What Kind of King is This?
2007-11-20 by Tom Steagald
In a recent book I suggested that the Feast of Christ the King, initiated as an official celebration of the Church by Pius XI only in 1925, is the priestly equivalent of the prophetic Barmen Declaration issued by the Confessing Church in 1934. The latter was in direct response to the rise of the National Socialists and their Fuhrer (the German word for 'lord'); the former came from the smoldering ash heap of WWI. Both were, in their own priestly or prophetic way, an affirmation that, as Pius said, "...peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis that through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord."
The pronouncement of Christ alone as Lord (Nein! to all other fuhrers) and the celebration of Christ as King--indeed, the enthroning of Christ on the praises of his people, are the two aspects of one faithful affirmation.
Of course, words like Empire, king and even Lord rasp in modern ears. Many folk would find themselves in agreement with Samuel, of all people, as to the mischief kings cause (I Samuel 8:10-18). No wonder that, from Revolutionary times till now, many people would pray with Jacob Gruber (at Washington's Light Street Methodist Church, as British cannons announced the arrival of troops to the city in 1812), "Lord, have mercy on the Sovereigns of Europe--convert their souls--give them short lives and happy deaths--take them to Heaven--and let us have no more of them." (cited in Doug Adam's dissertation, Humor in the American Pulpit from George Whitefiled though Henry Ward Beecher, pp. 114-15).
But to say Christ is King, both through Sacrament and Proclamation is not to say he is like other kings--tyrants or gods, jokers or jesters, anachronisms or, on account of their silliness and celebrity, impotent potentates. It rather to say he is precisely not like other kings. He is Lord of all because he is servant of all.
No greater proof could be offered than the Gospel lesson for Sunday. I mean, what kind of King is this to "exalted" in such a way--elevated on the cross. This is the King's coronation, a bitterly perfect irony played on our use of the words.
Kingdom Cross - The Sermon
2007-11-20 by Charles Grant
Last week I posted some thoughts on the texts for Christ the Kingdom Sunday, November 25. What follows is the sermon that flowed from that blog. It is entitled "Kingdom Cross". I hope you finish your sermon by tomorrow so you can have a restful and Happy Thanksgiving.
On the festival of Christ the King we face a dilemma. On the one hand, the most beloved and inspirational Easter anthem is Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Whenever it is sung we leap to our feet in respect for the one we believe is indeed, “King of kings and Lord of Lords…” Many of our hymns include king and kingdom imagery, such as “The king of love my shepherd is” and “Crown him with many crowns”, and “All creatures of our God and King”. But as Americans, kings and kingdoms don’t mean much to us, in political terms. In fact, in are acculturated to RESIST king-talk. Wasn’t that part of our beef with the British in the first place? When George Washington was first elected, he was referred to as “His Excellency”, but early on, we affirmed that we might have a Mr. President or a Ms President to whom we show great respect, but not a royal ruler to whom we bow and curtsy. So, talk of kings and kingdoms, such as we find in the Bible, don’t really speak to Americans.
Except the language and notion of empire and kingdom really do shape our consciousness. We may not have an emperor, but the good ole USA is truly an empire if there ever was one, in both the Biblical sense of the word and in secular usage. The USA is the only reigning super power. And like the biggest guy on the playground, America doesn’t take kindly to criticism from little whipper snappers or would be super powers.
Even so, as Christians, we yearn for the kingdom of God. For God’s divine rule in our earthly lives and world. Remember those words from the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy KINGDOM come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…for Thine is the KINGDOM.” Kingdom talk is part of the vocabulary of faith. God’s kingdom, God’s peaceable kingdom, is a vision that shapes our hopes. God’s kingdom is about men and women living in harmony with one another under the guidance of God’s word and presence. But whenever WE talk about kingdom, we end up using the language of power, ruler and ruled. Which kind of kingdom do we want?
We easily confess Jesus as our Lord, but this king talk really throws us off. On the one hand, the only kinds of kings we know about today are symbolic figureheads. On the other hand, the kings of a former day tended to be tyrannical absolute rulers. Either way, we are uncomfortable linking king talk and God talk.
No wonder, that in recent years some theologians have tried to talk not about KING-dom but about KIN-dom. That is, what we are really working for is a divinely led kin-dom or holy community in which all persons are equal, as opposed to a KING-dom of ruler and ruled. Christ the King Sunday invites us to reflect more carefully about such language and imagery, including our over-used language of “king” when “sovereign” would not only suffice but be more inclusive.
