Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, November 22, 2009

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

My kingdom is not from this world.

The only way to get along in this world, whether you are a student in school, an employee in the business world, a politician, a member of the clergy, a taxpayer, a patient in a hospital, or even just a member of a family, is to learn where the power is in the system and then learn how to play the system to your advantage. We all do this, in overt and covert ways, every day. We do it to get ahead, to help others, to cover our rear, and just plain to survive. We hold our finger up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, and we adjust our plans accordingly. We may hunker down and wait for the storm to pass; we may pick our battles carefully; we may call in our chips when we feel it is time to be repaid for what we have done for others. We know how to go along to get along, and we make it our business to know who has power and how to use that knowledge of power to our advantage.

That is the system Pilate knows. That is the system that Daniel knows. That is the system that the Roman Emperors know. That is the system that every earthly ruler knows, whether tyrant or democratically elected.

And that is the system that Jesus rejects. That is why Pilate cannot figure Jesus out.

Jesus says, My kingdom is not from this world. Jesus isn’t playing the system--he is outside the system, outside the kingdoms and nations and power structures and business models. And the powers that be in this world have no power, no authority, over him. Later in the Gospel, Pilate says to Jesus, “Don’t you know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus then answers, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” Pilate thinks he is calling the shots here, but he isn’t; the only one with any real power is Jesus, who has been given authority by His Father in heaven.

Jesus frightens Pilate, just as he has frightened the religious authorities of his day; and just as he has frightened every power and ruler since. Jesus and his followers are really quite subversive. We agree to submit to the authority of earthly rulers in order to maintain proper order and to show respect for God by showing respect for those people and institutions which He has set up to rule. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we have no king but Jesus. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, of the Ancient of Days whose throne is fiery flames, who is the true bringer of peace, who is and was and is to come.

Daniel and John know this truth. The real action is not with the rulers of the earth, even though the visions of their lies and wicked deeds are terrifying and have real consequences for the earth and her peoples. In spite of all that, however, the real action lies not with the beasts and the disasters and the plagues and the tyrants, but in fact it lies with God and with his kingdom. In spite of all of the terrible things that are unleashed upon the people of God, Daniel and John assure us that it is God who reigns with supreme authority and power. Especially in Revelation, over and over we are shown the real command center: the throne of God and the thousands upon thousands of angels and creatures and martyrs and witnesses who continually praise and worship and serve the Ancient of Days, and the one who has been given dominion over everything that exists.

This has real consequences for us here. There is only one kingdom that matters, to which we owe all of our loyalty, our allegiance, and our very life. And that is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the beginning and the end. And the Kingdom of God cannot and must not be confused with any earthly kingdom, nation or government. Nor can the Kingdom of God be identified with any particular political system, much less any political party.

Does this mean that there are no political consequences for following Jesus? On the contrary, it means that we are free to “do politics”: that is, to discuss and study and debate who is really our king, and what kind of a king he is. If we believe that the Kingdom of God is real, that it exists now in all its glory, even though we cannot yet see it, and that the Kingdom of God and of the Lamb is our true home and country, then every decision we make is made under the rules of that kingdom. And if you want to know the rules of the Kingdom of God, read the 19th chapter of Leviticus (in fact, I wish I could forbid anyone from reading the 20th chapter until they had not only read the 19th, but had become perfect in following its commands), or read Psalm 50, or the 58th chapter of Isaiah, or the 6th chapter of Micah, or the 25th chapter of Matthew, or the 14th -16th chapters of Luke.

But the biggest consequence is knowing that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God not by what we have done, but by what has been done for us by God. In all of these readings today, the real actor is God. For the love of us, and of all people in this world, Jesus has freed us from our sins by his blood, he has covered up our failures with his righteousness, and has made us to be a kingdom, priests serving the Father. It will take us the rest of our lives to learn how to live as servants of such a King: but by the grace of God, we have the rest of our lives, and then more. Until that time when we join those standing around the throne, Jesus will not fail to speak the truth into our hearts, and into our world; and we can practice our songs of allegiance even as we pray the oldest prayer of the church: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.