Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday, November 22, 2009.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. This particular feast is relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day and the corresponding decline in faith. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and is a time when we celebrate Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord. Today I want to encourage you to make Christ your King (if you have not done so already) and offer you reasons why you should do so (or remind you why you have).
In today’s Epistle lesson, John tells us that when Jesus returns again in glory to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection, all the nations will wail on his account. John was painfully aware that having Jesus as King is a terribly costly act because the world is in active rebellion against God. In the very next verse he describes himself as a brother who suffers persecution and who patiently endures his situation for Jesus’ sake. His situation, of course, is that he has been exiled to the island of Patmos because he follows Jesus.
The world has never been very friendly to Jesus because we are broken and fallen people who stubbornly insist on worshiping ourselves rather than God. We insist that we know what’s best for us and expend much of our time and energy pursuing those things. For some of us, work is king and we spend ridiculously long hours doing our jobs. For others, financial security is king and we work hard to build up a nest egg for ourselves, all the while worrying that we’ll never quite have enough to keep us in the lifestyle to which we are accustomed. Some of us make health our king and we are fastidious in our diets and compulsive in our exercise (you can see by my appearance that health is not my king). Others of us make fear our king, worrying incessantly about things over which we have no control. Increasingly, many of us are making individualism our king, insisting that it really is all about us and our rights, and the list of rights seems to grow longer with each passing day. But none of these things can ultimately give us life or raise us from the dead, can they? Only God can do that. That is why making these other lesser things our king is folly because nothing besides God is eternal and nothing besides him can give us life.
Thankfully, however, we do have a King worthy of our ultimate loyalty and obedience. He is King Jesus. As John reminds us in today’s Epistle, we have a God who loves us so much that from all eternity he has had a plan for our redemption because he wants us to have the kind of relationship with him that he intended for us when he created us. Our sin has caused us to be alienated from him and each other, and so he has done what it takes to set things aright. To deal with the problem of sin and the alienation it has causes, God took on our flesh, entered our history, suffered and died for us, and thereby satisfied his holy justice by bearing the punishment for our sins himself. In doing so, he has given us our one and only chance to live with him forever.
“But wait,” you say, “I still see sin, suffering, and alienation.” Yes you do because the work Jesus started on the cross is not yet finished. There is a mystery to, as well as a power in, the cross of Christ and we are asked to trust that what the NT tells us about the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is true, that God has dealt decisively with sin and its attendant problems once and for all. The work is simply not finished yet and if we believe God to be true to his promises, we must embrace this wholeheartedly. In today’s Epistle, John reminds us there is still unfinished business when he alludes to the time when Jesus will return to finish his work. In vivid apocalyptic language, he talks about Jesus coming on the clouds, language that suggests an earth-shattering and mind-blowing event that will be unmistakable when it occurs. Unlike the first time God came to us in human form, in weakness and humility, the next time we see him there will be no mistaking who he is—our Lord, our Savior, and our Judge.
John fleshes this out a bit more in the final chapters of Revelation as does Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and it is a magnificent vision of hope. Heaven and earth will be fused into a New Creation, the dead will be raised, we will get new resurrection bodies like our Lord has, bodies that will be immortal and never again be subject to death, decay, sickness, or deformity. God’s justice will finally be executed and evil destroyed forever. Best of all, we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever and he will wipe away all our tears and sorrows (Revelation 20-22; 1 Corinthians 15). What a magnificent hope and future for us! It is a Kingship worth our total allegiance!
And so we Christians live in the “already-not yet.” God has dealt with the problem of sin on the Cross but he has not finished his work. He tells us to be patient and believe the story. Yet he knows we are weak and liable to fall away and so he has blessed us with his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness and infirmity. The Spirit testifies to us that God’s promises are true. He encourages us to live our lives faithfully until he returns again in power and glory to set everything aright. That is the whole point of the parable of the ten talents that Jesus told in Matthew. The King is coming back again. Make sure you expect him and keep your affairs in order because you do not know when he is going to return and you will have to give an accounting of your loyalty and the stewardship to which you are entrusted (Matthew 25:14-30). Do you have the faith and trust in God’s promises that stirs your love for him so that you want to make him your King and give him your ultimate loyalty and obedience?
