Christ the King – Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost(C)

Recognizing the various approaches to Christ the King, here are several alternate sermons available for use on this Sunday:


[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

When you think of a king what image immediately comes to mind? A man wearing a crown and regal clothing? Perhaps someone who is powerful living in a royal palace?

In the time of Jesus, the ruling monarch of Rome had absolute power on earth and was worshipped as a son of the gods. Any challenge to Caesar’s authority would be dealt with quickly and efficiently. In ancient Israel the king was not only the head of state, but also served in the role as a type of high priest. Israeli kings were often considered messianic figures sent by Yahweh to deliver the nation from those who sought to oppress them.

The Jews of Jesus’ time continued to long for the day that a messiah would come and deliver them from their oppressors and restore the fortunes of Israel. First Century Jewish messianism was wrought with dreams of military victory over their Roman occupiers, the expulsion of all Gentiles from the Holy Land, and a newly established nation of Israel founded upon biblical principles. It is no wonder that the Roman overlords and King Herod, their vassal king, viewed potential usurpers with extreme caution.

It is into this political turmoil and heightened apocalyptic fervor that Jesus was born – and crucified. Jesus, a poor carpenter and itinerate preacher from a small town, could hardly be confused with being a king. Yet for a brief moment, his followers dared to dream that he may indeed have been the long-awaited messiah.

There was nothing regal about him at all. His rag-tag group of followers were from the lowest classes of society. He attracted Samaritans, lepers, demoniacs, tax collectors, fishermen, women of ill repute, the poor, and those marginalized by the ruling class of religious leaders. At best, Jesus could easily be confused with the many other zealots and rabble rousers that appeared on the scene during Rome’s occupation of Palestine. Adding more irony to the situation is the fact that Jesus’ parentage was questionable due to the fact that Mary became pregnant before marrying Joseph. Everything Jesus owned he wore, down to his worn-out sandals.

Under Pontius Pilot, the Roman governor stationed in Jerusalem, Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion, a form of punishment reserved for the lowest classes of criminals and traitors. It was the most ignominious form of capital punishment. The sign on the cross proclaiming Jesus as “This is the King of the Jews” was not honorific, but was meant as a joke and an insult. Simply put, it labeled Jesus as a mere traitor and reminder to future rebels what awaited them if they resisted the Roman Empire. Jesus hung with criminals on the outskirts of Jerusalem, naked and bleeding from his wounds, a pitiful sight meant to instill fear among the Jewish population. To the average person, Jesus was no king, but a man whose life and ministry was cut short. But Jesus’ journey to kingship begins on the Cross in accordance with God’s will for humanity.

The Church has done a disservice through the generations in the manner in which it has proclaimed Jesus as King of Kings. Early religious artwork portraying our Lord shows him dressed in the simple clothing of his time, but as the Episcopate became temporal rulers, and the Church gained status in the eyes of emperors and kings, the image of Christ began to take on a more grandiose look. He was portrayed wearing the regal robes of rulers and potentates. By doing so, secular rulers used the image of King Jesus to justify their own dynastic rule – ones that were often despotic and cruel.

The Church became complicit in supporting these secular rulers, and Church rulers often were just as powerful and cruel in their own right. As the Church amassed great armies, King Jesus became a warrior king, leading his faithful troops into battle against the infidels. Jesus, the King of Kings, was no longer a simple poor itinerate rabbi from Palestine who took mercy on the poor and outcast, and submitted to death on the cross, but he now took on the look of European monarchs – white, wealthy, dressed in flowing robes, and wearing a jeweled diadem. Sadly, this is a far cry from who Jesus truly is and the message he proclaimed that resulted in his crucifixion.

Jesus’ journey to kingship was no easy endeavor. Our Lord had to learn humility through obedience to God’s will – obedience even unto death on a cross. Jesus is no ordinary king who rules over his subjects with absolute authority and power. He is the Suffering Messiah, one who came into the world and dwelt among humanity, being tempted in all things without sin.

Jesus earned his kingship by first becoming a servant of all. “If you want to become great,” he taught his disciples, “you must first become a servant.” Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, washed his disciples’ feet, fed the hungry, took pity on those who suffered, ate with sinners, forgave sins, spoke out against injustice, challenged the status quo, welcomed the social outcasts, and took on the mantle of poverty and obscurity. Although he existed in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but became human and lived among those deemed unworthy and marginalized by society.

