On the church calendar, the last Sunday of the church year is Christ the King Sunday. It’s always a difficult thing for me, because I’ve never been overly impressed by kings or most other authority figures. But I’m starting to come around a bit, when it comes to Jesus anyway.
We have talked about this before. In addition to my problems with authority, there is also the fact that in the 21st century, in the United States of America, of all places, the idea of kings and queens has little or no relevance to our lives. Don’t forget that the history of this nation is built on the premise that we don’t have any real use for kings, thank you.
There is also the fact that in most other places in this world the notion of kings isn’t all that popular either. Name a king for me. If we can name any kings, we tend to think of them as either despots or figureheads. I don’t think that is the way we want to be looking at Jesus.
The kings we probably know best are characters in Disney movies who are usually portrayed as gruff but lovable buffoons who are easily manipulated by their precocious children. And everyone knows that they are incapable of ruling a kingdom, so staff and family have to do it behind the scenes. Again, I’m not sure that’s the image we want of Christ as King.
In the gospels there are also the stories where Jesus rejected the idea of being a king. In John 6 Jesus takes off when he realizes, as the text reads, “they were about the grab him and make him king.”
There is also the encounter with Pilate that we read earlier this morning (Luke 23 and John 18) where Jesus leaves Pilate nothing but confused when it comes to Jesus being a king.
So even though there is, in my opinion, ample reason to negate any idea of a Christ the King Sunday, we still have one. And, the more I think about it, the more I can live with it. Those church calendar guys might be smarter than I think.
When the new church year begins next Sunday with Advent, there is going to be lots of talk about this tiny baby, born to be a king. Maybe, in what may be a bit of a clumsy way, the church calendar is reminding us on Christ the King Sunday to not miss the point of the story, which can so often get lost in our overly sentimentalized view of Christmas. What authority are we going to grant this new born babe in our lives? It’s great to sing the carols, to recall our happy Christmases past, to get out all the decorations, to gather with family and friends, to attend the Christmas pageants, to take a couple of weeks or so and live in the Christmas mode. But come the end of the year, what will this baby make of us? Is there any rule we are going to allow him to exert over us?
Christ the King Sunday encourages us to go into Christmas with our eyes and hearts a bit more open to the implications of the story, implications that go far beyond a manger and shepherds in Bethlehem, to soldiers and a bloody execution ground on a hill outside of Jerusalem. It wasn’t some weird turn of events that caused the baby to grow up and die on a cross. The way he lived set him on that course, and it’s a way he has called us to follow.
That course Jesus walked to the cross is one that has caused him to earn authority in my life. One of my problems with authority is that people in authority tend to think that it is something we grant them by virtue of their office or position. I’m not going to do that. But if somebody, like Jesus, has done something to earn authority that’s a different matter. And it does demand a response.
I’m always one who questions authority. And I don’t mind questioning the authority of Jesus. But he always comes back with a pretty good answer.
In that story where Pilate asked Jesus if he were a king, Jesus says, not the kind of king you’re thinking of, anyway. When Jesus says this kingdom is not of this world, he’s not saying that his concern is only about heaven and he has to do with earth. He’s saying it’s a different kind of kingdom than this world is used to, one that is little interested in the way we normally think of kings or power or wealth or status. And he very much wants that kingdom to be a part of this world. But it won’t happen if he has little or no real authority in our lives, if we never get beyond the babe in the manger.
We don’t have a real good word for that place Jesus holds in our lives, or means to hold. The idea of a king is not only discredited in our day, but it was in his, too. He surely didn’t want to be what kings were in his day. The word boss doesn’t work. Jesus is not the boss of our lives.
We use the word Lord, but again, we have no reference point. I doubt we are meaning to uphold the feudal system when we say it, and I doubt Jesus wants us to do that either. The Message Bible uses the word Master, but that gets into the whole slave/master dichotomy and I think we can all agree that Jesus wasn’t into the slavery system.
The best word I can think of is Servant, because that’s what ultimately has won Jesus authority in my life. He came to serve and show us how to serve, to realize our lives are connected with every other life and we are here for the service and benefit of each other, here for the service of the creation, here to serve God.
Can you imagine what it would have been like if Jesus tried to explain to Pilate that if Jesus were indeed a king, he was a king who came to serve others. Pilate would not have had any way to grab hold of that save being saved, turning his life over to the authority of Jesus the Servant of Servants. But how can any of us, of royal ancestry or not, grab hold of what Jesus is about unless we surrender ourselves to the authority of the one who came to serve.
If we are as enthralled with the Christmas story as most of us claim to be how are we going to change our lives? What commitments, priorities, bank accounts, goals, are we going to change to live under the authority of Jesus? Christ the King Sunday is telling us that’s what the Christmas story we are about to recall is asking us.
We just finished this fall’s Bible Study using that audio resource we had from this summer’s Baptist Peace Fellowship peace camp. In one of those studies, Vern Ratzlaff, the leader, using language that may be inadequate, but again, we don’t have a lot of alternatives for, said that every day when we first stared into the mirror it would do us good if we reminded ourselves that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the one who has authority in our lives.
In the context of the study it was the authority of Jesus trumping the authority of the empire. But there are other authorities that try to supplant the authority of Jesus in our lives. It may be the authority we give our addictions and compulsions, the authority we give our careers, the authority we give our calendars, the authority we give our peers, the authority we give our grudges, the authority we give our prejudices, the authority we give our culture, the authority we give our bodies. But this is Christ the King Sunday. We are about to celebrate the authority of the one who came to serve, and his authority is far beyond what ever else is demanding to be authority in our lives. Bob Dylan had it right in that song of his, ‘You Got To Serve Somebody.’ Christ the King Sunday gets us asking that question of who are we going to really serve, who is really going to have authority in our lives as we tell the Christmas story again? Does it get past tinsel and wassail to authority that changes how we live?
I don’t know who I write to see if they’ll change the name to Christ The One Who Offers Us His Authority In Our Lives Sunday. I think that’s what they really mean. But, more importantly, they want us to know what we mean when we welcome our new born king into the world.