Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 25, 2007

2007.11.25 “What Kind of King?” Christ the King Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

“What Kind of King?”

Rev. David L. Haley

Christ the King/Reign of Christ

November 25th, 2007

 

      [I want to acknowledge my indebtedness in this sermon to the Rev. Mark Sargent, senior pastor of Rome First United Methodist Church, Rome, GA., for his sermon, “Confounding King”, preached November 21, 2004, on Day 1 (formerly the Protestant Hour]

Are you ready to go again, through another cycle of the Christian year?  Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany? Lent and Easter in the spring, followed by the long summer season of Sundays after Pentecost?

Are you ready for another year of the Gospel, this time as told by Matthew?

Are you ready for another year of the church calendar?  For Charge Conference and monthly meetings, rummage sales and blessing of the animals and the Fourth of July parade and the Backlot Bash?  (God give me strength . . .)

I once read that there are two notions of history: one – our Western notion – is linear; progressing through time, such that we’ve never been here before.  But there is another notion of history — typical of eastern thought — which sees history as cyclical, recurring.  It’s like we’re on a merry go round, and the same things keep coming around. As Woody Allen once said of the philosopher Nietzsche’s myth of eternal recurrence: “Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again.”

And so here we are on Christ the King Sunday — three days after Thanksgiving, two days after Black Friday, one week before Advent begins — ready to start over again.

      While most Christian festivals are ancient, the festival of Christ the King — or, as known in some churches, the Reign of Christ — is relatively recent, instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. With Mussolini head of Italy for 3 years, with an Austrian rabble rouser named Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party growing in popularity, with the United States about to enter the Great Depression with the crash of the Stock Market on October 29, 1929, the world was about to descend in a great depression.  As the situation deteriorated, people asked, “Who’s in charge here?”  Pope Pius XI’s answer was “Christ the King.”

      Looking around the world today, we might ask the same question:  “Who’s in charge here?”  As followers of the Christ, our answer — as least should be — the same:  “Christ is King.”

      But considering the state of the world, what kind of King would that be? An answer to that question is suggested in today’s Gospel: a King who reigns from a cross, putting the world right, not by force but by the power of sacrificial love.

      As we approach, we see his palace is a place with an ominous name, “The Skull.” His royal court is comprised of two men on crosses.  He is the man in the middle, with the inscription over his head, “The King of the Jews.” As we listen he speaks, praying, asking his God to forgive those who have done this to him.  Unjustly treated like a criminal, even though he is not one, he does not resist, because he knows that evil begets evil, and violence only begets more violence. It is, as he taught, a moral law of the universe.

      Around this king are his subjects, none too loyal. Soldiers, loyal only to Caesar, scorn him.  Religious leaders, who conspired with the authorities to put him there, now scoff at him. His family and followers stand at a distance, fearful to acknowledge him, powerless to help.  By any definition, what kind of a king is this?

      And yet, on this day when the church gathers around the throne of the one who is our King, this is where we gather.  For us to visit this place of death on the day when we ponder Christ’s reign points out how he puts things right.

      By this time, as we have read Luke’s Gospel over the last year, we shouldn’t be surprised.  In fact, we should have seen this coming all along, from the very first song his mother sang, about how he would scatter the proud and bring down the powerful from their thrones; while lifting up the lowly.  About how he would fill those who are hungry, and empty those who are full.

      We should have seen it coming when he preached his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, letting it be known that he was more interested in the poor than in the rich, more interested in freeing those in bondage than sucking up to those who in power.  Even then, in disappointment, they came close to throwing him over a cliff.

      In the days following that sermon, he confused everyone. He didn’t fast when he was supposed to fast. He worked when he wasn’t supposed to work.  He hung out with the wrong crowd.  He blessed those who were poor and hungry and weeping, and had only words of woe for those who were rich and full and self-satisfied and laughing.  He believed in forgiving those who wrong you, even when justified in refusing to forgive.  He had the gall to teach that a tax collector, humbly aware of his need for God, is closer to salvation than the most moral church types impressed with themselves.  He tried to teach his disciples more than once that his kingship would lead to a cross, that his throne would be a place of ignominy.  And he tried to teach them that the way up is the way down, that the way of love is the way of life.

      And, so, as he hung there on the cross that day and forgave those whom he would have been justified in not forgiving, when he promised paradise to a thief dying with him, when he assured them that even death leads to life, he was only doing what he had been doing all along: confounding the world’s notions – our notions — of what it means to be a king, of what it means to wield power, of what it means to live a life that matters.

      This king rules by sacrificial love, not by domination.  This king teaches us to the very end that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, that God chooses what is foolish to shame the wise, what is weak to shame the strong. 

      We are pointed to the truth that, as far as God is concerned, what happened that day at the place called The Skull is the most powerful, the wisest, the strongest thing that has ever happened.

      So we shouldn’t be surprised really, that the Christian year ends up here, because it is here, at the place called The Skull, that we see the supreme proof of God’s love for humanity, the supreme example of God’s will for human life. The Church’s confession has always been that if Jesus reigns today as Lord of all, he only does so because he died that day, demonstrating decisively that the way of love is finally, inevitably, ultimately, the way of life.

      Truth is, if we’re honest, there’s a part of us — maybe a large part of us — that wants Jesus to be a different kind of king. Truth is, you and I might be just as disappointed at a king like this as any of those who scoffed at him were. Truth is, we are confounded by this kind of kingship, because we too are enamored with domination, impressed with our religiosity, seduced by power, deluded by self-importance, smitten by our wisdom, infatuated with our strength. Do we really want Jesus to be this kind of king?  Because if Jesus is this kind of king, it says something about who we ought to be and what we ought to be doing as his followers.

Jesus came into this world with his mama singing a song about his confounding ways. He left this world with people scratching their heads at his confounding ways.  He rules the world with the same confounding ways.  And the most difficult and life-giving journey you and I can make is the journey from being confounded by him, to joining him in changing the world, not through force but through love, one person at a time. 

Won’t you bow before him, and serve him with your life?

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