Sunday, November 20, 2016 – The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 46: 1-7, 9-11 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43
Which King We Follow
Mackenzie and I have been watching the Netflix show The Crown. It’s pretty popular right now, so we aren’t the only Anglophiles watching yet another show about the English monarchy. Admittedly, as this one is about Elizabeth II coming into power, it’s a bit strange. There’s something bizarre about the role of King or Queen in a more contemporary context, though perhaps that’s the attraction of the show.
For me the most fascinating part is the intricate tangle of Church and Kingly power. That relationship is demonstrated in the anointing at the coronation, a moment considered too holy for mere mortals to even watch on TV. When the Bishop anoints the sovereign’s hands, then chest, then head, and the person is changed, they are transformed by God for their role.
On the one hand, I suppose there’s a certain humility to the idea that a king or queen would need the blessing of God to be enabled to bear the weight of the crown. On the other – this overt sanctification of earthly power creates a serious problem for the church – it always has. From the time of Constantine onward, the church has faced this double-edged sword. Aligning with the powers of this world might be wonderful for the rise of Christendom and spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth – but whose Gospel is it? Which King are you following when you do that?
Anytime there’s collusion between earthly powers and the church, we have to be on guard. Consider the Gospel accounts of our crucified Savior – the church is not meant to be an agent of the state. We aren’t meant to be entwined with the powers that be, but rather to stand with enough space to have perspective, give ourselves enough distance to be able to see clearly. So that when necessary we can stand against, to speak truth to that earthly power, to concern ourselves with those the powers that be would ignore or torture, or worse. When we align with the state, the church is quickly corrupted: we lose our perspective, and our voice; we lose our way. We trade it for wealth, position, the regard of those we admire; or worse, for power. But we as a Church, who follow a crucified-by-the-state savior, are not meant to be popular or wealthy, or best buddies with the Herods of this world.
We are meant to be trouble makers, thorn in the side agitators, those who will not keep silent, those who will not back down from the cause of justice, those who will stand for others. When we are silent, when we go along with the main stream, when we twist our theology so it is more comfortable in the boardroom or the pressroom, we have joined Team Rome. The Gospel is clear – as individuals, or an institution – we are not meant to collude with the powers of this world. We follow a different King; we recognize a very different kind of power.
God’s Son comes into the world, a fragile human being, yet one with power, real power; the power to overcome all that plagues the world, even sin and death. And how does this all- powerful King respond when unjustly humiliated, tortured, taunted, and then crucified?
True power responds – by pouring himself out for others, by asking God to forgive those who are killing him, for they don’t really understand what they are doing. When the criminal hanging next to Jesus recognizes him for who he is, and asks Jesus to remember him, when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus responds – immediately and compassionately. Even in the midst of his own distress.
True power – needs no show of power, no act of bravado, no payback, or dramatic exit. True power dispenses mercy boundlessly, gracefully, extending the possibility of salvation even to those considered unrighteous, to those who are lost. Because mercy and justice and compassion and grace are the nature of this King, they have everything to do with God and God’s kingdom – and not our worthiness.
Our King is one who was crucified, who chose NOT to use his power to save himself. Without raising a hand against his oppressors, he chose to die, an innocent victim of injustice. Our Savior does all this to overcome death, to guide us in the ways of peace, and justice and mercy and compassion; so we might have abundant life here and in the life to come.
Christ the King Sunday is about recognizing where true power lies – and where it doesn’t. To what do we give power? What do we allow to have power over us, and what will we refuse to give power to?
The current level of anxiety in this nation is an acknowledgement of power. Some of it is a reasonable response to an unexpected election result. And in my opinion, some of it is just anxiety hyped up by our media. It may be time to turn the volume down on the extreme all or nothing excitable media (that’s what they get paid for, we know that, right?) and allow that only some of what is happening at the national level need concern us RIGHT THIS MINUTE while we make dinner, or tend to our families.
It’s time to allow ourselves the luxury of a better King. Give ourselves the gift of remembering whose we really are, and what that means, what that says about the powers of this world and how much they can lay claim to us: to our hearts and minds and spirits. For we follow a very different kind of King.
And rather than spending another anxious second worrying about things we cannot control, spend our energy instead on ways we might follow our very different King. To secure peace, justice, mercy and compassion, on earth, as it is in heaven.
How? Well, I thought we would look to some wise ones, I know it’s a bit early for the magi, I figure they are at least getting ready for the journey soon.
I love this quotation from C.S. Lewis, who wrote, “Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in His great campaign of sabotage.” How might you and I take part in his great campaign of sabotage? How will we participate in that sabotage with Christ? I like to cause a little trouble for Christ, so you know I’d like that quote. But if that’s too forceful an image for you, how about this lyric from the late, great Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
How will we help make a crack that will let the light in? How can we chip away at whatever is oppressing another, until we manage to create a crack, a place for light to shine through? With the power we do have, with our ability to speak truth to power, we might chisel away at a seemingly impenetrable injustice, and let the light in for someone in need of it. For those in need of hope, of mercy, of compassion, in need of Christ. Christ the King, our King, but a King like no other.
Sometimes the Church calendar is spot – on, and places us where we need to be. And this is one of those times. We need to shift our perspective about power and where it lies, and where it doesn’t; and participate in a little earthly sabotage, as we chip away at the powers of this world and their fearful hold over us and those around us. Saying in word and action, that we follow a very different King. Whose Kingdom is one of light and love and compassion, and no matter what this world tries to put up to block it, we will chip away until that light can shine through for all who are in need of it.
May we move into the world with faith, hope and compassion, (secret) agents of God’s light and grace, and may there be no doubt – which King we follow. Amen.