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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Christ the King - 11/20/2016

The Feast of Christ the King is a contemporary contribution to our church calendar. It was introduced by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The pope said he was concerned that more and more people in Europe were becoming disconnected from the church, drawn to other allegiances, focuses, missions, interests. For whatever reasons, more and more people were leaving the church-centered, and therefore the Christ-centered life. So he established this feast day as a way of lifting up Christ's dominion over all the world.

Fast forward about 50 years and we see the development of a revised common lectionary – the three year cycle of biblical readings we use in many mainline churches today. When we adopted the lectionary as early as the 1970s and 80s, Christ the King Feast Day was contained with in it and so it is now a feast day celebrated by us Lutherans, Anglicans and other Protestant traditions too.

I think it's fair to say that what Pope Pius was seeing in Europe 90 years ago is still evident today. A 2006 Gallop poll asked Europeans "Does religion occupy an important place in your life?" The answers were not uplifting for the church. In Sweden, 83 percent answered “no.” In Finland 69 percent said “no.” It was 52 percent in Lithuania, 57 percent in Germany, 42 percent in Ireland. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe)

And it's not just Europe, of course. In the United States, where nearly 71 percent of people today identify as Christian, only about 36 percent say they attend worship regularly. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_United_States) Now this doesn't mean those people don't believe, or they don't see Christ as their true and eternal King, but I think we as church goers understand that by attending worship regularly, by gathering around Word and Sacrament each week, we are strengthened in our resolve to keep other allegiances, focuses, missions and interests in proper perspective to Christ as King.

So, in light of that, I'd like to turn to your neighbors and in small groups, talk with each other for a few minutes how this effort we make today to lift up Christ's dominion over all the world, speaks into our day-to-day lives right now.

***

We, like so many people before us, come to this story from Luke today, knowing what happens from here. We know that Jesus dies on that cross. And we know that it will not be the last word, either … that this is where we really see God's love for us demonstrated, because God is up to something new and different in Jesus. That cross is not the end of Jesus' story. It is the beginning of our story and the freedom from sin Jesus brought to us on that cross. In the shadow of that cross our lives are no longer overshadowed by the power of sin and the brokenness of this world.

But it seems to me, the model of how this Kingly-ness is shown by Jesus never loses its shock value. It is nothing like what we typically see in our earthy kings … not in history and not today.

In Jesus we see a King who doesn't proclaim that he is King, but is revealed as King through others, and often unexpected others. Earlier in Luke's Gospel we hear the man with an unclean spirit proclaim “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (4:34b)

That proclamation continues in our reading today at and on the cross. Those closest to Jesus, his friends and his disciples, the ones who know who he is because they have become so close to him as they traveled throughout the region, are now trying to disappear in the crowd. They don't say a word as they watch what is happening over the shoulders of others. They don't throw themselves at the leaders and soldiers to stop the execution of their leader – their King.

No, the truth about who Jesus is comes unwittingly from the lips of those killing and mocking him.

The leaders name him “the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (23:35b)

The soldiers taunt him with sour wine and dare him to save himself, calling him “King of the Jews.” (23:37)

And a criminal hanging beside him calls him “Messiah,” (23:39b)

In their words meant to hurt and discredit, they actually speak powerful truth.

In Jesus we get a portrait of the kind of King we really need, the One who can and is willing to do more for God's creation than any human ever could. A King who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of all creation. One who doesn't respond in kind to those mocking him, but who answers with ridiculously generous forgiveness for those who are killing him … “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”(23:34).

A King who responds with radical and abundant grace when a second criminal asks to be remembered by Jesus. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” he says to a man who has admitted his guilt in a capital offense.

In Jesus we get a King who doesn't even look like most kings and leaders we are familiar with in our very Westernized first-world point of view .. even physically … we might remember as we recall this story … this story of a dark skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired, first century, Middle Eastern man who hangs on a cross flanked by two similar looking men. Physically, they would more resemble pictures of lynched slaves than any of us in this room.

This, this is our King! Hung on a cross, naked, vulnerable and at the mercy of unforgiving and cruel hands.

This is our King. And he sets the bar impossibly high for our kings of humanity.

Our kings … like our political leaders, the leaders of this church, our pastors and our bishops, our matriarchs and patriarchs, those who have received their share and more of God's abundance in creation, those in this world who have a strong and accepted voice and the ability to influence the world around them.

Our kings … like money and our deep appetites for things – things that make our lives easier, more interesting, prettier, cooler, the latest update … things and practices that often break the backs of others in order to meet market demands and make decent profits.

Our kings … like whatever is taking over our calendars at the expense of what we do to love God and love one another, what we do to raise our children in those beliefs and values, what we do to nurture each other in the promise of our baptisms as today's children of Abraham, today's followers of Jesus' Way.

Our kings … like matters of the flesh that get the better of us and begin to rule us, demanding more and more of our time and energy until pretty soon all we can see or hear or taste or feel is the cancer, the addiction, the anxiety ... only to find God's promise of loving and faithful presence is being drowned out over and over again.

So once more, I'll ask that you turn to your neighbors for a few minutes and talk about where in your lives you feel strongly that Christ is King … and then where in your lives you struggle to let Christ be King …

***

It is an ongoing process of growth and understanding, I think, to let Christ the King into all the places of our lives … big and small, hidden and apparent, broken and whole.

But our faith tells us that as we do that, as we continue to grow into this God-centered life for which we are created, we find that we are able to keep these temporary and flawed kings of our earthy lives in proper perspective to Jesus our eternal and perfect King.

We recognize more easily that even in our pain and suffering, Christ ... this King ….  goes with us as God pours grace like anointing oil over our heads and into every part of our lives.

And like those who hung our Redeemer on that cross and mocked him, like the criminal who asked to be remembered in the eternal Kingdom, we too receive these undeserved and unleashed gifts of forgiveness and eternal life with God because …

… This. This is our King, Jesus, the servant, the brown baby from a dirty manger, the Christ.

And this conversation we've had today is one I pray we continue over our whole lives. But for now, I'll close this particular chapter of it with something from my favorite poet-theologian, Walter Brueggemann.

We wait … but not patiently

Blessed are thou, king of the universe!

          We name you king, lord, master, governor

                   and by such naming we relieve our deep anxieties

                             in confidence at your rule.

                   And yet … we notice your stunning irrelevance

                             to issues of the day

                             that require hands-on attention.

          We name you king and pray daily for your coming kingdom.

                   And yet … we also notice that you creep over

                             into violence and oppressive demand.

          We name you king and loudly proclaim that your messiah

                   will come again, come soon, in glory and power.

                   And yet … all the while, we grow weary

                             with the brutal powers of the day.

          We name you king and wait for your show of

                   vulnerability and mercy and compassion

                   that will “new” the world and heal our common life.

          We name you, and we wait … but not patiently.

Blessed are thou, king of the universe! Amen.
(Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven and Rooted in Earth [2003, Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress] 168

 

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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