A Different Kind of King (November 25, 2018)
Today, on the last Sunday of the church’s year, we celebrate “The Reign of Christ Sunday”. Today we celebrate our deep trust that what began in Jesus will triumph in the life of the world, even if it’s not readily apparent at the moment. Today we mark our profound hope that what began in Jesus will come to be in God’s good time.
When we talk about the Reign of Christ, the most obvious question is, “What kind of reign? What kind of king?”
Barbara Lundblad tells a story about worship in the black church in the Southern states. The minister shouts out: “Who is Jesus?” The choir responds in voices loud and strong: “King of kings and Lord Almighty!” Then, little Miss Huff, in a voice so fragile and soft you can hardly hear, would sing her own answer, “Poor little Mary’s boy.” Back and forth they sang — King of Kings … Poor little Mary’s boy.
This is the black church doing theology. Who is Jesus? ‘King of Kings’ cannot be the answer alone; he’s also ‘poor little Mary’s boy.’
That’s how we do theology. We hold opposites together. We put them beside each other. When we think about the Reign of Christ, we need both King of kings and poor little Mary’s boy. Either alone doesn’t work.
In that kind of way, the church tries to be countercultural. Our culture holds up leaders as powerful people. We may not trust them … but they hold the winning hand in every game. We see it in leaders around the world.
But not the church. Jesus is both King of kings and poor little Mary’s boy. This king rules through vulnerability. This is strength found in weakness. This is the paradox at the heart of our Christian faith.
Today, Jesus of Nazareth has been arrested. He stands in front of the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Pilate seems confused. This backwoods preacher in front of him in a ragged robe? “You’re a king? You?” Oh come on! Give your head a shake.
Kings are all about power and might, grandeur and ruthlessness. Rome knew how to use power. Power is for keeping people in line!
And they’re saying that this … this nobody … is a king?
But even if it doesn’t make any sense, Pilate has to take it seriously. If Jesus claims to be a king, he will be charged with treason. If Jesus claims to be a king, Rome will kill him as an example to others.
So, are you a king? And Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
Too often, we’ve thought that Jesus was talking about an individualized, otherworldly piety which is divorced from real life. But that’s not what is going on here.
Listen to the whole statement Jesus makes to Pilate. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
What Jesus is saying is this: “My kingdom, my way is about living in this world in a different kind of way.” Not by fighting. Not by power. Not by coercion and might and bullying. In other words, Pilate, you and Rome, you are the powers of the world and your way is the way of the world, but my kingdom lives by different rules. Another way of living.
My way is the power of love.
Earthly rulers ask, “What’s in it for me? How can I benefit?”
Love asks, “What’s the greatest good possible? What is good? What is just? What is fair? What is kind? What is compassionate?”
King Jesus rules in the same way he lived.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
“As you did it to the least of these my sisters and brothers, you did it for me.”
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
“Love God with all that you are and love your neighbours as yourself.”
Jesus’ whole kingdom depends on love. This is how we live in the world as followers of Jesus. We love.
The way of love is a game changer. It has been a game changer in my life. Certainly in our personal lives, love is a game changer.
But not just in our personal lives. Love is a game changer in our social life, in our political life, in our economic life, and in the life of the world.
Imagine what life would be like if politicians the world over were to ask “What’s the greatest good possible?”
Imagine what life could be if our economic policy were designed to benefit the greatest number of people, so that we could wipe out homelessness, hunger, poverty and disease. Imagine an economic policy designed to help the rich … not to get richer, but to help the rich understand that they have been blessed and that they are responsible to use those blessings to help others.
Imagine what life could be if every policy of our governments were designed so that they benefitted the greatest number of people.
Imagine a world where the education and health care systems get all the money they need, and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a jet.
Imagine a world where we really cared about the immigrants, the refugees, the poor and marginalized, those addicted to whatever helps make life bearable for them.
Imagine what the church would be like if every choice we made was based in love … love for those who are different … love for those who challenge the status quo … love for those who suggest new ways. Imagine a church which embraces and welcomes fully members of the LGBTQ community … or invites the homeless into our sanctuaries … or Christians working together with Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and atheists to make the world more loving, more compassionate, more grace–full. Imagine a church without walls of any kind, a church with its arms open wide for all of God’s daughters and sons.
King of kings and poor little Mary’s boy.
That kind of love is a game changer in everything.
My kingdom is not from this world.
We worship a different kind of king … and, my friends, that makes us a different kind of people.
But we do more than worship this king.
We follow this king.
We give our loyalty to Jesus. We live as citizens of this reign. We live as people who follow the King of kings and poor little Mary’s boy.
That reign is not here yet. God’s reign is not complete among us. We know that quite well.
But it is surely coming. It comes among us as we listen to God’s voice as people of God’s truth. It comes among us as we declare our loyalty to this vision of wholeness and justice and compassion. It comes among us as we give generously to those who have so much less than we do. It comes among us as we reach out with compassion to help those who have lost hope. It comes among us as we live as God’s people in the world.
It comes because, as Desmond Tutu has said, “Goodness is stronger than evil, Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us.”
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
November 25, 2018 (Last Sunday after Pentecost, The Reign of Christ)
John 18: 33–37
Revelation 1: 4b–8
2 Samuel 23: 1–8