Sunday, November 25, 2018

Last Pentecost/Christ the King

November 28, 2018

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37

+ For any of you who have known me for any period of time, you know that, invariably, you will discover that I am very political person. I have very strong political views. Which is something directly opposite of what I was taught as a priest.

I was taught that, despite whatever a priest’s personal political views may be, those views should not come into the pulpit. And, for the most part, I have followed that rule.

I do believe, to a certain extent, that a priest should not be up here sharing their personal political beliefs. Because not everyone in the pews is of the same political view.

Yes, even here at St. Stephen’s, not everyone agrees politically. We have people who cover the full spectrum of politics. And I love that. I love that people who think Donald Trump is the greatest president ever can worship with people who think Donald Trump is not.

I also believe a priest should not share their politics from the pulpit because many people here came from churches and denominations that had clergy who got up and not only shared their political views, but even went so far as to tell people how they should vote. And that, to me, is an absolutely terrible thing.

And just so no one would ever think that I would do that—and I would NEVER do that—I purposely try to avoid politics as much as possible.

The exception for me is when a politician crosses the line and starts advocating for things that oppose the Church or basic human rights or human equality.  And I have spoken out on those issues.  And will continue to do so any time it happens.

But today, on this particular Sunday, we deal, somewhat indirectly, with another kind of politics. Today, we recognize that no matter how terrible or how great a leader may be, there is one leader for us, as Christians, who is the ultimate Leader.

The King of Kings.

On one level, today, of course, is Christ the King Sunday.  It is an important Sunday in the Church. Today marks the End of one Church Year—Year B.  Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent and Church Year C begins.  So, it’s kind of like New Year’s, almost a month early.

You can just kind of feel it. Something is just…happening, at least from our scripture readings.   Advent, that time of preparation for Christmas, is about to happen.  

The Season of Advent is, of course, the season of anticipation—of longing.  And dare I say, maybe a fair share of healthy impatience.

Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I am an impatient person—as anyone who has worked with me for any period of time knows.  Certainly, we, as followers of Jesus, might get a bit impatient about that for which we are longing.  Our journey as followers of Jesus, is filled with anticipation and longing.  

We know, as we make this journey through life, that there is an end to our journey.  We know there is a goal.  But we might not always be aware of what that goal is or even why we’re journeying toward it.

But today, Christ the King Sunday, we get just a little glimpse of that goal. We get to get an idea of what it is we are anticipating.  We get a glimpse of the THE END of the story.  

We are invited, on this Sunday, to see this King—this ultimate Ruler—coming to us on clouds, and on wheels of burning fire.  I, for one, love the drama and the splendor of such an image.

In our readings today—especially our readings from the Prophet Daniel and Revelation, we too, with Daniel and the Apostle John, get a glimpse of what it is we are hoping for, what we are striving for.  We see a glimpse of the One we, as Christians, recognize as Christ—that Alpha and Omega—that Beginning and End—that Anointed One who is seated at the right hand of God and who is coming to us on the clouds.

But the Christ we see in our own collective vision this morning is not the humble carpenter, the amazing miracle worker, or the innocent newborn baby we are anticipating in a month’s time.  The Christ we encounter today is the traditional Cosmic Christ—this Christ who is limitless, who is all-powerful, who transcends time and place.  This Christ is there at God’s side, the One God has sent to us as ruler, who has come to us as God’s spoken Word.  The Christ we encounter this morning is coming to us on clouds, yes, but he also comes to us while standing on the throne of the Cross—an about-to-be condemned criminal—engaging in a conversation with Pontius Pilate about who he is.  The Christ we encounter today is crowned, yes—but he is crowned with thorns.

This message of Christ the King, Christ the Ruler is never more meaningful for us right now, in our own country, with a nation divided over its leaders.

And there IS division, sadly enough. I am hearing it from both sides of the issue.  We are seeing our families divided over politics. We are seeing friends who are avoiding and separating themselves from each other.  There has been much fear-mongering in the air.

