God, Who Always Is – November 25, 2018

Christ the King Sunday Sermon by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

I begin with a quote from one of our living prophets, Mr. Bob Dylan:    

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes

Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

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?

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:

Revelation 1:4-8

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come,

This is the beginning of the letter, as it is, and it begins with an address: to the seven churches in Asia, said to be in the area of Turkey. Then he combines the greeting of the Jews with the greeting of the pagans: “Grace” is a typical Greek greeting and “Peace” (Shalom) is a typical Hebrew greeting. In combining these two terms, he is assuring the new Christians – no matter who you are, Jew or Greek, as Paul stated in the book of Galatians (3:28), we are all one in Christ Jesus. Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

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.

So here John gives us three titles for Jesus:

  • “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.

Another of Jesus’ titles links him to these earthly rulers: The title Messiah means “The Lord’s Anointed” and this was a common title for the Israelite kings. There was an understanding that a ruler of Israel was chosen by God, that this was divine appointment.

The institution of kingship in Israel developed when their existence as a nomadic people transformed into a more sedentary existence. When they were travellers, each tribe of Israel was governed by a judge or a tribal authority. But as they settled into one region, the clans could be gathered together under the sovereignty of one ruler. In the time of Samuel, for example, after the Israelites had suffered the violence and tyranny of Philistine rule, they were looking for a strong leader to defeat the Philistines, so the appointment of a king became a political necessity.

And so a King was chosen, and under this divine appointment, would rule over the people. But an Israelite king was not considered to be a god, as kings were considered in the Near Eastern cultures like Egypt and Babylon; they were considered to be “sons of God”.

So.. (continuing with the Revealtion scripture) John says, “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, to this Jesus who is the King, the Messiah, the Son of God… To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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 Western Europe do not have such restrictions: we have the blessing to choose whom we serve, whose kingdom we choose to participate in.

John also says that Christ has made us priests. For me this is a fine statement, but why is this a selling point for the Kingdom of God, for YOU? Because it means we have ACCESS to God! Formerly, only priests had access to God, now, through the Kingship of Jesus, we are all made holy. We can approach the throne of Grace as it says in  Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to hep us in time of need.”) This is the priesthood of all believers! We have access to our God.

Verse 7: Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be, Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

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. Amen.

1. William Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary, Easter 2, found on wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/home.html.