Tag Archives: Christ the King

Christ the King and the pearly gates checklist

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father… (Read the whole passage)

The end has finally come.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church year. And since last Christ the King, we have waited for Jesus in Advent, sung with the Angels at Christmas, marked ourselves with ash and wandered the wilderness in Lent, walked the way of the cross in Holy Week, and been terrified by the empty tomb with the women on Easter morning. We have heard Jesus preach, and teach, and heal, and exorcize demons. We have commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, remembered the saints and all along the way we have listened for God at work through prophets and parables, psalmists and songs, the voices of young and old.

And so, finally, on this last Sunday of the church year, we celebrate Christ the King. Only Jesus is not the type of king we expect, or anticipate. Jesus does not look, or act, like any king we know. Christ the King rules in a way completely opposite what is known.

Christ the King Sunday points us to the end. To the end of time and all things when Jesus will return in order to reconcile all of creation back to God.

Jesus is wrapping up after spending time teaching the crowds and he finishes with a scene from the end times, something that sounds like the final judgment: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another… the sheep from the goats”.

For Jesus’ audience this would sound like pretty radical stuff. All these texts that we have been listening to these last weeks, in particular the parables Jesus has been telling since the triumphal entry: the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the wicked tenants, the talents, the wedding banquet, have been leading up to this moment. Jesus has been provoking the crowds and the temple authorities, who just a few days ago were shouting “Hosanna, son of David” as he rode into Jerusalem. Today, Jesus gives them the last straw: Jesus preaches this judgment scene which sounds like pretty standard fare to our modern, Christian ears: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and those imprisoned. But to his audience, in particular to the religious authorities, this would not have sounded like the route that they were taught would obtain righteousness and salvation. In fact, Jesus seems to have gotten everything upside down.

According to the laws of Israel, in particular to the temple cult of Jesus’ day, righteousness and salvation were not earned in the way that Jesus describes. Righteousness was obtained by keeping the law, staying ritually clean, and making sacrifice in the temple. Whereas, what Jesus describes does the exact opposite of that.

Food was one of the primary ways you could become unclean. So sharing a drink or food with someone who is thirsty or hungry presumably  poor and unclean, is a quick way to become unclean yourself.

Naked people are unclean.

Strangers, for example foreigners or Gentiles, unclean.

The sick, unclean.

Prisoners (debtors or sinners), unclean.

Getting too involved in the affairs of your neighbours was one of the quickest ways to become unclean and therefore unacceptable to God.

That’s not to say people didn’t look after the poor. Levitical law required the giving of alms, but putting some money in the box for the poor at the temple was a little different than what Jesus was suggesting – getting down and dirty with your neighbour.

So when Jesus describes what it looks like to be righteous, what it looks like to get into heaven, his audience would not have heard it as a list of good works, but as a complete undoing of what they knew and understood about salvation.

Fast forward 2000 years. We are not that different than Jesus’ audience. We might have a different list than the people of ancient Israel, but we still have a list. It just so happens that our list of good works sounds a little but closer to the list Jesus provides.

Our sacrifices might not be animals in the temple, but we give up our Sunday mornings and money into the offering plate.

We might not worry about ritual cleanliness, but we certainly worry about looking like good Christians to the rest of the world.

We might not worry about keeping the law, but we certainly worry about whether our kids and grandkids are keeping the faith.

There is a whole list of things that we have, whether it’s praying enough, reading the bible enough, serving at the soup kitchen or knitting enough mittens for the mitten tree or quilting quilts for CLWR, or mowing the cemetery lawn.  with all of these good works that we spend a lifetime trying to pile up, one of our biggest concerns is the person who lives a fast and loose life before having a deathbed conversion and cheating their way into heaven after we did all this work. Like the people of Jesus’ day, we are still experts at making salvation into some kind of checklist or point system that we can achieve on our own.

Jesus isn’t proposing some kind of bait and switch for “things that get us into heaven” but the thing that Jesus is getting at is who it is that is working out our salvation.

As Jesus describes this scene of the end times, there are a couple of key details that would have jumped out to his audience:  The first is the whole group of people who are gathered before the king: good and bad, sheep and goats. But for Jesus’ audience, righteousness was something that was worked out here on earth, not something that was determined at the pearly gates. The second detail, was that Jesus’ criteria had everything to do with our relationship to our neighbour, but the Israelites knew that righteousness had everything to do with your relationship to God. It’s almost as though Jesus was saying everything they knew about righteousness is upside down, that God is the one working out our salvation.