The other side of this Sunday is not awkward; it is downright difficult: the CROSS. What Christ the King Sunday is really all about of course, is that the one whom the people wanted to be an earthly king turned out to be a king of a totally different sort: a king on a cross. The king whom we follow calls us not to follow him to victory, but to follow him to death. The king whom we serve we serve because he first served us. The king whom we follow calls us to embrace a life of suffering. Christ the King Sunday –or the festival of The Reign of Christ–calls us to confess that no earthly ruler is worthy of that title or our unconditional allegiance: God and God alone is sovereign. The God we know in Christ is our only sovereign Lord.
The festival of Christ the King then strikes us an odd observance at an odd time. Even though because of the calendar, this year the advent season is still a week off, we are already into Christmas preparation mode. The retailers’ nightmare and the shoppers’ dream of “Black Friday” is behind us now. Here we are getting ready for Christmas, and we haven’t even begun the four week period of PREPARATION for Christmas known as Advent. So, all of this talk about cross and crowns, kings and kingdoms, feels out of place. This is the season to be jolly, a time for babies and angels and jingle bells, and peace on earth goodwill towards all. Not Jesus’ last words from the cross. We are content to confine those words to Holy Week and Good Friday.
But I would suggest the festival of Christ the King may just be the medicine we need, at this season of the year and in every season. For the festival of Christ the King reminds us whose subjects we are. Reminds us of the power of those thrilling words from Isaiah and Handel’s Messiah: King of kings, and Lord of Lords. Granted, the whole idea of king and kingdom doesn’t fit with our political system or American sensibilities. But as Bob Dylan sang – even before he got religion – “everybody’s gotta serve somebody.” And the somebody WE serve is the God we know through Jesus.
The claims of our religious faith are but one among many competing claims: our faith calls us to sacrificial service; our culture calls us to self-centeredness; the market place calls us to “buy, buy, buy”; Christ calls us to “give, give, give”. The world says life is about “me”; the world of faith says, life is about “you”. Religious faith is but one claim among many competing claims. But the claim of our faith is the claim of Christ is the only claim that counts. And the festival of Christ the King reminds us we sing “Joy to the world the Lord has come” because Jesus has come to BE our Lord.
The festival of Christ the King also is a corrective to all earthly kingdom talk. Commenting on the trial and execution of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan observes that the ancient Roman government and Pilate got it exactly right when they killed Jesus. Because when Jesus replies to Pilate’s inquiry, “My kingdom is not of this world”, Rome had good reason to fear. Jesus was announcing a kingdom superior to and critical of every earthly kingdom. The kingdom of God holds every earthly kingdom up to a very high standard. Some may fare better than others, but when compared to God’s standards for justice, fairness, generosity, compassion, and peace, no earthly kingdom measures up.
Which means there is no room for complacency. Even in America. If we are to transform this world into a close approximation of God’s kingdom, we have lots of work to do. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in the Bible we have the only plan we need to establish the holy city, and in Jesus Christ we have a ruler worthy of our respect, our obedience, and our love.
And finally, the festival of Christ the King draws us to the center of Christian faith: a crucified messiah who redefines what king and kingdom are all about. Our king is a crucified king – a king rejected by the world, who through his self-giving sacrifice is now the only worthy king in the world. Christ the crucified king reminds us that it is only through suffering that we will we find God. Pastor Kenneth Carder asks “Why would anyone follow a crucified Christ?” And his answer? “Only those who follow Jesus all the way to the cross will really know who he is. If we stop before Calvary, we will misunderstand him.” (Carder, in a sermon) As Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
The universally recognized symbol of Christian faith is not the Christmas tree, or the chalice of communion or the waters of baptism. The universally recognized symbol of Christian faith is not even the empty tomb of Easter. The universally recognized symbol of Christian faith is the CROSS. For nearly 500 years now we Protestants have smugly insisted that it is an EMPTY cross that symbolizes Christian faith. The empty cross is said to draw us to the empty tomb – the cross is empty because the tomb is empty - Jesus is NOT dead, but is alive and risen! And for sure that is the message of Easter Day.
But today is NOT Easter day. It is the Sunday of Christ the King – Christ the crucified King. The cross stands empty because it is NOT the cross of Christ at all. The empty cross of Christ is OUR cross. Your cross and my cross. And it is empty because it awaits followers of Jesus who dare to deny themselves and to take up his cross and follow him.
