Thanksgiving III: Loving Fiercely Christ the King Sunday

Thanksgiving III
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37
Loving Fiercely Christ the King Sunday

It’s been quite a week, we continue to reel in the wake of violence in Paris, and the violence continues, and the cost to the whole human family grows. Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Baghdad, Mali. The news, the voices, the media, so many words fill the airwaves, so few of them helpful. Too many words, too much hype, too much anxiety and fear swirling, making the air thick and heavy. It’s starting to get hard to breathe in this place of reactivity and pain.

Does anyone else want to hide someplace quiet?

But like last week, I feel as though I have to pay attention, I have to be part of this – otherwise how will I respond differently? If I don’t agree with those voicing their hatred loudly, how will I speak truth to power if I am not part of the mix?

Fear in the face of senseless violence is understandable. It’s only human to find all of this frightening. But to let that fear overwhelm us, even change us, that’s another matter altogether.

Who we are as followers of Christ doesn’t change – the hope that is within us is our core, it centers us, keeps the main thing the main thing. Which is the love of God for the world as shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, through whom all are brought into God’s embrace. Perfect love casts out all fear – because there is no room for fear in love. It’s not that it’s unfaithful to be afraid. But we can’t allow our fear to distort our hearts and cloud our minds so much that we are unable to live out our faith with integrity.
Those who are in positions of public trust and authority in our country, whose knee jerk reaction is to refuse entry to Syrian refugees, are responding for politically motivated reasons. It doesn’t surprise me all that much, considering we have allowed our two party system to devolve into a polarized and ugly, all or nothing, us and them culture. We allow our politicians to act like children fighting over nonsense in the playground (though we don’t accept that kind of behavior in our children). Worse, we encourage these politicians, the more of a bully you can be to the other side, the better your ratings.

And all of our infighting puts us in this incredibly juvenile position on the world stage. Rather than responding the way most of the world expects a democracy of educated, well fed, upper middle class to outrageously wealthy people, we allow the loudest bullies in the sandbox to speak on our behalf. And the media gives them a 24-hour a day link to the world.

Which means, as much as we’d like to, the rest of us can’t hide until it’s over because then we are abdicating to those who are using this as another platform to further their political or media careers.

For those of us who are part of “the Jesus Movement,” as our Presiding Bishop is fond of saying, there’s not a lot of wiggle room here. We follow a Risen Christ, who was born among us, the incarnation of God’s own self in human form. Not just any human form, but a poor, working class, Middle Eastern man, whose family had to flee into Egypt, refugees on the run from violence. And that’s before we consider all that he preached and taught about the kingdom of God. There’s very little in the Gospel accounts which can justify refusing to accept refugees and walling ourselves off from those in need.

Admittedly, that’s a huge topic. Let’s limit our immediate concern to where we are today, in the cycle of the church year and the texts. It’s Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the season after Pentecost, the last hurrah as it were. Though in the midst of the darkness and violence of our world at this moment, it’s hard to sing the big hymns and rejoice in our triumphant kingly Christ.

The images over the centuries of the Christ of kingship, the Christus Rex, are little over the top. Often Jesus is depicted on a throne, crown on his head, holding symbols of kingship – a scepter or an orb, or both… rays of light and power emanate from him. Some images are better than others, but for the most part they prove the point of our text today, we often misinterpret this idea of Jesus’ kingship through our very human, and limited perspective.

And yet, we know better. We hear it in the trial scene described in John’s Gospel: Jesus stands before Pilate and won’t answer the question directly, when Pilate asks again and again, “tell me are you the king of the Jews?”

“My kingdom is not from this world,” he answers instead. We know that – it’s kind of obvious, God’s kingdom, the one we pray for, when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” is clearly not here and now. The kingdoms of the world in the time of Jesus, and in our own time, are a far cry from the kingdom Jesus has in mind.

But it’s not enough to say that God’s kingdom is the opposite of the kingdoms of the world, because it’s more than that, isn’t it? God’s kingdom has to be more than a better version of a worldly kingdom. God’s kingdom as described by Jesus is completely other – another place altogether.

When Jesus stands before Pilate, accused of claiming to be king, he doesn’t deny it, but qualifies it. “My kingdom is not from this world.” “My kingdom is not from here,” not from this place of power, of fear, of manipulation, of brutality. My kingdom is not from this world but from God. It’s of God’s power, God’s strength, God’s ways, which are not the ways of this world.

So Jesus doesn’t fight back, doesn’t allow his followers to fight back. Rather he hands himself over to be killed, hands his life over to God. That’s the power of our kingly Christ: the power of sacrificial love, the strength of choosing weakness, of choosing to be powerless. That’s the kingdom of God Jesus is living into, a kingdom that can be described as a place, only in so far as that place is one of being in relationship with God. Unlike earthly kingdoms, God’s kingdom isn’t about rule over others, power over those who are weaker. It’s not about control or manipulation of others. God’s kingdom is a place of profound relationship with God’s self.
Preacher and Pastor, Rev. Karoline Lewis writes:

“The concept of kingdom is radically recalculated in the Gospel of John, from kingdoms that strain and sever relationships to a kingdom that puts relationship at its core. That’s a whole different perspective on kingdom. When kingdom is construed from the truth of relationship and not rule, from the truth of incarnation and not location, from the truth of love and not law, then Jesus as truth will ring true.”

That is our truth, the truth that those invested in the kingdoms of this world can’t see, the truth that compels us to love fiercely in the face of fear. Even when working for God’s kingdom seems absolutely impossible because our current reality is so horrific and bleak. Even when we can’t imagine how we will get to “God’s kingdom come,” from here, from this kind of world, ensnared in this kind of violence and fear.

But here’s the good news. We don’t work for God’s kingdom because it seems possible, because we believe we will get there from here. We work to bring in the kingdom because it is who we are. We are these people, who by our very lives are living into relationship with God. So the truth is, it’s never been about how feasible it is, or how close we think this world is to becoming the kingdom of God. It’s always been a question of living out our identity as God’s own in the midst of this rather broken world. Which is a relief because we don’t have to change the world, we have to live into our faith, into our relationship with God with integrity, and believe that it will matter. God will take care of the rest.

Yes, we have to stand up to the unacceptable. To speak truth to power, even when we doubt power even knows we exist, let alone listens to us. We have to act and love, and pray and love some more. But we don’t have to worry about the odds, or winning, God’s got that covered. We can take courage from the knowledge that we follow a risen Lord, who in the face of the violence of the powers of this world refused to let violence, hatred and fear have the last word. Through Christ love overcame death itself, once and for all, that all might find a home in God’s kingdom – that all might be in loving relationship with God’s self.

While it might feel like tilting at windmills, we work for God’s kingdom, standing up to the kingdoms of this world, speaking up, signing petitions, writing and calling our elected leadership, and paying attention to the ways and opportunities we have to live out our steadfast faith that God’s kingdom is one of justice, mercy, and peace.

Actively, loudly, persistently, fiercely defending love in the face of fear, every time, in everyplace. That’s the faith that we claim. That’s the reign of Christ we celebrate today. God’s love wins – always.