Preached on 20 November 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
Christ the King, Year C
The last couple of weeks have presented an intriguing confluence of current events, our place in the liturgical year, the lessons for today and American history – all swirling around a question asked in one of the commentaries I use:
What kind of king do you want?
Today, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. As Americans, we have an odd relationship with royalty, with kingship, if you will. On the one hand, many of us love the British royal family. How many of you are “royal watchers?” or watch “Downton Abbey?” Now I will grant you, the current monarchy is without very much power even in her own country.
On the other hand, we became a sovereign nation, as opposed to a bunch of colonies, through rebellion against our king. In fact, against the very monarchy that we are now most fond of watching. And following that rebellion, we had a hard time figuring out what to do instead.
What kind of king did we want?
Over the last year or so, we’ve been asked that same question again. And just a couple of weeks ago, not even that long, we had the opportunity to make our voices heard, to make a choice.
The people in our Holy Scriptures had an uneasy time with kingship from early on. They rejected God as their king and demanded a king like the other nations. They were so sure that would be better. God relented, but warned them that they would regret it. They had quite a string of them. A few were great. Many were pretty awful.
We hear the prophet, Jeremiah, admonishing the kings and religious leaders of his day. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,” he says. The shepherds are the leaders. They have responsibility for the well-being of God’s people, the sheep. They have failed. I daresay God could say the same to the shepherds of our day.
And then God promises to do it God’s self. “I will raise up for David a righteous shoot, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” This kind of king is characterized by wisdom, justice, and righteousness. He will bring salvation and safety to the people.
Most Christians take this to be a prophecy of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. Which brings us to the Canticle and the gospel. They’re like bookends for the gospel of Luke. Seems kind of fitting on this last Sunday in the Year of Luke; year C in the lectionary cycle.
The canticle is the Song of Zechariah. Now you may recall that Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist. And this was his song, his prayer, on the day of his son’s circumcision.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
He has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
Born of the house of his servant David.
… would save us from our enemies.
You my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins
In the tender compassion of our God
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness…
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Here is another image of a king. Now we see forgiveness and freedom, light and peace along with salvation and safety. This king is to be a “mighty savior.” Can you hear the expectation of a conquering king?
And then we come to the gospel.
On this day when we celebrate Christ as King, the lectionary gives us the Passion. The crucifixion of Jesus. What kind of king is he? The sign on the cross reads “The King of the Jews” in multiple languages. This is not where anyone expects to find a king. What’s he doing here?
- He’s forgiving – even those who crucify him
- He’s being mocked, humiliated by leaders, soldiers, even the guy on the cross next door.
- He’s saving – today you will be with me in Paradise. Not tomorrow. Not on the Day of the Lord.
- He’s dying.
The cross isn’t a barrier to his ability to forgive and save. It’s the place where it happens.
The criminal who was saved – his salvation was that Jesus saw his suffering and was willing to suffer with him. It demonstrated opposition to empire and evil.
Rather than a king mighty in power, conquering evil with violence, one who merely rescues, on the cross, we see a king who is vulnerable, one who suffers with us in solidarity with all who suffer unjustly.
What kind of king do you want? Today has offered an intriguing mix. We elect our leaders, although we don’t call them king. We proclaim that Christ will come again. We pray, “thy kingdom come.” But what kind of king do we want? What kind of king do we expect? What does God’s revelation seem to point to?
But really, the more important question is this,
What will you do in the meantime?
I’ll paraphrase Karoline Lewis, one of my favorite lectionary commentators.
She quotes Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets through.”
Then she goes on to say
Look for the crack and be the light of Christ that shines through it.
Be the light that exposes attempts to justify hatred, intolerance, and violence.
Be the light that allows us to truly see those who are ignored, overlooked, marginalized, disenfranchised, starving, used, abused, silenced.
Be the light that we so desperately need; a light that shines as a glimmer of hope for all people,
for all the world.