Christ the King—11/22/15
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Pr. Scott Kramer
I share with you this morning a quote:
…Individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace… the old rivalries between nations have not ceased to exert their influence… the nations of today live in a state of armed peace which is scarcely better than war itself, a condition which tends to exhaust national finances, to waste the flower of youth, to muddy and poison the very fountainheads of life–physical, intellectual, religious, and moral.
Words for our time, don’t you think? But these are the words of Pope Pius XI in 1922. This was the basis for his decision in 1925 to institute for the first time the Feast of Christ the King, which Lutherans—with Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others–celebrate this day.
Christ the King is the last Sunday of the church year, a day to remember who we are. It’s a little like a final exam, to test what we believe to be most important.
How many of you have Twitter accounts? Twitter, as you may know, requires messages to be 140 characters or less—not words but characters! That’s about two sentences. You have to keep it short.
The Bible is God’s Twitter account. You look at this thick book and say, “Are you kidding me?!” But everything from Genesis to Revelation can be reduced to a simple message, much shorter than 140 characters. Christian teaching can be reduced to three words. Over and over again, we find three-word Tweets that remind us of who we are and what’s most important. Some of those are listed on your bulletin, starting with Christ is King. Jesus is Lord. God is Love. Love your enemies. All sins forgiven. All are welcome. In today’s reading from the Book of Revelation we hear others: He loved us, He made us, He freed us. “Alpha and Omega” is another. Any one of these three-word phrases sums up all the others.
God keeps it simple. But our human nature prefers complicated, because complicated is actually a lot easier. For example, the earliest creed of the church was one of these three-word phrases: Jesus is Lord. Pretty simple, right? Well, before long the church came up with something quite a bit longer, called the Apostles’ Creed. And later, something longer and still more complicated, the Nicene Creed. And after a while a much longer creed, called the Athanasian Creed. These creeds continue to bind us to our Christian ancestors, and to our non-Lutheran brothers and sisters around the world. But they lack the power, focus, simplicity and challenge of “Jesus is Lord.”
God keeps it simple. Our human nature prefers complicated, because complicated is actually easier! Think of all the chatter that we add to God’s simplicity: “Love your enemies” is very clear…but very, very hard to practice. Because it’s hard, we make exceptions and excuses out of our own fears and experience that make this bitter pill easier to swallow. In the kingdom of God, simple is hard. Complicated is easier. Human nature prefers complicated and easy.
Two of our readings for today are examples of what we call “apocalyptic” writings. The Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation were written for the sake of people who lived in times of great crisis and uncertainty. When we recognize our own helplessness there is good news. Finally, when we’re at the end of our rope and cry, “I can’t!” there’s at least a chance for God’s grace, love and power to say, “I can!”
Maybe that sense of helplessness is now, or has at some point been part of your story. But one thing is certain: We all have succumbed to the temptation of Pontius Pilate. We prefer easy to simple.
I was at the gym almost every day this past week and spent much of that time on one of the exercise machines. Well, as some of you know, the gym is populated by endless TV screens. And no matter what time of day I was there I noticed that the choices were: basketball games, football games, or Paris bombings. Those are the choices: competition, conflict, and fear.
All are welcome. All sins forgiven. Love your enemies. Pretty hard to swallow! How do these simple, bedrock Christian values stand a chance given the assault we face every day from non-stop chatter. It is so easy to give in to the crowd or to the anxious voices inside our heads.
When Pontius Pilate asks if Jesus is king of the Jews, Jesus sharpens the question: Did you ask this question on your own, he inquires, or, did others tell you about me? This is a trap that Pilate and all of us fall into. We are tempted to base our beliefs not on God’s simple three-word “tweets” but on our own personal, more complicated beliefs: “my experience, my fears, my prejudice, my culture, my traditions.” And we don’t need God for that. It’s so easy to be a “lone ranger.”
Or, as Jesus indicates, it’s just as easy to follow the crowd—to pay attention to what other people say–forming habits of a lifetime on the basis of peer pressure, culture, family, and self-interest. Commentator David Brooks, a writer for the New York Times, in a column this past week said: Religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Where peace is concerned, religious people can be part of the problem more than the solution.
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”—this is the simple, final word. Jesus’ voice—not the chatter of the crowd or the voices inside our heads.
Pope Pius XI founded the Feast of Christ the King because, as he wrote, he deplored the rise of class divisions and nationalism, and held that true peace can only be found under the Kingship of Christ as “Prince of Peace”. “For Jesus Christ reigns over the minds of individuals by His teachings, in their hearts by His love, in each one’s life by the living according to His law and the imitating of His example.”
What’s the pay-off for following Jesus’ teachings and example, for choosing simple instead of easy? If we follow Christ the King, what difference will it make? One answer is right under our noses: Thanksgiving is just days away. Following Christ the King leads to a spirit of thanksgiving, and a spirit of thanksgiving leads to joy. As we find in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, no matter how bad it gets, a spirit of thanksgiving is always a choice. And thanksgiving leads to joy.
In just over a month we will be singing “Joy to the World.” Christ is King. Jesus is Lord. Let joy begin with Christ’s beloved. By God’s grace, power, and love, let joy begin with us.