And, as we know, fear-mongering is not an option for us as Christians. FEAR is not an option for as a Christians.

This King we celebrate today—this King crowned as he is with a crown of thorns—he is the Ruler of all of us, no matter who the rulers on earth may be. And because he is our ruler, in him whatever divisions—especially political divisions—there are between are eliminated.   After all, he too lived in a world of terror and fear, in a world of division, where fear and terror were daily realities in his life.

This is the Christ we encounter as well today.  The Christ we encounter today is Christ our King, Christ our Priest, Christ our ultimate Ideal. But he is also so much more than that.

He is also the one that some would also judge as Christ the Rebel, Christ the Misfit, Christ the Refugee, Christ the Failure.  And what the Rebel, the Misfit, the Refugee, the Failure shows us powerfully is that God even works through such manifestations. God works through rebellion, through being ostracized, through failure even.  And this is a very real part of our message on Christ the King Sunday.

In the midst of the brokenness of Christ, God is ultimately truly victorious. And because of what God does in Christ we too, even despite our own brokenness, despite our own  rebelliousness, despite our own failures, we too will ultimately triumph in Christ.

The King we encounter on this Sunday, the King that awaits us at the end of our days, is not a despotic king.  The King that we encounter today is not a King who rules with an iron fist and makes life under his reign oppressive.  This King is not some stern Judge, waiting to condemn us to hell for what we’ve done or not done or for who we are.

But at the same time the King we honor today is not a figurehead or a soft and ineffective ruler.  Rather, the King we encounter today is truly the One we are following, the One who leads us and guides us and guards us.  This King does not allow us to have fear as an option in our lives.  This King eliminates our divisions.  The King we encounter today is the refugee, the misfit, the rebel, the outcast, the marginalized one, who has triumphed and who commands us to welcome and love all those who are marginalized and living with terror and fear in their own lives.

And his Kingdom, that we anticipate, is our ultimate home.  We are all—all of us, every single one of us, no matter who we are—, at this moment, we are citizens of that Kingdom of God, over which God has put the anointed One, the Christ.  That Kingdom is the place wherein each of us belongs, ultimately.

You have heard me say it in many, many sermons that our job as Christians, as followers of Jesus, is to make that Kingdom a reality.  You hear me often talking about the Kingdom breaking through into our midst.  That’s not just poetic talk from the pulpit.  It is something I believe in deeply.

The Kingdom—that place toward which we are all headed—is not only some far-off Land in some far-away sky we will eventually get to when we die.  It is a reality—right here, right now.  That Kingdom is the place which breaks into this world whenever we live out that command of Jesus to love God and to love one another.

When we act in love toward one another, the Kingdom of God is present among us. Again, this is not some difficult theological concept to grasp.  It is simply something we do as followers of Jesus.  When we love, God’s true home is made here, with us, in the midst of our love.  A kingdom of harmony and peace and love becomes a reality when we sow seeds of harmony and peace and love.  And, in that moment when the Kingdom breaks through to us, here and now, we get to see what awaits us in our personal and collective End.

As we prepare for this END—and we should always be preparing for the END—we should rejoice in this King, who is the ruler of our true home.  And we should rejoice in the fact that, in the end, all of us will be received by that King into that Kingdom he promises to us, that we catch glimpses of, here in this place, when we act and serve each other out of love for one another. The Kingdom is here, with us, right now.  It is here, in the love we share and in the ministries we do.

So, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us ponder the End, but let us remember that the End is not a terrible thing.  The End is, in fact, that very Kingdom that we have seen in our midst already.  For us the End is that Kingdom—a Kingdom wherein there is a King who rules out of love and concern for us.

“I am the Alpha—the beginning—and the Omega—the End,” Jesus is saying to us.

But in our End, we truly do find our beginning.

“To [God] be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Amen.

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