Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reign of Christ the King

This morning we meet a paradox, or a tension, or even a contradiction. On this Reign of Christ the King Sunday we sing the great triumphal hymns of the faith, proclaiming that “Jesus Shall Reign!” and 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 criminals. Naked. Humiliated. Tortured. And terrified.

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

On the one hand, we have a King who is high above the heavens ruling over the universe with a strong arm. 

And on the other hand, 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 backwoods preacher who said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. The world was full of people 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. We realized that Jesus on the cross couldn’t be a king - at least not one worthy of devotion.

So Christians elevated him. We clothed his naked body with royal robes -purple - befitting a king more deserving of our allegiance. 

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. 

To those churches who lash out at a changing, and diverse culture, who mistake losing privilege with persecution. 

We mask our fetish for strength and our lust for 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 to serve.

When we as Christians look too lustily at the strength and power of the world, we hear Jesus unwelcome and agonizing whisper penetrate the noise of our own ambitions, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” and we abandon the suffering Jesus dying on the cross, dying the death of the whole world.

“Father, forgive them...” 

We shake our heads in disbelief.

What kind of king would forgive his executioners? And not only forgiveness for himself, but also forgiveness from God? What kind of king would absolve his enemies at the very moment of his death?

That’s a puzzle that makes our ambitious brains ache. The pieces don’t fit. The cognitive dissonance is astounding in its implications.

The servant-king. The sacrificing king. The forgiving king. The peaceful king.

That’s not a king we want. But that’s the king we have. That’s the king that the world needs.

And so we then find ourselves kneeling at Jesus’ bloody feet, confronted - changed - by his self-giving, suffering, love. And we realize what true power looks like. 

We see that true power comes 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, or boil with resentment. True power means meeting the world’s hostility with kindness, rather than with anger and fear.

True power leaves us vulnerable. We may get 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 it away. The way of Christ our King isn’t about what we get, but the way of Christ our king is about what we give.

The way of Christ our king is about repairing that relationship that broke some many years ago.

The way of Christ our king is about offering compassion to those who may not deserve it.

The way of Christ our king is about feeling the world’s pain, and deciding to do something about it, and dedicating your treasure and your labour to bring healing.

To many people, this power sounds 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 and renewal rather than punishment?

What would our politics look like if they were governed by collaboration, seeking the common good, rather than confrontation on its way to power?

Forgiveness and reconciliation is not a mere strategy. It’s not a way of getting what we want. Forgiveness and reconciliation, peace and renewal, is a way of being, a way of living. 

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 move through the world.

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 will love nonetheless. The principalities and powers of the world want to destroy me, but I will 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.

People may live selfish lives, hurting others to meet their personal ambitions, 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.

If you look closely, that’s who Jesus is. That’s the message of his life and his death. That’s what all the stories about him add up to. That is Jesus’ life. It’s not an easy life. But it is God’s life. 

And you were called into this life, recruited to serve this Christ who is our King. Through the waters of baptism, you died to the death-dealing powers of the world and were raised to new life, living in the joy and freedom, the forgiveness and peace, that comes from being a child of God. 

Your life bears 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 love at the centre of your life.

 As servants of Christ our King, the God on the cross, we will be known by how much we love and how much we give, radiating the forgiveness that God has brought to OUR lives, so that we can bear witness to the Christ who loved us so much that he died rather than lift a finger against those who were killing him, so that he would rise to transform the whole world into his likeness.

And may that King reign among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home