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November 22, 2016, 2:23 PM

Christ our King?


Colossians 1:11-20 CEB, revised
11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Parent. God made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 God rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son God loves. 14 God set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,
16 Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through the Son and for the Son.
17 He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.
18 The Son is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.
19 Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in the Son,
20         and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            The Son brought peace through the blood of his cross.
 
Luke 21:5-19          CEB, revised
33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Jesus, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left.34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.
35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”
36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
 
Christ Our King?
 
Rev. David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, entitled his blog for Christ the King Sunday, “What do you want in a king?” My immediate thought was, “Americans don’t want a king!” I mean, after all, we took care of that problem over 250 years ago with a property damaging protest in the Boston harbor and a revolutionary war. No kings for us! And yet, here we are—Christ the King Sunday. Some churches, including us, soften this Sunday a bit and call it “The Reign of Christ Sunday;” as if the word reign is less bossy than king, less threatening. Whatever you want to call it, this Sunday is about Jesus as the ruler of the heavens and the earth, of the cosmos. Today proclaims Jesus as Lord of ALL. Just look again at our reading from Colossians:
            The Son is the image of the invisible God,
                        the one who is first over all creation,
Because all things were created by him:
                        both in the heavens and on the earth,
            the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
                                    Whether they are thrones or powers,
                                    or rulers or authorities,
            all things were created through the Son and for the Son.
On this last Sunday of the church calendar year, we American, freedom-loving, democracy-proclaiming Christians must come face-to-face with a major point of scripture—Jesus Christ is Lord, Jesus Christ is King.
 
The question that Rev. Lose lifts up is a question that is asked throughout much of scripture. “What kind of king do the people of God want?” In the beginning, God was their king, their authority, their Lord. God set the rules, spoke to them through chosen voices and leaders, and guided them in their life journeys. However, after a while, the people demanded that God give them a human king, just like everybody else. The people were persistent and God finally relented, sending Samuel to anoint Saul as king, and when Saul couldn’t live up to the type of king God called him to be, Samuel anointed David. The king-thing didn’t work out too well. David had some good qualities and he got some things right. Overall he was a good king. But he got a lot wrong, including an affair with a married woman and the murder of her husband when she became pregnant. After David, the king-thing went downhill rather drastically until the divided kingdoms of God’s people —Israel and Judah—were overthrown by invading empires, and the kings of Israel and Judah became puppets. They pretty much stayed puppets from that point on.
 
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is called a king. In fact, Jesus’ main title—Messiah or Christ—is another way of saying king, for the kings of Israel and Judah were the anointed ones. Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek means ‘the anointed one.’ Jesus has been talking about a kingdom from day one of his ministry, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had been teaching that God’s kingdom is near, is breaking into this world. Jesus’ life, teaching, preaching, and healing have been examples of God’s kingdom, which was turning the region upside down and upsetting the order of power and authority. All of this has brought Jesus to the point we find in our reading today, hanging on a cross on the Skull between two criminals. Above Jesus’ head is his title, “This is King of the Jews.” Jesus essentially asked the people, and the powers that be, that essential question: What kind of king do you want? Those in power looked at Jesus and said, “Not you.” They didn’t want some peasant carpenter turned traveling teacher from the backwaters of Galilee who empowered tax collectors, sinners, poor people, women, and the marginalized. Oh, and broke Sabbath Law and some other points of Torah on more than one occasion. They didn’t want some revolutionary rabbi upsetting the established order, the status quo. “No peasant king for us!” they exclaimed. For those powers, this crucifixion was a mockery of Jesus being called the king, the messiah, the anointed one. They stripped him, beat him, crowned him with thorns, and enthroned him on a Roman torture device for all to see, and then they mockingly called him “King of the Jews.”
 
What they didn’t understand is they were in fact proclaiming God’s Good News in Jesus, the kingdom of God is near, breaking in among everyone and everything. That Good News kingdom is in fact the very opposite of what you want, but it is everything that you need. Salvation comes through humbling oneself, emptying oneself as Jesus did. Redemption comes through peace with justice, reconciliation and restoration, through forgiveness and mercy. The desire for power and authority, for security and retribution leads to a system of those who have plenty and those who have nothing. Israel had proven throughout its history with human kings that power corrupts, not all are cared for, and society crumbles. Jesus, enthroned on the cross, proclaims a kingdom of the opposite. Not war, reconciliation. Not retribution, restoration. Not a grab for power, a sharing of peace. Not ruling by might, living together in love.
 
Jesus goes to the cross to save us, save us from the cycle of the king-thing that Israel and the rest of the world have been trapped in for so long. Jesus demonstrates in the cross another community, another kingdom, that offers true life. And in the resurrection shows it to be eternal, everlasting, glorious life. Jesus asks from the cross and from the empty tomb, what kind of king do you want? The disciples and followers of Jesus proclaimed boldly, “You, Jesus. We want you! Jesus is Lord! Jesus is King!” In a world where “Caesar is Lord” was a required proclamation, these new members of God’s kingdom, with Jesus as their king, dared sedition and refused Caesar. It is no wonder they were persecuted. Proclaiming Jesus as your Lord is a dangerous thing, because it means nothing else is Lord in your life…nothing. It means you are going to live contrary to the world’s way, that you are going to live upside-down; where the least and last are given top priority and love and mercy prevail.
 
The world will not ask us, in 2016, to choose between kings, not in the same way. We did throw off the monarchy many years ago and we have been struggling with democracy ever since. That is the way the world operates today. Are we of the world? Or are we of something else? The Church is to be the embodiment of God’s kingdom here in the world, not of the world. Are we in the world as a witness to God’s kingdom but we are not of the world? What does that look like, to proclaim Jesus as the sole authority in our lives, and to live accordingly? It makes us look different to our neighbors, to our friends, maybe even to our family. It causes us to prioritize everything differently, if Jesus is to be the ultimate truth in our day-to-day lives. Proclaiming Jesus is Lord is political. It is economic. It is social, as well as spiritual and religious. It means Jesus reigns over our public and private lives.
 
Christ the King Sunday should make us uncomfortable. To David’s question, ‘what kind of king do you want,’ we really do want to say, None! We don’t want an ultimate authority over our lives. But that is the way Jesus works. Jesus wants all of who we are. Jesus wants a complete partnership. God in Jesus wants to show us an upside-down way to live; where power is realized in vulnerability, where love rules the day, where restoration is always the goal. So Christ the King Sunday will pop up each year, just before Advent, just before Christmas, as the new Christian year begins. Christ the King Sunday will pop up every year and ask us, is Christ your King? Is Christ my King? Is Christ our King? How does the world know? Does Christ’s kingdom shine through in how we live our lives every day? Can we commit to a journey that leads us deeper and deeper into the commonwealth, the community, of Christ.
 
Thanks be to God! Amen!

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