Christ the King

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 21 , 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4-8; St. John 18.33-37.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new to the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day. How appropriate for our day as well, even if it is misplaced on our calendar. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and as its name implies, today is a day when we culminate the season of Kingdomtide where we proclaim Christ as King, Messiah, and Lord of all God’s creation. I’m going to cut right to the chase. Do you believe any of this? If not, here’s why you can.

We start by acknowledging that God’s world is occupied by an alien, malevolent power—Satan and his minions, both human and spiritual. Why God has allowed this, no one can say nor should we spend much time on the question because the answer is not ours to know, at least in this mortal life. What is important for our discussion is that the ubiquitous presence of Evil in this world has caused many, Christians included, to not believe Christ is really king. What kind of king allows Evil to be so awfully present? And frankly, that is just what the dark powers want us to believe! When we see evil run apparently unchecked (the key word being apparently) and have doubts about Christ’s ability to rule over his creation, despite the NT declarations that he does reign as king (e.g., Col 1.15-19, Christ’s ascension or any of his exorcisms), the dark powers celebrate because doubt seeds despair and unbelief and can lead to the abandonment of the faith once delivered to the saints, to you and me, made saints by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. 

However, the mere existence of Evil cannot fully explain why many of us fail to believe Christ is really king. Part of it involves human pride. We think we know better than God. We forget that we are finite, fragile, and mortal, prone to erroneous thinking and sinful behavior. We forget that God is omnipotent, eternal, and omniscient, that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. To one extent or another we are all products of “enlightened thinking,” an oxymoron if there ever was one, where we limit reality to what our senses can perceive and what we can measure. This creates in us a skepticism about some of the things we read in the Bible, like today’s OT passage, e.g., or Christ’s healings and exorcisms. The Enlightenment, for all the good it has produced, has also produced the Holocaust, Communism, two disastrous world wars, and the woke lunacy that is attempting to impose itself on us today to name just a few. The Enlightenment reveals human pride at work, determined to use one of God’s gifts, reason, to replace superstition and religion, the two sources most enlightened thinkers believed (and still believe) were/are the cause of all the evils of the world. Of course this is utter nonsense and we can see the results of thinking that excludes God from the equation all around us. Contrary to popular belief, when humans actually take God seriously and act according to God’s holy ways and laws, the results are always positive. 

Whatever the reason for our doubts and fears about God’s sovereignty—and let’s be clear, Kingdomtide season is all about God’s sovereignty—as all our lessons this morning testify, lessons that represent the whole of Scripture, Christ really is king and we can live confidently in that knowledge and reality. We must therefore learn what to look for concerning the signs of God’s rule in his world. In our OT lesson, Daniel shares the vision given to to him in response to the previous visions he received. In it we see the Ancient of Days, the Ancient One, God himself, preparing to judge the evil in his world as well as the powers behind it, both human and spiritual. The vivid imagery suggests purity and power, with God’s fiery judgment on all evil and those who perpetrate it. We humans need to be exposed to scenes like this, hidden from our senses, because they remind us God is in control of things, chaotic as our times and lives may be, mysterious as it all is to us. 

And then we see the Son of Man, who interpreted through the lens of the NT is Christ himself, coming on the clouds—biblical language attributing God’s presence and power to him—ready to be God’s agent of justice and judgment. This scene should make sense to us because until the time evil and evildoers are judged, there can be no real peace, no perfect world. Like the blood of righteous Abel, the blood of the martyrs and those murdered and killed unjustly will continue to cry out to God until God finally acts decisively to give them full justice. As Christians, we believe that day will come when Christ returns to finish his saving work and raise his saints to everlasting life. We may not like the fact that we have to wait for this day. Being children of instant gratification we may grow impatient and angry over Christ’s promised delayed gratification, but the fact remains that this promise and hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—are necessary if we are to thrive in this mortal life where we live in the already of God’s victory over Sin, Death, and Evil and the not yet of its consummation. As St. John the Elder reminds us in our epistle lesson, the blood of the Lamb has conquered Evil in a surprising and totally unexpected way. God’s victory is accomplished by the power of God himself, the only power strong enough to defeat Evil and Sin and Death.

In our gospel lesson, St. John the Evangelist also proclaims that Christ is God become human, that by going to the cross he will fulfill the prophecy and promise of Daniel that God will bring about God’s perfect justice to rid the world of all evil and evildoers. St. John proclaims this in part by telling us the story of Christ’s confrontation with Pilate, i.e., in telling us the story of God’s kingdom and justice confronting worldly power and justice. In this confrontation, St. John in effect proclaims that here is the Son of Man, coming on the clouds, i.e., coming in God’s power, to confront and deal with the evil and corruption of the world’s systems and beliefs. In this deeply ironic story, we see Pilate, who represents corrupt human notions of power and justice, mistakenly thinking that he is in charge and judging Christ as a political enemy when in fact it is Christ who is judging him—by going to the cross. For St. John, the cross is where Christ is crowned King and his kingdom’s rule begins. Again, in a deeply ironic moment, Christ’s crown consists not of gold but of thorns and most who are confronted by the story fail to understand this reality.

