Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King - Year B

The folks who put the lectionary know what they’re doing. The lectionary being the series of bible passages that we read each week at worship. I certainly don’t choose the bible readings. Most churches around the world read the same bible passages. It’s something that unites us.

I don’t always agree with how they divide up the texts. They leave important passages out and often (I think) distort the meaning of the readings by how they lump them together.

But this week I can see twinkles in their eyes as they assign the reading from John on the one hand, and the readings from Daniel and Revelation on the other.

In John we get Jesus and Pilate bantering back and forth. Pilate representing worldly power and authority. And Jesus representing God’s dominion over the world. Jesus is the one who ends up dying a horrible. Pilate just washes his hands.

But in Daniel and Revelation we hear about God’s presence burning like fire while thousands of thousands attend to the Almighty’s every need. We hear threats of universal judgement and promises of everlasting kingdoms. We get unbridled power. Overwhelming omnipotence. Unrelenting strength.

So, John gives us Jesus on the losing end of a trial. Daniel and Revelation give us divine glory. Utter defeat verses total victory.

Which is it? What are we supposed to do with this?

And this isn't a question for cranky preachers up way too early on a Sunday morning. It's a question for all us who bear the name 'Christian.' We live in the tension between these two bible passages. We have trouble figuring out who the 'real' Jesus is, who the true 'king' can be. Which Jesus we worship. Which Christ we serve.

Do we follow the Jesus who was a poor, wandering preacher from the middle of nowhere? Do we gloss over that part of Jesus' resume, preferring the second page where we find his kingly credentials, the parts we he triumphs over his enemies and the whole world kneels at his toes?

The temptation is to pay lip service to the suffering servant, to the poor man from Nazareth, to the executed criminal, while secretly hating him. Because if we follow THAT Jesus, then THAT Jesus shines a light on our lives that we probably would prefer to be kept unexposed. If our lives were to emulate the itinerant preacher and healer, the poverty-stricken Jewish peasant then what would our church look like? Would we use our money differently? What would our mission be? Would we still be doing church the way we are doing church?

That's why we often prefer Christ the King over Jesus from Nazareth. Christ the King affirms our ambitions, encourages us in our quest for worldly power. Jesus of Nazareth calls us to love our neighbour. Christ the King doesn't demand that we serve others because we're too busy serving him, worshipping his power and authority. Jesus of Nazareth asks to serve others in his name. Christ the King offers glory in his presence. Jesus of Nazareth offers us a cross.

It's hard for these two to find common ground.

I think one of the reasons Christianity has been in such decline in the west is because we've followed Christ the King, turning him into Caesar. We've nestled so snugly in Caesar's bosom that we've forgotten our missionary mandate. We society propped us up. We grew, but it wasn't real growth. We weren't creating disciples of Jesus. We were recruiting church members. Churches became another social club. A religious institution.

Over the past 1600 years or so, when Christianity became the official culture religion we've expected the public institutions to do our jobs for us. We got lazy. We let our missionary muscles atrophy. When Christians have a holiday, we expected EVERYONE to have a holiday. We used the culture as a crutch so we didn't have to rely on the Holy Spirit for our strength.

And the culture willingly obliged. In return for their endorsement it received our blessing for its ambitions, no matter how cruel or self-serving. We were partners in the enterprise of empire building. Christianity became synonymous with worldly power. The main image of Jesus people had was the King of kings and Lord of lords. No crucified messiahs need apply.

Christianity fell in love with its approximation to power that it forgot that it's primary act is to serve. And since society and culture did our jobs for us, we find ourselves grappling with what to do when society and culture broke their agreement to prop us up.

People aren't expected to come to church. Parents aren't presenting their children for baptism as often as they once did. Pastors aren't praying at community functions as often. Worship attendance has almost reached a tipping point of decline. Congregations are greying. Churches are closing. Christ the King's crown is tarnishing. His robes in tatters.

Christianity, as we recognize it, is dead. It's been buried along with our influence. Christianity may be dead. But Jesus is alive.

Institutional Christianity may be six feet below ground but Jesus is still healing the sick and setting the captives free. Christianity may have had an inelegant demise, but Jesus is still loose in the world. Jesus is still good news for the poor.

And God is opening new doors of opportunity for those who follow him. Jesus is still recruiting disciples who are more interested in serving others than getting what they can for themselves.

We can get angry over what we lost, or we can see the tremendous possibility that stands right in front of us – to be good news people, not an institutional religion. To be God's messengers of love, forgiveness, healing, and grace. To be a people of hope. Tomorrow's children. Resurrection people.

That's where Jesus truly reigns as King. In the lives of those who serve. In the dried tears of the hurting. In the hands that heal. In the forgiving word.

May this Jesus reign over us. Amen.


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