Christ the King Sunday
TEXTS: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 23:33-43
On the last Sunday of the Church Year, the day we call “Christ the King Sunday”—we are called to reflect upon a question. And the question is: “Who’s in charge?”
In this world which is torn apart by war, which is threatened by climate change, where millions go hungry while a few grow more and more obese—this is a fundamental question: “Who’s in charge?”
Who exercises dominion over whom? Who—or what—rules our lives, and how? Who—or what—dominates our culture?
The answer to the last question—who or what dominates our culture—is, I think, quite evident. The forces of evil hold great sway both here in Canada and around the world. Greed, pride, selfishness, and fear—these are the powers which fuel the decision-making process on planet earth: in our corporate systems; in our media—and especially our advertising media; in our economic and governmental systems, where what matters most is not whether you are right, but whose side you are on, or who you voted for; and in the hearts of many individuals—of those who think only of what’s in it for them and theirs.
Greed, pride, selfishness, and fear … The fruit of those powers that rule in our culture—and in every nation of this world—is as obvious as the rioting in Hong Kong today. The fruit of those powers is as clear as the pictures of desperate refugees which appear on television each night—interspersed with advertisements for stuff none of us really needs.
Greed, pride, selfishness, and fear … Their fruit is abundant! They yield a bumper crop of homeless, beaten, battered, abused, drug-dependent persons who live—and die—on the streets of our cities. Greed, pride, selfishness, and fear—what do they look like? They can look like the pursuit of happiness. They can look like the pursuit of success. But in reality they are the exaltation of our families, our country, our politics—to the detriment of our neighbours, near and far. In today’s world, greed, pride, selfishness, and fear are poisoned trees, and they yield a bitter harvest. Their toxic fruit nourishes the hatred, the rage, the desire for vengeance which consumes so many.
Who and what rules our culture? The answer is depressingly obvious. Greed, pride, selfishness, and fear! The fruit they bear is death—and that, too, is depressingly obvious. And it feels even more obvious—and all the more depressing—when we focus upon the troubles that afflict us personally. When we look at all the negative stuff, when we suffer the body blows of trouble within our own families, when we are knocked down by the series of illnesses and deaths within our community—don’t we wonder: “Who’s in charge”?
So many friends and loved ones have been taken from us—one after the other, both young and old. You just get up off the floor from having been hit by one death or illness or tragedy, and another comes and flattens you! It makes you wonder if the sorrow and the suffering will ever end—if things will ever get better.
Even so … on Christ the King Sunday, we assert the gospel message: the message that Christ is in charge. And we assert the gospel message that not only is Christ in charge, but the peace that we need, and the hope that we need, can be found in him—now, today! More than that, we assert the gospel message that the peace our world needs—the peace our culture needs—is coming through him, on the day that God has chosen.
But—as Jesus himself said to the disciples on the night of his betrayal—the peace he gives, he gives not as the world gives (John 14:27). And that is very important to us, as we name Christ not only as the King of the Universe, but as King of our hearts and lives. The prophet Jeremiah told us: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
The righteous branch of David—the one who will be called, “The LORD is our righteousness”—is, of course, Christ Jesus. Now, for most of us, the word righteousness conjures up an image of someone who is holy and good, of someone who is following the laws of God—and that is indeed part of the meaning of the word righteous. But when the word righteous is applied to God in the Bible, it is almost always used in reference to his saving and healing activity.
God shows us that he is righteous by delivering us from our enemies and by making us whole. God is righteous when God forgives us. God is righteous when he keeps his promise to be our God and to watch over us and protect us. God was being righteous when he came to us in the person of Jesus, who was—and is—a King with a difference.
It’s a difference which I think is illustrated by a story told by Richard Fairchild on his Kir-Shalom website. It is the story of a little boy who wanted to do something good. It goes like this:
Six-year-old Brandon decided one Saturday morning to fix his parents pancakes. He found a big bowl and spoon, pulled a chair to the counter, opened the cupboard and pulled out the heavy flour canister, spilling it on the floor. He scooped some of the flour into the bowl with his hands, mixed in most of a cup of milk and added some sugar and an egg, leaving a floury trail on the floor, which by now had a few tracks left by his kitten.
Brandon was covered with flour and getting frustrated. He wanted this to be something very good for Mom and Dad, but it was getting very bad. He didn’t know what to do next, whether to put it all into the oven or on the stove, (and he didn’t know how the stove worked!).
Suddenly he saw his kitten licking the bowl of mix and reached to push her away, knocking the egg carton to the floor. Frantically he tried to clean up this monumental mess, but he slipped on the eggs and landed on the floor—getting his pajamas white and sticky. Just then he saw Dad standing at the door. Big tears welled up in Brandon’s eyes. All he wanted to do was something good, but he’d made a terrible mess. He was sure a scolding was coming, maybe even a spanking.
But his father just watched him. Walking through the mess, he picked up his crying son, and hugged him—getting his own pyjamas white and sticky in the process of loving him.
That’s how God—our Lord and our King—deals with us. That’s how Jesus—our Lord and our King—deals with us and the mess we have created. Jesus steps into our reality and takes our mess onto himself. He loves us and forgives us, and shows us the way of true love: the way that gives life—and that abundantly; the way of the Kingdom over which he rules; the way of the Kingdom in which he serves.
Jesus provides us with an image of royalty totally different from the world’s image of royalty. His is a total reversal of roles usually assigned to royalty and servitude. He refuses to be master of the world, the mighty monarch, the spiller of blood. Rather, he is a King who serves others. Jesus our Lord, our Righteousness, is one who heals, who forgives, who restores; one who refuses to take up the sword to protect himself, or call ten thousand angels to save him from the cross.
King Jesus is one who, even as he dies, promises that he will remember us when he comes into his Kingdom. King Jesus conquers, not by killing others, but by allowing himself to perish. Jesus is our Lord–Jesus is our King—precisely because he is not like the kings of this world. His faithfulness and his obedience and his love have defeated death and opened the way to eternal life. And citizenship in his Kingdom is offered to all—not just to those who are good enough, or strong enough, or smart enough.
Who and what rules our culture? I think we know who rules right now. But it will not always be so. Jesus told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world” (John 19:36). And that is true. But this world will be his Kingdom one day!
I believe that. I know that. I know in my heart—and I know from the words of Scripture—that the one who rules in our lives is stronger than the one who rules this world. So—for now—let us work for Christ’s Kingdom.
How? By focusing on our Lord, and living by his direction, his values, and his wisdom. When the world strikes you—when the world kicks you—remember to whom you belong! Trust in him. Pick yourself up. Turn the other cheek. Forgive those who need forgiving. Proclaim once again that Jesus is Lord and King and that his way is the way of life. And as you do you that, you will find within yourself the peace that he has promised to give. Thanks be to God for our awesome King! Amen.