Sermon – November 22, 2015 – Christ the King

Christ the King Sunday
Fear or Hope?

Let’s play a little game of name that monarch, shall we? Okay, who is the King of Sweden? That would be King Gustav. Any idea what his wife’s name is, the Queen? That would be Queen Silvia. Okay here’s another who is the King of Norway? That would be King Harold the fifth, married to Queen Sonja. How about Denmark. Who is the Queen of Denmark? Well, her name is Margharete  II.   She traces her lineage back as far as Gorm the Old who died in 958 and Harold Bluetooth who died in 987. You’re not doing so well so far.   Who is the Emperor of Japan? His name is Ahkito.  Here’s another one, please name for me the King of Spain. Anyone? Bueller? That would be king Felipe the sixth, married to his queen, Letizie. And there are still any number of emirs and sultans and grand dukes and princes and Kings out there.  No one really seems to know who they are. They have almost no power, most of them, until you get to some of the Gulf states, and function mostly a ceremonial leaders. Being king just ain’t what it used to be.

So, we cannot apply any sort of a modern construct on monarchy to the conversation that Jesus had with Pilate in our Gospel story today. Back then, Kings had real power. They had authority to move nations and to summon armies. Pilate, for his part, wasn’t sure about Jesus and so he wondered if he were a king.   Pilate was not a passive observer or a victim of his circumstances. He was weak and frightened and concerned for his own hide and wanted to be sure this Jesus didn’t mess with his order.

He could’ve been thinking of two things. If he had studied up on all the people he ruled over, he would know that the expected Messiah in the minds of many would return in the form of the warrior King David. Such a king would be a significant challenge to the Roman status quo. Pilate wondered nervously if Jesus were that kind of King, maybe.   A second and less likely idea might be that Pilate saw Jesus as a political figure caught up in a religious spat, one who had come to foment revolution and claim a title for himself that would elevate him with his followers. Neither of those is probably the answer.  I think Pilate, a petty and unsavory character according to the historian Josephus, was simply mocking Jesus.   He saw he was under his power and unwilling to fight back, so he was mocking him.  A proper king would respond, rally the troops.  He was mocking Jesus and that is confirmed a few verses later he clothed our Lord with a purple robe and placed a crown of thorns on his head. And of course we remember Pilate’s command that a sign be mailed to the top of the cross that said “Here is the King of the Jews.”

But the question remains, what kind of King is Jesus? In his exchange with Pilate Christ said my kingdom is not of this world. Only a king would have a kingdom. What kind of King? If it is not of this world, what does that mean? That he rules in a heavenly realm and wears a beautiful crown and a long white robe? I don’t think he meant that at all. If my kingdom were from this world, he said, my folks would be battling you, Pilate. It would be on. That is how the kingdoms of the world function. They exercise power. They engage in violence to achieve their ends. Power is concentrated in the one or the few. And there is a vast gap between King and the person on the street.

No, Jesus is not that kind of King nor does his kingdom reflect those values. His kingdom rejects tools of power so familiar that force compliance and extract for the benefit of the King, the industry and resources of the people. That kind of power is fed by fear, accomplished by fear and sustained by fear.  That is not our mother tongue.

No, the kingdom Jesus speaks of is fueled by the power of love. It is realized in community. It is articulated through faith in the Lord, in obedience to the ways of the kingdom, in its willingness to suffer for the other, and to break down the boundaries so that those whom Scripture has called out – the widow of the orphan sojourner in the land – might be served and cared for.  In its mother tongue, everyone matters and distinctions that normally separate us one from another are set aside.  It speaks with a language of its own that seeks mercy, that makes the recognition of all people as neighbor a cornerstone of its self-understanding.  It is a kingdom led by the one who came not to be served but to serve.

So, where do we see evidence of that kingdom today?  How do we recognize it?  We see it in the community that sees children and old people and men and women running for their lives and reaches out to help them. It is present in the community whose heads will not be turned by the contempt expressed toward others because of their skin, their faith or their country. It is the kingdom where love speaks first and bears hope and is willing to serve and suffer for the sake of the other.  Those who bring terror upon others win when their tactics incite a fear that causes us to abandon our core values and adopt theirs.

Today, 50 million people are refugees. Hundreds of thousands of those are Syrians, and half of those are children. We of this kingdom, who follow this king do not take our instructions on how we serve her neighbors from political voices or elected officials—the real kings and queens because of the power their wield–but instead we hold fast to our own principles, speak with our own voice, act of our own accord.

The equating of hundreds of thousands of people as terrorists and the absurd notion that we would only allow into our country those who profess the Christian faith, or monitoring of people of faith who are citizens of this country out of fear is not the language we speak or the ethics we practice. Our kingdom narrative speaks against such things, names them for what they are and then offers an alternative of hope and possibility.   A word from Stephen Colbert, talk show host, Sunday school teacher, may be in order here .  . . .

“if you want to know if somebody is Christian, just ask them to complete this sentence:  Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you _______________________.

If they don’t say ‘welcomed me in,’ they are either a terrorist or they are running for president.”

While the kings and queens of today are powerless and ceremonial, and the kings of old were powerful and controlling, Jesus has ushered in is a whole new way. And it is characteristic of the kingdom that it now takes its cues and directions from its kingdom narrative, spoken to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And there is our center.  As the kings of the earth, the power brokers and those seek deeper division among us appeal to fear, ours is another way, the way of Christ the way of the kingdom.   Let me close by sharing with you the encouragement of our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.

She says “We Christians and all others of good will cannot let fear rule the day. Fear paralyzes, divides people, fosters distrust and clouds judgments.   . . . .Even in the face of evil, we remain confident that the good news of Jesus Christ liberates us and gives us the freedom and courage to discover and boldly participate in what God is up to in this world. The Gospel also frees us from fear to see others as brothers and sisters for whom Christ died and lives.’

There is the language of the kingdom, our mother tongue.