For the most part, we’ve kind of downplayed Christ the King Sunday, here at Bethlehem for a couple of reasons,
- Christ the King Sunday usually coincides with the end of the stewardship campaign and thematically it tends to get a little convoluted. Consider your faithful response to God, Jesus is a king, but not like the king you expect, wait what’s a king? We’re a democracy, remember to fill out your pledge card! See fraught with complications.
- It’s a relatively recent invention. Christ the King Sunday was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to combat what he described as a growing secularism in society. I don’t think Christ the King Sunday was really the silver bullet he was looking for.
- It’s kind of an insider deal. When push comes to shove most folks can give you a pretty good idea of what Christmas and even Easter is all about, but what it means to declare Christ as our king requires some pretty heavy theological lifting when most people are pretty ready for Advent and Christmas to show up.
But for the first time in my career as a pastor, I’m ready to celebrate Christ the King, or probably more accurately, I’m ready for Jesus to be king.
How did we get here? How did we get to the place where our country is almost completely split in half. How can half of the country believe whole heartedly that we’ve elected the anti-Christ, or the second coming of Hitler, or some sort of demagogue at best – based on the articles that I’ve seen flying around social media – and the other half of people feel more hopeful than ever? How can half of us believe that the apocalypse is nigh and the rest of us think that Happy Days are here again?
And maybe even more importantly, how do we put this thing back together again?
This morning’s reading comes at a transitional point in John’s gospel. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. The Jewish leaders have formulated a plot to kills Jesus because he seems too powerful. Jesus has been met by a great crowd as he’s entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, while people are shouting Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel. Then in verse 19, of chapter 12, the Pharisees wryly say,
“You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
People are beginning to expect big things from Jesus. A revolution is afoot. Then in our reading for this morning some Greeks, some cosmopolitan folks, people from the big city so speak, come looking for Jesus. They go to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
We wish to see Jesus.
Isn’t that it. In this mess that we’re in, amid the hostility and venom, amid the certainty and the skepticism isn’t that what we want. It’s what I want. I wish to see Jesus. I want to see Jesus take control, shake everyone up and say stop it already. We want a ruler, a leader like Jesus who saves people, who heal people, who feed people, and as an added perk we’ll take a leader who can turn water into wine.
But Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
And this is why this day in the church year, scratch that, this is why Jesus is so difficult to grasp. Jesus doesn’t use power like we would have him use it, he doesn’t use power like we do. Jesus doesn’t consolidate his power at the top, he doesn’t surround himself with people who help him stave off attacks from those that disagree with him.
Recklessly, dangerously, frustratingly Jesus gives his power and influence, Jesus hands over his life, he lays it down for the very people that would seek to take it from him and use it for their own ends.
Jesus doesn’t play the kingly game, the political game, the human game. Jesus doesn’t cling so tightly to what is his that he strangles the life out of it, instead, he purposefully gives it away so that life can flourish.
In Jesus’ economy, death begets new life, more life, fuller life. And man that’s a terrifying proposition.
But it’s what we need.
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
For far too long the church has talked about this in now and then categories. Be willing to lose your life now and then you’ll be given eternal life later. But God has a differently kind of duality in mind here, it transcends party lines, red states, and blue states, black and white, native or immigrant. It’s one I’ll call preservation or participation.
You can fight like hell to preserve and protect what you believe to be yours, you can build walls and keep people other. You can draw rigid boundaries to codify and clarify so that things make sense so that your worldview is kept in tact. You can cling tightly to all of that, but in the end, you’ll lose it. You’ll lose it because that’s not how God has stacked the deck. That’s not how God’s game is played. You’ll lose because that’s not what God’s kingdom looks like.
Instead, today and every day you are invited to participate, now. You are invited into the divine and eternal life of God here and now. It’s a life that pays no attention to categories or labels. It’s kingdom that is little concerned with fairness but is obsessed with justice. It’s a way of life that invites each of us to use what we have been given – our money, our intelligence, our compassion, our insight, our lives so that other people can share in the fullness of God’s life too. In God’s kingdom, we side with, we stand with, we spoke for the marginalized and voiceless because where Jesus is king everyone has a place at the table.
This isn’t about handing out participation ribbons so that everyone feels good about themselves, this is about using the totality of your existence for the sake of God’s work on here on earth.
It’s a scary proposition. But you don’t have to do it alone. We’ll do it together. Because it isn’t yours. It isn’t ours. It’s God’s. And thanks be to God that we belong to him, this day and every more. Amen.