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Posts Tagged ‘Christ the King’

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,  5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,  6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.  8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:4-8

“Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”  36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”” – John 18:33-37

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Do you ever look around you and wonder who’s in charge on this planet? Who exactly is running this show?

Our immediate reaction might be to say “God is of course!” If we look around at nature – at the fall colors in the trees, at the creeks and the seas, and feel the crisp air that we know will carry snowflakes very soon – it seems clear that God is in charge. No human being could ever duplicate the beauty of nature. Only God could have created a planet where everything works so well together: crops and animals and ecosystems and human beings all supporting each other and all interdependent on each other.

On the other hand, if we walk into our cities, our towns, our neighborhoods, we often see people who are homeless or hungry, lonely or lost, sick or in pain. And we know that people are hurting because something has gone wrong in this world – things have gone wrong with the world of work (or the lack of it), with health and wellness (or lack of it), with integrity in businesses (or the lack of it), even with help from our government (or the lack of it). And watching the news – which is something I recommend only in moderation – reminds me of the old Pink Floyd song from Dark Side of the Moon:

“The lunatics are in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paperboy brings more…”  (Brain Damage, Pink Floyd, 1973)

…and they wrote that nearly 50 years ago! Things haven’t changed much.

So who exactly is in charge here?

As we look at our scriptures for today – from Revelation, and especially from the Gospel of John – the question boils down to one of two options: either Jesus is in charge, or Caesar is in charge.

Christ the King1

Taking a look first at the passage from Revelation, the apostle John opens his letter by sending greetings in the name of Jesus. He then describes God the Father as “the one who is and who was and who is to come”. God is also described in verse eight as “the alpha and the omega” – the first and the last.  It should go without saying that no earthly person or power could make this claim and still be considered sane. Only God lives forever, so only God is capable of being in charge forever.

John then talks about Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Son, the faithful witness. The Greek word for ‘witness’ is martyr, and that double meaning is deliberate. Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead.” Jesus has defeated death. And again, this is something that no-one else can claim and be considered sane. Jesus is given the title “ruler of the kings of the earth,” which puts Jesus in charge.

When Jesus returns – as he is prophesied to do in Revelation – everything on earth will be set right.  Revelation says Jesus’ followers will become “a new kingdom of priests” who will serve God and be holy people in God’s new community.

So the Kingdom of God is for real. God and Jesus are ultimately in charge even though the kingdom is not entirely visible yet. We live by faith in a world of the-now-and-the-not-yet.

There’s a problem though: power is not always understood or experienced as a good thing in our world. Many people on this earth have suffered under powers that mistreat or abuse – and to understand God as being ‘in charge’ through power can be a conflicting thought. Far too many people have only known power in its corrupted forms.

For this reason ‘Christ the King Sunday’ sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable. I hope this morning to be able to set that unease to rest. Jesus does not represent an ‘alternate empire’ where the kind of power we’re used to here on earth switches from human hands to God’s hands. Just the opposite: as Revelation says, Jesus “loves us and frees us from our sins.” Jesus is the antidote to abuses of authority.

We were made by God for an eternity with God, who created us and loves us. How do we know this? Scripture tells us God is love. Love is so much a part of God’s nature that if God stopped loving, God would stop being God. Just like there’s no such thing as fire that isn’t hot, there is no such thing as God that isn’t love.

So taking this reality from Revelation and throwing its light onto the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John’s Gospel, we begin to see how this works out in reality, in daily life.

Christ the King East

The apostle John in his Gospel describes for us the scene: the leaders of the Temple have turned Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, with the accusation that “he claims to be a king” – which was a half-truth at best. The Temple leaders wanted to see Jesus crucified, and they knew the only way they could do that would be to get him convicted of a crime against Rome – because only Rome had the authority to crucify.

So the Temple leaders trumped up a charge and accused Jesus of claiming to be a king. This accusation of course would have been considered treason (because Caesar was king) and treason was a crime punishable by crucifixion.

Of course the Temple leaders knew that Jesus’ claim was to be the Messiah, not a secular king. The Messiah predicted in the Old Testament would be both the son of God and the son of David: descended from both God and the royal line, which Jesus was. But many Jews in Jesus’ time expected the Messiah to be a military savior – someone who would kick the Romans out and kick the Greeks out and re-establish the nation-state of Israel.

All of these things were swirling in peoples’ minds; and none of these things had anything to do with what Jesus came to earth to accomplish – which was our salvation. With all this as backdrop, Jesus is taken to Pilate, who asks him: “are you the King of the Jews?”

This question is a bit racist BTW: a Jewish person would have asked, “are you the King of Israel?” The phrase “King of the Jews” was used only by people who looked down on Jews.

So Jesus asked Pilate: “are you asking this of your own accord or did other people tell you about me?” Jesus is giving Pilate, a man who is more pragmatic than truthful, an opportunity to be honest if he chooses to do so.

