My kingdom is not from this world, Christ the King, Proper 29 – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 132:1-13,(14-19); 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

For most of us, living as we do in a republic, imbued with democratic values, the very concept of monarchy seems remote and eccentric. True, some of us enjoy watching or reading about the latest headlines about the House of Windsor. But in an election year, even the beautiful Duchess of Cambridge or her husband don’t long distract us from the real world of Clinton and Sanders, Trump and Carson.

So when the collect for today has us pray that the restoration of all things is all about a King of kings and a Lord of lords, we are cast into unfamiliar territory. Perhaps we reach out to older translations that have Jesus say that his kingdom is NOT of this world, which, of course he didn’t say.

Nor do the lessons in either track appointed for today help us with our sense of alienation, a disjunction between our life experience and the world of scripture, as the texts talk of a Davidic king, or the “Ancient of Days” enthroned in clouds of splendor. Of course it is true that our spiritual ancestors could only think and write within cultural norms, but nor may we devise a theology of Jesus suggesting that he is to submit to public approval every four years.

Perhaps two suggestions may be of help. Today’s lesson from Revelation points to two things. The first is that the baptized are incorporated into a “royal priesthood”. This means that, in Jesus, we have become those who stand as a body or company. We are given the task of mediating between God and humanity and creation. We are God’s agents of reconciliation. At home, work, school, play, in social interactions – even on Facebook – we echo God’s plea, “Come to me all you who work and are burdened and I will give you rest.” We speak and act not merely as a priesthood, but as a priesthood invested with royal authority, a royal status epitomized in servanthood.

In the same passage from Revelation we read:

“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.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Every Sunday when we proclaim the faith of the Church when we say together in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again in Glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” For just as now, the royal priesthood works for justice and mercy, tells of God’s forgiveness and unfathomable love, and lifts up the Cross as the sign and symbol of Christ’s redeeming work. We look forward in hope to the end times. When, in a manner we may only express in poetry, symbolism and ritual, the world will be put right, Eden restored and sorrowing and crying will be no more.

When Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews, Jesus seems to prevaricate. “My kingdom is not from this world.” Even though he is a descendent of the hero king David, Jesus claims no affinity with the structures associated with nationalism, with monarchy or republics. “My kingdom is not from here.” His kingdom is about truth, ultimate truth, truth that originates with God.

On this Christ the King Sunday we commit ourselves to Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life”, the king who is a servant. Who comes, teaches, heals, reconciles, dies and rises again, who lives through us and who will return. Nowhere is this more evident as in Eucharist when we bring the world to God through Jesus and offer “ourselves, our souls and bodies” as we “dwell in him and he in us”. So the royal priesthood is nourished and strengthened to be Christ in the street and supermarket, Christ beyond the red door of our parish church and the coming of the true King is announced and heralded from the rooftops.

Download the sermon for Proper 29B.

Written by The Rev. Anthony Clavier 

Anthony is the Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Glen Carbon, with St. Bartholomew’s, Granite City, IL and Co-Editor of The Anglican Digest.

Redeeming kingship, Christ the King (B) – 2012

November 25, 2012

2 Samuel 23:1-7 and Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19) (or Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 and Psalm 93); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

“What’s in a name?” the Bard asks. At first sight, the title Christ the King seems to us moderns a bit antique. After all, we have just elected a president. We even elect our bishops and rectors. There is something else rather odd about the title given to Jesus in today’s feast. The word “christ” is the equivalent, at least to the ears of non-Jewish, first-century Christians, of “lord” or “emperor.” Neither of these titles seem enlightened or modern. How odd to have a Feast of “The King, the King”!

A good deal of our difficulty lies in the fact that we compartmentalize our lives into two separate realities, rather like the separation of church and state. There’s the world of daily practical living, of politics and jobs and school and work, of friends and relatives, of those to whom we relate and those with whom we have no contact or, even worse, look down on.

Then there is our religious life, which is about such things as doing good, spirituality, church, saying prayers and listening to this homily. Because this is true, we might understand a Feast of Christ the Religious Leader or Christ the Guru, but not Christ unto whom every knee shall bow.

The first Christian creed was expressed in a few words. It said: “Jesus is Lord.” There you have it: “Christ the King.” Confine Jesus to the role of a religious leader, someone who went around saying nice things and performing miracles, and he becomes just another good man, like many others. Elijah said good things, performed miracles and healed. Elijah isn’t king.

In the Old Testament we read that the people wanted a king. They were warned that a king would be partial, corrupt and a bad idea. They persisted and got Saul, who was partial and corrupt. David succeeded him, and despite his very modern notorious sin of adultery, became for the Jews of his time and thereafter the example of a good, wise and heroic king, anointed by God. It is no accident that Jesus was of the House of David.

