just right in her book, A Distant Mirror, when she says: “…by Constantine’s gift, Christianity was both officially established and fatally compromised.”
This is the Third Fall – In that moment, God’s great experiment to provide an alternative to living in the kingdoms of this world became the kingdom of this world. Constantine wasn’t seeking the good will of Christians, but rather the good will of their God. The church was the new organizing principal for a kingdom of this world. The Gospel of Good News for the poor now saw riches and pomp as signs of divine favor. Kings were established by the church. Kingdoms and then nation-states used the church to manufacture more subjects. The kingdom was no longer seen as “something to come”…the plan of God had been fulfilled.
So the journey from the temptation to be God, to deciding that the kingdoms of this world offer more than the kingdom of God, to proclaiming the kingdoms of this world as the kingdom of God is a journey that leaves us feeling that, beyond the present political order, all that Christians are to hope for is their own personal place in the heavenly kingdom. What a long journey that is from the scene depicted in the Gospel that shows the one we call the King of Kings riding into town on a humble donkey. Jesus is the one who, when his own disciples want to gather up someone else’s money and call for carry out food to feed the crowds says: “No, let’s just share what is ours with everyone and see what happens.”
He’s the one who, as soon as he stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee, as soon as they get to the other shore, says: “Hey, there is a seriously disturbed guy over there. Look, the people have chained him up and left him in a cave. He’s so dangerous and delusional and so utterly unlike us. Let’s go minister to him!”
He’s the one who, when his own followers try to keep sick women and little children away from their important leader, says: “No, let them come to me. Anyone who cannot welcome them cannot welcome my kingdom.”
There is that word again…Kingdom…His kingdom…The man on the donkey is our king. He doesn’t look, act, or sound at all like the Emperor Constantine, or any other king we’re familiar with. He doesn’t look at all like the power brokers of this world – prime ministers, presidents, sports heroes, or software manufacturers.
So the question for this Sunday of Christ the King might be: “If the man on the donkey is our king, how should our church look? Like him? Or like the kingdoms of this world?” The church is called to be the people of God…A people called to submit to the authority of God. Church historian Verna Dozier says the church takes two forms, “the church gathered” and “the church scattered.” We gather to break bread as a community, to hear our story, and to recommit ourselves to the dream of God. We scatter to live into that dream. Friends, we “scatter” ourselves into ministry through our prayers, our giving, our example, our actions, and our words. We are participants in God’s good creation and Jesus is our role model. Do we want to follow the man on the donkey as our king, or are we content just to worship him, and postpone for a little longer the fulfillment of the dream of God? It all has to do with our making a choice. There are kings…And then there is The King. We are free to choose. While we take our time in deciding which we will choose, the Good News is that our infinitely patient God still waits.
I think the difficulty is that we have a hard time accepting the concept of “absolute truth”…Christ as King is one of those absolute truths. When we question absolute truth we crown ourselves king instead of being subject to Christ the King. In John’s gospel, Pilate struggled with it. Jesus stood before him and claimed not only to be a king, but he claimed to be absolute truth. By his words and his actions, Jesus was implying that even Pilate was subject to Christ’s kingdom and God’s truth. Pilate was not prepared to subject himself to a Galilean carpenter. He had to answer to Caesar, but not to this Jesus who claimed to be truth.
What about us? Who is our king — our ultimate authority? “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come…” Whose truth do we believe? In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.