Jesus’ version of the end of time is a completely new understanding of our relationship to and with God. Because if God is working out our salvation, that means we don’t have to. But it also means it’s not up to us. As freeing as it is for God to be the one doing the work, it is also terrifying that we aren’t.  And that we have no control.

Even though the religious authorities and crowds won’t respond all that well to Jesus’ suggestion that God is the one doing all the saving, God keeps at it anyway. God continues God’s work of reconciliation and redemption.

And it isn’t long after this, that Jesus will end up on the cross. The cross, which is Christ the King’s throne. And the foot of the cross is the place where all people, good and bad, sheep and goats are gathered. The judgment that Christ provides from that throne cross is neither about who’s in and who’s out, but a judgement that declares that we are forgiven and free from our sins, that we are given resurrection and new life.

And despite all of our doing and trying, our checklists and point systems, Christ the King is gathering us up too at the foot of the throne cross.

And for all the sacrifices that we think we make and offer up to God, God is the one offering God’s self to us in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

For all our attempts at keeping the faith in this generation and the next, God’s faithfulness has already been given to us and proclaimed to us in the word from generation to generation.

For all our attempts at looking like good little Christians, God names us and claims us God’s own in the waters of baptism.

Every Sunday, God gathers us at the throne cross, we who are thirsty and hungry, we who are sick and imprisoned, strangers in need of mercy and says to us, “Come and inherit the kingdom”.

This sermon was co-written with Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker

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The world has been forever changed in the past two weeks

Luke 23:33-43

The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Read the whole passage)

So… the world is very different place than it was two weeks ago…

Today, is Chris the King Sunday, the day on which we name and celebrate the fact that Jesus is our King, the one in control over all things, who holds us and all creation in his hands.

Christ the King is also the last Sunday of the church or liturgical year, kind of like New Year’s Eve. In many ways, Christ the King Sunday stands between two worlds. The world of the past and the world of the future. The world of the past that we are leaving behind began last Advent we began a journey that took us from the announcement of the coming of Messiah, to the birth of Christ in a Manger, to the visit of the magi at Epiphany. We kept on moving into Ash Wednesday and the path of Lent, the path to the cross. We were surprised by an empty tomb on Easter morning, and yet again by the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire at Pentecost. After that we heard the teachings of Jesus again and anew.  Just a few weeks ago we remembered the reformation and how it shapes who we are, and we remembered loved ones who have died on All Saints Sunday. Along side all of that, we baptized new Christians, we confirmed young adults, we witnessed weddings, we celebrated anniversaries and we grieved at grave sides.

The world of the future begins in much the same way that last year began. We will begin the story of Advent, with waiting for Messiah to come.

And yet, Christ the King is not just a flip of the calendar page from one year to the next. Things don’t just continue on in the cycles and patterns of life that we are used to. Christ the King is no ordinary year end. Christ the King also carries with it a view of the end of all things, the big ending that our world is headed towards.

In many ways, the world has been preparing us to glimpse the grand scale of Christ the King. This year our world feels like it is teetering on the edge of chaos, we have seen terror attacks, we have seen mass migrations of people fleeing war and violence. We have seen whole nations grow in discontent, with fear and anxieties rising, with division and strife popping up right on our door steps. We have seen people reject the ruling class in favour of populist leaders and outcomes.

And all of a sudden the part of Christ the King Sunday that harkens to the end of time doesn’t seem so far off. What is coming next for us in our little part of the world and for all peoples of the earth feels uncertain and foggy at best, ominous and terrifying at worst. Our world feels like it is standing in a doorway… we are leaving a way of being that was comfortable and familiar, and we are about to enter a new space, a new more dangerous and unknown world. Christ the King is a doorway of sorts, a space between, neither fully in one space or the other.

And so perhaps oddly or fittingly, we don’t hear a gospel passage that is about the beginning or the end, but a story that is in the middle of Jesus’ story.

Today, we return to the cross.

We turn to a moment when Jesus is named as King, but in the least King-like of circumstances. It is an odd moment from Jesus’ story to choose to remember when we are celebrating Christ as our King. Yes, technically Jesus is talked about as a King, but only in the most mocking and sarcastic way.

(And as an aside: If there is any lesson to those who are our leaders and rulers, it that those who promise great change to devoted legions of followers looking for someone to turn their suffering around, it is that you can be hailed and worshipped as a King on Sunday only to be tried and crucified by the same crowds by Friday).

And so the moment of the cross is not really a Kingly moment, and neither is it the beginning or the end of the story.

But the cross IS a doorway moment.

The cross is moment between two worlds.

A moment where all creation stands between two worlds.