Notice carefully that Christ does not tell Pilate his kingdom is not of this world, but rather not from it, meaning the source of his power and authority emanate from God’s power and not human’s. Our Savior’s prayer that appeals for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven makes little sense if Christ’s kingdom is some kind of spiritual kingdom rather than God’s power finally reasserting itself to heal a broken and corrupt world and its people. Pilate, ever caustic and cynical doesn’t get this. Neither do many of us in our cynicism. But our Lord tells him (and us) that he had come to testify to the truth, the truth being that God will not allow alien and hostile forces represented by Satan and his minions, Pilate among them, to go on causing havoc and pain and destruction and injustice and death forever. God in his loving goodness can never ultimately allow Evil to win the day as our OT lesson testifies. Pilate, of course, has no conception of truth because he retorted with the famous question, “What is truth?” Here we see St. John testifying that truth is not of our making. Pilate in his cynicism, a cynicism that is increasingly popular today, cannot fathom this. Truth in his economy is something each of us holds. It is ours for the making so to speak. Not so, says Christ. Only God is the owner of truth and that truth never changes or varies. We can’t bend it or invent it according to our needs and whims. But only by Christ dying for us would the world have the chance to learn this truth and start to live by it. This in part is what it means to submit to Christ’s rule. Because we do not like the truth does not give us the license to change it. We are to obey God’s truth in how we live our lives and that means we are to pattern our lives after Christ. What is truth? God’s great love for sinners like you and me, a love so great that God was willing to become human and shed his blood to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and to conquer Evil by the self-giving power of love. And in so conquering Sin, Death, and Evil, God has pronounced judgment on it all and those who commit and perpetrate it. Evildoers may seem to win the day, but their victory is pyrrhic and short-lived. Their day of destruction and judgment is coming and what a terrible day that will be. That is the truth. If you believe it, you will treat it like the eternal treasure it is and live accordingly.

So what does that look like? What does that mean for you and me? First, when we realize that Christ is our crucified king who has defeated and judged Evil by taking it on himself, we have reason to believe the NT’s promise that on the day of his return, his cruciform victory will be consummated and we will finally be freed from all that has the power to harm and destroy us, including and especially the power of Death. And when we learn to recognize what Christ’s reign looks like, we learn to have confidence in its truth and reality. That means we have real hope for the present and future. No matter how bad things get for us, we persevere in the power of the Spirit as we await the final redemption of our body and soul. Hope is a great blessing, my beloved. Don’t ever abandon it, especially when its source is God himself.

Second, our lessons invite us to learn and live by the truth, not the fiction of our own making, but God’s truth. As we have seen, despite appearances to the contrary, the truth is that God calls us to live according to his laws and created order and when we refuse to do so, we can expect God’s judgment. I will have much more to say about this topic in two weeks, but for right now I would simply point out that God’s judgment always leads to God’s justice and is motivated by God’s love for us. God created us in his image to represent his presence in the world. When we do that, things go swimmingly well for us and we find wholeness and contentment, despite the corrupting influence of living in an evil-infested world. As followers of Christ this means that we choose not to be partakers in evil and to confront evil with love and good after the manner of our Lord Jesus, even when it appears that our efforts are defeated or go for nothing. Let me give you a quick example of what this looks like in real life. Recently the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, confronted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her support for abortion. Unlike the powers of the world who use vitriol and anger and all the rest, the Archbishop instead called for prayer and fasting on behalf of Speaker Pelosi, asking God to convert her “maternal heart” away from supporting abortion. ++Cordileone also asked Catholic Christians to sign up for a “Rose and Rosary for Nancy,” where a rose would be sent to the Speaker for every Christian who signed up. As of Nov 15, 15,728 roses had been purchased, one of which were mine, and 1000 have been delivered, God be praised! This is how Christ the King’s reign works. In marked contrast to the nasty political business and name-calling (business as usual), we see God’s people praying for the repentance of one who denies the truth and supports murder. There was no name calling, just prayer and fasting and roses. Whether the Speaker repents is not the issue here. Rather, it is God’s people in Christ, working in loving obedience to him and appealing to his power to change hearts, minds, and lives. It is born out of a deep faith in the reality and efficacy of that power to conquer Sin and Evil and it confronts an unholy reality in a way that the person might actually be able to hear it without condemning her because we know that judgment is ultimately left to God and God alone. The world does not expect this and cannot recognize God’s power at work (one critic called the Archbishop “nutty,” for example). Therefore the world has misplaced or no hope, a terrible judgment in its own right. Not so with us. We have seen our crucified and risen Lord and we know his healing love and presence. On his behalf we dare to love each other enough despite our differences to support each other in our trials, tribulations, and suffering because we know that our trials are only temporary and the hope of glory, the new heavens and earth where we live in God’s direct presence forever, await us. And in doing so, we make known his love and presence among us. There is nothing better in all creation. This is why we can believe in Christ the King and his reign despite all the ambiguities, unanswered questions, and chaos that swirl around us. My beloved, I appeal to you to give (or continue to give) your lives and ultimate allegiance to Christ the King because in him, and only in him, will you find the strength and power for the living of your days and the blessed hope of eternal life awaiting you after you have finished running your race. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.