Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reign of Christ the King

This morning we meet a paradox, or tension, or even a contradiction. On this Reign of Christ the King Sunday we sing the great triumphal hymns proclaiming that “Jesus Shall Reign!” before we “Crown Him With Many Crowns!” Music so strong and confident that we are swept up in the glorious majesty of the divine.

But then, a few minutes later, we find Jesus dying between two thieves. Naked. Humiliated. Tortured. Terrified.

The sign above his head proclaiming him as king was meant to mock him, but it was really an announcement for those who had eyes to see. If you were looking for a king who would crush his enemies, then you might want to divert your eyes. This king forgives his enemies. And he doesn’t raise a finger to protect himself against those who would kill him.

It looks like we have two kings competing for our attention and adoration. Two contrasting visions of who we say God is. Two wildly divergent understandings of how we believe Jesus brings us salvation.

We have a king who is high above the heavens ruling over the universe with a strong arm. And we have a king whose throne is a cross, and whose crown was made of thorns.

This contrast is nothing new. This is as old as the gospels themselves. Just listen to the story.

The Romans mounted a sign over Jesus’ head, “King of the Jews.” That was, of course, supposed to be a joke. This Jesus certainly wasn’t a king. He was anything but a king. Look at him. He was just a poor wandering preacher who said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. The world was full of folks like that.

It turns out that history - and Christians - agreed with the Romans. That sign over his head WAS a joke. The poor, suffering, nobody from the middle of nowhere didn’t rule over anything - not even his own death. This Jesus on the cross couldn’t be a king - at least not one worthy of our devotion.

So Christians elevated him. We clothed his naked body with royal robes -purple - befitting a king more deserving of our attention. We took him off the cross and placed him high above the earth in the heavenly realms where he could rule over everything with power and might. We shuffled him away from the poor and suffering, transforming the cross into a sword, and we sent him into battle to destroy our enemies.

From the emperor Constantine who saw the flaming cross in the sky and believed it was God leading him to glorious victory in war. To the crusaders who battled the muslim hordes, believing that God desired both the death of sinners and a political victory. To those Christians who believe that our politicians must genuflect to them and their agenda, because they assume that the Kingdom of God can only come through political power. We mask our fetish for strength and power with religious piety.

By proclaiming that “Christ is King” many Christians are really saying “The Church is King.” Some Christians want to dominate rather than serve.

When we as Christians look too lustily at the strength and power of the world, we hear Jesus whisper in agony, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” and we we abandon the suffering Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world.

And so we then find ourselves at Jesus’ bloody feet, confronted by his self-giving, suffering, love. And we realize what true power looks like. We see that true power come from giving of our selves so that others might have life. True power comes when we forgive those who’ve hurt us rather than seek out revenge.

True power leaves us vulnerable. We may be taken advantage of. We may get hurt.

But the power of the cross, the power of Christ our King, only grows the more we give away. The way of Christ our King isn’t what we get, but by what we give.

To many, this power looks like weakness, like we’re capitulating to those who don’t have our best interests in mind. That it’s not practical. It’s a fool’s journey.

After all what would our foreign policy look like if reconciliation was the operating principle? Would our strategy in Afghanistan be any different? How would our laws work if they functioned by forgiveness rather confrontation and punishment?

But then again, forgiveness and reconciliation is not a mere strategy. It’s not a way of getting what we want. Forgiveness and reconciliation is a way of being in the world. Like Jesus on the cross offering forgiveness to those who were killing him, it’s saying that evil powers of the world will not control our lives. My enemies will not dictate how I live my life. Retribution and retaliation may be bred in human bones, but God calls us to a different way of living.

Jesus is saying, my enemies want to hurt me, but I want to love. The principalities and powers of the world want to destroy me, but I want to build people up, creating a world where all people can live and thrive. The world may rage with war and violence, but I will live peacefully. Others may live according to what they can get, I will live according to what I can give. They may live selfish lives, doing violence to others, but they won’t drag me down with them. I will not let them turn me into who they are because of what they have done to me.

That is Jesus’ life. It’s not an easy life. But it is God’s life. And today, Grady and Kylie are being called into this life, they are being recruited to serve this Christ who is our King. Through the waters of baptism, they are being killed to the death dealing powers of the world and they are rising to live in the joy and freedom that comes from being children of God. Their lives will bear witness to God’s alternate vision of the world. A vision that places forgiveness over revenge, a vision that gives before receiving, a vision that plants freedom in the centre of their lives

As servants of Christ our King, the God on the cross, they will be known by how much they love, bearing witness to the Christ who loved us so much that he died rather than lift a finger against those who were killing him, so he would rise to transform the whole world into his likeness.

And may this be so among US. Amen.


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