By Pastor Krista Givens
November 26, 2017
Today we celebrate a relatively recent, and somewhat obscure, liturgical holiday in the church: Christ the King Sunday, a day to set aside the human kingdoms we’ve created and focus on the compassionate and loving reign of God.
This day was instituted in 1925, as the Church was undergoing a shift from vital to the daily-lives of people to an optional observance. State or Government control over the church was increasing in many countries, Stalin and Mussolini were names in the news when the holiday was instituted and Hitler had just published Mein Kampf. Human kingdoms were exercising a type of rule that displeased Pope Pius the eleventh, so he declared this day, the Sunday before the start of Advent, as a day to remember that Christis our King, a reminder to the people inside and outside the church.
We, like those churchgoers and non-churchgoers in 1925, are asked to consider whose kingdom we serve in this world. To whom do we pledge our allegiance? To a country or its ruler? To an idea? To our family? To a sense of responsibility to our children? What is the governing force in our lives?
This is certainly not an easy answer, and many of us would say we have split allegiances: we are devoted to our families, our sense of duty, our jobs, but we also feel loyalty to our countries of origin, our leaders, and to our God. How do we pledge our allegiance to God and still feel faithful to the other priorities in our lives?
In our scripture lesson for today, from the Second book of Samuel, Chapter 23, we meet King David on his deathbed. He has served the people of Israel well and is reflecting on his own earthly reign and on the reign of the one he serves and he says, in verse 3-4:
When one rules justly over the people, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like the rain that makes the grass to sprout from the earth.”
The Reign of God
- Fosters hope, like the dawning of a new day.
- Offers opportunity, like the limitless cloudless sky or the blank canvas, waiting for us to create something new.
- Encourages growth, like the new grasses that arrive miraculously in spring, bursting from their frozen graves into new life.
In what circumstances are you a leader?
We all have leaders in our lives, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our families. God’s leadership fosters hope, offers opportunity and encourages growth. Can we say that about our bosses, our chair-people, our political leaders? Can we say that about ourselves when we are in leadership roles?
“When one rules justly over the people, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like the rain that makes the grass to sprout from the earth.” Says King David, and this image is the image we have of Jesus Christ, our King: dawning like the morning light, offering hope and opportunity and new life for all!
Our scripture lesson from the book of Revelation sets Jesus, the Risen Christ, as the ruler of all Kings and the words from John illuminate an image of Christ that is enduring:
You will notice the repetition of the number seven throughout the book of Revelation. What is so important about the number seven? This is the number used to denote “completeness”: Seven churches means the complete church of Asia, seven spirits means ALL the spirits. It is a number meaning “the completeness,” “the fullness,” “the whole”. Seven is a special number in apocalyptic and biblical writings.
- “Witness”: this word in Greek is also the root word for the word “martyr”. This title refers to his work of revelation, particularly during his life on earth. Jesus the Christ is the faithful witness, telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, to the people on earth through his words and actions. But a witness is only a witness if others are listening. Are we listening to the witness of Christ?
- He is also called the “Firstborn from the dead” and this refers to Jesus’ resurrection – he is the first to rise. He ushers in a new kingdom, but do we recognize it? Are we dwelling in the kingdom of God or the kingdom of our own making?
- And finally he is called the “Ruler of the kings of the earth.” On the last day, John states, all will bow before Jesus. Even the rulers who think their rule is the ultimate.
John was writing in the first century, after the death of Christ, after the fall of the temple and the rise of the Roman Empire. And Christian believers in the first century, who lived under the terror of the Roman emperor Domitian, may well have been anxious to deny the rule of a tyrant and affirm the benevolent rule of a loving King.
This is not the first time Jesus has been referred to as the “King”: Written on his cross was the sarcastic title “King of the Jews”; during his trial he was asked by Pilate “Are you the King of the Jews?”; and he was hailed by palm waving-crowds as he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, “Hail to the King, the Son of David!” In these references, Jesus is linked with the long line of Israelite kings.
This King has made us to be a kingdom. You can’t be a King unless you have a kingdom (people to rule, people who will follow, people who will serve you.) There is a saying in the business world that you can’t be a leader unless people are following. Otherwise you are just taking a walk.
We are responsible for whom we choose to follow. In some countries, in some cultures, choices are limited by access to food, or shelter, protection from disease or violence, a decent wage or the rights we all have as human beings. But for those of us living in the wealth and opportunity of the United States do not have such restrictions: we have the blessing to choose whom we serve, whose kingdom we choose to participate in.
Christ the King is a ruler who is – who always is – who forever is… Christ the King is not an aloof or an uninvolved ruler, separate from the people, better than, non-caring, non-feeling, in a temple far away dressed in glory and crowned with the jewels of this world. God is here, with us. God always is present, engaged, participating in the minute details of our lives. As author William Loader wrote, “This is a promise of engagement…God is not an absent God who was …beyond us and with no interest in us. In the beginning: God; in the end: God; in the midst of life: God.” (1)
During Advent we celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus called Emmanuel, “God with us.” Today we celebrate the king of Kings who is always with us, ever-present, engaged in our lives. We celebrate his Kingdom, of which we are a part: a loving and compassionate relationship in which we are enabled to grow and develop, a relationship that offers us hope and opportunity. We celebrate this King, who rules with mercy and forgiveness, not violence or tyranny and as we live in these earthly kingdoms, may we work to bring about God’s vision on earth.
1. William Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary, Easter 2, found on wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/home.html.