Sermon preached on Christ the King Sunday B, November 25, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93.1-6; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37.
This is the last Sunday of the Christian year recognized as the feast of ‘Christ the King’.
Next week is Advent – the start of a new Christian year, but this week we conclude the old ecclesiastical year with a proclamation of the kingship of Christ, and a call upon all of us to decide where our allegiances in this world lie.
The history of the feast of Christ the King goes back to 1925, when the feast day was proclaimed by Pope Pius XI. 1925 was a dark time for our world. The world had only just emerged from World War I.
The world was in the grip of a worldwide economic depression, and desperately looking for answers. The world was watching, waiting for answers, and listening to the leadership of the time, powerful men were competing for the limelight, and the Pope felt that it was time to call on Christian people everywhere to declare their allegiance to the rule of Christ.
In our reading today Daniel In his vision at night looked, and there before him was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
This time the nation of Judah had just emerged from the Babylonian captivity and were watching and waiting as well. Daniel assures that the dominion of the son of man is everlasting.
Still going back from the Babylonian captivity we see the psalmist singing ….
The Lord is king and has put on glorious apparel; *
the Lord has put on his glory and girded himself with strength.
Your throne has been established from of old; *
you are from everlasting.
Backing up some 1900 years earlier from the time of Pope Pius XI, in the Roman province of Judea – a region that was also heading towards war, once again there were various voices competing for attention – military leaders, politicians and charismatic figures who would arise from the rank and file of the subjugated local population, promising to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression.
Pontius Pilate was the character with the unenviable job of keeping the province of Judea in line, and he was, according to the Jewish historian Philo, a ruthless overlord: “by nature rigid and stubbornly harsh. . . of spiteful disposition and an exceeding wrathful man. His career was marked by … bribes, acts of violence, outrages, cases of spiteful treatment, constant murders without trial, and ceaseless and most grievous brutality.”
Today’s Gospel reading we see a dialogue that is told by John, as it is portrayed as an encounter between the leading local power-merchant of the government, on the one hand, and the apparently powerless figure of Jesus, on the other. And yet, as the story progresses, we realize that it is Jesus who is in control, whereas Pilate seems to be quite powerless. He wants to release Jesus but can’t. His job is to administer justice, but he is too scared to do what he knows is right. And so he moves back and forth between Jesus and his accusers, eventually symbolically washing his hands of the situation, in a desperate attempt to excuse himself from responsibility.
What we see here is two kings – two competing kingdoms, two contrasting types of power. On the one hand we have Pilate, whose power resides in the army that stands behind him. On the other hand we have Jesus, whose power comes from the fact that He tells the truth.
This is indeed Jesus’ response when Pilate asks him whether He is a king: Jesus responds “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus says, “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice”, because they recognize that He speaks the truth and so they hold him as an authority and listen to him, regardless of whether he has any official position given by the institution.
This is the difference between the kingship of Jesus and the Kingship of Pilate, if we can put it that way.
The Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks about is different in almost every respect from the kingdoms of this world.
His is the Kingdom where might and money mean nothing in terms of a person’s value, but where humility and sacrifice mean everything.
His is the Kingdom where the weak are not despised but loved, and where 99 healthy sheep are left on the hillside while attention is given to one who strays.
Jesus is king of the upside-down Kingdom, where the first is last and the last, first, and so He says to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world”, for He has no interest in competing with Pilate at his level. His power is not that sort of power.
Let’s be clear on this: the fact that Jesus is not competing with Pilate for political power does not mean that Jesus was not a revolutionary. Jesus was a revolutionary, and in a sense, his countrymen who presented him to Pilate as an insurgent were quite correct, for Jesus was starting a revolution, and it was a revolution that would change the face of the earth. It just wasn’t a revolution that used force of arms to achieve its end.
At this time the Gospel portrays a dark time in human history. 1925 as well, when Pius proclaimed the feast of Christ the King was another dark time. And as we conclude this year, I think we recognize that we are in another dark period of human history as well.
Our world seems to be sinking into increasing global violence. At a local level, prejudices and divisions continue to grow. We too find ourselves in conflict with this world and its rulers. We too are questioned, mocked, belittled, defamed, injured, and wearied by constant attacks. But we continue to take our stand with Christ – holding fast to the truth, and declaring our allegiance to our King!
Amid all these, Christ is King! That is our proclamation this morning. He is the one who we acknowledge as our ultimate authority. His is the Kingdom that we are subjects of. His rule is the one we recognize above all others.
It’s not easy to follow Christ the King. We know that, as our gospel drama today concludes not with Jesus striding from the palace victorious, but with Him being taken away and executed. Even so, we proclaim it: Christ is King
John writing in Revelation says Christ is “The Alpha and the Omega.” Some of you may know that those are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – so, to say something or someone is “the Alpha and the Omega” is to affirm completeness – to affirm that they are the beginning and the end — the A to Z — and everything in between.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
While this is a true statement, it is an interesting choice of words for the writer of Revelation to write down. We know from history that when he wrote these words, John was living in a time of vicious persecution. To make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ at the time, was to put your life in danger of, at the least, becoming a social and commercial leper or, at worst, being legally murdered as an enemy of the Roman empire. John himself was on the prison island of Patmos as he wrote and prison islands were not simply places of incarceration – they were holding cells for those awaiting execution. John pictured the awful conditions as they existed in his day. He noted how human beings could become monsters and destroy a society from within; he saw the disastrous results of violent conflict. But with eyes of faith, John gazed into the future and saw a better day — a day in a world ruled by King Jesus – the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, who was and is to come, the Almighty.
I know that others have seen that “better day” as well.
Brothers and sisters – we can make all kinds of things king over our lives. We can give all kinds of things control over our lives. We can let all kinds of things rule our lives.
We can let our lives be controlled by money. We can let our lives be controlled by power. We can let other people rule and control our lives. We can let our desire for things like the best cars – the best computers – the best houses – or whatever else is the “latest and greatest” according to society – control our lives. We can let these things control us – but we are not living out the truth that we know as Christians.
As Christians, we know that Christ is King! As Christians, we know that only Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
As Christians, we know that all the things of the world will fade away – and only Christ will last.
As Christians, we know that Christ is King!
We can let the bad things and bad situations in our lives rule our lives also. We can look at the bad things going on in the world and let fear rule our lives – and it could be said that we would have good reason for that. we can look the trials we may be going through in our life — whether they be health issues or fear of losing our job or trying to get the health coverage we and our family need (as I do) or getting out of debt or family problems, or so many other things that may be happening, and let fear rule our lives – and again it could be said that we would have good reason for that also.
Brothers and sisters, the choice is ours, we can let the things of the world rule our life or situations rule our lives – or we can be like the Apostle John and the Pilgrims. They saw the bad things – the terrible things – the devastating things – but they would not bow down to these things or give homage to them or give them control over their lives. They saw all these things – but they had eyes of faith – and realized that only Christ the King is “the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
As somebody said it is true, Christ wrote no books, composed no songs, drew no pictures, carved no statues, amassed no fortune, commanded no army, ruled no nation on this world — And yet, He who never wrote a line has been made the hero of unnumbered volumes. He who never wrote a song has put music into the hearts of nameless multitudes. He who refused the kingdoms of this earth has become the Lord of millions. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Christ the King.
Who is Christ to you?
In the name of God the Father, the son, and the holy Spirit Amen!