Proper 29: Christ the King Sunday
November 21, 2010
Hebrews 12:22-24; 28-29
Today marks the end of our Christian liturgical calendar and does so in a very fitting manner. The focus of today is upon Christ the King: the King of Kings and King of all. Next week we will begin the new year in the Christian calendar as we launch into Advent. While we await the second coming of Christ and the consummation of the coming together of the new heaven and new earth, it is good for us to reflect upon Jesus’ first coming and the kingdom he established.
We as Americans have been historically postured against any ruling monarchy. Our national forefathers departed from the overbearing British crown when it was seen as being too powerful and burdensome. As a result, America began its infant radical existence free from anything resembling royalty. The concern was so great that when George Washington was sworn into his first presidential office, citizens wondered if they had merely replaced King George III with King George I. As time would tell, they had not.
We may entertain actual royalty and their engagements, as we did this past week. It seems that now princes and princesses are now the stuff of fairy tales, child-like cartoon or not. They may hold our gaze for a minute, but we all know the “truth” that we are individuals and the captains of our own souls and destinies. No tyrant king can have dominion over us.
Yet the story of God doesn’t allow us to dismiss the reign of Christ and its effects on all of our existence. And when I say all of our existence this is precisely what I mean. It is not as if Christ is simply the king of my individual life, although he is. He is the King of the universe and all that is included within it. So the question must be what does this mean? What does this look like? Who is this King and what is this kingdom he stated was at hand?
Our passage from Jeremiah brings out some important strands to get us moving in the right direction. First, we see that regardless of the fact that Israel has shepherds, which is Jeremiah’s way of describing the kings of Israel, YHWH is the true king. Notice the contrast between Israel’s temporal kings and the eternal King. Due to the behavior of the temporal kings the people will be driven away and unattended to. This is described as “evil deeds” according to the reality of what kings are supposed to be doing. In stark contrast, YWHW tells of his care and love for the people by gathering them back together as a loving, dutiful king. And how will he do this?
YWHW will raise up a new king and this new king will not act in the same way the previous kings of Israel did. He will act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. Here we see a few things that again move us in the right direction of understanding Christ the King. This king prophesied about in Jeremiah will do justice and righteousness. It is interesting that the text tells us that this king will do justice and righteousness. To do justice and righteousness means to put things back to rights. That which is out of touch with the way it is supposed to be needs justice and righteousness. For example, if your back is in desperate need of a chiropractor and he does what it is chiropractors do, he is doing justice and righteousness to your spine. It is simply stating that this king will restore things to the way they are supposed to be. Humans will be the humans they were intended to be. The created order will live in harmony with each other and the humans who inhabit it. Every area of life will be put back to its proper role and function. Restoration is at the heart of what we call salvation.
Perhaps even more importantly, restoration and redemption will be done because they will flow out of who this king will be. For you see, being and doing are inseparable. You cannot do that which you are not. Likewise, you cannot be what you will not do. We are always looking for ways of transforming ourselves and perhaps as Christians we have leaned too heavily upon changing who we are – our being – by way of not engaging in service until we have reached whatever we think of as “being who we want to be”. Our internal transformation, we think, doesn’t have much to do with what I do, so therefore I will sit things out until I have become the person who is spiritual enough to do the things I should. I would venture to say that perhaps we have swung the pendulum too far and should rethink things. Perhaps our way of becoming people who are just and righteous is by doing justice and righteousness. Then by participating in activities that put things back to rights, we may reflect upon them and be more just and righteous. The two must go hand in hand.
In a seemingly paradoxical fashion, we see our King most prominently in the texts of his passion and crucifixion. Isn’t it interesting that we have for our Gospel text a passage leading up to the death of our King? Yet we see within this text from John the reality that our King is the King because of his death. How crazy is that? As he is being mocked and tauntingly called “the King of the Jews” we see our Jesus not retaliating with a similar violence, but rather with the peace of forgiveness. In the midst of his pain and suffering he looks to his Father and seeks restorative justice for those inflicting his pain. Submission and suffering, therefore, are the modes of Jesus’ kingship. As John tells us, his kingdom is not of this world, but it is for this world.
And his death is, ironically and, again, paradoxically, for the release of his people from captivity. The kingdom that is crucifying him is the very kingdom his death is demolishing. His killers, which when push comes to shove, has to include us, are blind to the fact that they are releasing themselves by killing this Servant-King. And yet, however much we are responsible for the death of Jesus, he gives his life as a gift; he lays down his life for his beloved. Therefore, His reign is not initiated with a jeweled crown and scepter, but rather with a cross and a crown of thorns. The King who loves, loved his people and land enough not to subject them to a kingly reign like the world’s, but rather to rescue them from that very domain of darkness and place us in his kingdom. As the Book of Common Prayer’s Morning Prayer for mission prays: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…”. His rule is not epitomized with an iron fist, but with open arms.
And how has he done this? Again, Paul tells us, through forgiveness. There is an intimate link between being the people we are meant to be, the world we are meant to live in and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key to restoration. It eradicates the walls between us and God. We cannot enter into Jesus’ kingdom without receiving forgiveness. It is the ultimate expression of God’s love, and in a mysterious way, not just for the human individual and her salvation, but for the redemption of the entire cosmos. As Colossians states, his death has brought peace and the restoration of all things through his death. Perhaps our hymn’s lyrics should read: “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for…everything.”
So what does this mean for us? What does this push us to do and be? Again, we look to Jeremiah. He tells us that YHWH himself will raise up shepherds to tend to his people. God himself will, essentially, disciple fellow kings to do and be in the manner of King Jesus. We should, therefore, follow suit and expect that our task is do the same. As a matter of fact, we are told it is our responsibility better known as the Great Commission. Here are a few things I close with as encouragement to that end:
We, as the church, the people of King Jesus, cannot expect to reach our world unless we are in submission to our King. We may believe the correct things, but unless they permeate our lives and end in submission to Jesus, they are useless. We read in Revelation that every knee will bow to Jesus. If we will do it then, let’s practice doing it now.
King Jesus embodied and lived out forgiveness. Forgiveness is essentially putting things to rights: doing justice and righteousness. That which is broken is made right only through forgiveness. We can only bring the reign of Jesus by offering a radical, restoring forgiveness. This is not just for individuals and their sin, but for social and cultural issues. If Jesus is King of all, this means his reign must be present on both the individual and social level. Again, we read in Revelation that the final realization of the kingdom will mean the eradication of pain, sorrow, and death. If this comes by forgiveness, how can we work on eradicating them now? What does this mean for you and the community you live in?
King Jesus embodied and lived out service. He didn’t seek a kingdom of being served, but rather he sought to serve. This carried him to the point of death, even death on a cross. As we seek to bring about life-giving forgiveness we must do it through service. True leadership is fleshed out in submitted service. In a world full of power-seeking and power-wielding, people will simply not listen to us unless we come to them like a servant. So, how can you simply serve others better? Who are the least of these in our midst?
Finally, may our lives reflect the sentiments of the Psalmist: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” May King Jesus be exalted through us. Amen.