November 24, 2019

2019 Nov24_RevKaren

Christ the King

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Karen Siegfriedt

 

On October 31, 1922, Benito Mussolini and his Black Shirts marched into Rome. Mussolini was a fascist, meaning someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and other means to achieve one’s goals. Installing fear among the people and terrorizing political opponents, he eventually took hold of national political power. Capitalizing on public discontent and economic instability, Mussolini declared that only he could restore order and thus was given the authority of Prime Minister of Italy. He promised to make Italy great again and it was he who first said that he would “drain the swamp.” To his credit, he carried out an extensive public works program and reduced unemployment, making him very popular with the people. But in his efforts to “drain the swamp,” he fired over 35,000 civil servants and gradually dismantled all of Italy’s democratic institutions. By 1925, he had made himself dictator, taking the title Il Duce which means The Leader.

 

It was into this context of increased secularism, nationalism, and unbridled political authoritarianism that Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 (which we celebrate today).  The Feast of Christ the King was instituted in hope that it would give Christians the strength and courage to stand up to the many challenges they were facing and to remind them that Christ and Christ alone must reign in their hearts, minds, wills, and bodies. Today, as our country and our world face similar challenges, we the faithful, need to be reminded where our true allegiance belongs. For if Christ the King does not rule our hearts or inform our politics, history could repeat itself once again. In summary, we either embrace the mind of Christ or we repeat the past. The choice is always ours.

 

When it comes to the subject of
kings or king-like language
however, we in this country can
become a bit ‘edgy.’

 

Our declaration of independence from the English monarchy is something we celebrate each year on the 4th of July. Our constitution purposely limits the power of princes, popes, and prelates in our land. So exactly, what kind of king are we called to give our allegiance to? Let’s take a closer look at today’s biblical readings to gain some insight.

 

In our first reading (from the Book of Jeremiah), Jerusalem is about to be destroyed by the Babylonians. Over time, the Hebrew people have been scattered all over the Middle East from a series of invasions and exiles. For years, their kings have taken advantage of their position, serving their own narrow interests rather than the common good of the people. They have made poor political and military decisions and have been unfaithful to the 10 commandments. As the invading foreign army approaches the city, Jeremiah the prophet unleashes some harsh words against those kings and other leaders who have been risking the lives of their people: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord. It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. I will attend to you for your evil doings.” (Jer. 23)

 

The Israelites had always had a love/hate relationship with the kings who ruled over them. In their earlier history, the tribes of Israel were loosely ruled by Judges who seemed to exercise a limited amount of control over the otherwise independent Hebrew tribes. But in the face of the constant threat of invasion and foreign oppression, the people became afraid and desired a more permanent solution to their political troubles. In spite of being warned against the dangers of an earthly monarchy, they decided upon a King, relegating God’s sovereignty to second tier. While this political choice offered them some stability, the people soon found themselves groaning under heavy taxes, forced labor, military conscription and dwindling resources. Many of the Kings of Israel turned out to be self-serving, corrupt, ineffective, and unfaithful.

 

In our gospel reading, we hear about different kind of king whose last moments are in stark contrast to what is viewed as being “great” in our world today: “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23) Forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation, marked the final acts of his earthly life.

 

Jesus was a powerful leader who sacrificed his life for the good of the people. In his brief ministry, he preached good news to the poor, lifted up the lowly, healed the sick, embraced the untouchables, gave hope to the downtrodden, and welcomed the lost, the lonely, and the left behind. This was a humble man, who knelt down with a towel and washed the feet of his disciples. Instead of wearing a crown of jewels, his life ended with a crown of thorns.

 

This was a spiritual teacher who turned the conventional wisdom of his day up-side-down by blessing the poor, the meek, the sick, and the persecuted rather than blaming them for their condition. Instead of promoting war and violence, he focused on forgiveness and turning the other cheek. In a society where children were viewed as second class citizens, he embraced them and held them up as shining examples of what it means to be great in the kingdom of heaven. He broke the gender barrier by speaking to women, including them as both friends and disciples. Jesus had such empathy for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the immigrant, the sick, and the prisoner that he demanded his followers to show compassion towards these unfortunate ones. His mandate, to show radical love to one another, is what it means to have allegiance to Christ the King!


Our nation is now in crisis,
both politically and spiritually.

 

I don’t need to recount for you the many disturbing and unacceptable actions by our current leadership on both sides of the aisle. The anger, the division, and the lack of civil discourse in our nation has increased exponentially in recent times. Instead of working together for the common good and showing compassion for all of God’s creatures, our political leaders are more focused on winning at all costs, grabbing power, and being re-elected even if it means hurting the people they represent. The moral compass of our country is at an all-time low and a spirit of nastiness is infecting its citizens.

 

What are we to do? Can the way of Jesus guide us forward? Can the wisdom and spirit of Jesus provide a path of spiritual healing and solidarity to help repair the divide which separates Americans today? Like the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I believe the answer is yes and Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. In his book, Christ in Crisis, Jim Wallis argues that Christians (who form the majority in the United States) have become disconnected from Jesus and need to revisit their spiritual foundations. He challenges Christians on both sides of the aisle to reclaim Jesus to guide their beliefs and actions and to do the deep spiritual work needed to create a just and peaceful society. {Note: He advocates reclaiming Jesus which is different from promoting Christianity as it is expressed today.}

 

Twenty-six hundred years ago, the prophet Jeremiah promised a time when God would raise up for David a righteous branch who would reign as king, deal wisely with the people, and execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jer. 23) Christians have come to believe that this prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus. While I will continue to pledge my first allegiance to Christ the King, I still long for a time when the people of this world will raise up righteous leaders to rule the nations.

 

Many Christians will say however, that religion and politics must remain separate. But it seems to me that creating a just and righteous society based on the teachings of Jesus requires hardcore action, not simply good thoughts and prayers. I long for a world where racism, sexism, and homophobia are a thing of the past; where the poor have access to food and housing, where the sick are able to obtain medical care, where children can go to school without fear of being gunned down, and where immigrants are treated as children of God. This requires faithful political action based on sound judgment and a thorough ‘cleansing of the thoughts of our hearts.’ (Collect for Purity)

 

Make no mistake. Jesus was not executed because he went around healing people. Jesus was crucified as the worst of criminals because his gospel message was viewed as dangerous by the ruling class.

 

If we Christians claim Christ as
our King, then we too must no
only be engaged in the spiritual
healing of our mind but also
participate in “striving for justice
and peace and respecting the
dignity of every human being.”
(Baptismal Covenant) This is
political advocacy at its best.

 

“Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords; Mercifully grant that the people of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule…” Amen. (BCP 236)

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