“The Legacy of The King”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
November 22, 2015: Christ The King Sunday
2 Samuel 23:1-7 & John 18:33-37
Well, if the thermometer has anything to say about it, The Most Wonderful Time of The Year has come to the plains! Just breathing in the air yesterday made me want to eat candy canes and drink hot coffee and wrap up in blankets to watch “Its A Wonderful Life.” It is that time of year, and while we’ve been looking at Christmas trees and listening to Christmas carols in stores since September, the time has really come: turkey and stuffing and bright lights and presents and memories old and new. It is the time of year for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the jolly old elf who always brings up the caboose. It is the time of year for joy and peace on earth and the little baby, wrapped in a manger, looked on adoringly by his parents. It is the time of year for heavy coats and mittens and scarves, for warmth and family and the contemned of full bellies.
It is strange, then, that today, at the start of The Most Wonderful Time of The Year, we encounter Jesus in the palace of Pilate just hours before his execution. According to John, Pilate summons Jesus to appear before him to answer for why the Jewish establishment is so bent on getting rid of Jesus. “Are you the King of the Jews?’ Pilate asks. Jesus answers with, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to them.” It was the moment that Jesus could have claimed power for himself and probably avoided death. If Jesus had declared himself King of The Jews, he would be a problem for the religious leaders to deal with, and they confess earlier in John’s gospel that they have neither the power nor the desire to put him to death. If Jesus would have taken the title King of The Jews for himself, the whole story would have turned out much differently.
But the question still remains: why are we meeting Jesus today at his darkest and most desperate moment when all around we are about to embark on the most joyful time of the year?
Today is Christ The King Sunday, and this powerful passage from John’s gospel fully displays for us the One we call King by our faith. We observe and celebrate this Sunday each year, and it gives us ample time to reflect on the ways that Christ is King over all and how his reign radically transforms and guides our lives as his disciples. I wrote in the church newsletter this week that Christ The King Sunday began early in the 20th century as a way to curb the secularization of Advent and Christmas. Establishing this special day was also a way for the church to keep its member’s eyes on the real reason for the season. On a much deeper level, Christ The King Sunday serves to counterbalance our desire to pledge unflinching allegiance to political kingdoms set up by mortal men and women. By reminding people of faith of the immortal and unchanging reign of King Jesus, the hope is that the legacy of Christ and the good news of the gospel will infiltrate our mortal world to bring about God’s kingdom.
Too often, I think we forget that Jesus came into the world to start a movement, not a religion. The two are very different. The religion of Jesus came long after he ascended into heaven, with the setting up of churches and faith communities and religious schools centuries later. When we read the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, he says nothing about proper preaching or good Sunday school classes or an effective plan for mission and ministry. These are elements of religion. What we do read about in the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus is this itinerant preacher who walked a good portion of the Middle East proclaiming good news to the poor and the nearness of God’s kingdom. We read about this Palestinian Jew who gathered a motley crew of men and women to be his followers, not because they were perfect and good, but because they were a perfect reflection of those Christ came to save. We read about a teacher who taught not just with words, but also with actions; we read about a healer who didn't just say the sick would be healed, but who actually healed them with his own hands.
Jesus came into the world to start a movement, not a religion. And he did this because movements get work done, and religions most of the time analyze the best way to get work done and usually end up not doing anything at all. Jesus was not interested in enjoyable worship or uplifting music or organized distribution of communion. Jesus was interested, as he says in the gospel of Luke, in bringing good news to the poor, in proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, in letting the oppressed go free, and in proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
We see Jesus doing a little of all of these when he takes his place on the crest of a hill and begins teaching the crowds with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Across the pages of three full chapters of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus lays out his vision and plan for the kingdom of God on earth. In his kingdom, total reversals will come to the poor, those who mourn, those who are hungry and thirsty for a better life, and for those who are persecuted because they are merciful and peacemakers. Jesus also places reversals on how his followers approach things like anger, retaliation, and their enemies. In his teaching, Jesus likens anger against a brother or sister to the act of murder. Jesus teaches us that if we are angry with a brother or sister, we should go to them and work out our problems before it escalates to the civil court where there will be no winners. In response to being wronged or injured, Jesus teaches us to give more, to go a second mile if we are forced to walk one. Instead of hating enemies, which only prolongs and strengthens the presence of evil in the world, Jesus teach us to pray for them, to love them, to acknowledge that God is God over all, good and bad.
