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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christ the King 11/21

During his lifetime, the only time the title of “king” was applied to Jesus, it was done so mockingly as in today’s gospel; “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  Jesus himself pretty much ran away from such titles as well as rejecting the efforts of his followers to elevate him to any position that would give him the kind of power associated with a king or any other earthly ruler.  Jesus wasn’t having any of that.  Yet…we end the church year with Christ the King Sunday.  On the final Sunday of the church year we bestow on Jesus a title that he avoided.  There are lots of “I am” statements attributed to Jesus, “I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Vine, I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the World,” but no “I am the king;” yet that’s the last word of the church year concerning Jesus.

It would be inappropriate if this title had to do with a grab for earthly power on the part of Jesus, but it doesn’t.  This title of kingship is not a claim by Jesus but is a claim concerning Jesus made by his followers including us and for hundreds of years Jesus has been pictured this way; images like the one in your bulletin of Christ Pantocrator or Ruler of All represent some of the best known icons of Jesus and have been around for about fifteen hundred years. 

In these icons Jesus is seated on a throne (although in many it’s a half length image so you can’t see the throne) and from that throne, as the ruler of the universe, he presides over all.  With his right hand he offers a blessing, his left hand holds a book or a scroll.  So Jesus has been pictured this way for a long time.  Christ the King Sunday hasn’t been around quite that long though, dating back less than a hundred years to 1925 when Pope Pius XI established it in response to his fear that other ideologies, Communism especially at that time, were taking precedence over the teachings of Jesus and worship of Jesus.

So the title of king is not a claim by Jesus, it’s a claim by us and to call Christ our King, is quite a claim.  This last Sunday of the church year then provides a point of reflection, an opportunity to think about what it means for us to make that claim concerning Jesus.

To call Jesus king, means that his rule and his way are the rule and the way we pay attention to.  Now, if we’ve gone through another church year without noticing that Jesus represents a different way to be in the world, that he represents a challenge to the prevailing ways of the world, we haven’t been paying real close attention.  If we still have ourselves convinced that Jesus didn’t really mean a lot of what he said because it doesn’t fit very well with our lifestyle and the way things work in our world, then it’s a good thing that we begin a new church year next week and get another shot at it. 

The lessons for today give us a picture of the kind of king that Jesus is and of course it’s not the usual authority figure king.  In fact, the lesson from Jeremiah starts with a caution addressed to the usual authority figures who are called the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock.  The Lord says to them, “You have not attended to my flock, so I will attend to you!” which doesn’t sound like the kind of thing anyone wants to hear from the Lord.  But that word of judgment is followed by the announcement of new shepherds and a new king, a king who will deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land.  So wisdom, justice and righteousness are hallmarks of the new king.

The image from Colossians in some ways is a more traditional description that identifies Jesus with the all powerful creator God.  Jesus is the image of the invisible God, in him the fullness of God dwells, in him all things in heaven and on earth were created.  We are made strong by his glorious power.  But still it’s not the kind of power usually associated with kings because the power of Jesus described here rescues us from darkness and transfers us to a different kingdom, the kingdom Jesus talked about.  Through this different power of Jesus, in his kingdom, according to Colossians, we have redemption, forgiveness and peace.

The gospel lesson is probably the most dramatic of today’s readings, on the last Sunday of the church year taking us back to Good Friday with Jesus on the cross.  Here he is mocked with the title of king as he is being executed, mocked by his executioners and mocked by those being executed with him.  In this scene Jesus seems to be drained of all power with the traditional power of kings and empires having its way, defeating him. 

But it’s here, from the cross, that Jesus shows the kind of king that he is.  He doesn’t flex his divine muscles in response to his accusers.  Instead there is forgiveness and a promise of paradise, because remember, Jesus represents a different way to be in the world.  He doesn’t play by the rules of the empire but breaks the cycle of violence with forgiveness and promise.  That’s what his kingdom is about.  That’s what Jeremiah was describing many years before that.  That’s what the letter to the Colossians described some years after that.

When we claim Christ as king, we have to see him on the cross and we have to hear his response to those who mock him because it is his rejection of power and violence against his accusers, his rejection of the ways of the world that creates the opportunity for something new. 

When we claim Christ as king, we acknowledge him as our source of redemption and forgiveness as Colossians said and that’s important.  It’s important because it changes our identity.  We know ourselves to be part of God’s kingdom so that we aren’t sinners in the hands of an angry God, we’re forgiven sinners, in the hands of God who loved us enough to become what we are and to announce the hope and possibility of his kingdom.

That is indeed comforting, but it’s also a challenge.  Claiming Christ as our king and knowing ourselves to be part of his kingdom means we are representatives of his kingdom; that means we are representatives of the wisdom, justice and righteousness proclaimed by Jeremiah, representatives of the redemption and forgiveness and peace proclaimed in Colossians, representatives of the forgiveness and promise proclaimed by Jesus from the cross.  It’s not the way of the world; it’s a different way and at the end of another church year we can ask, “How are we doing?”  Are we representing the Christ we claim as king well, or are those just words, and in reality we are following other kings and rulers and shepherds?  At the end of another church year, how are we doing?

Each of us needs to reflect on this personally, but I think it’s probably safe to say that for most of us, we have our moments.  We have our moments when we do pretty well; we do honor Christ as our king not only in words but in actions too.  But there are also times when we take the bait of those who mocked Jesus.  We lash out and play by the rules of the world, rules that Jesus refused, rules that just continue cycles of contention and violence because we convince ourselves that the way of Jesus just doesn’t work.  It sounds nice, but it won’t work.  There are also times when we don’t forgive.  We accept and depend on Jesus’ forgiveness but then we fail to do likewise in our own lives.   We retaliate or we hold grudges which shuts out the possibility of something new, the possibility that Jesus opened for us.  When we do that, cycles that destroy us and others continue and the kingdom of Christ is nowhere to be found.

This last Sunday of the church year is a time to think about the claim we make that Christ is our King.  Thinking about it honestly, it’s bound to be a little bit humbling, a little bit sobering.  The good news is that the redemption and forgiveness we find in Jesus is good despite our imperfection in claiming him as our king.  So despite our imperfection in following Christ as our king, we still make the claim; it’s important to make the claim and that’s what we do today in words and in song, in the creed.  We claim Christ as our king and those words do shape us, they do transform us so that here and there, now and then, we do have our moments; moments when it’s not just words, but Christ really is our king.

Rev. Warren Geier


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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