If we profess Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, do we then live as his subjects? Is Jesus’ kingship just an honorific we bestow upon him without allowing him to have any real influence on the day-to-day actions in our lives, or do we really live as if he is our sovereign – seeking his will in all aspects of our lives? If Jesus who is King and Lord identified with the least in this world, are we willing to also identify with the least as well?

Jesus was not elevated to king status in order for us to dress him in regal roles and place him far above humanity. Rather, his kingdom is not of this world. The least in this world are considered the greatest in his kingdom.

Our king is no ordinary king. He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity. God has put all things under subjection to his Christ who is under God so that God may be all in all. Glory to Christ the King who through sacrifice and humility has shown us the way to God. Amen!

Written by The Rev. Timothy G. Warren. Warren is the founder and pastor of St. Francis Independent Old Catholic Church, an emergent outreach ministry in California’s High Desert Region, and President/CEO of LifeSkills Development, a nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance to at-risk young adults.

Download the sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost(C), Christ the King.

What does ‘king’ mean to you?, Christ the King (C) – 2013

November 24, 2013

Jeremiah 23:1-6;  Canticle 4 or 16 (Luke 1 68-79) or Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

The King.

Christ: the King.

The feast of: Christ the King.

This is what we mark and celebrate today, but what does it mean?

Back around the time our current Prayer Book was approved, it wasn’t uncommon to hear clergy say, even lament, that confirmation was a sacrament needing a theology. Our understanding of baptism has changed, and with it, the understanding of confirmation. With baptism leading to full inclusion in the church and welcome admission to communion, the rite of confirmation is no longer the rite of passage that people have to undergo in order to be considered full members of the church and to receive the body and blood of Christ. Confirmation used to be the necessary “ticket,” but with the change in theological understanding of baptism, confirmation is of more questionable need.

In similar fashion, the Feast of Christ the King is a celebration in need of a reason. We mark it on our calendars and in our liturgical celebrations every year on the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost. Some people celebrate it as a sort of “New Year’s Eve,” marking the last Sunday of the church year before we roll over into Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. For some, it is observed in a fashion similar to the Feast of Pentecost, when people sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, marking the beginning of the church, when the disciples were visited for the first time by the Holy Spirit.

So what is this feast we mark today? What can we say about the Feast of Christ the King?

Not much, if we look to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, which has been a standard reference of seminarians and clergy for decades. This respected tome has barely a paragraph detailing the history and describing the Feast.

“The Feast of Christ the King”: What does that mean?

What do you think of when you hear the word “king”?

Baby George, son of Duchess Catherine and William of Wales, newest prince of the realm, has been recently hailed as third in line for the English throne. King!

It’s fine for the British to hail baby George as their future king, but here in America, our experience doesn’t include kings – at least not of the political sort.

“The King.” Say that to Americans, and who doesn’t think of Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll? Or what about Michael Jackson, crowned the King of Pop?

We have the King of Wall Street in Donald Trump, the Los Angeles Kings in hockey, the Sacramento Kings in basketball, king snakes, kingfishers, king crab, chicken a la king, king of the mountain, the Rev. Martin Luther King.

Is it starting to become clear?

The Kings of Leon for rock and roll fans, and B.B. King for fans of blues, Stephen King, and Burger King.

King Arthur flour, Carole King, king salmon, the Lion King, Steve Martin singing “King Tut” and the King James Bible.

Has the notion of “king” taken on a different meaning for us?

It seems that “king” is no longer the most effective, most evocative, of titles. We could say, instead, “Christ the Messiah,” but isn’t that redundant? And lately “messiah” has become weakened, perhaps even trivialized, by its popularity as a name.

ABC’s “Good Morning America” recently reported that the name Messiah now ranks 387th in popularity as a baby name in the United States. According to the news show: “If you count yourself among those Americans who believe there is only one true Messiah, you may want to speak with the parents of the 811 children who were given the increasingly popular name last year.”

Prince and Princess are both becoming popular names as well, but the popularity of King as a baby name has risen faster than all other “royal” names: It is now the 256th most popular baby name in this country – more popular even than Jonathan.

Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of the book “Narcissism Epidemic,” told “Good Morning America” that the rising popularity of these royal-sounding baby names “mirrors a current national preoccupation with money, power and fame.”