Pilate comes back with honesty, if a bit rudely. He says: “I’m not a Jew am I?” (as if that’s too low a thing for him to be.) “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Pilate needs a charge to charge Jesus with, and he wants to get this job over with as quickly as possible.

Jesus answers, “my kingdom is not from this world. If it were my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over… but my kingdom is not from here.”  And again we catch a glimpse of two kinds of kingdoms, two different kinds of authorities: earthly kingdoms, which maintain power through force and violence; and a heavenly kingdom which has a different nature entirely.

If Pilate had been a man of intelligence or curiosity the next logical question would have been “where is your kingdom then, if it’s not from here?” But Pilate doesn’t ask that. Instead he says, “so you are a king?” – which makes a very handy charge against Jesus. Jesus answers him: “you say that I am. I was born and came into this world to testify to the truth; and everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate can’t say he never had his chance. Pilate couldn’t go home that night to his wife (who had suffered in a dream about Jesus the night before) and tell her that he had done what was right.

Pilate looked Truth in the eye and said:

“What is truth?”

That question has echoed down the centuries ever since: both in the sense of ‘what is the truth about Jesus?’ (which is a HUGE question), and in the sense of ‘what is truth?’ period. Does truth even exist? Why is it that even today our news sources can’t agree on the actual facts of events, let alone interpretations? We find ourselves today still asking what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

And Pilate turned Jesus over to be crucified. In a final act of insult against the Temple leaders, Pilate nailed the charge above Jesus’ head reading, “The King of the Jews” – a deliberate racial slur, mocking the nation Pilate despised – and yet ironically the first truth Pilate had spoken all day.

Christ the Truth

The Cross shows us the power of God cannot be defeated by kings or governors, by jealousy or hate, by prejudice or racism, by lies or corruption or any of the things the Temple leaders AND the Roman Empire brought to bear – and that our society today still brings to bear against Jesus.

The Cross is the final word of the powers of darkness, pain, and death. The Resurrection is God’s answer and Jesus’ victory.

As theology professor Jaime Clark-Sales has said: “Pilate’s rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm; Jesus’ rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror.” That’s the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.

For this reason we celebrate today Christ the King, raised from the dead, the faithful witness, who loves us and sets us free, and defeats the powers of darkness “not by might, not by power” but by God’s Spirit.

We celebrate a king who requires our allegiance, who requires that we turn from any other and follow him. We celebrate a king who has compassion on the lost and the hurting, who came to serve rather than be served, who speaks truth and calls us to do the same.

Light does not destroy darkness by violence. Light destroys darkness simply by being light. In the same way Jesus, our King, defeats the powers of sin and death, not with weapons, not by political or economic power, but simply by being who Jesus is: the King of Life and Truth and Love. The darkness cannot stand in the light of Jesus.

This is our king – and today on Christ the King Sunday we look forward to his coronation. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 11/21/21

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“For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.  12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.  13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land.  14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.  15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.  16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. 

     17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats:  18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?  19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

     20Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,  22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.  23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.Ezekiel 34:11-24

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[St. Paul writes:] “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason  16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.  17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23

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[Jesus said:] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,  33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Matthew 25:31-46

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Today we celebrate both Christ the King Sunday and Thanksgiving – two different holidays, but they go well together. We give thanks that Christ is the King, and the fact that Jesus is the King inspires thanksgiving!

Today we also look forward to the beginning of Advent, which begins next Sunday, when we will again be hearing about God’s plan to send a savior into our world and a light into our darkness.

Our scriptures this week prepare us for God’s announcement that Jesus is coming – not only as a baby but as a king. Advent looks forward to both the manger and the kingdom, and Christ the King Sunday tells us about who it is we’re waiting for.

Our readings today from Ezekiel and Matthew basically tell the same story, though it’s told from two different angles and at least 500 years apart. It’s the story of what God is going to do.  In the passage from Ezekiel, God says “I will…” twenty times!

It’s not unusual for people to say “I will do such-and-such” but human plans tend to fall apart or change at the last minute. Not so with God. God says “I’m going to do this” and God does it. When a king says something is going to happen it happens. God doesn’t have to call for a vote; God doesn’t have to get anything passed through Congress. God speaks and it happens.

In our passage from Ezekiel God says: “I will seek… I will rescue… I will feed… I will judge…”  There’s a great promise here, but it comes with a warning.

The promise is that God will gather us – God’s sheep, God’s people – from all the places around the world where we’ve been scattered. No matter where we are God will find us. In this passage God is speaking to a people in exile, without a homeland. And in a sense all of us are in exile right now, away from our homeland with God. So these promises in Ezekiel extend out through the centuries and to people in all kinds of places. The words of God reach out to any person who feels hurt, or broken, or abused, or betrayed, or out of place. God’s words reach out to the unemployed, to the foreigner, or simply to those who wish they could be home: God cares, and the good shepherd brings healing.

