A sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2013. The lectionary readings are Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, and Luke 23:33-43.
Even though most of us have been brought up in a culture that places enormous value on the separation of Church and State, there are times when perhaps we wish it were not so separate. When the DC permit office and the traffic engineering services office are busy miscommunicating and changing procedures, thus delaying work out in the front yard of the church—I wish for a little divine intervention. When the congress acts like an unruly class of kindergarteners, I wish God would jump in and work things out. And when the government threatens to shut down and create chaos and uncertainty for so many people—many of you—I wish the Holy Spirit would blast through and sort things out.
In 1925, the Bishop of Rome felt that kind of frustration with the powers of this world, and so Pope Pope Pious XI issued an encyclical. In the face of rising atheism and secularism, with fascism in Italy and the early beginnings of Nazism in Germany; Pious wanted to make a point and make it loudly: Christ is King, not Hitler, not Mussolini, not the president of the United States or any other earthly ruler. The encyclical stated, that if Christ is King, then it means that
Not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls…” (Quas Primus 33).
The Feast of Christ the King is a sort of New Year’s celebration. It is a liturgical exclamation point to the church year, the new year beginning next Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent. Next week we slow down a bit, breathe deeply, and begin to think about what it means that God has come into the world in the flesh. But today is about the full expression of God’s power and presence in the world, right now and right here. This theme runs throughout our scriptures.
The reading from Jeremiah tells of a Shepherd King, one who gathers together people who have been scattered. The shepherd king protects and guards. He is one who “shall reign as king and deal wisely,” dealing in justice and righteousness.
Paul’s Letter to the Colossians tells of how we have been rescued from darkness and the power of sin, and have been “transferred” into the kingdom of his beloved Son. And this is a kingdom of peace, peace that transcends even the blood of the cross.
And finally, we have the Gospel where, even from the cross, Jesus extends his kingdom and invites others in.
The reign of Christ the King is like that—ever unfolding, ever extending, ever including each one of us.
It is a kingdom of mixing up roles, of reversing the order of things as we might have seen them in this world. As the Virgin Mary sings, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He has sent empty away.” To live with Christ as King is to live with an awareness of this reversal.
Christ’s is a kingdom that lets everybody in. When we read the Gospels it is a wild array of people who come to hear Jesus, who follow him, and who make him their Lord. Some are prostitutes, some are tax collectors, some widows, some soldiers; some are very rich, some are very poor, but they are unlikely to meet except for their meeting in the presence of Christ. To live with Christ as King is to live in continual welcome of the outcasts, of those who have nowhere else to go.
And finally, Christ’s is a kingdom of possibilities. To live with Christ as King is to live in expectation, to live in hope, and to live in faith. It is a kingdom of second chances, and third chances and fourth and fifth and sixth chances.
When I think of the feast of Christ the King and the idea that we’re all called to grow spiritually as kings and queens, holy people in God’s realm, I remember a Christ the King Sunday years ago, when I was a seminarian, helping at church in Philadelphia. I stopped by Burger King on the way into town and got coffee. And I got crowns for the children. I thought it could be fun for them to wear them into church, when they came in just before Communion. The Sunday school teachers like the crowns, so I left them with them, and went on to do the things I had to do.
When it came to the 11 a.m. worship service and the children were supposed to enter, here they came, but the crowns looked really different. It turns out that two kids had gotten into a fight, and both crowns were torn up, so they had been patched with construction paper. A couple of new kids showed up and there weren’t enough crowns, so other kids cut theirs in half, extend the all four with paper, and made new crowns. One little girl had added glitter to hers and another child found feathers somewhere. It was a crazy, wonderful sight—but really illustrated beautifully a vision of the kingdom of God.
At our baptism, we’re given a pristine, perfect crown to grow into. But along the way, we drop it, step on it, it gets stolen, we loan it out, on and on… you get the idea. And so, in heaven, I think we all show up again, crowns askew, broken but mended, shattered but made whole again, and with joy, love, and great fun, we are received fully into God’s presence: royals, all!
As we grow into the Kingdom of God, let us give thanks for Christ the King, our lord, brother, and friend. In his name, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, Amen.