John 18: 33-37
Christ the King Sunday
This is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent starts. It’s located that way to remind us that, as Jesus is being born, in the most humble way imaginable; as a child of an unwed mother in a backwater town of the Roman Empire, not even a citizen of that Empire, but rather a native of an occupied country and people, he is still the King of the Universe. No matter how small, how pitiful, how out on the ragged edge this child gets, we know where he ends up.
We talk about mangers, we talk about shepherds, and censuses (censusi?), we talk about all the trappings of poverty and dislocation, but the story ends up with the baby being the savior of all humanity.
This is an easy enough concept if you live in medieval times, and I’m the only one in the room who can read, and the women are all on one side of the church, and all the men are on the other side, but we don’t live in medieval times. Families sit together, everyone can read, and the church is lit with electricity.
We live in a country that, 200 years ago, spent a lot of blood and treasure to NOT have a king. It’s instructive that, when I asked a child in the children’s sermon what a King does, he said he couldn’t remember. You’re never going to find a British kid who says that. You’re never going to find a Saudi kid who says that. We, as Americans, don’t really know what a king is for. For some of us, having a federal government and a President is bad enough. To have a king, who owns us and all of our talents, and gifts, and all of our output, down to the children we bear? That’s not going to happen. I don’t think any American would buy that, no matter what political persuasion.
So, what does it mean to have a King? So what does it mean for Jesus to be our king?
Can I suggest to you that perhaps the reason why we reject royalty, as Americans, is because we value our own decisions? We value the fact that we can rise and fall on our own talents? Our own choices? Yes, we make bad choices, yes, we make difficult decisions that affect the rest of our lives, but generally, it is our own choice. This makes us a little more noble; gives us a little more dignity. If we’re told what to do, or where to do it, or how fast to do it; if we’re told, like Pharaoh told the Israelites to makes the mud bricks without straw, knowing full well the bricks are inferior, we lose dignity. But if we don’t do it, we know we’ll be killed, so we do it, knowing full well it isn't our best work. This is why we don’t trust kings.
But when we say that Christ is our king, can I suggest that perhaps we can say this because Christ alone is trustworthy enough for us to give that assent to? He says “My Kingdom is not of this world”. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is the universe. It doesn't work like civil government does. It doesn't work like England, or Sweden, or the Sultan of Brunei. To act as if we are loyal subjects can be a spiritual discipline.
Imagine you are a medieval blacksmith. You sharpen plows, make horseshoes, and other maintenance. But in time of war, each of those projects are set aside, and you are compelled to make swords, build armor, and other weapons. In times of castle construction, you are required to make grates for windows, hallway torch racks, and such like. You are compelled because your kingdom requires it of you. You can sell some stuff, you can create some stuff, sure, but if the local royal needs something, your stuff is set aside. The trade off is already arranged-the local royal owns your house, your lands, and your materials. You eat food from fields the royal owns. You can’t hunt in the forest. Your work and all your output is not yours, but it is the royals’.
Now, because we were born in a country that has not had a system like this for 230 some-odd years, we’re all thinking in our heads, Nope, that’s not us!”
But can I suggest to you that this is exactly what we are called to do in the name of Christ? All that we have, and all that we are, are to be put into the service of the Kingdom of God?
That may not sound too palatable, given the picture that I just drew. It’s probably not a great tool for describing the positives of being a Christian. But if we are the people of God, that means we have pledged ourselves to serve God, and we have salvation.
In fact, here’s a difference; in an earthly kingdom, we receive the protection of the local royal in exchange for the service we provide, though with extreme coercion. In Christ, we offer our gifts and talents in service to God in gratitude for the salvation we have already received, and are assured of.
All that we have, and all that we are, will not be used to make war with anyone. Instead, it will all be used to share that message of grace with everyone.
Say you have a job as an accountant. There are two ways to do the job; one is to do the work shoddily, and never check your work, and to not care when mistakes are made. The other is to be conscientious, to check your work, and do everything you can to give the best, fairest, and most honest tax return you can. Which way gives glory to God? Which way is a testament? This is true about homework, about care giving, about fighting fires, about any output we generate, down to the cake we bake, or the turkey we smoke.
For us, the good way not only gives testament to the love of God, it also marks us as loyal subjects of a kingdom. The subjects of a king who is the ONLY one we will ever serve. It’s a good thing to know that this person we have pledged our loyalty to is the only perfect person. And when we serve this one being, the output is always love.
Isn't that a fair trade? Only love, only grace, only forgiveness, only peace. That’s a pretty good king. And we’re loyal subjects when that is what we spread in the name of the kingdom.