I don’t know about you, but I thought it was pretty cool last year, when our Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. After all, we American are rarely insiders with all the intrigue, the pomp and circumstance of royalty. Truth is, in today’s world, royalty – kings and queens are often only figureheads. The stuff of tableau newspapers. They often have no real power or authority. The ruthless warrior kings and queens, who sat on their thrones dispensing justice and military orders, who pronounced executions at the drop of a hat – Well, they are mostly figures of the past.
Today is the feast of Christ the King. We set aside this Sunday every year to proclaim Christ’s kingship. The prophet Jeremiah writes of a future king like a shepherd who will bring justice and righteousness. In place of the psalm, we said the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of a mighty savior who will bring mercy, forgiveness, who will guide our feet into the way of peace. And finally, set against these lofty images of a king, we return to Good Friday, Jesus lifted high – not on a throne, but on a cross, the words “King of the Jews” the words, ironically posted by his adversaries.
So, then, what do we mean when we say that Christ rules?
Well, today is not only the feast of Christ the King. It is also the final day of the church year. And if this were a year-long class, today would be the final exam. The final exam on the Gospel of Luke. As some of you know, our Sunday readings are on a three-year cycle. In year A (which starts next Sunday) we hear mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. In year B it is mostly Mark, with some John thrown in, the Gospel of John being our primary focus during Holy Week and Easter. Then, year C is the Gospel of Luke. So, for the past 52 weeks (with some exceptions), we have heard from Luke.
Today is the final exam – How do you think you’d do? What have we learned from Luke? We’ve learned about a kingdom – a world, a way of being, that is something new. And today, we claim that kingdom as our own. We enthrone Jesus as king.
From the very beginning, Luke painted a picture of this kingdom. Way back last Advent, before Jesus was even born, we heard his mother’s words responding to the angel who said she would have a son. “The almighty has done great things for me! She exclaimed. The almighty – she sang, had cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. Already, we had a clue that this kingdom would be like no other: the lowly lifted up, the powerful cast down.
The reversals kept coming as we heard Jesus tell stories. It is in the Gospel of Luke that we have the story of the prodigal son, the story of the good Samaritan. Surprise endings, unlikely heroes. And all those parables – the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, something small that grows into something big. It’s like a woman searching for a coin. This kingdom is like no other.
The lowly are not only lifted up in Mary’s eyes, but throughout this Gospel. Luke tells the story of the rich young man, whom Jesus tells to sell all of his possessions. In Matthew, Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. In Luke he says blessed are the poor… and woe to you who are rich. Luke has a special eye for the poor.
Jesus embraces all people in the Gospel of Luke, dining with tax collectors and sinner. The kingdom of God is a place where all are welcome, where all are forgiven and shown mercy.
And the story culminates with Jesus pronouncing forgiveness to a thief and dying on the cross. A vulnerable, suffering king. Truly this is a kingdom like no other.
It is an upside down kingdom with an upside down king.
And it is in this kingdom that we are called to live. Like the ancient Hebrews who were delivered from slavery in Egypt into a new land of their own, so Christ delivers us into a new kingdom- free from the powers that be, from principalities and powers of this world, into a new place of freedom. For us, this is not a physical deliverance as it was for the Hebrews, but a spiritual one. Yet it is equally as life-changing, as liberating, as real. As king, Jesus offers an alternative to the ways of the world. When? NOW We proclaim him king – and ourselves as his subjects.
A year in review. Will you pass the final exam? Have we listened to what Luke has said about this kingdom? Or, perhaps the better question is, are we living it? My daughter is in nursing school, and much of her time is spent, not in a classroom, but in hospitals and clinics, in what they call “clinicals.” Practicing. The kingdom of God is not a classroom, either. It’s more like a “clinical,” a practicum. We know the kingdom when we live in it. And it is when we live it that we see Christ as king.
Where do we see this kingdom breaking into the world? How will we know we are living in this kingdom, that Christ rules in our lives?
I suspect that many of the times when we live counter-culturally, when we do things that are upside down, we are living in the kingdom, allowing Christ to rule.
In a self-serving world, we focus on serving others
In a violent world – we proclaim a gospel of peace
In this partisan, divided world – we seek understanding and reconciliation,
In a frenzied and loud world – we dare to sit still and listen
In a world that lifts up the powerful, we lift up the lowly, the vulnerable
I know that I have seen the kingdom of God breaking in here at Indian Hill Church. Last Sunday, a large group of you stayed afterwards to assemble snack packs to be given to children in food insecure households through La Soupe. Your buying Christmas gifts for families through InterParish Ministry. Those who are off at the prison regularly, ministering to inmates. And all of you and your faithful service on committees and ministries that keep this place going.
This is what subjects of this kingdom do. It is the practicum part of the course we’ve been taking for the past year, it is how we re-align our lives as citizens of this kingdom, subjects of this king.
And, Christ reigns in other parts of our lives too, not just when we’re at church – at work, at school – any time we include the outsider, include the lonely, anytime we forgive someone who has wronged us, any time we simply sit still and celebrate the wonder of creation and how God provides for us, we are living the life of this kingdom.
Just the other night, my husband and I watched the first episode of the new season of the series The Crown (I’m still having a hard time getting used to the new cast) England – its princes and princesses, the intrigue. I guess we’ll always be outsiders in that world. But, we have our own king, and it is Christ.
A month from now we will sing Glory to the Newborn King. Let’s make sure our king is not just a symbol, a figurehead, – or a quaint story that we re-visit every year. Through Christ we are delivered into a new kingdom, a new way of doing things, of living. Let us, in Zechariah’s words, be part of that great dawn from on high breaking into the world, shining on those who dwell in darkness.. ,guiding feet into the way of peace.
God knows the world needs this light. The world needs this king. Amen.