Everything that leads to the cross… from creation, to God’s covenant with the people of Israel, to the birth and ministry of Jesus was all shadowed by the reality of the Garden of Eden. That sin and death had taken hold of humanity and creation, and that no matter how much God had called us and creation to repent and return… we did not.

And so the threshold, the doorway of the cross was that Jesus along with all creation stood between the power of death and the power of the God of life.

And everything that was upside-down about the world was exposed to us. That humanity believed that power comes from the ability to control and to kill. That the one who was our king was who we were putting to death. That we suffered in a world that was more dark than light. The cross exposed all those things to us, while showing us what was to come. That true power is found in love and compassion, in the ability to make alive. That the one we were putting to death is the one who would save us all. That the world was about to be flooded with light that would overcome the darkness.

And this is the moment that we stand at today still.

Christ the King is the same threshold moment of the cross.

Our world feels like is spiralling out of control. Division and conflict seems to have won. Fear and judgement and hate seems to be growing. Terror, violence and war feels nearby and out of control. Our world feels so much different than it did just two weeks ago, just one year ago, just a decade ago.

And yet, precisely at the moment when we feel as though we are about to be swallowed up by all the darkness… Precisely at this doorway moment of Christ the King where we are about to step out of one world into the next…

This is precisely the moment when God will turn our world right side up.

God will turn us around to begin the story of life all over again.

And God will begin quietly in the stories of Advent. In the story of God coming into the world, like a match being lit in a dark room, God will remind us again and again and again that just when the world feels the most lost, the most hopeless, the most dark it can be… that light is being born in the most unexpected places.

Light that comes not from Kings or Presidents, not in bold and brash and loud and overwhelming ways.

But light birthed to teenage mothers and old carpenters, in stables and forgotten places.

Christ the King is a doorway to that world. To a world where the light is being born. Christ our King is the one who comes to us as the light of our dark world, who comes to us again and again each Advent… each time we think the darkness is about to win.

Today, God is pulling us through the threshold, through the doorway found on the cross. Christ the King Sunday is how we end one year and begin another. But Christ our King is the one in whom our God meets us on a cross, in a stable, in the dark of the world.

And today, God takes from cross to empty tomb, from stable to lavish feast around the throne, from darkness into light, from death into life.

See, the world is very different place than it was few weeks ago… because today is the doorway into God’s world.

Amen

Religious Radical or Christ the King?

John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (Read the rest here)

Sermon

Father Angelo’s tour of the Cathedrals of Northern Europe was cut short by the events of last week’s bombing. Over the past few days, he had been helping the group of St. David’s find return flights home. However, his plan had been to stay after the tour and spend some holiday time in the UK. So, Father Angelo made his way from Germany to France and crossed the chunnel, in order to stay with a priest friend, Rev. Kate, in the British countryside.

The heightened security made his trip slow, and even across the pond off the European continent, tensions were still high. He was grateful to finally arrive at his friend’s doorstep in the hopes of finding some calm and peace.

(Pause)

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. Christ the King serves as doorway from one stage in the story to the next. We wrap up the story of Jesus having spent the year telling it from birth, to ministry, to passion and death, to Easter and resurrection, to parables and teachings, to predictions about his return again. Christ the King sums it all up by pointing us to the coming Kingdom of God. And then next week, we start all over again with Advent and waiting for the birth of Messiah.

And oddly enough, the story we use to tell of Christ the King this year, is the story of Jesus on trial before pilate, the roman governor over Judea. Seeing a supposedly king-like Jesus on trial is meant to turn our view of kings and kingdoms upside down.

But it is the Revelation reading that should really make us uncomfortable. Often Christians read the book of Revelation like some mystical book of prophecy. It isn’t that.  Revelation was written to be a book of hope and encouragement to the early Christian community facing persecution under the Roman Empire.

In the decades following Jesus ascension, the early church developed into a small band of believers whose beliefs put them in opposition to Roman military religion. And because of this, Christians were often persecuted. They were excluded from proper society, unable to access the normal benefits of citizenship, marginalized economically and socially for being different. Sometimes they were even arrested and thrown into the gladiator arenas to meet their death fighting fierce warriors or wild animals like lions.

The early church lived under the thumb of Empire. Becoming a Christian meant a difficult life on the edges of society and potentially the danger of being executed for your radical and non-approved beliefs. The Romans saw Christianity as a threat to their Empire, to normal and acceptable ways of life. Rome saw the Christian view of God and the afterlife as opposed the Empire’s official religion, and they saw Christians as religious radicals sowing dissent and sedition, unwilling to integrate into society, instead radicalizing people into their movement.

Sound familiar? It should.

