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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christ the King 11/22

          Who’s in charge here?  Whenever you become part of a new group or organization or company or school or church or club or whatever, that’s a question that directly or indirectly you have to try to answer.  It’s not always easy.  Sometimes you find that there is what seems to be a clearly defined chain of command, but that still doesn’t always tell you who’s really in charge; it doesn’t always account for the power behind the throne and it doesn’t always account for those who think they are in charge regardless of what their position in the chain might be. 

          It’s definitely true in church.  There are some who assume that I’m in charge because I’m the pastor.  I’d like to think that as the pastor I have some influence in what goes on here but I’m not the only one and there are times I’m quite happy to acknowledge that I’m not in charge.  When someone is leaving church and says they really liked the hymns I just smile and say, “Oh thanks, good, I’m glad.”  If they say they didn’t like a hymn I say, “Talk to Bob, he picks the hymns.”   When telemarketers call offering their program that is going to make everything better here, I’m happy to tell them I’m not in charge and they’ll have to send me the information in the mail because that usually gets rid of them. 

Actually, here at Bethany, there is a well established administrative structure that provides a certain chain of command that I must say works better than that which has existed any other place I’ve been, but it’s not fool proof and it still doesn’t always tell you who’s in charge.

          Today is Christ the King Sunday.  Some people don’t like that.  They don’t like the idea of Jesus as king because it’s too patriarchal or some don’t like it because they say that we don’t really know anything about kings never having lived in that kind of system, others don’t like it because it’s a title that Jesus himself kind of ran away from.  In John’s gospel after he did the loaves and fishes miracle and the people were so impressed that they wanted to make him king, he quite literally ran away, to the mountains, by himself.  When Jesus was crucified the words Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews were place on the cross but at that point it was to mock him, not to praise him.

          These objections to viewing Christ as king are legitimate, but I still think it’s OK, in fact good, to have a Sunday called Christ the King.  We don’t live in a monarchy, that’s true, but we are familiar enough with the concept of kingship to make this day meaningful; when Elvis is called “The King,” we know what that means.  When LeBron James is called “King James,” we know what that means.  What I think might be helpful though is if we subtitled Christ the King Sunday, Who’s in Charge Sunday, because who’s in charge gets to the heart of what this day is about.

          This question of who’s in charge kind of gets played out in today’s gospel.  In this passage from Jesus’ trial Pilate would like to think that he’s in charge, but the way John tells it, it seems more like Jesus turns the tables on him.  “So you are a king?” Pilate asks and while Jesus doesn’t really answer that question, whether he’s a king or not, he does make it clear that he’s in charge.  It is clear that to know the truth is to know that Jesus is in charge.  Even knowing that though, is he our king?

          John often uses what are called representative figures in his gospel; people like the disciples, Nicodemus, the woman at the well are not intended to be seen as isolated individuals but as representatives of larger groups, groups that sometimes wind up including us, regardless of how far removed we are from the actual events.  The way Pilate is portrayed here, he is one of these representative figures, and while we might not like to hear it, he does represent us, because we can be like him, prone to thinking that we’re in charge of Jesus, expecting him to do our bidding or as we try to make him useful, invoking his name and enlisting him in support of whatever cause or program or agenda we think is worth supporting.  When we do that though, individually or collectively, Jesus winds up being as elusive to us as he was to Pilate.

          Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new addition to the liturgical calendar with Pope Pius XI adding it to the Catholic calendar in 1925, less than 100 years ago; I’m not sure really sure when the Lutherans added it. Pope Pius though was responding to the rise of things like secularism and communism and the fact that people were finding the promises of these philosophies to be attractive thus questioning the authority of Christ even the relevance of Christ and his teachings; in the midst of these opposing voices the Pope wanted a day to remind people of the voice they should be listening to, the voice of the one who really was in charge.

          When you hear the reasons for Christ the King Sunday it’s not hard to see that the same reasons still exist and probably always have.  There are and always have been other voices making promises that run against the voice and the promises of Jesus, other people, voices, philosophies, agents, nations or governments who want to convince you that they’re in charge, or sometimes trying to convince you that you’re in charge…and we’re drawn in, every one of us.  Not one of us can say that Christ is really our king, not all the time anyway.  Every one of us is compromised.  Every one of us is in need of regime change in our life.

          And so…we need this reminder of Christ the King Sunday.  It’s a reminder that kind of hits us upside the head as the final words of the church year.  In word and in song we proclaim that Christ is king and we know it’s true.  But we also know that kings expect loyalty, but we’re not loyal.  Thinking about the kinds of things that Pope Pius saw tugging at people’s loyalty, we have to acknowledge our disloyalty, disloyalty to Christ, the one we name as our king.

          In light of this it might seem that Christ the King Sunday can only leave us feeling depressed and guilty as we recognize our disloyalty.  But that’s when we also have to remember that what we talk about on this day is a different kind of king.  Part of Pilate’s confusion had to do with trying to fit Jesus into the usual categories of kingship; but of course he doesn’t fit those categories.  That’s why he went away and hid after the loaves and fishes miracle.  That’s why he never gave Pilate a straight answer.

          Jesus is a different kind of king and there is much that can be said about that; one of the things that can be said is that this is a king who keeps coming to us despite our disloyalty, a king who keeps coming to us always trying to bring us back into relationship, not so much demanding our loyalty as inviting our loyalty. 

          Some of the apocalyptic writings of the Bible like Daniel and Revelation get misused as depicting horrific end time scenarios; through books and movies people have made a lot of money interpreting them that way but in the portions we get in today’s first and second lessons what we have are visions of God coming to us, “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one coming like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven,” that’s from Daniel; and from Revelation, “Look, he is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him.”  In neither case is it a message of mass destruction, instead a message that God as revealed in Christ the King will triumph over all those other things that compete for our loyalty.  Christ will triumph, for our sake, out of love because he is in charge.  Christ the King comes to us, because our efforts to work our way up to him will never get us there.  As someone said at our pastor’s text study the other day, there is no up escalator to this king.  Christ the King comes to us.

          So Christ the King Sunday isn’t finally about our loyalty or disloyalty.  It’s about what this king does for us despite our loyalty or disloyalty, relentlessly coming to us, for our sake, out of love.  The question we are left with at the end of the church year on Christ the King Sunday is how are you going to serve Christ the King, the one you know is in charge?  How is regime change going to happen in your life?  Or as a Lutheran theologian put it some years ago, “What are you going to do, now that you don’t have to do anything?”

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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