Sermon: Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sermon for 24 November 2013, Proper 29, Year C

The Rev. Theo Park

A printable PDF file of this sermon is available here: 20131124 - Proper 29, Year C - The Rev. Theo Park

This Sunday is commonly known as the Feast of Christ the King, and it stands at the end of the long season after Pentecost as a summing up of what we've learned about Jesus Christ, and as an introduction to Advent. So much comes together here that if this feast didn't exist, it would almost be necessary to invent it.

Which is exactly what happened in 1925, when the Roman Catholic Church decided that there ought to be a feast that specially underlined the all-embracing authority of Christ. In creating the 1976 prayerbook, we Episcopalians adopted it as well, sensing its fitness for this beginning and end of seasons.

When you "image" Christ - when you think of Jesus – what picture or metaphor do you come up with for him? Is it Christ the King, robed and crowned, or is it something else? For many today the Biblical metaphor of Christ the King is somewhat out of fashion; they hear it as patriarchal and hierarchic, a remnant of an old, oppressive era. Historically, most kings are men of immense power who are unafraid to issue orders and compel obedience, men unafraid to ask others, no - to command others, to die for their causes, makers of law and enforcers of their own wills and the will of the State they command. Even benevolent kings expect their subjects to obey, to be loyal to them and serve them.

This is Jesus?

I think that most of us, when we think of Jesus, picture him as something entirely other than as our King: more likely is Jesus as a shepherd Jesus as a teacher, Jesus as a healer, Jesus sitting with the children gathered around him.

So when we do proclaim Jesus as King – when we declare with Peter that he is the Messiah, the anointed one of God – often we have a hard time wrapping our mind around what it is we truly are confessing. How do we make sense of this metaphor of subjection in our fiercely independent age? We do not like the idea of obedience. We do not like the idea that someone can "command us" to do something, that someone has authority over us.

While I am completely in accord with the reformers who would sweep away patriarchal and insensitive language, I suspect that for many the real issue behind objections to the image of Jesus as King is this: Do I want someone other than myself to be Lord of my life? When we image Jesus as our friend, as our shepherd, as our brother, as one who comes to us a healer and a teacher, we accentuate in our minds the love and the grace and the goodness that he had and still has; it makes Jesus - "user friendly;” it makes Jesus - first among equals.

And so Jesus is.

But we sometimes grow too comfortable with our preferred images of Christ. We sometimes resist too much the full consequences of calling him, as we do at Christmas – while thinking of a him as a baby, mind you – King of Kings and Lord of Lords

We sometimes resist too much the implications of naming him, as does the Book of Revelation:

The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end the ruler of the Kings of the earth the one who is, and who was, and who is to come....

And while we can all agree that Jesus redefined what Kingship means, while we can agree that his kingship is not in fact from this world or like that of the kingships of this world there is still in fact some measure of power that we should ascribe to Jesus – a power over our lives. A power derived not from coercion but from respect, and love, a respect and love that have as their fruit willing obedience to God in all areas of our lives. As I asked Samuel’s parents and sponsors on his behalf at All Saints’ and as I ask all of you when there is no baptism on feast days: “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and promise to follow and obey him as your Lord, with God’s help?”

If you don’t, then there’s really no purpose in your being here. If you don’t, then this is really nothing more than a kind of clubhouse. That’s not to say that everyone here is completely sure of this statement. Many are still seeking their way to Christ and the way is still uncertain. Nor do I mean to imply that there are not other pathways to God. But for those who choose to follow Jesus, here is the question. And when it comes, if it comes – our profession, that decision to make him the ruler of our lives, will make all the difference. Then, in trying to live out our promise, with God’s help, before speaking to someone who has ticked us off, or talking to someone about what is happening in the house next door, or between us and our boss, we may find it helpful to ask ourselves: "What would Jesus say and do here?" "What would Jesus want me to say or do here?”

At the bishop’s committee meeting last week we had a real wake-up call from one of our members, who drew our attention to the fact that we had fallen into the trap— as so many congregations with multiple property issues can do— of talking about the building and things and money… and not vision, not the spiritual call of Christ of this community. And so we have pledged to place visioning on every agenda from here out. so that we can consider "What would Jesus want us to say or do here?"

That is the real issue at the heart of the “Jesus is King” language used by the Church. That is at the heart of the Kingdom of God language used by Jesus. Sometimes being faithful is a difficult thing. Sometimes loving someone or being wholly dedicated to them means doing things we do not want to do, a kind of tough love approach, but when we trust in God and believe that God will be faithful to us when we try to do what is right – then, as Jesus says over and over again in the gospels, the Kingdom of God is not far from us – indeed it is at hand – it is over us – and in us.....

Blessed be the name of Jesus – he who is our friend, our brother, our shepherd, our Lord, and our King, now and evermore. Amen.

This sermon was created by The Rev. Theo Park for The Episcopal Church of Gethsemane, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sources are credited where applicable.

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