That’s today. And remember: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Back in the 1920’s, to counter a sense of growing secularism, Pope Pius XI declared that there should be a celebration of the reign of Christ marked by a special occasion set aside proclaiming Christ as King. Anglicans followed suit, declaring that the last Sunday of ordinary time, the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost and of the liturgical year, would be celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King.

Other churches have done similar things in marking and keeping this observance, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden perhaps being most honest about the lessons appointed to be read. They refer to it as the Sunday of Doom. Here we are, in between the turkey and football of our Thanksgiving feast and the twinkling lights of Christmas, reading a gospel lesson about the crucifixion of Jesus. Doesn’t “Sunday of Doom” sound about right?

So what does all this tell us about ourselves, or about the Christ we celebrate as King on this day?

Once upon a time, Christ might have been hailed as king in the midst of a people who understood kingship, and particularly Christ’s kingship over them. But we no longer understand kings, as evidenced by the naming of our children with this title. We need a corrective to our consumer culture that puts us at the center of the universe, whatever our name. And today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Colossians offers a balance:

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

That’s the point of the Feast of Christ the King in this time: to remind us that we are not the center of the universe; Christ is. To challenge us to gird ourselves for whatever will come, whether the Day of Doom or Christ’s return in glory. To give praise and thanks and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Again, from today’s reading from Colossians:

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

We talk a lot about kings, name many things with this title, but in the end, there is only one who matters for our life together in this world and the next: Christ the King

 

— The Rev. Machrina Blasdell currently teaches religious studies for Park University, Parkville, Mo., following 12 years as executive director of an interfaith council in the San Francisco area. She enjoys her family life, growing roses and making anything chocolate.

The kingdom of God is real, Christ the King, Last Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 29 (C) – 2010 

[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Canticle 4 or 16 (Track 2: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 46); Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Sometimes, people want to know why, in the Gloria, we use the phrase “sin of the world,” singular, rather than “sins of the world,” plural.

Good question. But first let’s start with today’s gospel reading.

Jesus is mocked. He is on the cross, suffering the additional abuse of soldiers and criminals. “Some King you are! Save yourself,” they all taunt.

Save himself. Jesus could have saved himself, only hours before, through Pontius Pilate; but he chose not to.

Pilate would rather have been anyplace but there at the governor’s palace, deciding legal matters. But that was his job; he had no choice. And on this unfortunate morning, the Jewish leaders appeared and thrust Jesus at him. “This man claims to be a king,” they said, implying that Jesus claimed to rival Caesar. They brought this charge to Pilate because they knew he would have to respond. A charge of sedition is serious.

Pilate asked them, “What has he done?” The men had no real proof, so they become indignant. “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you.”

Ah. Jesus is guilty by arrest, not necessarily by crime. Jesus is guilty just because he is in custody. Sound familiar? The police wouldn’t have arrested him if he weren’t guilty.

“Try him yourselves,” said Pilate, suddenly feeling old, tired of his job, and tired of living in this foreign land.

“But we can’t put him to death,” they said. Not true. They could have stoned Jesus, but that’s not what they wanted. They wanted Jesus crucified, to be treated like a common criminal.

Pilate took Jesus aside and interviewed him privately, asking, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This is where Jesus could have saved himself. He could have said no, and that would have been that. But he didn’t. Instead, Pilate was irritated by Jesus’ response: “My kingdom cannot be seen.”

“What have you done?” Pilate now demanded, echoing the Jewish leaders, presuming Jesus had done something wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t have arrested him.

And that is how this innocent man, Jesus, did not save himself. That is how he died at the hands of a lazy, short-tempered Roman governor.

One more innocent man killed. Completely innocent, yet adjudged completely guilty.

Did you know that the words “innocent until proven guilty” are not found in the United States Constitution? The phrase is not even true. If you actually commit a crime, you are guilty, regardless of your standing with the law. The criminal is not innocent until proven guilty any more than the innocent man wrongly convicted, like Jesus, is actually guilty just because he is convicted. A man convicted of murder years ago and now freed because of exonerating DNA evidence was always innocent.

Jesus, though innocent, chose instead to endure death alongside thousands, even millions, of innocents throughout the ages. The death of these innocents tarnishes society with a deep sense of injustice. Justice has not been served.