So what does the Second Coming have to do with us as Christians living today who are trying to make Christ our King? What does it matter? Just this. It means that we are to live as people of hope, as people who have real hope. It is a hope based not on transitory things that cannot give life; rather, it is a hope based on the Source and Author of all life, Christ our King.
We have hope because he has given us his Word contained in Scripture. He has given us each other, his Church, to help sustain us in the good times and bad. He has given us his holy sacraments so that we can feed on him as we seek to follow him and find power and strength. He has given us prayer so that we can engage in an ongoing conversation with him. And most of all, he has given us himself to act on our behalf and to be present with us as we await the fulfillment of his mighty promises. All we have to do is accept this wondrous grace by faith and it will be ours. This means we have power to live, power to overcome anything that life throws our way. This means we have joy, peace, hope, and contentment despite all of life’s adversities.
What would our lives look like if we made Jesus our King? A good place to start might be to pray this prayer Augustine prayed in his Confessions.
Lord I want to know you as you have known me. You are my strength. Dive deep into my soul and wash it out. Make it a good place without spot or wrinkle, a fine place for you to live. I hope for this and when I am thinking straight the very hope gives me joy. As for the rest of the things in my life (other than knowing you) I have learned that those that receive the most tears deserve the least and those that have less tears shed for them deserve much more. (Augustine, Confessions, 10.2)
In this beautiful prayer, we find the prerequisites for making Jesus King: repentance and humility. We acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We acknowledge that we are cracked pots, incapable of ever getting it entirely right on our own or living in the manner we were created to live. In this prayer, we also see a magnificent hope and trust in God to be with us, to help us become more like him so that we can love him as he deserves, and to guide us through the all the dark valleys of life. If we want to make Jesus our King, we have to first believe he is more capable of being king than we are.
Second, if we are to make Jesus King, then we must follow his command for us to serve rather than be served. As Jesus reminded us in Mark 10:42-45, he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus expects those of us who make him King to do likewise. This has special implications when we consider the Second Coming as well. It is the consistent biblical witness that we Christians are to reject the false teaching of dualism that posits all material things are evil while all spiritual things are good. The very notion of the New Heavens and New Earth contained in Revelation 21-22 rejects this belief outright. It reminds us that God’s creation is good, albeit fallen, and that God himself believes it worthy of redemption, that ultimately there will be a New Creation to replace the old fallen one.
This means we are to roll up our sleeves and get to work to establish God’s kingdom and his justice here and now. It means we do not insist on having our way all the time or try to lord it over others. In today’s Gospel lesson, when Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, he did not mean that those of us who follow him should check out of living in this world so that we can engage in introspective navel gazing. No, the promise of the Second Coming reminds us that while God is the one who will ultimately put everything aright, we who choose to follow him must do our part to help him here and now. We must be good stewards of his creation and our following him will always manifest itself in service to others, especially to the least and the lost. Are you following Jesus in this manner?
Last, and related to the point above, if we are to do our part in helping to restore God’s creation by our humble service and work to establish his justice in a broken and fallen world, then we must know what that looks like for us. That, of course, requires that we know the biblical story intimately and have a robust prayer life so we can have confidence that we are indeed acting on God’s behalf, rather than on our own or on some mistaken notion we might have. Toward that end, we must also keep connected with other faithful Christians so that we can hold each other accountable for the ways we follow Jesus. Do you love Jesus and each other enough to do this? Are his promises compelling enough to motivate you to serve him by serving others?
Making Jesus our King is never an easy thing to do. John of Patmos knew it. Paul knew it. Mother Teresa knew it. Many of you know it. Living as a subject of King Jesus will require you to give him your all, and that will be costly. But the hope that is ours is far greater than any costs we must bear. We are promised new life, new bodies, and a New Creation where we can live in joy and happiness in God’s direct presence forever, and where there will never again be evil or any kind of suffering or sorrow. That is the pearl of great price and it is worth our greatest efforts to pursue it because it is the gift of life. It is ours for the taking if only we have the courage to say yes, and it is life that will never end, even when our mortal bodies die. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.