As we extend these promises into Jesus’ words in Matthew, we see that God will also gather together those who have died. Everyone who has ever lived will be in that throne room on the last day. The great preacher Charles Simeon wrote that even Adam and Eve will be there; kings and emperors; and the poorest of the poor from every nation. And for those who ask how that’s possible, Simeon replies: “As for the difficulty of collecting scattered atoms…this is no difficulty with God, who created them out of nothing…”.

No matter where we are on that great day, God will find us. Not one of God’s people is ever lost, in spite of how things may look or feel sometimes. “Wherever they have been scattered” God says, God will find us all, and bring us all home.

According to Ezekiel, when God finds us, God brings us to a place of rest and good food, of healing and comfort and encouragement. God says we will be fed in person by “my servant David” – referring to the Messiah, to Jesus. And God ends by saying, “I the Lord have spoken.” When God speaks, things happen.

This great promise also comes with a warning. God says, “but the fat and the strong I will destroy.” This may seem strange at first, because fat and strong sheep make the best lamb chops. But that’s not the point! God will put a stop to bullying. God will defend the weak and the injured. Those of us who have lived through pain, or illness, or tragedy, or loss – we have hope because we have God on our side. For those who throw their weight around, who throw their money around, who push the little people around – God will put a stop to that.

That’s the message of Ezekiel.

In Matthew Jesus tells us much the same thing.

Jesus gives us a parable that speaks of the last judgement. And just as God said in Ezekiel, “I will…” do this and “I will” do that – in this passage Jesus says “the king will…” do this and “the king will…” do that. Again, the king speaks and the king’s will is done.

In Jesus’ story, the king – himself – sits on the throne of glory and separates the sheep. And just like in Ezekiel what the sheep have done makes the difference.

It’s interesting Jesus doesn’t ask the sheep any of the questions sheep tend to ask each other. Jesus doesn’t ask the sheep if they are Catholic or Protestant, if they believe in predestination, or if they’ve prayed to Mary, or if they’ve ever made a pilgrimage. Jesus doesn’t ask them “do you believe that I died for your sins?” Jesus doesn’t read off a list of all the sins the sheep have committed in their lives.

In fact it’s not what the sheep did in life; it’s what they didn’t do that makes the difference, because love is the distinguishing feature of a true Christian – especially love for the poor and afflicted, because Jesus identifies with least of us. Jesus “will accept as done for himself whatever is done for others in his name.” If Jesus were here today and in need, what would we do for him? What actions would we take? That’s what we need to be doing.

The sheep on the king’s right hand have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in prison. God commands the people of God to do these things all through the Bible, from the beginning to the end, from Old Testament to the New Testament.

It’s surprising though, the sheep on Jesus’ right hand don’t realize they’ve done these things. I think this may be in part because we have a limited idea of what it means to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, etc.  Some people are hungry for food; but some people are hungry for friendship; some people are hungry for truth, and so on. Some strangers might be from foreign countries but some might live in our own neighborhoods. Some people in need of justice or in need of care might live right around the corner.

The sheep on Jesus’ right did what they did out of life-long habits of mercy. In an imperfect world these actions can bring criticism. They can mean taking risks. They can mean sharing another person’s sorrow. Doing God’s will isn’t always easy or popular, and it can be painful. In this life we don’t always experience the joy of doing God’s will, and that may be part of why the sheep on Jesus’ right hand are so surprised.

At any rate King Jesus will welcome the sheep on his right hand into eternal life in the eternal kingdom. But the sheep who have failed to obey the King’s commands will not go in. They have failed to see the needs of the poor and the stranger, and in doing so they have failed to see Jesus. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you” – and they haven’t.

Paul’s words in Ephesians help to give wisdom to God’s people when they wonder what they need to be doing. First, Paul emphasizes God’s kingly power, just as Ezekiel and Jesus do. Paul says God is the Father of Glory, and Jesus sits at God’s right hand, and “God has put all things under [Jesus’] feet and made him the head over all things for the church…”  Then Paul talks about faith and hope and love, echoing I Corinthians 13, where he says faith, hope, and love are the only things that last forever.

We as Christians are not called to fix all the problems in the world. Taking care of the world’s problems is God’s job. Our job is simply to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, etc., following Jesus’ example.

One of the things I love about the Methodist church is that this mindset of service is so much a part of the church’s DNA and has been since John Wesley held the very first meeting of friends. Wesley taught that that faith without works, that religion without responding to human need, was not only dead but was worse than dead. That belief has come down to us today, and praise God for that. Just one tiny word to add: it’s not necessarily necessary to have a whole group of people in order to give. Don’t get me wrong: I love UMCOR [the United Methodist Committee on Relief] and I encourage everyone to give! But there are also small things – that only you and I can see – that each of us can do on a personal level – that need doing, as we are called and as we are gifted. We need to be looking for those little things as well.

For both Ezekiel and for Jesus, the bottom line is this: the Lord is our shepherd, and we shall not want. Our job is to stay as close to our shepherd King as we possibly can, and as we are able, do what the King does. God’s job is to take care of all the rest – because God is King. AMEN.

(Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 11/23/20)

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