Christ the King November 22, 2009

2 Samuel 23:1-7                                                                 

Revelation 1:4b-8                                                                              

John 18:33-37

So a family was driving to the potluck supper here a week ago, and they were talking about what their names meant. The father, Donald, said that his name was gaelic and it meant ruler of the world. That’s not right, said his daughter; Christ is the ruler of the world.

But what does that mean, that Christ is the ruler of the world – Christ the King, as this last Sunday of the Christian Year has come to be called? Well, one of the things it means, as the gospel reading for today makes clear, is that when it comes to conflicts in values or allegiances, it is Jesus who comes first, not any of the rulers of this world. Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to find out whether he claimed to be the King of the Jews in opposition to Herod, the Roman puppet king. And you may remember from Palm Sunday that when Pilate asks the mob whether Jesus is their king, they reply that they have no king by Caesar. So the tension over who is the ruler of the world was a real one in biblical times.

It’s a real one in our times too. More real than we usually realize. I subscribe to a magazine called The Christian Century. Every issue contains little news blurbs called “Century Marks.” The most recent issue had two intriguing ones, back to back. In the first, Gregory Boyd, an author and pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota, reported that the clearer he is with his congregation about the cost of discipleship, the smaller his congregation gets. “We need visionary leaders and teachers,” Boyd says, defending this, “who will challenge the status quo and make people uncomfortable in the pews, who will help them wake up to the many ways that our lives have been co-opted by the culture.”

Right after that blurb was one about a church in Illinois called the Lighthouse Church of All Nations. At each of that church’s three services on Sunday, the pastor, Dan Willis, draws the number of a seat from a bag. The occupant of that seat gets a cash prize of $250 or $500. Since Willis began doing this, weekly attendance has grown from 1,600 to 2,500.

But in more subtle ways, too, our faith gets co-opted by our culture. It isn’t, these days, so much that we put Barak Obama or George W. Bush first, rather than Christ – though people certainly come to the Gospel through the lens of their liberalism or their conservatism, choosing churches by whether the pastor’s basic orientation agrees with their own. A woman called me a year or so ago, investigating whether or not Holy Cross was a church she wanted to go to. Where did I stand on the ordination of gays and same sex marriage? I said I wouldn’t tell her and it didn’t matter, that we had people on many sides of those and other issues. She never showed up.

For us Americans, I think, the real issue is that our culture makes us, not Christ, not anyone else, the king. I choose. I decide. I take what I want. And don’t try to dethrone me. We are surrounded by media in our society, but we select the media that support the views we already have. Liberals listen to NPR and watch MSNBC. Conservatives listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch Fox News. Everything is slanted, sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly, one way or the other. Likewise often in the Church.

Back to Jesus on trial before Pilate. Pilate comes from a world that politically is not so different from our world today. It’s all about power, which means things need to be lined up pretty much black and white, for and against – like the debates over things like health care in Congress. In his trial of Jesus, Pilate is trying to line Jesus up: Is he, as the temple authorities say, trying to set himself up as king in opposition to Rome? Or is he just another minor religious nut.

But Jesus, as always, is not allowing himself to be categorized like that. He’s not a liberal, not a conservative. His kingdom “is not from this world.” Notice that word “from.” He doesn’t mean that his kingdom is some nebulous spiritual thing, or that it’s purely private. What he means is that the categories in which he wants us to think, the values he wants us to have, are not those of this world. They come “from” somewhere else – God.

And because Jesus is dealing in the thoughts and values of God, he is here “to testify to the truth.” Now that’s a really interesting idea, isn’t it? What if the leaders we elected were interested, really interested, in finding out “the truth” – the truth, for instance, about how to set policy in an area like health care. “The truth” is always very complex, very multi-faceted. It doesn’t sort out into liberal versus conservative. To find it requires a suspension of our knee-jerk reactions, an opening up of how we look at life. It means getting ourselves off the throne of our little kingships. It means seeking answers that are bigger than ourselves answers that may “come from God.”

And that’s true about our religion as well. One of the things that we learned during our recent Mutual Ministry Review – it was something that our facilitator, Canon Lafond pointed out to us – is that we at Holy Cross put an unusually high value on what is called, very inadequately, spiritual depth or spiritual authenticity. We aim at serious formation, not just babysitting for our kids and entertainment for us adults. We aim at serious worship – preaching, music and prayer – not just operating in our liturgical comfort zone.

That means that when we come here we need to expect to hear a Gospel that opens up more questions than it gives answers to – or rather, that throws a lot of our lives into question and holds out an answer, the Kingdom of God, the Reign of Christ, that we can’t easily classify, that we can only enter into as children, humbling seeking a truth that is beyond us, a truth that will change our lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m here because I need what our world can’t give. I’m burnt out on politics as usual, economics as usual, opinions as usual. I’ve got really strict about exposing myself to the media – it can become an addiction. I’ve got more serious about my prayer, my spiritual reading.  I want to know more of this truth Jesus came to testify about. I want to be ruled not by my own poor self, but by Christ.

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