Jesus' Kingdom

John 18:33-37 - Christ The King Sunday

Today, in many parts of the Christian Church, is celebrated as "Christ the King" Sunday. And I got to thinking, who is it in the church that folks tend to hold up as the most perfect person, or at least the one from whom they expect perfection?

A mother called her son on Sunday morning to make sure he got out of bed and was ready for church. "I'm not going," he replied. "Yes, you ARE going, so get out of that bed!" his mother demanded. "I'm not going," he said. "All they do is complain and bicker. They don't like the music or sermon or the heat or the air conditioning." "You're still going," his mother said. "Give me one good reason why I should go," her son said. "I'll give you three good reasons. One, I'm your mother, and I say you're going. Two, you're forty years old, so you're old enough to know better and not let that stuff bother you. And three, you have to be there because you're the pastor."

You know, after hundreds of years of ministers, people still expect the pastor to be some sort of 'perfect' example. Only Christ should be the perfect example to emulate. And in some countries that still have Kings and Queens, they are also looked at to be the perfect example. But we know both in history and present day that those folks are NOT perfect examples.

Today is "Christ The King" Sunday. This day has been celebrated as such since instituted by the Roman Catholic church in 1925 when it was set for the last Sunday of October. It appears that Lutherans got on board also. But in 1969, after Vatican II, it became the fixed date on the calendar-the last Sunday of the church year, before the beginning of Advent. Lutherans celebrate Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday of October. I'll say at the outset that I am not fond of the title "King" and not fond of designating this Sunday as "Christ the King".

In today's world it gets harder and harder to identify with the term "King" because we have such bad or weak examples of "King." We have in history terrible examples of Kings who were blood-thirsty, Kings who didn't care at all about those over whom they ruled and exploited and abused them; we have examples of Kings who were weak, just a figurehead with no political power, which is pretty much the examples we have today of Kings or Queens-decadent, soft, too refined.

Frankly, I don't want to think of Christ as a King. It makes him distant from me, unreachable, unconcerned, just a person of power who doesn't care what happens to me or anyone else in the exercise of that power; it doesn't matter who gets stepped on in the maintaining of that power. No, I can't think of Jesus the Christ, in terms of being a King. I just can't relate to that.

He has the power and authority, no doubt about it. But he calls me his

"friend." He knows me; I'm not just a nameless, faceless subject. He calls me 'friend." He cares about what happens to me.

Isn't there a better term (after all, the church just came up with this term in the 20th century) to use to celebrate this last Sunday of the church year where we celebrate the all surpassing power and might and authority of our risen Savior? Yes, we could call it "Christ The Servant Sunday," because he came to serve, not to be served. But that doesn't convey the authority and power aspect of Christ.

I think we can get some hints that Jesus was trying to push us to think deeper about what we were assigning to God. Over and over he says the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is like....and then he gives us examples that have no relationship to earthly kings or kingdoms.

In our Gospel lesson today, where he's confronted by Pilate Jesus says, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over...but as it is, my kingdom is not from here." The Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king." Then he gives his answer which has nothing to do with being a King. "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."

He came to "testify to the truth," NOT to be a king. Not to be MADE INTO a king. Not to be used by politicians and power hungry rulers to validate their warmongering ideas; who are our elected rulers yet try to rule as kings as though they had some absolute authority, and not caring about who they step on in order to maintain their power. That's the way Jesus gets used today. As though he were some pawn shoved from one issue to another to validate some warped idea from a leader-whether a political or a religious one.

Jesus did NOT come to be an earthly king. He did NOT come to have some earthly dominion. Jesus wants us to look DEEPER than our own ambition. DEEPER than our own ideas. DEEPER than what the world wants us to believe about him. DEEPER than what the world has made him into. He wants us to go DEEPER to see what power he has given to US so that we can be IN this world, but not OF it. That is, we can live in this world and function in this world, but what we strive to accomplish has an impact on this world that comes from another power-a power within, not a worldly, political power.

In our attempts to understand the kingdom that Jesus was speaking of, we push it off into the future-as something that is to come in the future. But Jesus spoke of the kingdom as something being present NOW. He wants us to see that the kingdom of God is actually present now, but it's a hidden reality. Hidden because we don't look for it or explore it. Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, says, "The Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven) is within you" or "in the midst of you."

It's not a visible, tangible reality, but it's real, it's true. Jesus came to testify to the truth-that the power of the risen Christ is NOT just a futuristic matter. It is real, here and now. But it is NOT of this world. It's not a place that can be conquered in some political coup. It cannot be conquered. We already have the victory through Christ as a risen Savior.

He has already unleashed the power of this inner kingdom within. It is there for us to use, but we don't use it. We listen to the world. We approach what Christ was teaching us about the kingdom with great skepticism. We look with skepticism at his teaching regard seeking first the kingdom (going within to listen to what God has to say to us, how God wants to guide us), a new spiritual way of thinking. We keep looking for some visible sign.

The visible sign of the kingdom Jesus is speaking about, HIS kingdom that is not of this world, the visible signs of that are how we treat one another. How we show love to one another. How we try to preserve life and not take it. How we don't solve our problems with force or violence. How we strive for peace at all costs. How we feed the hungry and help the homeless and poor (and not blame them for their own predicament, and reinforce a system that keeps them homeless and poor and hungry). Visible signs of the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of are possible right now. But not JUST at special times of the year where we get all sentimental and charitable like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The truth that Jesus came to testify to was the truth of what the kingdom of heaven really is. And he gave us power by his life and teachings, by his resurrection and victory over death. We have that power. He gave it to us. In the Gospel of John he says, to his disciples and us, his disciples of today, "You will do even greater things than I have done." Why? Because he gave us the power to do it. We can accomplish the things he did if we do it by his power and not ours. Christ has the ultimate power and authority. Not any man or woman. Not any person of this world.

But the power is not here (pointing to the head)-the power is in here (pointing to the heart). That is, the power is not something WE have, that WE can think of or use by our own thinking, but the power is from God, from the spiritual source within each of us. We are NOT just physical beings. We are also SPIRITUAL beings. And it's through the spiritual self, the kingdom of God within, that we can accomplish what Christ wants us to accomplish-to continue to testify to the truth. Jesus the Christ the Savior wants us to continue to testify that: the visible signs of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus came to make known and make real, are the ones that point to love for one another, care for one another, helping one another, taking on a servant role, not a power role. Christ is the power, not us.

I think it's typical of the Church, the Institution, that it would have created a special church holiday to celebrate the power and authority of Christ as a KING, when Christ continually denied that, and lived the role of a servant, a man full of compassion and love. He conquered the world and everything in it, even death, through LOVE, not violence and force. And yet the Christian Church, and by the way, it's only the churches who have a hierarchical system that embrace the King idea (the feast of Christ the King was instituted by the Roman Catholic church, and embraced by the Lutheran and Episcopal ones also). I myself, celebrate, today as Christ the Savior Day. I think anyone who has power over death has all the power and authority needed summed up in the word Savior. THAT is authority! THAT is triumphant! THAT is victory! THAT is power! THAT is LOVE!

Amen. And so it is.

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