The early church of the 2nd century that lived under Roman persecution would by the 4th century be handed the keys to the Empire by Emperor Constantine and Christianity would become Christendom for the next 1600 years. Emperors became Holy Roman Emperors, Christianity became the official religion and western societies became Christian societies even today.

Here is the part where we should be getting uncomfortable. When we hear this scene between Jesus and the Roman Governor Pilate we should not identify with Jesus. What we should see is an official of the Empire overseeing far away middle-eastern lands holding a trial for a religious radical who has been preaching revolution and overthrow of the empire to his small group or “cell” of young male followers. We should see an Empire worrying about the threat of foreign religious zealots riling up backwards people against the approved and acceptable values and religion of the day.  We should see proper and upstanding people fearing violent acts from a small and oppressed religious group suffering under the thumb of Empire… and we should not identify with the one on trial, but the one sitting in judgement.

And yet, the one on trial is not only our King, but our God come to us in flesh…

(Pause)

Father Angelo’s friend Rev. Kate was the vicar of a small church of about 35-40 members. Yet, when the two arrived at the church for morning prayer, the church was hopping with activity. Dozens and dozens of people were streaming into the church. A few were the typical church sort, older grey-haired folks wearing formal church appropriate clothes. But most were younger people, often with kids. Dark skinned people, men with black hair, women with head scarves.

Father Angelo turned to Rev. Kate as they walked into the church.

“What is all this about?” he asked. “Have you been invaded? Have you switched teams or something? Why are these people here? Why are all these… muslims here?”

“Come and see” Rev. Kate said.

(Pause)

As the Early Church suffered under Roman persecution, the words of Revelation would NOT have been heard as mysterious prophecy about the end of the world. They would have been words of promise to a suffering community. They would have spoken about a new reality, one that trumped suffering and marginalization. Revelation was a promise that Empires didn’t hold all the power, because God was going to overturn that power. God was about to usher in a new reality, and the One who would rule this new world was one who knew suffering himself. One who had lived under the thumb of oppressors himself. One who had been tried, beaten, and killed by Empire, yet who had overcome the most powerful tool of Empire – death. The hope they heard was in the firstborn of dead, the resurrected Christ for whom death was nothing to be feared.

Yet for us, standing on the other side of that equation, as the ones who have been the empire for over 16 centuries, this radical religious political prisoner King is our hope too.

Because empire will not save us, just as persecution and marginalization did not save the early church.

Instead, Jesus shows us a new way. Jesus shows us, that even now as Christianity is in the power position, we have still not saved ourselves. In fact our relationship to power and empire is just as much something we need to be saved from as persecution was.

Jesus shows us that the old ways of empire, where the privileged rule, are over. Jesus comes to call us to a Kingdom where all nations are welcome, where all people are equal, where death is no more, because the first born of the dead has shown new life, even to us empire people. Jesus pushes our old ways, our dead ways, our empire ways to the margins and declares that God is the new beginning and end, the new first and last, that God transcends power and empire, that God rules from a place of weakness, that God is be found in the One whom our empires would see as a threat and would fear.

In Christ the King, God shows us a new Kingdom. Not a Kingdom of power, but a kingdom of service. Priestly service. A kingdom based in proclaiming the good news, washing sinners, feeding the hungry, welcoming all.

Jesus shows us that God’s Kingdom begins from the bottom up,

Begins with weakness yet welcome.

Begins with vulnerability yet mercy.

Begins with uncertainty yet compassion.

Begins with risk yet openness to the other.

Christ the King reminds us that God is saving those who are persecuted and marginalized, those who suffer at the hands of empire. Christ the King also reminds us those of us in Empire need that same salvation. That we too are marginalized and persecuted by our own fears and efforts to retain control.

Christ the King reminds us that God’s salvation for us comes in completely unexpected ways, from the margins and from the underside

Today, Christ the empire threatening, religiously radical, political prisoner King declares a new order where no one is left to the margins and no one holds the power. Jesus declares a new Kingdom that is our salvation from persecution and from empire.

(Pause)

Inside Rev. Kate’s church, all the pews and alter furnishings had been pushed to one corner. The rest of the space was filled with tables and chairs. People chatting in various languages over coffee, doing art-work or crafts, in small groups practicing reading or filling in resumes. There were kids running around and playing.

Rev. Kate looked at her friend, “No, we haven’t switched teams. Jesus just reminded us what the Kingdom of God really looks like.”

Father Angelo smiled at Rev. Kate,

“I can only think of one thing to to say to that…

Amen.


 

The character of Rev. Kate in my illustration was inspired by a story I heard about Rev. Sally Smith, which you can see here: