Christ the King B

November 25, 2015

The Story of our King
John 18:33-37

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “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. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

This Sunday doesn’t get the kind of attention that the Sundays of Advent or Christmas or Easter are inclined to get, but in my mind, this is a significant day in the liturgical year. This is the last Sunday of the year, and we call it Christ the King Sunday. It’s sort of like our Coronation Sunday, but it’s known more as the Sunday before the beginning of Advent. It tends to be defined by its relationship to another Sunday. It’s sort of like being known as someone’s brother or sister. Now this isn’t a huge deal. I don’t think our responsibility as Christians is to properly celebrate Liturgical events. God didn’t create the Liturgical Calendar on the eighth day.

But it does come to my attention that this Sunday should be treated as more of a finale’ than a closing out of something that has run it’s course. I’m pretty sure the intention of the liturgical planners was for us to celebrate what we’ve learned and experienced with Jesus over the course of the year. It’s a day for us to make our public profession of who it is that we recognize as our king! I should have asked Andrea to provide us with some fanfare music – the kind of music they play when the king enters the room.

Of course we Americans aren’t so big on kings – at least not the kind of kings that actually have power over us. Elvis was such a powerful presence in our society it was hard for people not to think of him as the King of rock and roll. And I understand he played a few times at the King of Clubs up near Swifton. Cotton was king in this part of the world for a period of time, but it you go to you will find that it is a video game company that has the king and queen of current video games: candy crush & candy crush saga – two games that I have no understanding or experience with.

We still have some talk about kings in this country, but we don’t really understand what life was like under a king. We don’t know about that because this country was largely shaped by people who were tired of living under the rule of a king. I’m not unhappy that we took the bulk of the power out of the hands of one person, but we certainly haven’t eliminated the problem of the abuse of power. We’ve just spread it out among more people.

No, we don’t really understand what it felt like to live under the rule of a king. Living in a kingdom wasn’t always awful for everyone, but it could get awful quickly for anyone who somehow got in the way of the king.

I’m currently very invested in listening to a novel by Ken Follet called World Without End. This is the second of two really long books that I’ve listened to that are set in England in the High and Late Middle Ages. The first book was set around 1150 and the book I’m currently listening to is set around 1350. Now I don’t like to just sit around and listen to a book. I need to be engaged in some kind of mindless activity to justify this time I spend listening to someone read me a book, so I tend to look for opportunities to mow or paint or drive somewhere.

These books are set during times when the king had a lot of control over the way things would go for people. In that world, everything existed for the benefit of the king. This is not to say that there weren’t people who figured out how to manipulate the king in to ruling in a way that helped them, but if you needed for the king to rule in a certain way what you had to do was to convince the King that what you wanted would be to his benefit. It was a brutal system. Basically the king owned everything and everyone that he and his army could control. The priests maintained a little power by reminding the king of his vulnerability after death, but they usually worked together to get what they wanted.

So these novels have sort of put me in touch with the worldview of people who lived under the reign of a king. I’m currently caught up in the lives of Charis, the eclectic nun, Merthyn, the genius architect and his hideous brother, Lord Ralph, who is highly valuable as a brutal soldier for King Edward III. It’s like these people have become my best friends and my worst enemies. I’ve become sensitized to what life was like under an average king.

But life under a king doesn’t have to be all bad – not if you live with Christ as your king. And I wholeheartedly embrace this idea of living with Jesus Christ as my king.

This exchange between Jesus and Pilate is an interesting one. Pilate just comes out and asks Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, but Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer. He asks him where that question came from. And by doing that Jesus more or less puts himself on the same level with Pilate. People who feel intimidated by the authority of another person don’t ask questions.

And they have this exchange that reveals Jesus to be a king, but not a normal king. Normal kings either fight or negotiate to maintain their lives and their territory, but Jesus didn’t do either one of those things. Jesus identified himself as a king, but as he said, his kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus was a king, but he wasn’t a normal king in any way. Normal kings issue decrees and expect total obedience. Normal kings are always needing more money to finance their castles or their wars, so they always have to figure out who to tax and what rules need to be in place to make sure they can extract as much as possible from the people and the land that they own.

Jesus seems to have only made one decree. It had two parts to it, but it was basically the same message. He said the most important commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors.

Sometimes I just wish he had been more direct with his instructions I wish he had said how many times to pray each day, how to sit when we pray, and exactly how much are we to give. Now I know you’ve all heard that we are to give a tenth to the church, and I’m not saying that’s not a good thing to do. I think we’d probably be floating in money if that’s what everyone actually did, but in all honesty he didn’t make it that easy. The commandment to love God and to love our neighbors requires us to be perpetually vigilant on how we spend our time and money.
When Jesus is your king you can’t just give 10% to the church and let that be it. There’s that child who doesn’t have a coat. There’s that neighbor who needs a kind word. There’s this world that needs people who will speak up for those who are despised and disenfranchised. I wish I could bring myself to say that you only need to give generously to the church and you will have met the obligation that our king Jesus expects from us, but that is only the beginning of what he wants from us.

It’s hard to live with a king like Jesus. He doesn’t send our children to war, but he calls for us to love the very people who cause wars. This is not to say he calls for us to agree with hateful ideologies, but he doesn’t want us to love our own safety more than we want this world to become a better place for all people. And making this world a better place for all people is going to cost us all more than I want to think about.

Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, but I believe he loved this world. He didn’t allow himself to be killed by the rulers of this world in order to abandon this world and to go abide with God in a better world. I believe he gave up his life in the way he did in order to reveal what love really looks like and how powerful it is to give of ourselves in loving ways. He gave of himself in the way he did to reveal what it looks like to abide in his kingdom.

I don’t believe Jesus expects us to bail out of this world as quickly as we can so that we might join him in his kingdom that doesn’t belong to this world, but I do believe Jesus Christ has shown himself to be a king worth serving while we live in this world. And I can’t say that about any of the other kings I know to exist.

None of us are immune from having to show some level of obedience to some system that seems to play an essential role in our world, but there is only one king worth serving with complete allegiance. It’s not easy to sort out how much we have to give to the lesser kingdoms of this world in order to keep ourselves and our families fed and relatively secure, but when it comes down to it I hope we all understand who the King really is – and what we must do to abide in his kingdom.

Thanks be to God that we aren’t just subjects of minor kings in fleeting kingdoms – we have been invited to serve the true king now and forever. Thanks be to God for Christ – our King!!


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