November 25, 2018, Citizens Without Borders – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000109
So much of the liturgy and tradition of our Church is handed down over the centuries, that I was surprised recently to learn that this day, the Feast of Christ the King, is kind of new in our Church calendar. It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, as The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. World War I was a horrifyingly recent memory, and Pius looked out on a world that was wounded and weary, a world in which many people had lost faith, and a world that was fractured by nationalism. Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday in a world that is equally wounded and weary, if not more so. Nationalism is the Spirit of our age: it’s America first here at home, and around the globe it’s every nation out for itself.
Carroll and I spent the first 13 years of our family life in St. Louis, which like most big cities, was kind of a microcosm of the world, with people of many nationalities and races and economic classes, all with pretty well-defined borders. There was the German neighborhood, and there was the Italian neighborhood, and the Greek neighborhood, which is where we bought our first house. There were a lot of neighborhoods that were poor, but even among the very poor neighborhoods, they tended to separate along racial and ethnic lines. Always with human beings there is that tendency to huddle together with those who are like you, and to defend yourself and your family and your traditions from the outside world. That is the way the kingdoms of this world function, from the smallest kingdoms like the kingdom of our home and family, to the biggest and most powerful kingdoms like the United States of America. Human beings stick together and protect their own.
When we call Jesus our King, I don’t think we always realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into. We are citizens of his kingdom, but do we know what kind of a kingdom it is? “My kingdom is not of this world,” he told Pilate. And what is so other-worldly about our kingdom? “If my kingdom were of this world,” Jesus said, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But it’s not that kind of a kingdom.” Because you know if the kingdom of Jesus Christ was just a regular worldly kingdom, we would take care of our own. We’d be out there every day defending ourselves and our fellow Christians from the assaults of a hostile world. We’d stick together with our brothers and sisters, with people who think like we do, and who share our values, and who care about the things we care about. And if the kingdom of heaven was a kingdom of this world, we would use the world’s weapons – not swords, like Peter, but modern weapons like the legal system and political leverage, and money, and maybe even military strength, to defend our values and our lives and our property. That’s what we would do IF we were a kingdom of this world.
But the terrible thing is, so much of the time that is exactly what we DO as Christians – and I’m not necessarily talking about us, here, in this room, but about the Church as a whole, and especially the American Church. We spend way too much of our time in a defensive posture. We get defensive when schools have “holiday” concerts instead of Christmas concerts because “our” holiday is under attack. The Church pours its money and its energy into lobbying Washington about issues like school prayer and gay marriage because we feel that we, the Church, have to defend what we think are the “Christian” values of our country. And most recently, the Church in America has supported laws trying to keep Muslims and other nationalities out of “our” country because we are afraid of them. It seems to me that Christians spend an awful lot of time playing defense against the kingdoms of this world.
But as Jesus stood before his accusers on the night of his arrest, he didn’t need Peter, or anyone else, to storm the gates of Pilate’s headquarters and rescue him from the clutches of the Jewish leaders and Roman legions. He is God, all-powerful, all-knowing. Jesus himself said that he had the authority to lay down his life, and he had the authority to take it up again. Jesus was never a helpless victim; he was a willing victim; he chose to pour out his life on the cross out of love for this world.
Jesus Christ, the King, came so that the kingdom of heaven could break in and rescue us all from the dying kingdoms of this world. When Jesus was summoned to stand before Pilate, when his hands and feet were nailed to the cross, when he breathed his very last breath, that wasn’t his moment of failure – it was his moment of triumph over the powers and principalities of this world, that had held this creation and all its feeble kingdoms captive for century after century, and millenium after millenium, as their inhabitants waited for the coming of the true king.
There was a man named William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War. And he said, “the Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” That’s a pretty alien concept in this world. Every other kingdom on this earth looks out for their own interests, but according to Archbishop Temple, the unique job of the Church on this earth is to be a servant, to show mercy, to look out for the interests of others. Our King showed us the way, because that was his way.
And so now we are are here as his ambassadors of reconciliation, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church – “ through Christ, God reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation – the ministry of peace and unity – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Instead of the world’s weapons of defense – money or political influence or plain old brute strength – as citizens of his kingdom we wield the instruments of his kingdom – love and forgiveness, grace and compassion and kindness – his instruments of healing and restoration.
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven we are wasting our time, and we are wasting God’s time, when we play defense against the kingdoms of this world. We are wasting our authority, and we are wasting God’s authority, when we reduce the Church of Jesus Christ to a political party, whether liberal or conservative. But worst of all, we are failing our King when we fail to show his love and mercy to the people for whom he gave his life, whether they are our friends or our enemies, our next-door neighbor or a refugee family from Syria. We have not been called to rally to the defense of the Cross; we have been called to proclaim its victory, in love, to people of every color and every family and every nation, the victory of “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us all, and who freed us all from our sins by his blood, and made us to be one kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”