Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Most of the festivals and celebrations of the church year have been in place for a long time; Christmas and Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost, days to remember various apostles and saints, all of these have, in most cases, been around since the early centuries of the church.  Not so Christ the King Sunday, this last Sunday of the church year.  Christ the King Sunday is less than 100 years old, having been established by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  I’m not sure when the Lutheran church made it part of the calendar but it may not have been until the green LBW was published in the early 70’s; I know it is not listed as part of the church year in the old red book. 

          What is interesting is Pope Pius’ reason for establishing this day in 1925. Reacting to the rise of communism and secularism and to the decline in the authority of the church he established Christ the King Sunday because the people of the day had “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives” so that “these had no place in public affairs or politics.”  The pope went on to claim “that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”

          The situation “on the ground” as they say, is a little different than it was in 1925; communism isn’t seen as the big threat anymore, now maybe we substitute that with terrorism or militant Islam, but other than that things haven’t changed much.  There might be some discussion about how people have thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives, liberals tend to focus more on issues of economic and social injustice, conservatives more on moral issues, but most would agree that something is wrong, that we have strayed from the teachings of Jesus, that while we might claim him as our king, he really isn’t.    

          On the other hand, the title of king is somewhat problematic.  We aren’t real familiar with it, in fact we might react against it as the early history of this country involved a revolution to escape the rule of a king.  In biblical history the notion of a king is mostly negative.  Jesus himself never claimed the title.  It was said of him.  The wise men asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”  Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king.  In today’s gospel we get Jesus on the cross with the soldiers mocking him saying, “If you are a king, save yourself.” 

So Jesus didn’t claim the title, yet one of the tasks of the early defenders of the Christian faith, including the writers of the gospels, was to show that Jesus was of the royal line of David in fulfillment of the expectations of the Jewish people.  They traced Jesus’ genealogy back to David who was regarded as the ideal king, and scriptural references to support this are used throughout the gospels.

          David as the ideal, good king and the Davidic line of kings that would produce a Messiah became an important part of Old Testament theology but even that was somewhat problematic because the largest claim for the people of Israel was that Yahweh was king.   The earthly king, whoever it was, was always subservient to Yahweh.  As an alternative community standing for a different set of values Israel was to have no king, other than Yahweh, but obviously that changed. 

It’s hard to know for sure what happened; the origins of Israel’s life as an historical entity are very obscure.  Most likely, as Israel became more than a small, alternative community there was a perceived need for more permanent human political institutions.  They wanted a king to ensure their place in the world because, after all, everybody else had one.  In other words, there was a conflict between the theological conviction of no king but Yahweh and the practical necessity of national security.  They still claimed that Yahweh was king just as we claim that Christ is king, but something had changed because even the best of kings or the best of presidents or the best of any other kind of political leader, don’t always act according to the will and rule of Yahweh, which for us becomes the will and rule of Jesus.

That’s the situation that the pope saw in 1925 and in 2007 it hasn’t changed much.  There is a disconnect between our theological claims and the way that life is actually lived and as much as we might like to point the finger at other people or other groups as the reason for this, the truth is that we are all compromised in some fashion.  We all make deals, with ourselves mostly, to justify the inconsistencies that we know exist between the teachings of Jesus and the way we live our lives, the inconsistencies between the part of our life where Christ is king, and the often larger part where other things rule.

On the last Sunday of the church year, that’s what we’re left to ponder.  Maybe it’s always going to be an exercise in making deals and compromises, but how do we move closer to living according to the rule and reign of Christ the King?

One way to get at this would be to pick up where Luke left off in his sermon last week.  He raised the question of what would happen if the physical walls of this church crumbled.  My first inclination when he said that last week was that it might make it easier to find a director for the board of property because there would be no building to take care of.  But aside from that, amidst the rubble, we might ask, “If Christ is our King, how would we go forward, how would we start over?  What is essential in order to be a community where Christ is King?”

There is a right answer to this hypothetical question.  The first essential in being a community where Christ is King is a community, a gathering of people and I have no question that such a gathering would be there even if the walls fell down.  Some might find it too difficult and go elsewhere but most of you would gather wherever space could be found. 

Having gathered, what would you do?  There are only three things we do that are essential to being a community gathered in the name of Christ the King.  The first is proclamation of the word.  We need a Bible so that we can read from the sacred texts that have been handed down to us and hear them as an alternative vision of life.  From the Bible we would hear from prophets like Jeremiah who didn’t care much for kings but yet he could still envision a king whose agenda was justice and righteousness.  “And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

We also would hear from apostles’ like Paul who quoted an ancient Christian hymn in his letter to the Colossians, a hymn proclaiming Christ as the one in whom the fullness of God dwells, a mystery that can’t be explained, only experienced as the reconciliation and forgiveness that it is.  Most importantly we would hear the words and stories of Jesus the Christ who lived Jeremiah’s alternative of the just and righteous king and who carried us with him into the eternal wonder and eternal life of God even though it killed him.  With Christ as our king we would gather to read from the Bible so that we can hear these words.

The second thing we do or the second essential thing we need, is water.  Actually we don’t really need it as for us this second essential has already been done, but we will need it as others join us, because this gathering to hear the word proclaimed is not just any old gathering.  It is a gathering of the baptized, those who have been washed in the waters of forgiveness and made participants in the alternative world of Christ the King.  That’s significant, because as participants we don’t just hear the challenge of Jesus and Paul and the prophets, we struggle to live the challenge and so we need nourishment and we get it as we are we strengthened by the meal which is the third thing we do.  We participate in the very being of Christ himself, his real presence make known to us, made part of us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

Amid the rubble of walls fallen down, with Christ as our king we would gather around Word and Sacrament to be formed and empowered and strengthened for the work of justice and righteousness.  That is what is essential.  To be sure, there are other things we do as a gathered community, but we can’t let those things distract us from what is essential.

On this last Sunday of the church year and on every Sunday we do gather around Word and Sacrament and we leave strengthened for service.  That’s what we do, because Christ is our king.

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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