This pervasive sense of injustice is why we use the singular word “sin” and not the plural, “sins,” in the Gloria. Injustice is a darkness, a shroud over us. It exists because the human race somehow dances with darkness, is complicit with evil, and from that, we need a savior. We need someone who can take away the sin – the darkness – of the world.

Have you heard the story about the painter? A farmer hired him to paint a barn. The painter scrimped by thinning the paint too much. That night, after finishing the barn, the painter had a dream. A fierce storm blew through, and all the thinned paint ran down the side of the barn, exposing his shady dealings. The painter woke with a start, fell onto his knees, and sought forgiveness. Just then, an angel appeared, and said, “I have a message from heaven. Repaint! And thin no more.”

But that “thin” is “sins,” small “s”, plural, not big “S,” singular, “Sin.”

Darkness is the inability of the human race to do what it ought, and it continues to find itself doing what it ought not.

Long before the big prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, ancient Israel had God as king. God was their monarch. The system worked just fine, but the people started noticing their neighboring nations, all of which had kings. They became jealous and demanded a king of their own. God heard them and gave them kings, first Saul, and then David.

Monarchy is appealing, you see. For what a quaint concept it is to have someone in charge, someone making the tough decisions, someone taking care of you, and guiding you when life is especially complex.

You may think to yourself, we Americans don’t want kings. After all, our constitutional democracy intrinsically eschews any monarchy, and we explicitly rejected King George III almost 235 years ago.

But maybe our society still longs for a king. We are drawn to strong leaders. We want someone who will keep the innocents from dying, who will protect us from the pall of darkness, the Sin of the world. We want justice.

Of course, there is no such thing, no hero, no infallible king – not in this world shrouded by darkness. And yet …

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The day that reminds us that there is a monarch who is just.

Christ the King Sunday is new to the church. Pope Pius XI introduced it in 1925, a time when despotic rulers and systems began to take hold in Europe: Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin. The Pope wanted to advance a message of security through the rule of Christ over the chaos of tyranny.

And this is what Christ’s rule means: no earthly system, monarchical or otherwise, is infallible. The shroud of darkness covers them all, covers us all. Injustice – innocents dying – will continue in this world. And yet, there is a kingdom that transcends this darkness. Jesus himself said it: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

This kingdom of God stands in stark contrast to the systems of this world. In this kingdom, there is justice. In this kingdom, the justice stands alongside mercy. In this kingdom, the innocents do not die. Or – dare one say it? – the painter thins no more.

The kingdom of God is real. It exists, here and now, just not in what you see. It is the kingdom that exists in the heart of men and women who give themselves over to the King of Kings. It exists in the hearts of men and women who give themselves over to peace.

It is because of the peace of that kingdom that we – who live both there and here, at once – can promote justice here. It is because of that peace that we stand against genocide in Sudan and elsewhere. It is because of that peace that we feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Justice, like a river, flows from that kingdom into this world, through you.

Surely you have heard the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran scholar who left Germany to escape Hitler. He moved to New York, but then he wrestled with himself. What good is his faith if he can live safely in New York while his parishioners could be killed at home in Germany for theirs? So he returned to Germany to fight Hitler’s evil. He was arrested and murdered. But they could not kill the ray of light that Bonhoeffer introduced into the darkness.

That is what the Kingdom of Christ means. It is otherworldly, and yet it is quite this-worldly. It is quite the here and now, light against darkness.

The light shone, and the darkness could not comprehend it, could not extinguish it.

And so, O Lord, please take away the Sin of the world. Through us.

Written by the Rev. Rob Gieselmann 
The Rev. Rob Gieselmann is interim rector at St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere, California. Before entering the ministry, he practiced law for ten years, and since then has served in the Diocese of East Tennessee, the Diocese of Easton, and the Diocese of California. Rob is the author of “The Episcopal Call to Love” (Apocryphile Press, 2008) and is the father of two wonderful children.

He remembers us as we are, Christ the King, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79 or Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

“It’s good to be king!” says Louis the Fourteenth in Mel Brooks’ film “History of the World, Part One,” but the Feast of Christ the King makes many of us uneasy. We have little experience of kings and queens, and much of our experience has not been very positive. Of course, the United States was born out of a rebellion against royal authority, and the last two hundred years of Western history is the story of the gradual decline and disappearance of royal power and its replacement with that of duly elected representatives. Historically, we know kings and hereditary rulers as tyrants, refusing to yield power, or as buffoons, unable to see that their time had passed. In either case, they were forced from power. Say “king” and an American with some historical knowledge is likely to think of France’s Louis the Fourteenth saying, “I am the state,” or Marie Antoinette dismissing the hungry and their cries for bread with her notoriously callous comment, “Let them eat cake.”

