November 21, 2021
Our second reading on this Christ the King Sunday is just a few verses from Revelation. Listen as God speaks to you.
As I’ve told you many times, as a minister I like the discipline that comes with following the lectionary. I enjoy following the liturgical calendar as we travel through each year… helping us to tell again and again the story of God. Today is the last day in that liturgical calendar. We begin with the first Sunday in Advent. We end in Christ the King. And I’ve always liked that pairing of the two Sundays because it made the liturgical calendar more circular in nature… in my mind at least. Christ the King… we proclaim the lordship of Christ Jesus in all areas of our lives… not just a part… but Christ is to rule in all of our heart. No divided loyalty. No shared sovereignty. As our reading from Revelation says, God is the Alpha and the Omega… the first and the last. It is through Christ that we relate to the world around us… not taking our cue from the world to interpret who Christ is… or was… or is to be. The world is always trying to define Christ… define and limit. When we talk of a jealous God… this is what that phrase is referring to… that God is not interested in sharing primacy within our hearts. All other gods… whatever form that may take in our lives… money, politics, work, fame… whatever creates that sweet siren’s call to lure away the devotion of our heart… all those other gods are subject to the one God who reigns forever. You shall have no other god before me. It is a larger commandment than the historical context alone would suggest. Or to use the words from the prayer found at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Christ the King Sunday. That Sunday once every year that we unabashedly remind ourselves that a divided house… a divided heart cannot stand.
So… it was interesting to me how this week in my different readings in preparation for today… I kept coming across a piece of information about Christ the King Sunday that I never knew. Christ the King was begun in 1925 by then Pope Pius XI. With the later liturgical movement, it became a part of the liturgical calendar that we follow. Now that may not be interesting to you… but what I found extremely interesting was the reason why Pope Pius XI instituted the day… because of the rising secularism and nationalism in his time. The world was still reeling from World War I. There was vast economic uncertainty or devastation in Europe as a result of the war. As a result, other forces were gathering and people were beginning to give power to authoritarian strongmen. Fascism was on the rise. Feelings of desperation and hopelessness did not drive people back toward their faith in Christ… but they began to trust in other gods and would eventually redefine Christ through the lenses of these other gods.
And history repeats itself again and again. I read article after article about congregations today in conflict because this congregation demands that it be a pure red congregation. This congregation over here wants loyalty to blue. This other congregation is awash in purple and feelings of uneasiness as they constantly walk on eggshells with one another. Red. Blue. Purple. These defining attributes have nothing to do with the church. Should have nothing to say to the church. The church belongs to Christ and Christ alone who is the head. It is Christ who loves us… freed us from our sins… made us to be a kingdom serving God. It is to Christ be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Not red. Not blue. Not purple. There is no blue salvation. There is no red salvation. Saints, this may shock some of you to hear… but you will not find yourself any closer to the kingdom of God in either a blue state or a red state… where one political party controls all the levers of power. Political paradises do not dot our map. Neither ideology has the power to save. Neither party has an exclusive covenant with God.
The church must be the church in every age. Uncorrupted and true only to the one who called it into being. But how do we define that? How do we know to what we ought to aspire? We can look to our Confessions. Both the Confession of 1967 and the Belhar Confession pick up on the world “reconciliation”… a core word of Paul’s theology. Reconciliation is a defining word in the church being the church. Reconciliation. Not division. Not dominance. Belhar puts it this way… and I’m going to do a long quote here… but know that all these theologically defining words from this confession are grounded firmly in scripture…
“We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another; unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain; that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted; that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways; in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ; that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity; that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God…”
Those words… those words describe the reign of Christ our King… and the call of Christ’s church living into the kingdom of God. That is how church is church.
All these “isms” of the world come to the church and they try to recreate the church with their first things. However, it is the church… it is the church who is to go into the world with its oneness to recreate the world with its first things. We are always the counter to the culture. Right? We know the questions of Christ’s judgment. When was it the hungry were fed? When were the thirsty given drink? How did the day come when there was no longer anyone who hungered or thirsted? When was it that the stranger was welcomed or the naked was clothed or the sick were taken care of without condition of wealth? When did the prisoner stop being a forgotten neighbor to you? It is the church who must stand and say enough is enough. Stop appropriating the language… it is no longer enough for empty performative gestures. Talk is cheap and only real action defines the authentic kingdom of God. Stop saying how you didn’t see… when the truth is… you weren’t looking.
Saints, we are the church formed by the Spirit. Christ is our King. And to God be the glory. Amen.