21 November 2016 | Christ the King
Richmond Hill, Richmond, Virginia
The Sunday we are celebrating – the last Sunday before Advent in the Church’s Liturgical calendar – is known as Christ the King Sunday. This year the Sunday falls in a time of Apocalyse.
The election two weeks ago was an apocalyptic moment, in the true meaning of the word. “Apocalypse” is a Greek word which means literally “Out of Hiding.” Things that are in the closet, things that are hidden, are being revealed. So it was on Tuesday the 8th of November.
That day we received a new leader of the nation – a central figure around whom the nation is defined. In the process, many things were revealed about the state of the nation and the powers in it.
So it was at Jesus’ coronation with a crown of thorns. So it was 19 centuries ago on the day that Jesus was crucified, and in the days which followed when he appeared to disciples after his physical death. The powers of the nation and Roman Empire revealed themselves by crucifying him. But the nature and power of God was also revealed. By the crucifixion and reappearance of Jesus, our ancestors had to face the strange nature of his Messiahship. They got what they wanted momentarily, but it didn’t do what they wanted. The nature and process of Jesus kingship, his Messiahship, began to be revealed after his physical death.
Every time we elect a President – the replacement for a King that our founders invented for this nation – we have an opportunity to examine the kingship of Jesus. Jesus, of course, never formally or politically reigned over Israel or any other nation. If his kingship was the true model, we are measured only by our distance from it.
But if Jesus was or is in any way really Christ the king, his kingship is a mirror, a lens, through which we must view all government each time we look, not only in our neo-royalty we call President, but also in the other ways we have diffused governing power – in legislatures and in our own citizenship.
Every Presidential election is an apocalyptic moment. For a moment we can view the state of the nation and world, and if we look carefully, we can identify the Kingship, the Christship, of Jesus.
- We have a single narrative;
- We have a single set of values; and
- We have a single identifying spirit.
We have a single narrative.
One of the most stunning revelations of the past two weeks is the disclosure that the people of this nation are not listening to the same narrative. There is great division not in people’s opinions about a single narrative, but rather, in the narratives that form people’s opinions.
Revelations of the past week about Fake News and the enormous alt-right media world bring more and more to the surface. Fox News was the mild tip of the right-wing media iceberg. The mainstream media are not regarded as a neutral platform on which most of the citizenry stands, holding intelligent discussions about a mutually acknowledged reality. Churches are desperately divided. The so-called Christianity of one is hardly recognizable to the so-called Christianity of the other.
Building community out of different races, classes, and experiences is always difficult, but how can that be done if there is not even a single narrative to which both parties can relate? What narrative are people living in when they consider it normal to call Hilary a murderer, or Barack Obama a Muslim? Or what narrative are they living in when they think everyone who voted for Trump is a racist? Without a single story, without a unified narrative, we cannot proceed to mutual examination and discussion of reality.
We Christians have a single narrative – the Bible. It has never been so important. We may disagree about its implications; we may quarrel about what it says. But there is a reason that we are people of the Book. That is so that all can claim it, and argue about it, and seek to understand through it. There is no requirement that we come out with the same answer to a particular question – only that the source be held in reverence.
All Christianity is Biblical Christianity. No one has a corner on it. Perhaps people who call themselves Christian need to get down to using the Bible as a platform for some discussions across the chasms that divide.
We have at least one narrative – the most important narrative – in common, and we’d better get to work on it.
The kingship of Jesus is identified by a single set of values.
It is not raw power, not control of the army and political machinery, not money or influence, that identifies the Messiah in Jewish religion, but the values he presents. We see them identified in all of our lessons this evening:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days…Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our Righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:4-6)
[Under Jesus’ kingship we have been] “rescued…from the power of darkness and transferred us into [a] kingdom [where] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…. [I]n him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. …[I]n him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death. (Col 1:13-22)
The values of the true King are righteous behavior and good judgement. All powers are subject to this order and judgement. Righteousness comes before power. There is forgiveness and love. There is service and humility. There is recognition that truth – God’s truth – is primary. The Crucifixion is a great Apocalyptic moment in First Century Judaism because it makes it clear that righteousness is not in charge. Innocence and virtue are crucified. Falsehood and power are victorious.
In this election, we have seen the enormity and confusion of the great principalities and powers that are present in this nation as well as others.
But if any kingship is to go in the direction of the true Messiahship, it must continually strive for righteousness over power, for true judgement, and for finding the correct place for all things, visible and invisible, that make up this nation and make this nation part of the world.
We have a single narrative; we have a single set of values; and
We have a single identifying spirit.
The spirit that is in Jesus – which we call the Holy Spirit – is the central identifier of the Messiahship. If Jesus is not the obvious king of this world, but rather the hidden king, then we see his kingship in the work of his spirit, whether in Presidents, or legislatures, or citizens. Jesus may be winning, but if he is it is not by people claiming to be his representatives as candidates, but rather by people serving him in spirit and truth.
Jesus’ spirit produces the righteousness of God. True order. True faith. True judgement. It brings about truth and reconciliation – the two are partners, twins, in God’s kingdom. Listening. Humility. Love. Forgiveness.
If Jesus is king, — if he is Messiah or Christ – then he is behind the scenes, working in spirit to bring about a world that is able to affirm his kingship. In his teaching, he made clear this long and tortuous path to his disciples – a path in which Messiahship is shared in the spirit:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)
The picture that Paul draws of the world in Colossians is a little like the MRI we got of this nation in this election. Principalities and powers. Prejudices. Violently divergent opinions. It reminded me of some of the illustrations in Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. All the monsters come out of the closet. In this Apocalyptic Moment, much is being revealed. Look quickly. The most important thing we must recognize, behind the curtain, is what it means if we say Jesus is our hidden King. If he is actually the Messiah, the Christ, the King, then
We have a single narrative; We have a single set of values; and We have a single identifying spirit. Because we know who the king is, we can live in this world by faith, hope, and courage as innovative citizens of that kingdom, no matter what our political starting point. AMEN.
The Rev. B. P. Campbell