The Reign of Christ the Kind – November 25, 2018

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday After Pentecost
November 25, 2018

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93 

In the Name of our God who is all kindness, Christ who reigns in justice, and the Holy Spirit who recreates our every moment.  Amen

What kind of king is Jesus? Pilate wants to know because a king is a political figure and Pilate is the consummate politician. We see him going back and forth between his palace and the throngs outside both questioning Jesus and appeasing the loud crowds.

When we Americans picture a king we typically imagine fairy tales, castles and royal courts like King Arthur and the Round Table or portly Henry VIII. In his Stories for the Christian Year, Stephen Lawless writes: “In the age of the microchip and space travel, kings have as much usefulness as signet rings and sealing wax; they are as irrelevant to the world as knights in shining armor.”

He goes on to say that we really are out of our depth when praying to, singing about, and worshiping a king. Kings and kingdoms were

precisely what America was formed to escape. So here we are with a fairly large gap in our collective consciousness where Christ is concerned. Lacking any fundamental understanding of kings, we possess no genuine understanding of what the kingship of Christ means.”

Unlike many church feasts rooted in ancient celebrations as early as the fourth century, this feast, originally known as “Christ the King,” was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to his perception that the world was becoming too individualistic and no longer accepting the authority of Christ. He saw modern society paying ultimate respect to secular leaders like Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler.

In spite of the pope’s good intentions, the word “king” for most of us conjures up extreme wealth, assumed privilege and unquestioned authority. Even the modern royal family, much as they captivate and fascinate us, especially at weddings and funerals, reeks with assumptions of regal “untouchables.”  The modern American version of this seems to be adulation and hero worship of sports figures, entertainer, and some politicians who might like to be king.

The king we meet in the Gospel today is a bloody, beaten Jesus. Here is a suffering king, a judged king, a king soon to be condemned and put to death—for speaking God’s truth. He stands before Pontius Pilate, the political and secular authority who thinks he has power of life and death over Jesus.

We probably should expect that a Gospel reading about Jesus as king would portray Christ in glory—sitting on the throne, attended by angels, and in charge of our destiny. But that isn’t what we get. The Gospel we heard affirms that Jesus is God’s Chosen One, but in very different terms. The kingship of Jesus is expressed through the Cross and through his ministry of compassion, reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness. 

The text asks us to do what Pilate did not do, perhaps could not do: look into the eyes of Truth, the Light who has come into the world to redeem it from its insanity, that is, all of its unhealthiness and pollution and corruption and to usher in the Reign of Godliness.

We have seen this king call sinners and outcasts his friends. We’ve seen him heal the hurts of people no one wanted to come near, let alone touch. We’ve seen him bundled in straw in a manger, walking the dusty streets of Palestine, teaching and curing people from all walks of life, riding on a donkey through the crowded streets of Jerusalem washing the feet of his dearest friends, and now we see him standing trial in the palace of Pontius Pilate—soon after to hang on the wood of the cross.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” he responds to his judge. Jesus did not mean that his kingdom was other worldly, some sort of fantasy nation or land of aliens. He meant that his kingdom is different from the kingdoms of this world, that it does not rest upon the same power and authority.

And what of this reign of Christ today? Bishop Steven Charleston, former President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., a prophetic voice for kingdom values says that “The Jesus Kingdom is a community without borders. It is not limited to any one culture or society. It has no theological border guards. Every person is able to obtain citizenship. Faith is the passport. Love its only pledge of allegiance.”

I suppose as lovely as all this sounds, it raises the question, “Where do we find this kingdom?” If it’s not of this world, just where is it? Bonnie Kristian writes in The Week that efforts to cure a modern epidemic of loneliness constitute “a strange, new product of our time. Indeed, it is a uniquely modern attempt to reverse engineer a single aspect of a social structure that used to fill this very real need for community. That structure was church.

She writes, “It is common to think of church as a place for people to gather because they believe the same things about God. That isn’t wrong, but neither is it complete. It provides much more. Kristian goes on to explain how church unites us in a shared purpose more meaningful than sports or board games—and more comprehensive than volunteerism or activism. Church, she says, unlike other entities in life, “binds together community and significance and embeds us in a way of life in which our responsibilities include insuring that no one is lonely.”

I love this story which illustrates this so beautifully. Bill is 20 years-old, has wild hair, wears a T-shirt, jeans with holes in them, and no shoes—literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.  He is brilliant and rather eccentric. Across the street from the campus where he lived is a well-dressed, very traditional church that wanted to develop a ministry to the students but not sure how to go about it.

One day Bill decided to go there. The service had already begun and so Bill started down the aisle looking for a seat.  The church was completely packed and he could not find anywhere to sit. Bill got closer and closer and closer to the altar and the pulpit, and when he realized there were no seats, he just squatted down right on the floor—no shoes, holes in the jeans and all. By now the people were really edgy, and the tension in the air was thick.

About then, the minister realized that from way at the back of the church, an elderly, long-time parishioner was slowly making his way toward Bill. This gentleman was in his eighties and wore a three-piece suit—a very elegant, very dignified, very courtly gentleman.

He walked with a cane and, as he started walking toward this boy, everyone was thinking that no one could blame him for what he was about to do with that cane.  How could one expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? By the time the man reached the kid the church was utterly silent but for the clicking of the man’s cane.

All eyes focused on him.  And then they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he lowered himself and sat down next to Bill to worship with him so he would not be alone.  When the minister regained composure, he said, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.”

We might miss the crux of the answer Jesus gave to Pilate when he said. “My kingdom is not from this world.”

He was not talking about location but rather of its source—the love of God. The kingdom of heaven which Jesus talked about all the time, is, as he said, here. At hand. Right now. Wherever we are. In ways we might never expect.

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