Christ the King Sunday
Today is Christ the King Sunday. I’m not going to lie, it’s a celebration I tend to overthink; I do it every year. Culturally speaking, we don’t really know what to do with royalty. So every year I ask myself the same questions: how do I understand what it means to have a king in a democratic society? What does a king actually do? How is Christ’s rule different from other authorities?
And again, I asked myself these same questions twelve months ago, but that was twelve months ago! How am I supposed to remember what I overthought a year ago?
So on the one hand, it’s enough to make one wonder, “Maybe I should think about this more than once a year. Maybe I forget the meaning of keeping Jesus as my true ruler because one day a year is not the kind of devotion my king requires of me. Maybe, to call Christ our one True King, means that he is the king of everything: all that we have, all that we do, all that we say, all that we think; even our very lives.”
But on the other hand, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe, the kingship of Jesus means that it isn’t about me at all. Maybe Jesus is going to be the King of Kings whether I remember it or not. Maybe, Christ the King Sunday is less about my remembering that he is king and more about remembering what kind of king he is and was and always will be.
I think that one of my biggest problems in understanding Jesus as my King is that I don’t tend to have a healthy respect for authority to start with, especially when it comes to the government. A long time ago I gave up having any political affiliation. I did this for some good spiritual reasons but I also did it because I was just fed up with political parties; and they’ve only gotten worse. Although most politicians use the name of Jesus for their own personal gain, I don’t think any party really embodies the heart of Jesus (and I don’t think any party ever will). Needless to say, I don’t trust any of them. When politicians use faith to gain power, they are no longer talking about the same Jesus I am.
But that’s a bit beside the point. The point is, I don’t think any of us really understands what it means to be ruled; we don’t know what it means to have a king, especially what it meant in Jesus’ day. We are about to enter the season of Advent–the season of preparation for the coming of the Messiah–the time of preparation for the child born King of Kings. We hold him up as the one anointed by God to be the savior of the world. But do we really understand what that all means?
“Christ the King” is an interesting and an important title. Unlike most monarchies of our day, being a king really meant something in Jesus' day. A king was the most powerful human being on earth. In Jesus’ day, there was no room my kind of cynicism and distrust. The king secured a nation’s order and peace. The king was the embodiment of a nation’s identity. He was honored, respected, and served; a king was revered, feared, and obeyed; or else.
But who, in our day, commands that kind of devotion? In our society, the individual is king. No one is better than us. No one is ultimately more important than we are as individuals. No one is worthy of our unquestioning obedience and our undying dedication. We are our own kings.
For me, that’s the most important reason to remember Jesus as king: to remember that I am not. Me being king, even of myself, is a really bad idea. It’s a bad idea because I don’t love myself nearly as much as Jesus does.
There were a couple reasons why I was drawn to this Scripture lesson today. The first being the sheer grandeur of John’s description of the God he serves: “Him who is and who was and who is to come… and Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” That is the humbling reminder that we all need to hear from time to time. We tend to think that we can be kings of our lives just fine, but John reminds us that Jesus can do it better every time.
But even more than that, this same king is the one, “who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Amen?
As I already pointed out: we’re about to enter the Advent Season. As we anticipate the coming of Jesus, I love that we do it first remembering that the one we wait for is the King of Kings. This one who is and was and is to come, is also the same one who came into this world in humility. This King of kings, who is most highly exalted, is the also the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood. That is a remarkable thought. That is our king, and the kingdom he calls us to is shaped by that same humility and self-sacrifice.
Notice where and when that kingdom exists. John draws us to cast our gaze into the future when our Savior will return, but that’s not when and where the kingdom starts. John reminds us that Jesus has already “made us to be a kingdom.” Not to wait for a coming kingdom; not to live in some place called a kingdom; but to be that very kingdom. The fancy, seminary word for it is “incarnation,” which really just means “to embody.” We are to embody the spirit of our Savior; we are to embody his kingdom in the ways we live our lives. We embody our king, much like the way he took on our form and embodied our humanity. And we’re meant to do it here and now.
Last Sunday I told you a little about the conference I went to. I told you about the “rule of life” it helped me design: meaning that, rather than being ruled by life, in the many ways it comes at me, I came up with certain practices that help rule my life based on the things I actually value. This is key, I think, to what it means to embody the kingdom of Jesus. The kingdom is not just going to build itself. Sure the Spirit will meet us and help it to grow in us, but you have to seek it too. We have to develop practices that will help us embody the kingdom. The good news is, I can help with that.
We did an exercise at the conference that helped us to determine what our core values were. My top values, by far, all had to do with deepening and fostering relationships; that’s my thing. And then it occurred to me that, as a church, deepening and fostering relationships is one of our top stated values too. And then it occurred to me, maybe it’s not an accident that we share that value; maybe the Spirit had something to do with that. And then it occurred to me that maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that much: deepening and fostering relationships was pretty central to the way Jesus did his ministry. “Follow me,” he said; and his followers not only heard his words, but they watched what he did and got to know him more and more.
So I had all these things occur to me all at once and then I thought of a practice. It’s a practice I started doing a while back, but it occurred to me that I could invite you to do it too. It’s a practice that will help you to embody the kingdom of Jesus and live into a shared core value. And best of all, it’s easy and you’re going to love it.
We’re going to start just during these next four weeks leading up to Christmas. What you’re going to do is take one person a week from this church and intentionally get to know them better. So between now and Christmas, you are going to deepen your relationship with four different people. I guarantee you, there are new things you can learn about every single person in this church. You can pick a time and place to meet up during the week or you can talk during Fellowship time; just do it on purpose. If you need conversation starters, I have a list of twenty questions that I stole from something else, but remember you are just deepening relationships.
It may seem overly simple, but this is embodying the kingdom of our Savior; this practice does, in it’s own simple way, live out a value we share with our Risen Savior, and in so doing, we live out his rule in us.