Christ the King may also make us uneasy because of its association with religious imperialism. If Christ is the king, then does his church occupy a privileged position? The Anglican cross followed the British flag throughout the British Empire and enjoyed a privileged status, sometimes reinforced by bullets and bayonets.

So what kind of king is Christ, and how does he exercise his authority?

First, we need to recognize that kingship was central to Christ’s mission. Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak with one voice in telling us that at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that the “kingdom of God” was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. This world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus was about service and humility. The rulers of this world are about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation. Kings surround themselves with throngs of fawning courtiers; Jesus chose the lowly and rejected as his companions.

Two of the three sayings of Jesus from the cross illustrate the nature of his kingship. One of the powers of kings is to pardon those accused of crimes. The irony of the crucifixion is that Jesus was sentenced to die for claiming to be a king. However, even while being nailed to the cross, Jesus demonstrated that it was his executioners who were in need of pardon and he alone had the power to grant it. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

In pardoning those who were executing him, Jesus showed us the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness frees not only those who are forgiven; it also frees the forgiver. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of anger and resentment. In forgiving others, we exercise the royal power that Christ delegated to his followers.

The power of forgiveness is also illustrated by the example of Sir Thomas More. During the English Reformation, More, who was Henry the Eighth’s Lord Chancellor, would not recognize the king’s authority to rule the church as he ruled the state, so Henry had More tried on charges of treason and bound over for execution. After being sentenced, More addressed the judges at his trial, saying, “I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have here in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.” More knew and demonstrated the power of forgiveness.

Secondly, kings and rulers are usually surrounded by throngs of sycophants. One thinks of Louis the Fourteenth’s palace at Versailles, deliberately built to keep France’s nobles occupied in an endless round of meaningless ceremonies so that they would have no time to plot against the king. In contrast, Jesus surrounded himself with the poor and marginalized. He crossed social, moral, and religious boundaries by accepting women as disciples. His critics charged that he ate and drank with thieves and prostitutes. United Methodist Bishop William Willimon remarked that Jesus does the same thing every time we celebrate the eucharist!

Even on the cross, Jesus continued his habit of associating with the despised and disreputable. Poignantly, the second thief pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

What persuaded the penitent thief to believe not only that Jesus was a king but would survive the cross and “come into” his kingdom? Had he observed Jesus pardoning his enemies? Or was he able to see that the cross itself was Jesus’ royal throne?

“Remembrance” is central to Jewish thought. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, Exodus tells us that God “remembered” the covenant he had made with the patriarchs. The kind of remembering that God did in Exodus and that the thief was asking Jesus to do is not the opposite of forgetting; it is the opposite of dismembering. The thief was asking to be made a part of Jesus’ kingdom.

In his Easter sermon for 2004 Archbishop Rowan Williams suggests that remembering is central to the concept of resurrection. He said:

“At Auschwitz there is an inscription in Hebrew from the Old Testament, ‘O earth, cover not their blood’; the Holocaust, along with the mass killings of the thirties in the Soviet Union or the revolutionary years in China, went forward at the hands of people who assumed as blandly as any ancient Roman that the dead could be buried once and for all and forgotten. … Some lives, it seems, are … forgettable; some deaths still obliterate memory, for those of us at a distance. … When deaths like this are forgotten, the gospel of the resurrection should come as a sharp word of judgment as well as of hope.”

The judgment of Easter is that the Crucified and Risen Christ remembers not only us but also those whom we have forgotten and neglected and marginalized; he remembers us as we are – right and wrong, good and bad.

“Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” prayed the penitent thief; but it is our prayer, too. Indeed, it may be the most important prayer that we pray. Like the thief crucified beside Jesus, we pray that we may be a part of the great kingdom he is building in this world and the next. But we must always keep in mind that we make our prayer to Christ the King, whose judgment is ever against those who trust in their own righteousness (and at times that is all of us) but whose arms are always outstretched in love.

Written by the Rev. Dr. J. Barry Vaughn
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 fifty of his sermons have been published. He is a member of the history faculty at the University of Alabama.