November 24, 2018, Christ the King Sunday, John 18:33-37
On this Christ the King Sunday we find ourselves in a liminal or in between time. Depending on where your mind is at, what you think I’m talking about when I say that will vary. For example, if you are focused on where we are in the church year you might say, “Yes, that is true. We find ourselves in between the end of the season after Pentecost and before the beginning of Advent.” Or if you are focused on major holidays as ways to demarcate time you might say, “Yes, we find ourselves between Thanksgiving and Christmas.” However, if you’ve been consumed by the desire to get your Christmas shopping done so you can enjoy all things Christmas themed and peppermint flavored in the next month, you likely would hit on what I was thinking of. And that is that this Sunday we find ourselves in the time between the two biggest shopping days of the year – Black Friday and Cyber Monday!
Now, those who know me well will tell you that I hate to shop for anything other than books and music. I think I’ve been shopping on Black Friday once. I dislike shopping so much that my family gets excited, as if it were a holiday, if I let them know that I did in fact venture out to a store to do some actual shopping that didn’t include food that I need for survival. Shopping is just not my thing.
Yet, shopping is a huge part of our culture as evidenced by how much we are focused on it at this time of year. You would think from the prevalence of all the ads on television, radio, print, and online that we encounter at this time of year, that the goal of Christmastime is to shop, buy, and consume more and more goods. It seems as if our consumer culture has co-opted the holiday.
In fact, you might even think that the Christmas season starts not on Christmas Day, but around Halloween given that the stores start playing Christmas music, decorating and preparing for the holiday earlier and earlier each year so that now it is almost as if we skip right over Thanksgiving and jump right to Christmas. Indeed, if we listen to the world around us, we could think that we are already in the midst of the Christmas season and in the church we haven’t even hit Advent.
It seems to be so much this way nowadays that walking into Christian places of worship on this Christ the King Sunday it is almost as if we find ourselves experiencing some sort of space and time warp from the world outside our doors. Inside our church buildings this Sunday we don’t find ourselves bombarded by the sounds of Christmas carols or the scents of peppermint mochas and eggnog lattes or visions of sugar plums in the form of the latest sale items we must obtain in order to have a a perfectly fulfilling Christmas holiday. Instead, we hear about Christ the King or the Reign of Christ on this Sunday. We hear about how Jesus is a different kind of king as he tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.
We could ask ourselves what any of this has to do with us as modern Christians who are far removed from rule by kings of any sort? After all, for those of us gathered here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where on the streets of Boston a revolution began that ended rule over us by the British monarchy, we are over 240 years removed from such a life. And even in countries who still have monarchies, kings play mostly a symbolic and ceremonial role now as in most of them day to day rule is done by parliaments democratically elected by the people. Yet, in spite of our removal from life under kingly rule in society, I think this celebration of the church year is still an important and relevant one for us today.
We actually haven’t been celebrating Christ the King Sunday for all that long in the Christian church. In fact, only since 1925 when Pope Pius XI, in response to growing secularism and nationalism in the world, set the day aside in the Roman Catholic Church calendar to remind believers that it is in fact Christ who rules over us as Christians. And after Vatican II, the celebration was adopted by other denominations as well.
In a day and age where we we once again face rising secularism and nationalism in the world it can seem to some that our celebration of Christ the King is particularly fitting for us as Christians. Yet, I think it is important for us as believers to celebrate this day every year no matter what political or social movements might be on the rise. And that is because every year we as Christians are called to live in the world, but not of the world. We are called to remember that no matter what the world tells us we should value, Jesus calls us to a different set of values. We are called to remember that no matter who or what the world tells us rules over us, the only one that ultimately rules over us and that we need to answer to is Jesus.
All this is hard to remember in a world that constantly tells us that what we should value is money, power, and violence because that is what the world values and what makes it run. However, as Jesus reminds us as he is questioned by Pilate in our gospel reading today, that isn’t what has power over him or his followers. That isn’t at all how he or the kingdom he rules over works. In fact, he says his kingdom isn’t even from here. Some might take that to mean that he is speaking of some sort of spiritual or heavenly kingdom that we don’t need to worry about here and now, but one day off in the future when he comes again. Yet, his kingdom is so much more than that.
Theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz argues that to understand this it is helpful to think of Jesus’ kingdom as more like a “kin-dom.” She argues that what Jesus is talking about is a new world or kinship – a new way of being in relationship with one another and God. He’s shown this in John’s gospel as he has lived and led his disciples up to this point.
As he crossed boundaries in speaking to and taking water from a Samaritan woman. As he broke religious laws as he healed a lame man on the Sabbath. As he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. As he refused to condemn or punish a woman caught in adultery. As he healed a man blind from birth and challenged the current thinking that his affliction was the result of sin. As he raised his friend Lazarus from the grave to live again. And as he prepared his disciples for life after his death by breaking with custom by washing their feet and telling them to love one another as he loved them so that through that love the world might know them as his followers.
Jesus’ kingdom or kin-dom is about love just as Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, always reminds us when he says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God!” While the world gives us the message that how we should live is about power over others with survival of the fittest, consumerism in the accumulation of wealth and goods for ourselves first and foremost, and justifying the use of violence if it benefits us and our needs, Jesus calls us to a totally different way of life. He calls us to the way of love – love of God and love of neighbor.
Jean Vanier, founder of the l’Arche community for people with disabilities, in his book Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John says this is because Jesus “is the king of love in and through his weakness and vulnerability.” He writes, “He is a king yearning for the communion of hearts. This is the truth he has come to proclaim. Not power for the sake of power, but to build a world of love for the service of the communion of hearts, the power of love and compassion that heals, liberates and gives life, that calls people to live in love with him.” (pg. 315)
This kingdom or kin-dom of love looks different than the way the rest of the world lives. It looks like motel owner Jaret Hucks of Myrtle Beach, SC who stayed open during Hurricane Florence earlier this year and who has since housed the most vulnerable and poorest evacuees with more than 1,000 free nights of housing because he says, “Love thy neighbor, right? That’s what you’re supposed to do.” And his actions in loving his neighbors have inspired others to help so that the residents of his motel now get three meals a day, diapers for their babies, money for car repairs, shoes for their feet, almost whatever they need to help them rebuild their lives.
It looks like Scott Macaulay of Melrose, MA who for the past thirty-three years at his own expense has hosted a free Thanksgiving feast at a local church for all who RSVP to his yearly newspaper ad. It started with twelve people the first year in the basement of his home congregation of First Baptist Church after Macaulay decided he didn’t want to be alone on Thanksgiving as his parents had divorced and no one in his family was speaking. It has since grown to sixty to one hundred people and moved to the larger Green Street Baptist Church as he feeds widows, widowers, college kids, and the homeless. No one is turned away not even his ex-wife and her new husband who one year provided mealtime music for the diners. Or even his parents who years after their divorce precipitated this tradition, in their loneliness one year found their way to the meal and healing for their relationship through it.
It also looks like 700 people of various faith traditions gathered at a local synagogue in Lexington, MA for a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and 1300 people who showed up in solidarity in that same community for Shabbat services the weekend after the attack. And it looks like the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Lexington who donated $1400 each to Temple Emunah and Temple Isaiah in town to help defray the cost of extra security for their congregations after the Pittsburgh attack.
What does it look like here at Christ the King Epiphany? Thanksgiving meals donated to the Community Survival Center. Meals served monthly to those in need at Loaves and Fishes. Hats and mittens donated to warm children in need in the Springfield public school. Gifts donated so foster children can celebrate the Christmas holiday. It looks like us, Lutherans and Episcopalians, working together as one in love to do all this and so much more to love our neighbors and build God’s kin-dom all year long.
On this Christ the King Sunday we are reminded by Jesus that as his followers we are called to build a kingdom not of this world, but in this world. We are called to build a kin-dom in the way of love as we follow Jesus’ example to break with society’s rules and standards for how we should behave, who we should reach out to, and what we should value.
As we end the church year on this Christ the King Sunday Jesus calls us together here to step out of the world and its ways to reorient ourselves to God’s ways and God’s values in God’s time. And in the coming weeks throughout the Advent season he will do the same as he calls us out of a world already celebrating Christmas with carols and lattes and presents, to a season of preparing our hearts and minds and lives for the arrival of the one who is and who was and who is to come, the one who invites us as his people to join him in the building of his kin-dom of love here and now. Amen.