”Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this, I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:37
When David became king of the Israelites it was at the request of the people. God did not intend for the people to have generations of kings to rule over them. But the people clamored to be like the surrounding nations. I suspect that like many folks they had a deep desire to be told what to do. Or perhaps God seemed too distant and they desired an earthly ruler with whom they could have personal interaction.
This idea of the “divine right of kings” was the foundation of the authority of monarchs in many ages and nations. If the people believed that their rulers were designated by God then they had no choice but to obey them…even if the laws and decisions they handed down appeared unjust or whimsical. The idea of self-governance ….by the people and for the people is relatively recent and as we see with the disturbing rise in support of authoritarianism there are many who do not necessarily want self-rule.
But our concern here is not with secular governments but with the rule of the heart and mind. The sovereignty of Christ is the focus of our readings for this Christ the King Sunday. While modern Christians are often uncomfortable with the language of monarchy and kingship this is the terminology that is used in our sacred texts to discuss both the heavenly and earthly dominion of God the Father and God the Incarnate Son. Even when we mix our metaphors, “the King of Love my shepherd is” there remains this idea of one who leads us by divine right….one to whom we owe fealty and who will govern and judge us with equity and justice.
Unlike earthly kings, our Lord Jesus Christ is not driven to decide or act by ego or appetite but in all things is true to the law of love and seeing every one of us as we truly are, understands why we feel or act as we do…even when we ourselves are confused or blind to our own motivations. The Kingdom of God, both as manifested on earth and in heaven is built on justice and equality….God is no respecter of persons so there is no upper or lower class in this kingdom. Resources are to be shared equally, from each according to ability to each according to need. There is no need for a standing army for there are no borders to protect…all are welcome….and all live in peace and quietness held safe in the deep abiding love of God.
To the cynic, this is a pie-in-the-sky dream but to the person of faith, this is the promise of God for his people. When Jesus stood before Pilate he admitted that his kingdom was not of this world but that does not mean that this kingdom is not real…only that is not yet fully realized. Every time we, as the servants of the one true King, speak or act in love…every time we let ourselves consider Christ when we make decisions in our secular lives we bring the Kingdom a little closer. Every time we come together in fellowship with one another and with Christ we experience a bit of the Kingdom coming among us. We recognize it when we are experiencing it and are called to live as we would if it were fully here.
But we must not be mistaken about the nature of the Kingship of Christ. Unlike earthly monarchs and rulers who set themselves above the people….who live in excess of luxury while the poor struggle to survive on crumbs, the defining characteristic of Christ’s rule is sacrifice. Because our own economic structures are based on consumption and greed, competition and self-aggrandizement we find it difficult to accept one who would willingly give up everything for the sake of someone else….of everyone else.
Because we have been taught to value stuff and to crave wealth we create kings and queens of industry and entertainment and waste hours watching television and internet programs that follow their lives of obscene consumption as they live out their petty and contrived dramas in front of the camera. Even the very poor play the lottery or other games of chance hoping to beat the odds and become one of the rich and famous. All the while we devalue the simple joys of true friendship…the kindness of strangers….service…faith….love. Things without a price that cannot be bought…only given and received.
The example our sovereign Lord Jesus set for us to follow was one of sacrifice…giving up what one has…..even to one’s life for the sake of another…not because the other person somehow deserves it …not evaluating who is worthy and who is not…..but giving up oneself without question and without judgment because love demands it….to gain life we must be willing to give it up…because in the end, this is the only thing of value we have to offer.
When Christ offered up his life for us, it was while we were yet sinners. He held nothing back and in giving up his earthly life gained for us all the promise of eternal life when our time here is done. We will take nothing with us when we die other than the memories of the love we have shared. All of the shiny stuff and things that seemed so important will become as dust to us and the only thing that will matter is how much and how well did we love. The only value wealth and power have is measured in how much good we can do…how much love we can show….how much pain we can relieve…how much joy we give.
The Kingdom of God ruled by our sovereign Lord Christ is not a kingdom of this world and in many ways is the antithesis of earthly kingdoms. In the Kingdom of God, the first will be last and the last will be first…the meek are exalted and the mighty are humbled…the poor are lifted up and given to in abundance and the rich are encouraged to give away their wealth. Self-sacrifice is the rule of the day and the children of God spend their days making peace.
Christ the King Sunday marks the end of the season after Pentecost and next week we will move into Advent as the Church year begins anew. Let us prepare ourselves for the Advent of our Lord by focusing our minds on the true image of Christ the King….not this gloriously arrayed King we see in our window or even Christ the Pantocrator sitting on his thrown as depicted in our icon but instead let us focus on the King of Glory. Jesus, the man…his hands bound…a crown of thorns on his head…holding the rod that was used to beat him.
This is the God Incarnate who, of his own volition, laid down all the power of heaven and earth and gave himself up to suffer for us. This is true Kingship…the sovereignty of love. This is the Lord whom we are called to follow…through life and death into eternal life. All glory and honor be to the One seated on the throne of heaven…the man …the king…the Lord. Amen.