November 25, 2012 – Christ the King
To listen to the recorded version, click here: Christ the King
Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” When we read that, it sounds like Jesus is saying that we need to keep spiritual stuff and worldly stuff separate in our lives. It sounds like our life as Christians and our life as American citizens, living in Norwood New York, are completely separate things. We have the “holy” part of our lives that we try to keep pure and nice for God, and then we try to live the rest of our lives as best we can. We say our prayers in the morning and go to church on Sunday and set aside our tithe money and generally try to be good people so that when we die we’ll go to heaven. That’s the holy stuff; that’s God’s kingdom. But then there’s the other part of our life. We go to work and we earn our paychecks and we invest wisely and we try to make sure that we and our family have everything they need and want. We have locks on our doors and password protection on our accounts and insurance policies for pretty much everything, and policemen and lawyers to keep us safe and guard our rights. That’s the world.
So, here we are today, to celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. We know, most of us, most of the time, that Jesus is the Lord over the “spiritual” part of our lives. We know that he hears our prayers and that he is present with us when we are at church. Most of the time we know that God keeps an eye on us to make sure we are doing all the right things, following all the rules. But what about things in our “real” lives like health insurance policies, or putting a lock on the garage door to keep our neighbor’s teenager from stealing our kids’ bicycles? When we are dealing with those ordinary, everyday problems of our lives, what difference does it make to us that Christ is the King?
Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I came into the world – to bear witness to the truth.” The kingdom of which Jesus is the king is all about the truth. When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” he was bearing witness to the truth. It is true that the kingdom of God is nothing like any kingdom that this world knows. The kingdom of heaven where the greatest of all is the servant of all is as strange and alien to the kingdoms of this world as it could possibly be, and the ultimate witness to that strange truth is that Christ the King was rejected by his own people and put to death on a cross. Another, and actually a better, translation for what Jesus said is, “My kingdom is not from this world”. The kingdom of heaven is something completely and utterly new and different. That is the truth.
What is not the truth is that the kingdom of God is here to sit in its own little corner and look smug while the rest of the world struggles along trying to survive, at the mercy of the powers of this world. In the passage from the Revelation of John this morning, we read that Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” John tells us that Jesus is the ruler over every other king, and for us that doesn’t just mean human rulers like prime ministers and presidents, it means every power: whether it is financial, or political, or social, or biological or psychological or spiritual – every power or authority that we face in our lives in this world. There is no power that is not under the control of Christ the King. That is the truth.
So here’s a question: Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom were a worldly kingdom, his servants would be fighting to protect him. But instead, he rebuked them for fighting, so that they fled, leaving him to be arrested and convicted on trumped-up charges and put to death. How is that the birth of a kingdom to rule all kingdoms? The answer is that it is the birth of a kingdom where things work completely differently, where serving is power and humility is authority and meekness – what the world despises as weakness and wimpiness – meekness inherits the whole ballgame.
And that is the truth, or at least Jesus says it is the truth. But is it really the truth in our daily lives? We can see the kingdom at work in the New Testament stories, we recognize and admire the kingdom in the lives of people like Saint Francis and Mother Teresa, but how does the kingdom of Christ the King work for us, when the powers we face are so ordinary and so invincible at the same time? Can we really experience the power of God’s kingdom when we are facing a troublesome neighbor or a really rotten situation at work or relationship problems within our family? Aren’t we just “spiritualizing” things to say that Christ is the King over these problems, when really what we need to do is to call the authorities, or to file a complaint with our boss, or to go an expert for counseling? In the end, isn’t it in the world that we really find the solution for most of our problems? Aren’t the “kings” of this world, those political and financial and scientific and legal powers and authorities, aren’t they really the ones with the answers? Shouldn’t we just leave “Christ the King” to be lord over our “spiritual” lives and sensibly turn to the world for our real problems as long as we’re in this world? Isn’t that the truth?
But no, it isn’t. Jesus was born and came into the world to witness to this truth: that the powers of this world are not the answer and don’t have the answers. No matter what the world has to say for itself, the truth is that the strange, alien way of the kingdom of God is the only way of life and health. The powers of this world, no matter what they have to say for themselves, all end in death. No worldly wisdom or authority has an answer for death. The only power that has ever claimed victory over death is the power of the cross. The kingdom of God, with its strange upside-down-and-backwards way of life, is the only way that will ever lead to life. And that means that as we struggle with all of our everyday problems, the unlikely ways of grace and humility that our King Jesus lived out for us here in this world are not only possible answers to our problems; they are the only answers that are true and full of life. Following our King doesn’t mean that we will always be comfortable, but it does mean that we will be victorious. It doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer, but it does mean that we will be living abundantly. It doesn’t even mean that we won’t be killed, but it does mean that even though we die we will live and we will be sources of true life.
True life is life in the Kingdom of God, and it doesn’t wait to begin in the sweet bye and bye, when “real” life is over and our souls float up to heaven. That is a myth of this world. True life, abundant life, is for now, as well as for forever; it’s not about not dying so much as it is about really living. True life is living as citizens of the kingdom where Christ is the King. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What we are praying is for God’s kingdom to come, for the ways of God’s kingdom to be done, his way, on earth, here, now. And the way the kingdom comes is through the Body of Christ, through us, as we submit every part and every problem of our lives to the true King, by the grace and power of his Spirit. The kingdom comes when we forgive the person who offends us. The kingdom comes when we give without expecting anything in return. The kingdom comes when we step out in faith even if we would rather play it safe. The kingdom comes through us as we work at living the strange, alien life of the kingdom in the midst of a world that, no matter what it has to say about itself, is passing away, is powerless, is dying. We and only we have the way of true life to offer this world, because Christ is our King and he is King of this world as well; sovereign king forever over every other ruler and power and authority.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.