A sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, November 25, 2018. The scripture readings are Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8, and John 18:33-37.
Listen to the sermon HERE.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. It is a little like a New Year’s celebration in the church, since this day works as a kind of exclamation point to the church year. A new church year begins next Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent, as 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, as a little baby named Jesus.
But today is Christ the King and in the scripture readings there runs the steady theme of the Kingdom of God.
In the Book of Daniel there are some frightening images. There are fires and flames, beasts and burnings. There is conflict and warfare, but the end result is a kingdom, a kingdom that is glorious and everlasting and serves the Ancient of Days for ever.
The psalm invites us to sing the praises of the Lord God who is like a king. So mighty is our God that all creation rises up to praise him, people, nations, even the waters themselves lift up their voices.
The Revelation to John also celebrates the king as victor. While it gives hope to the scattered Christians being persecuted in the first century, it also describes a cosmic battle of good and evil, where the victory is so complete that even we, living much later, become royals. John gives glory, “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 for ever and ever.” This is a vision of victory that stretches to everyone, making us all kings and queens, princes and princesses, people created in the very image and likeness of God.
In the Gospel, Jesus explains to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews; my kingdom is not from here.” “My kingdom is not from this world.”
From the calling of the disciples, through the healings and parables and teachings, even as they enter into Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover, there is confusion over this kingdom of God as it pertains to Jesus. He explains his kingdom by what it is not, rather than by what it might be. When asked, Jesus gives simple images. The kingdom is like a mustard seed. The kingdom is a like the yeast used by a woman baking bread. The kingdom is like a pearl of great price. The kingdom is here, but it is not here.
How we perceive the kingdom of God will directly affect how we live out our lives in faith.
The Church over time has understood the kingdom of God in different ways. At some points, it has understood the kingdom of God as a goal for the here-and-now. The idea of Christendom, a civilization ruled by Christian kings, following Christian laws and fighting for Christian ideals allowed for and encouraged the crusades.
It has allowed for the persecution of Jews and Muslims and anyone perceived not to fit into the prevailing understanding of what it means to be “Christian.” There are, of course, still those who would have this nation be an overtly Christian one, with so-called Christian laws on the books, just like people in other places advocate for another religion’s laws to rule the day. But whenever people begin to try to create the kingdom of God in time, before long, the kingdom of God often seems to look a lot like us. It becomes a reflection of our own values and beliefs, and often the uglier side of those believes. However, the words of Jesus are clear: “My kingdom is not from this world.”
Others in the history of the Church have taken our Lord at his word and understood his kingdom as only having to do with heaven, far, far away. Therefore, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness in this world, simply need to wait: they’ll get their justice in the next life. But to believe that the kingdom of God only exists in heaven leaves us with little or no responsibility for the earth where we live.
But there is another view. Instead of the kingdom absolutely now or the kingdom way away in heaven, Christ calls us into a more unpredictable place, to live between the “already” and the “not-yet.” Wherever there are signs of justice and hope and faith, there is a breaking-in of the kingdom. But it’s partial, not yet fully realized.
The season of Advent will give us opportunity to explore this further as we look at what it means for Christ to have come into the world as a child, but also for us to look forward to his coming again in glory at the end of times.
So the kingdom, in some sense, is Christ himself. As he reveals himself, the kingdom unfolds. The kingdom of God spreads out as we receive Christ and come to know and love him and continue to embody his kingdom-goals in our lives. As Saint John realizes from the Revelation, “God has made us (with Christ in us) to be a kingdom.”
This kingdom is not of the world. It is a kingdom of reversals. Our Lady, herself, sang of this kingdom, “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.
His is also a kingdom of welcome. 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 in the presence of Christ. To live with Christ as King is to live in continual welcome of the outcast, of those who have nowhere else to go.
And finally, his 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.
Especially on this day, we give thanks for Christ our King. And we give thanks that it is a kingdom that has been given to us, for us to extend to all of those who might believe. May we rejoice in this kingdom of reversals. May we open our doors to a kingdom of outcasts. And may we open our hearts to a kingdom of possibilities.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.