In Jesus two things happen. Kingship is redeemed. Jesus is a perfect monarch. In him leadership is redeemed, made new, just as all humanity is redeemed and made new through Jesus. We are made new. However the word “we” doesn’t mean you as an individual caught up in some other-worldy spiritual reality, lived side by side with the reality of life. A restored humanity is part of a restored world. Christians are not a holy club devoted to changing society, feeding the hungry, attacking discrimination and injustice – although Christians do all those things, or should do. Christians exist to tell the world that it belongs to God, not to us, not to nation states, but really and truly to God. Christians exist to tell the world that it has an anointed Monarch, Jesus the Lord.

The early Christians were not persecuted because they believed that Jesus was their religious leader and in the light of his teaching they did good things. As long as you admitted that Caesar was Lord, the Romans were remarkably tolerant of religious diversity. What could not be tolerated was that simple claim: Jesus is Lord. That claim threatened Imperial and thus political authority. It said bluntly that as Jesus is Lord, because God reigns, everything not only has its origin in God, but is subject to God’s will.

Christians were not subversive because they refused to acknowledge legitimate political power. The church taught that Christians should respect the powers that be, obey the law and even pay taxes. They were subversive because they believed that legitimate power was passing, was relative, and ultimately judged by a higher power, the power of Jesus, that there are not two compartmentalized realities, worldly and spiritual, but one reality, the Kingdom of God, which, as Jesus says, is from above and is all in all.

In a vital sense, all we do in this place, on this day, is recognize that fact. We are drawn through worship, the act of showing God what God is worth, into the ultimate reality of God, as we bow the knee to Jesus and anticipate that moment to be, when we join with the hosts of heaven and the redeemed of a new earth in hailing the sovereignty of God. That is how Holy Scripture begins in Genesis and ends in the Book of the Revelation.

This seemingly impractical acknowledgement that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is” empowers and enables us to engage in the work of God in our communities, as God claims them, and restores them into God’s image. We then go on to engage in what our church terms “the Marks of Mission”: in telling about Jesus; in caring for people in their need; in fighting for justice; in announcing forgiveness and mercy, enabled and empowered to live as the church, as Christians. Because we know just who is boss, whose realm this bit of territory we call our parish is. Unless we get this right, Christianity and our church is merely a compartment of life, a club for do-gooders who enjoy a religious experience.

What seems something apart and impractical – taking bread and breaking it, taking a cup and blessing it, eating and drinking, hearing scripture – is merely religious self-indulgence unless its context is our representing all creation in acknowledging the Kingship of Jesus, in whose sacrifice on the cross and alienated world is restored to its author and creator, God.

We may sing merrily “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. Every tongue confess him, King of Glory now,” but unless in this great hymn we became united in the love song that rings throughout the cosmos, and admit our utter dependence on God and his King Jesus, we merely enjoy membership of a holy club – perhaps enjoyable, even inspiring, but of no ultimate reality.

So today forget the utility of Christianity – what it is good at doing or not good at doing, its strengths and purpose, its failures and weakness – and concentrate on that which is ultimate. “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee,” as we offer bread from the earth, wine from the vine and money from our wallets, is a cry of allegiance to God in Jesus, through whom all things were and are made, and to whom all creation ultimately returns.

Christ is THE King.

Thanks be to God.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

We still ask the questions, Christ the King / Last Sunday After Pentecost (B) – November 22, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19) (Track 2: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 and Psalm 93); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

“Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” the magi asked.

That question alerted Herod to the presence of a rival in his midst. To eliminate the rival he had his soldiers kill all children in an entire region of his realm.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked Jesus mockingly.

The very idea of the Jews having a king in any meaningful sense must have seemed ridiculous to Pilate. Furthermore, Jesus must have looked far from regal as he stood before Pilate. He had been arrested in Gethsemane; all his disciples had abandoned him; he had defended himself before a Jewish court; and he had probably been roughed up by Roman soldiers. But there was also a serious side to the question. A king of the Jews would have represented a challenge to Pilate’s authority and (more importantly) to his masters in Rome. The Roman Empire responded to such challenges just as ruthlessly as Herod had.

In reply to Pilate’s question, Jesus denied that he was a king in any way that would make sense to the Roman governor. “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.”

The confrontation with Pilate was rich with irony and ambiguity. Pilate appeared to be powerful but was really powerless; Jesus appeared to be powerless but was really powerful. John had already told his readers that part of Jesus’ mission was to “cast out” the ruler of this world who has no power over Jesus. Paradoxically, Jesus brought down the “ruler of this world” by submitting to his power; his death brought about the destruction of the powers that nailed him to the cross.

Pilate and Herod were not the only ones who misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ kingship. Even the disciples failed to understand it. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in his kingdom. To “sit” was to occupy a position of power, and to sit beside the king was to share in his power. But Jesus told them that they completely misunderstood the nature of his kingship and kingdom: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

A friend who is a rabbi once said to me, “Christian triumphalism makes me uneasy.” It makes me uneasy, too, and the feast of Christ the King is awash in triumphalism.

