November 25, 2018

2018 Nov25

Christ the King - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

Today is the last Sunday in the church’s calendar. Get out your party hats and champagne, because New Year’s Eve in the Church is Saturday! Advent is the beginning of the Church’s year because that is when we anticipate the coming of the Messiah, who then arrives at Christmas, is manifested to the Gentiles at Epiphany, then proceeds toward His Death throughout Lent, and is Resurrected at Easter to continue His teaching and ministry. The long season of Pentecost fills in the gaps, and culminating in today’s celebration of Christ as King. Basically, this day is what Jesus has been waiting for all year. He has suffered through all of these other moments of His earthly life and ministry that we have engaged with to varying degrees. Today Jesus is sitting on His heavenly throne shouting down: “You finally get it! You finally get that I’m King, that I am the King of Salvation!”

But the readings: What an awkward transfer of power! If you weren’t well-versed in these particular Bible readings; if you didn’t know the timeframe or the contexts; what you read is that one king has died and the – presumably – next king is on trial and in some kind of semantics argument with the trial judge.

The Old Testament reading is a poem with Kind David’s last words. It focuses on covenant and David’s special relationship with God. He claims to be a just king, likening himself to the sun rising on a cloudless morning. Well, we know here in San Luis Obispo that the sun on a cloudless day can be a bit overbearing. And the excerpt ends with an attack on David’s enemies. The Last Words of David are classic David, classic Old Testament. For me, reading it made me feel uncomfortable, and I think that has to do with how current national leaders speak of themselves, or at least a particular one, and recent holiday sharing of what one is thankful for.

Then the Psalm only serves to further glorify King David. It includes a prayer for God's blessing on David as affirmation of God's promises to David, an assurance that God will honor the covenant with blessings on Jerusalem, and the promise that David’s descendants will enjoy similar success. Interestingly, this Psalm is considered by some academics to be a form of cultic honoring of David rather an authentic liturgical piece, which further disturbs my view of David.

In stark contrast to David’s attitude, it is Pilate who suggests that Jesus is a King, and Jesus accepts the title King of the Jews. David’s acclamation is active; Jesus’ acceptance is responsive. When Jesus qualifies His kingship, it parallels David in some way in that they are both self-aggrandizing to the listener. But Jesus’ claiming of the title King of the Jews comes with quite a special meaning.

Like David, the origin of Jesus’ royal dignity is from God. But Jesus’ kingship is aligned with God’s people, rather than David’s kingship being first about the special relationship between God and David. Jesus was sent to be a shepherd and the sheep listen; David was anointed to rule over people and to conquer the non-believers. Jesus’ servant leadership is a very different style.

But I must ask you: What comes to mind when you think about the role of a KING?

<discuss amongst yourselves>

Every year when Christ the King Sunday comes, I wonder what people think a king is, what a king does and if a king is a suitable moniker for Jesus. This country was founded in direct opposition to the behavior of the King. The issues were in reality the actions of Parliament, but the King, by contemporary European thinking on monarchy, embodied government and people. The constitutional framework made sure that power was not too concentrated in one person or one body. So, what did you say about the role of a KING?

There have been suggestions that the United States and the American people embrace a constitutional monarchy. I only read the serious articles, not the ones borne out of dislike of election results. The arguments focus on two aspects of the current remaining monarchies in the world: Political continuity and respect for the office.

Here are two examples of what the pundits wrote:

•    A monarchy, in other words, lends to a political order a vital element of continuity that enables gradual reform. The rule of law is thus guaranteed by respect for authority. (NYTimes)

I’m not sure that is actually true, a product of culture, or simply a fantasy of the ruling classes. On the more humorous side, this came from the conservative website The Federalist.

•    I’d like for us to get one of those cute, ornamental throne warmers the Europeans trot around to cut ribbons at events. In America we’ve combined power and reverence in the office of the presidency, but legal authority and veneration complement each other about as well as Scotch and back pain medication. It’s safer to ingest them separately. (The Federalist)

I’m not sure there would be a wholesale adoption of political continuity and respect for the office if we were to have a monarchy. The remaining European monarchies have existed for centuries, which means their cultures developed with monarchy as part of it. But the idea has implications for how we think about Christ as King.

Jesus is the continuity – we believe Jesus to have been a part of the Godhead from when time began, there at Creation, sent in the Incarnation and now seated at the right hand of the Creator. We are to have respect for Jesus, not because He was a good man, but because He is God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The limitation and the problem are due to the fact that we have only human language to describe God who is Divine. The concept of Kingship, earthly Kingship, has existed for several millennia. The King was King by Divine Right, and the people of a monarchy were regarded as the monarch’s subjects who were under certain obligations such as owing allegiance to, and thereby entitled to the protection of, the Crown. That earthly concept, when applied to Jesus, made a lot of sense 2,000 years ago.

Today, in the Constitutional Monarchies, the term “subjects” for the citizenry is rarely used. Even in the United Kingdom, the definition of “subject” has changed. In 1949, the law changed so it now applies to people in the Republic of Ireland who were formerly British Subjects prior to separation, and to members of many of the Commonwealth Realms for people who were Subjects at the time their nation became independent but who did not take on citizenship of that new country.

We have seen over time the two different monarchs described in today’s readings: The egocentric King David and the Servant Leader of Jesus Christ. I struggle to see Jesus as the King whose ego we serve. Jesus is stern and sometimes even mean to people He encounters in the Gospels. Yet, His anger and instruction are always pointing toward things Heavenly, toward a cohesive and loving community, something selfless even though He is explicit that it is from Him and He Who sent Him that all things flow.

David, on the other hand, gives thanks to God for David’s accomplishments – that’s cool – but then he suggests that the people should venerate David for those accomplishments. David expresses that the covenant is between God and David. Jesus’ humility is not as evident in this passage, but we all know of it. But Jesus does make His claims while on trial. Jesus doesn’t use His position to evade trial; Jesus understands His fate and that His fate is for all people.

On one Christ the King Sunday in the Warrington Campus Chapel, I asked the students what their concept of kingship was. It was one of those conversations that you have to make up questions on the fly because your main question didn’t generate the robust conversation that you expected, but instead garnered shrugged shoulders at a minimum and “It means nothing to me” and most. And that is when I started contemplating what this Feast Day means in the 21C. Is “Christ the King” the right terminology for what we are trying to express for Jesus being the source of heavenly and earthly continuity and deserving of unreserved respect?

The exercise in “What does King mean to you” is an important one for today. If as Americans, we reject kingship and monarchy as a flawed political structure in which too much power is concentrated into a single individual, we will struggle with the analogy of Christ as King. We just don’t have the language to express the degree of supremacy coupled with sacrifice that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah represents. Christ the King is inadequate, and for many of us, runs the risk of garnering our contempt rather than our respect.

Jesus is given many titles in the Bible, some of which we have co-opted from the Old Testament. Whatever our inadequate earthly language uses as His title – King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace:

Jesus for us is the Alpha and the
Omega, the beginning and the
end, the One who is and who was
and who is to come,
the Almighty.

THAT is continuity beyond our imagination and understanding which, in turn, demands our respect.

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