Further in to what we call The Sermon on The Mount, Jesus teaches us about humble giving and piety. Instead of blowing a trumpet or seeking attention when we give gifts to one another or the church, followers of Jesus do so in secret where only God can see their actions. The same is true with prayer—long prayers with long words spoken loudly in public do nothing: God knows our needs even before we ask. Instead, Jesus says, pray like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors, and do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” With this short and concise prayer, Jesus teaches us how to ask for everything we possibly need, and nothing more.
What else does Jesus teach his followers in The Sermon on The Mount? “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” “Enter through the narrow gate.” “Everyone then who hears these of mine and acts of them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock—the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”
We see Jesus proclaiming release to captives in the story of a paralyzed man who had some very determined friends. The story goes that Jesus had returned to Capernaum and the place where he was staying was swamped with people trying to see him. The paralyzed man and his friends were not able to get to Jesus the traditional way—through the door of the house—so the friends hoist the man onto the roof and proceed to dig through the roof to let the man down on a rope in front of Jesus. Jesus heals the man—releases him. But many scholars believe that Jesus healed the man because of the determination of his friends, not just because the man was paralyzed. Jesus saw in the paralyzed man’s friends a community that took responsibility in caring for the least among them, in ensuring that a differently abled person had every opportunity in life. Jesus did not just heal a paralyzed man and release him; Jesus released the world from the captive thinking that it is all about ‘me,’ giving us all the freedom that comes when we live as ‘us.’
We see Jesus giving sight to the blind, literally and spiritually. Literally, Jesus heals many blind people in the gospels. Spiritually he opens the eyes of his followers with the parable of The Good Samaritan, by showing them that neighbors transcend boundaries of race, creed, and class. Spiritually he opens the eyes of his followers by telling them to take the 2x4 out of their eye before they try to remove the splinter from someone else’s.
We hear Jesus declaring the year of the Lord’s favor in parables about forgiven debt and abundant fields. We hear Jesus declaring the year of the Lord’s favor from the cross when he utters forgiveness on his executioners. In all things, Jesus brings good news to the poor.
This is the legacy of the king, our king, Jesus Christ. He did not come to start a religion, he came to start a movement. This movement is about stripping away those many things that separate us from each other and from God. The movement of Jesus brings real and tangible healing to those who are sick and suffering. The movement of Jesus opens the eyes of the blind in eye and heart and mind. The movement of Jesus does not ostracize or oppress or push away those who are poor or displaced or without a home; the movement of Jesus embraces them and tells them that the news from God is good. The movement of Jesus recognizes the countless chains of bondage that hold God’s people down, then works to break them apart and set God’s people free. This is the legacy of the king, our king, Jesus Christ.
Today, as we sit on the cusp of Thanksgiving and Christmas, on the cusp of joy and celebration and peace on earth, I call you to once again commit your life to Jesus Christ and the movement he came to earth to start. I call you to not commit to the ways of religion, whether they are good or bad; I call you to commit again to Jesus Christ. The profound nature of Christ’s movement is that it requires you and me as participants. Jesus lived and died and rose and ascended into heaven and gave us the power to be his messengers, his emissaries in the days we are alive. He gave us the power to open eyes and hearts and minds and heal the sick; he gave us power to set prisoners free and proclaim good news to the poor. He gave us power to dismantle destructive and oppressive forces, not in the violent ways of the world, but in the peaceful way that led him to the cross. Jesus gave us power to be in this world, but not of it, to take part in its political and powerful systems, to transform them and not be bowed down by them. He gave us power to follow him, to align our lives with his, to see and experience real and actual peace not just in the enteral kingdom hereafter, but here and now, today.
Before we welcome Jesus as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothing, we must confess him as King of all. Before we go to adore Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem, we must bow ourselves before the cross at Calvary. We follow a very different king of King, one who is not of this world. Our king demonstrates power through weakness. Our king manifests strength through vulnerability. Our king established justice through mercy. Our king built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic, and violent world. Our king took our pain into his own body and died. Our king rose again from the grave and proved that light is stronger than darkness, that love is stronger than hate, that with God, all good things are possible. Our king started a movement and he left us a legacy. Following him we take up his movement and continue his legacy. Following him the world is and will be changed. Following him we will have life, and have it abundantly. Amen.