Christ the King, 2009, St. Andrew’s, Rapid City,
Virginia Bird, Deacon
There are a number of words in Scripture that all mean ‘king’: the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’, the Greek word ‘Christ’, and the phrase ‘the anointed one’. And there is another important one – ‘shepherd’; shepherd is often used as a metaphor for king. So, one of my favorite hymns “The king of love my shepherd is” could be read as ‘the king of love my king is’. This is perhaps the heart of today’s feast of Christ the King. It is important for us to recognize the uniqueness of Christ’s kingship.
Through a covenant relationship, God chose the Hebrew people to be God’s special people. They were chosen, not because they were better than others, but in order to bring others to know God. People worshipped many different gods and at first the Israelites did not deny the existence of other gods, but rather through the covenant with God agreed to be faithful to the one God who sought them out. It was not until later that they came to the understanding that there was only the one God, and that all the other so called gods that peoples worshipped, were really “no-gods”.
Last week we heard about Hannah’s struggle with her barrenness and how God answered her prayer and gave her a son, who she dedicated to God. That child Samuel grew to serve as priest, prophet, and judge for the people of Israel. As time went on, God’s covenant people began to look around, at the neighboring nations. They said to Samuel, by now an old man, “we want a king like the rest of the nations have”. Samuel complained to God about the people’s request and God responded by saying, give them what they want; it is not you they are turning from Samuel, it is me, God, they are rejecting.
So Samuel went to the people with God’s words of wisdom and warning. He told them, “’These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”’ But the people, hearing this from Samuel, still wanted a human king over them like the other nations had, one to lead them out and fight their battles. And so Saul was anointed to be their king; and he was followed by David and David by Solomon. After Solomon’s reign, the kingdom of Israel divided into a Northern kingdom and a Southern kingdom. And Holy Scripture gives us the names of king after king. And we read also of battle after battle and of court intrigues and betrayals and the misuse of power, time and again. The way of kingship has been a way of holding power over others for self gain. In Matthew’s gospel is written: “in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jew’s?’ For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”’ You can bet that anytime King Herod was troubled all Jerusalem was trembling in their boots. In this instance his murderous brutality was directed at young children…the massacre of the innocents.
But Christ the King is not like any other king. Jesus’ way is not the way of Herod. The king of love our shepherd is. When Pilate is seeking the charge against Jesus, he asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews, for Rome would allow no king to be recognized aside from Caesar. Jesus doesn’t answer directly. ‘King’ would not be a helpful description, for Pilate understood kingship in a very specific way, the way of lording power over others; the way of military force and of might makes right. You say that I am a king” replies Jesus. And then he tells Pilate who he really is: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Jesus came to bear witness to the truth, and he did so by what he said and by all that he did; every aspect of his life and death and his being raised by God was testimony to the truth. Michael Casey, a Benedictine monk, says that ‘truth’ is the conformity of the created world to the will of the creator. Jesus’ way is the way of truth. Pilate would never in a million years understand Jesus to be a king, even though he ordered the title “the King of the Jews” be nailed above Jesus’ head on the cross.
Jesus just never did act like kings act. The king of love this king is. His power is the power of love. He went to the cross without a fight, refusing to participate in the way of violence. “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” It is important that we note here, Jesus does not say his kingship or reign is outside the world; he says it is not “of”, not from, the world…the world is not its origin.
There was a re-birth of creation that began with the resurrection of Jesus. It is both a present reality and a future hope not yet completely fulfilled. Having a place under Christ’s universal and endless reign, we might ask ourselves, what is the proper way to live our life day to day, in such a kingdom? I think the teachings of Christ gathered in the Sermon on the Mount, and within that most particularly the Beatitudes, may be our guide and wisdom. If Christ is king, if the king of love is reigning, all of life must be re-oriented; old ways of life and power can no longer be applied.
To recognize that Christ is king, first of all, calls for us to repent…that is, to turn from our ways, to His ways. To put our trust in Him (not in armies or money or technology or self-help)…and to be able to put our trust in Christ means to be in a growing relationship with Him. We are called to a very different standard of living in Christ’s kingdom. Life in Christ’s kingdom is not about getting; it is about receiving. And it is about sharing and serving, and yes, suffering for and with others. And Jesus shows us more than once the error of trying to accomplish even good and worthy things, through inappropriate ways and means.
Christ the King reigns now and for evermore. Let us proclaim that blessing in word, and more importantly in deed, each and every day of our life.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
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