“Crown him with many crowns,” we sing, and “All hail the power of Jesus’ name.” I am uneasy because it is all too easy to give Jesus the crown but to take the power for ourselves. The followers of the Crucified One overcame Rome by martyrdom, but after Constantine’s conversion, the victorious Christians started making martyrs of their former adversaries. The history of the church is spattered with blood because power requires violence to maintain itself. To put it another way, we use the rhetoric of Jesus but behave like Herod and Pilate.

The kingdom over which Jesus reigns still defies our understanding. He rules over a kingdom with no borders to defend, no soldiers to defend it, and no weapons for the soldiers to use. It is a kingdom that inverts our values. The one who serves is the one who rules.

We still ask the questions that the magi and Pilate asked: “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” and “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Knowingly or not, Pilate answered his own question; the Gospel of John tells us that “Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. It read: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.’”

The cross is Jesus’ royal throne and also the antidote to Christian triumphalism. Jesus reigns from the cross, and to share his kingship, we must also share his suffering. There is plenty of room at the right and left hands of Jesus, but those who would share his power must also share his cross.

Like the magi, we are also on a pilgrimage seeking the king. Unlike them, we cannot bring our gifts to a manger in Bethlehem. But we can still find him in those he came to serve.

As it says in Matthew 25: “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food.’”

 

— The Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, Ph.D., has led congregations in Alabama, California, and Pennsylvania. He has preached at Harvard, Oxford, and the Chautauqua Institution, and more than 50 of his sermons have been published. He is rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, Christ the King (B) – 2006

November 26, 2006

(RCL) 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19) or Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37 

It is an extraordinary scene. Into the room swaggers the representative of the dominant nation on earth, wearing the uniform that spells power and authority. He probably sinks languidly onto his couch. As the local focus of Empire, this man is burdened with the daily responsibility of ruling probably the most difficult of the colonies. In most cases, whatever people believe, however they were once governed, there is no real conflict with the official propaganda of the Empire. Religion is local, personal, tribal, or an amalgam of many approaches to “the other.” One might be intellectual or uneducated. It doesn’t matter. Nothing much prevented the belief that the Empire was unique and special.

But here, in this small piece of geography, lives an unbending people. They believe that their destiny is to be agents of a God, an exclusive God, and that sooner or later that God is going to intervene, send the Empire packing, and establish a pure nation, with a pure religion, and with a pure law. These people are so sensitive that when they see the Empire’s standard in the streets, they go ballistic and shout about idolatry.

The colonial governor gazes at a strange figure. This man. They say his name is something like Joshua, or Jesus. He’s been up all night, after being arrested on the edge of town. This fellow has been dragged before a religious tribunal, peered at by the locally tolerated ruler, and now stands calmly. The religious authorities say that he has mortally offended their faith by claiming some unique kinship with God.

“Who cares?” thinks the governor. Religious fanatics can and do claim to be all sorts of things. They say he has stirred up the people. “We know how to deal with rabble rousers,” thinks the governor. Perhaps he needs a good beating, maybe a little torture to make him talk, and if that doesn’t work, there’s public execution.

“He says he is a king.” Now that’s interesting. Might give the local petty king something to sweat about. Whatever the man says, next to the power and might of the Empire, he is merely deluded.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”

“My kingdom is not from this world.”

That sounds safe enough. Religion has its place after all, as long as it isn’t involved in reality and people start applying religious beliefs to the problems of the real world. Yet Jesus had said some thing revolutionary. He said that his kingdom was not FROM this world.

After the execution, when this poor man was largely forgotten by the governor, his followers began to say that Jesus is Lord. That word “Lord” is roughly the same as “King,” and even more, as “Emperor.” The time would come when Christians challenged the Empire, not with armies or political theory, but with the simple idea that God’s kingdom was now here and that Jesus is Lord.

At the Eucharist we pray: “In the fullness of time put all things in subjection under your Christ.” “Christ” also means “king.” At Evening Prayer we ask that the whole world will praise God, all nations obey God, all tongues confess and bless God, and that “men and women everywhere love and serve God in peace.”

What does this mean? Such an agenda for an Empire means using power to enforce peace. It often means using economic, social, political, or military strength to make people into Empire folk. The Church has tried such methods. Those have been the worst moments in its history.

The key lies in the word “power.” Jesus’ power from God, his kingdom from above is a kingdom of weakness. He has committed the kingdom to weak people. Our only weapons are love, compassion, self-sacrifice, and mercy. As that mysterious passage from Revelation reminds us, we have been called into the kingdom as priests.

“To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Priests serve for God to the whole world and for the whole world to God. Priests are not armed.

Jesus the King still stands before the rulers and powerful of this world. He holds in his pierced hands, the poor, the starving, the unwanted, the abused, those shunned by important people. He holds up the suffering and he IS the suffering. And we are his agents, who have benefited from his mercy and who now are merciful, forgiving, caring people set aside by Baptism, not to personal religion, but to be agents of God’s kingdom.

And that is why we shout “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.”

 

— The Very Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier, who has most recently served in France in the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has returned to the United States and is interim rector of St. Thomas a Becket Episcopal Church in Morgantown, West Virginia.