Christ the King Sunday November 25, 2018

Christ the King Sunday   November 25, 2018   Psalm 47, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-38a

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Clap your hands, all you peoples – shout to God with loud songs of joy – for the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth…. Sing praises to God, sing praises – sing praises to our king, sing praises – for God is the King of all the earth – sing praises with a psalm….

God is King over all the earth Psalm 47 tells us joyfully and emphatically. But…as I read the daily news, it still feels like most of the world is in all-out rebellion against God. Not at all willing to have God rule… Arrogance, hatred, bragging, disrespect, doing our own thing without regard for others – disregarding God’s law of love – still seems to be considered normal…especially among those who have the most power in this world.

Even in Israel of old, in our first reading today, all the elders of the nation ask Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel, to give us a king like all the other nations. Samuel is dismayed to hear God’s people talking like this. But God tells Samuel “it’s not about you, it’s about me. They don’t want me, God, as their ruler. They want a king like all the other nations have. Someone who will tell them how great the nation is and what a great leader he is… while leading the nation into idol worship and ruin…”

So when God sends his only Son into the world to rule with him and save, teach, and heal the world and establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven… it shouldn’t be a total surprise… When God’s Son is rejected, mocked, scorned, crucified and buried.

Even now, to this day – it often seems as if Christ our King still suffers through endless reruns of his trial before Pontius Pilate – as all the spiritual descendants of Pilate and Herod in every land still interrogate King Jesus, asking, a thousand and one different ways, the same dismissive questions asked by Pontius Pilate, concluding with – “What is truth?”

Pilate, the governor over Judah is really not interested in truth. But he is interested in the politics of Jesus. He understands quite well the politics of self-preservation and self-advancement…And he does want to know “Are you the king of the Jews?” He really is curious to know: “What have you done… to get yourself sent here to me to be crucified?”

Probably even Pilate senses something much more in Jesus…than he’s ever known.

And as Jesus tells him “my kingdom is not from this world…” We can almost hear Pilate and all the kings of this earth ever since with him… breathing sighs of relief.  We can almost hear them say to themselves, “thanks be to God. (Even if we don’t believe in God.) Thanks be to God that Jesus says his kingdom is not from this world.”

And yes, what a nightmare for this world’s kings it would be… if Jesus were to say my kingdom is of this world and I’m here to fight with all the angels of heaven to install myself as king… Sometimes the church has acted as if Jesus did say his kingdom was of the world – as we’ve signed up so many times, so tragically, for many unholy causes and battles, in spite of all Jesus said and did and teaches to the contrary…

But fighting with worldly weapons is not what Jesus does. That’s what kings of this world do. Fight by any means available to install themselves as kings and rulers, and fight-off any and all challengers by any means necessary. So the rulers of this world – especially the worst tyrants – are glad to hear Jesus say “my kingdom is not from this world…” And too often we the church have let them off the hook – acting as if this was all Jesus ever said about all the differences between his kingdom and the world’s kingdoms… So often the world stops listening… As Jesus continues… saying he has come to testify to the truth… and everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice…

Pontius Pilate has heard the words Jesus speaks… Superficially. The words obviously haven’t reached his heart, as he asks rhetorically “what is truth?”

Not pausing to listen deeply for even a moment… Lest he risk hearing the truth… Not noticing, even for a moment – God’s truth, revealed, plainly in front of his eyes… in the person of Jesus Christ…

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Let all mortal flesh keep silence… and with fear and trembling stand…

When the kings and rulers of this world nail Jesus to the cross… and bury him in the tomb… God raises his Son up from the dead, and declares him co-ruler with God the Father in the heavenly kingdom…

And the book of Revelation, the last book in the bible, speaks twice, in its first and last verses in our second reading, of God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come” – telling us in between that Jesus Christ is God’s “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the earth.” Christ’s kingship and that of God the Father are thus inseparable – and like Father, like Son, Jesus says –  “I am the way – and the truth – and the life.” And…

If we accept that Jesus Christ really is King – king of kings, Lord of lords – it becomes steadily more and more clear – that all other kings, emperors, princes, presidents, prime ministers, and wannabe powerful leaders of the earth are not king of kings. Not in charge of the universe. Just temporary and very limited rulers with very temporary, very limited authority. (Which is a big part of what Christ the King Sunday is meant to remind us of…)

I’ve heard it said that we Americans have a hard time with the whole concept of kings… But I’m not convinced. People might say we don’t care a hoot about kings, but… Millions still wake up at 3 in the morning to watch a royal wedding happening across the ocean…  So – (I’m guessing –) probably it’s not so much kings we don’t like – as the particular histories we had in our various old countries that we moved here from – places where earthly kings of old had few if any checks and balances – and people had very little voice in their own lives… And it’s still right and a good thing to be skeptical about all the world’s kings and rulers… who are assuredly of little or no help at best… But on the other hand…

Now we’ve got election campaign cycles that never end… And no matter who wins at least half the country is not going to be happy…

And of course we know the Kingdom of God is not a democracy… God’s decisions are not made according to popular vote… God’s ways are not our ways, and in God’s kingdom the greatest are those who become willing servants of all…

Yet we also need to know all the more – the kingdom of heaven is a whole lot more joyful, a whole lot more pleasant… than any other form of government that’s ever been or ever will be.

God our King doesn’t make campaign promises to win votes – but in Isaiah and again in Revelation we have God our King and Christ our King bringing peace on earth, feeding us with a royal banquet, and wiping away every tear…

And I can’t help noticing… how… all the songs in our hymnals that celebrate God’s kingship are all beautiful and joyful…

Come, thou Almighty king – help us thy name to sing – help us to praise! Father all glorious, oe’r all victorious, come and rule over us, Ancient of Days!

(And –)

Sing praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation, the God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation… With healing balm my soul is filled, and every faithless murmur stilled, to God all praise and glory.

And I can’t help noticing… the more we trust, love, and obey God, the more freedom and free will we actually have…

As St Augustine said “Love God and do as you will…”

If we love God we will want to do what God wants… Yet God wants only the very best for us… As Dorothy Day often said, “love is an exchange of gifts.” God gives us grace upon grace… freely, freely. God gives us love beyond measure. No charge… God hopes we will love God in return… But..

If there are any conditions that come with God’s grace and God’s love… it’s just being willing to receive grace… receive love… freely…For…

God is love, as First John tells us… God is truth, as John’s gospel tells us. And…

When we ask from the heart… God our gracious and holy King will gladly show us… more and more of God’s truth… More and more of Christ’s love… As we listen for God’s truth…

And begin to hear the angels sing…

Let all mortal flesh keep silence…

Thanks be to God. Amen.