11/25/18 – Out of this World Kingdom

OUT OF THIS WORLD KINGDOM

November 25, 2018
Christ the King Sunday
Sermon: 2 Sam. 23:1-4; Ps. 132; Rev. 1:4-6, 8; John 18:33-37
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

In our Christian calendar, today is like New Year’s Eve. What we are doing this morning is about as far as possible from the secular world’s activities on New Year’s Eve. The Church’s adherence to a calendar of worship days, rather than the secular calendar, sets our lives within the context of Christ’s life and ministry over and against that of the secular world. Notice I said “over” and “against.” With Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, we do not divide our allegiance. We do not belong to Christ for an hour on Sunday mornings and belong to other powers the rest of the time. When Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” 36Jesus does not answer his question. Instead, he replies: “My kingdom is not from this world.” We can look back over this past year’s Scripture readings and know that Jesus meant that God’s kingdom is both in the world and beyond the world.

Our Gregorian calendar is a corrected edition of the Julian calendar, Julian coming from Julius Caesar, the famous emperor of the Roman Empire. Jesus taught that the rules of engagement within the Kingdom of God are quite different, often the opposite, from that of an empire. An empire’s power is based on military might, wealth, fear and strong boundaries of land and within society. Justice is determined by the most powerful, as is truth. Jesus lived and taught the ways of peace. He warned against the soul-killing temptations of amassing wealth. He demonstrated loving-kindness. He condemned injustice and broke down boundaries between people wherever he found them.

We are on the cusp of a new year. Today we hear about Israel’s description of an ideal earthly king, based on knowledge of God’s will in 2 Samuel. We hear the story of Christ’s final confrontation with the representatives of earthly power, who were mystified and threatened by a king, “not of this world.” And, we hear John’s triumphant proclamation of Christ’s defeat of these earthly powers. In the upside-down kingdom, which Christ rules, we will go from triumphant proclamations of Christ’s power on this Christ the King Sunday to the first Sunday of the Advent season next week, in which we prepare to kneel at the rough-hewn manger in a small backwater village. From the golden throne of heaven, we continue our timeless circle where we return to a manger wherein lies the vulnerable child of a peasant girl. Our newborn king has no tangible sign of authority or even legitimacy. Instead, he becomes an immigrant when his family takes him to a neighboring country when faced with death in his own.

Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new celebratory day in the Christian calendar year, second only to World Communion Sunday. The hope of world peace was the inspiration for both. Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 as an ecumenical celebration for the universal church in encyclical Quas Primes. He associated the rise of secularism with a denial of Christ as the ultimate authority in the lives of Christians.  At the time, secularism was expanding its influence in Europe, and dictators were taking control of “Christian” nations on the continent. These heads of state valued their own well-being and personal political power first, with the common good of their people and obedience to God of little concern.

The World had suffered the Great War, so horrible as to be thought of as the “War to End All Wars.” Sadly, that was not to be the case. Until World War I, the pervasive theology of Protestant theology was the Social Gospel. The great inventions and innovations of the Industrial Revolution led Western Europe and North America to believe that humanity could accomplish anything and solve any problem with human creativity and a commitment to justice and the common good. Then came World War I, and the world witnessed the idealized modern man reduced to a cruel barbarian, killing and maiming with newer inventions of weaponry and reducing the monuments to a superior, civilized society to rubble.

Our reading from Revelation today is part of the greeting common to the New Testament epistles. This section ends with the sentence: 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” The Greek word translated as “almighty” is “pantocrator,” which means literally, “ruler of all.” One of the earliest Eastern Orthodox icons is an image that bears the name, Christ the Pantocrator. In this icon, Christ is depicted as a strong figure with the New Testament in his left hand, while his right hand is in the position for a blessing. In the Bible, the right hand of God represents God’s power. This is a wonderful image for Christ as the Eternal King of our lives. Given the ultimate power, Christ uses his power to bless us.

Therein lies the truth that Pilate did not understand. Jesus skirts Pilate’s question about his kingship and declares: “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. “Pilate responds: “What is truth.”  Understanding only human power, he does not have a clue. This so-called “king” will choose a crown of thorns over a crown of gold, crucifixion over accommodation to the values of the empire, and love for the all peoples over his own life.  Christ’s choice to serve rather than be served makes sense only to those who have truly chosen Christ as the ultimate authority in their lives. There are too many Christians who declare with their lips, “Christ is my Lord and Savior” and not enough who make that declaration with their actions.” I appreciate, and am challenged by, the truth of Jon Stewart’s razor-sharp words: If you don’t stick to your values when they are tested, then they aren’t values – they’re just hobbies.” If we are not willing to give of ourselves, not even inconvenience ourselves for Christ, and those in need, by what authority are we allowing ourselves to be led?

At the end of this year of reading God’s Word with passages from Genesis to Revelation, we are challenged to ask ourselves: Who is our king today? By Christ’s self-offering we have been freed from the powers of sin. We have been recreated into a people united by our common belief that the kingdom of God is greater than anyone or anything the world may present for us to commit our freedom to live as God intends for us.  Our purpose is to serve God and our fellow children of God. We are witnesses to God’s truth of the primacy of God’s justice and compassion, God’s love, and God’s peace.

Through Christ, God has forged us into his people, under his realm, to be a people whose primary purpose is to serve the ministries of the One who is, who was, and who is to come. The false gods of fascism, nationalism, religious triumphalism, egotism or consumerism distort God’s truth and obstruct God’s purposes for us.

At a time when we seem to be drowning in a sea of lies and truth is no longer trusted or desired, Christians are called to testify to Christ’s truth no matter how unpopular it is. We must always testify to Christ’s truth in all situations. I have heard it said: “Even when they tell you your truth is a lie. Tell it anyway.”

We are called to discern God’s truth and to proclaim and mediate the presence of the one who is King of kings — to be a people of the truth.  For, in the end, Pilate asked the right question. What is truth?  It is not merely an idea. Truth is the ground of all being who invites us into a relationship with his Son and promises life in this life, and life in the kingdom that is beyond this life.

Today, we complete our celebration with the true feast of Christ the king. We will be served the true bread of life and the drink from the true cup of salvation. This is the banquet fare in the kingdom of God.

All power, honor, and glory to our Triune God.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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