Kingdom Cross. Two words we really struggle with. Kingdom, because it is outside our daily human experience. And cross, because it IS part of our daily experience – and we know we want nothing of it.You may have noticed the masthead of the bulletin for today calls this Sunday “The Reign of Christ”. That is the alternative, newer designation for this Sunday of Christ the King. And it directs us where we need to be. For what is important about Christian faith is not whether we use the image of king and kingdom, but whether Christ reigns in our hearts, in our lives, in our world. In the words of that old hymn of Isaac Watts,
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Friends: If Christ does NOT rule in our hearts, nothing in faith matters. But if Christ rules in our hearts, nothing else matters at all. Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim! Till all the world adore his sacred name. AMEN.
Celebrating the End of a Year
2007-11-20 by Virginia Miner
Christ the King Sunday is always a challenge because of its close proximity to Thanksgiving.
Maybe we can combine the two into giving thanks for the belief that in the end we are led by One greater than ourselves. The older I get the more comfort there is in that knowledge.
In medival times, knights would recommit themselves to the authority of the king (or queen) and then celebrate all that was good in the realm, even if more battles loomed on the horizon. In these days of poverty, climate change and transition,this may be a good way to end a year and prepare for advent; to lay all our resources before Christ and look to the security of the leadership that is beyond our own.
2007-11-19 by David Howell
Our guest lectionary preaching blogger was supposed to be The Reverend Dr. Joanna Adams, pastor of Morningside Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA. She previously served Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. In 2006, she was selected Georgia Woman of the Year. Joanna spend hours preparing her post but due to a technical glitch that was our fault her work was lost in cyberspace. We apologize to Joanna.
Thanks to Dave von Schlichten, Tom Steagald, Dee Dee Haines, and Rick Brand for their contributions. Dave is ELCA, Tom is UMC, Dee Dee is UCC, and Rick is PCUSA. We strive for ecumenical and interdisciplinary input. In fact, Writers' Alley will soon be open to anyone who wants to post their thoughts on preaching the texts. We will probably rename Writers' Alley. Any suggestions?
You may also post your sermons for feedback (and offer feedback to others) in the Sermon Feedback Cafe. Go to HOMEPAGE, to Share It, and Submit Your Own. While you are there enjoy Cinnamon-Spice-Pumpkin Latte and the art of Georgia O'Keeffe at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Festival of Homiletics will be held in Minneapolis, May 19-23, 2008.
Kingdom Cross by Charles Grant
2007-11-15 by Charles Grant
On the festival of Christ the King we face a dilemma. On the one hand, the most beloved and inspirational Easter anthem is Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Whenever it is sung we leap to our feet in respect and sing along, “King of kings and Lord of Lords…” Many of our hymns include imagery such as “The king of love my shepherd is”. But as Americans, kings and kingdoms don’t mean much to us, in political terms. In fact, in are acculturated to RESIST king-talk. So, to a certain degree, talk of kings and kingdoms, such as we find in the Bible, don’t really speak to Americans. Except the language and notion of empire and kingdom really do shape our consciousness. We may not have an emperor, but the good ole USA is truly an empire in the Biblical sense of the word. The USA is the only reigning super power. And like the biggest guy on the playground, America doesn’t take kindly to criticism. Even so, as Christians, we yearn for the kingdom of God. But whenever we talk about kingdom, we end up using the language of power, ruler and ruled. Is that what we yearn for? No wonder in recent years some theologians have tried to talk about KIN-dom. That is, what we are really working for is a divinely led kin-dom or holy community in which all are equal, as opposed to a KING-dom of ruler and ruled. Christ the King Sunday invites us to reflect more carefully about such language and imagery, including our over-used language of “king” when “sovereign” would not only suffice but be more inclusive.
The other side of this Sunday is not awkward; it is downright difficult: the CROSS. What Christ the King is really all about of course, is that the one whom the people wanted to be an earthly king turned out to be a king of a totally different sort: a king on a cross. The king whom we follow calls us not to follow him to victory, but to follow him to death. The king whom we follow calls us to embrace a life of suffering. Christ the King Sunday – or the festival of The Reign of Christ - calls us to confess that no earthly ruler is worthy of that title or our allegiance: God and God alone is sovereign. The God we know in Christ is our only King.
Christ the King Sunday always falls right before or just after Thanksgiving – a day people run to much more easily than “the reign of Christ”. But thanksgiving and the reign of Christ can also be played together: No level of gratitude, or frankly, no level of generosity, removes from us the burden that we have more than we deserve and we fail to share as much as we could and ought: the cross is a call to offer a lot more than some of our abundance and a portion of our time and efforts: the cross is a call to give everything, not just a turkey and sack of groceries.
The sacrifice of Christ who rules our hearts and lives is a constant reminder that the meaning of life lies in a mystery outside of ourselves.
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