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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christ the King Sunday 11/22/2015

Here we are; Christ the King Sunday; the end of another church year. I usually think of it as a time for each of us to reflect on how we’re doing, to ask if Christ really is our king or if other kingdoms and rulers take precedence in our life. We remember that this day became part of the liturgical calendar less than 100 years ago when Pope Pius XI thought that other influences, nationalism and secularism in particular, were beginning to erode the place of the church in people’s lives; in the early 1970’s, less than 50 years ago, Christ the King or the Reign of Christ became an official part of the Lutheran calendar as well, an end of the year call to think about what or who we really worship, and to think about where our faith should lie.

Christ the King Sunday is a day to reflect on how we’re doing but this is one of those years when it’s hard not to turn the tables and ask how Christ is doing on Christ the King Sunday. You want to say, “If Christ is King, shouldn’t there be more evidence of it?” Instead, over the last couple of weeks we’ve had another round of terrorism with the resulting fear and questions about how to deal with a group like ISIS, a group that to us seems to lack any kind of moral compass so negotiation is impossible, a group that seems to celebrate the killing of innocent people, yet another example of evil in our world.

If Christ is King shouldn’t there be ways to respond other than increasing the level of bombing which does kill some of the bad guys but also kills innocent people which then makes their recruitment effort easier, portraying us as the bad guys so the cycle of violence goes on? If Christ is King, shouldn’t things be different? Shouldn’t things be getting better instead of worse which is how it seems? It’s easy to see why people who are already skeptical about God and church and religion might become even more skeptical but even for the faithful, it gets hard to hang on. How long O, Lord; how long?

“How long” is a common Old Testament cry, a common question. We’re hardly the first ones to wonder about God’s presence in the world, hardly the first ones to wonder if things would ever get better. The Bible does provide us with resources to help us through such times though, the book of Daniel being one of those resources.

The Monday morning Bible Study group has been looking at Daniel this fall. It’s not a book that any of us were very familiar with, it’s not one that shows up a lot in the lectionary apart from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace that gets read every year at Easter Vigil. In addition to stories like that Daniel also includes some rather strange sounding visions but what we found was that the whole book was intended as encouragement for Jewish people living under the rule of a foreign power, encouragement on how they should live. It’s not quite the same as our situation but what is similar is that for those Jews, evidence of their God was hard to find just as evidence of Christ as king can be hard to find. For them, Yahweh, the Lord was king, but the socio-political reality, the facts on the ground, said otherwise.

In the face of that, the “How long?” question was raised and in Daniel an answer was given, a very specific answer actually, 2,300 evenings and mornings, but the specificity is less important than the fact that they were told that despite evidence to the contrary, the present situation would end; it wasn’t forever. That’s a source of hope and it goes along with the vision from today’s reading from Daniel about the Ancient One or the Ancient of Days, arrayed in white, seated on throne of fiery flames. To this Ancient One comes one like a human being, or a better translation is one like a son of man, one who will be given dominion which will never pass away, one whose kingship will never be destroyed, all peoples, languages and nations will serve him.

This reading, this vision shows up today on Christ the King Sunday in part because of Jesus’ references to himself as the Son of Man and because we see Jesus as the fulfillment of this vision from Daniel and then, in the words from Revelation, “to him be glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen.” That continues to be our vision, but many years after the vision of Revelation, even more years after the vision of Daniel, the evidence says that we’re not there yet. The evidence of Christ as King can be hard to find.

For the Jews experiencing God’s absence at the time Daniel was written there were two messages. One was that the situation would change, it wasn’t forever, there was that answer to the “how long” question. The second message for them was to remain true to their faith. It was OK to compromise with other aspects of the foreign world in which they found themselves, but when it came to worship, they were to remain obedient to the Lord, trusting that despite evidence to the contrary, the steadfast love of the Lord would prevail.

If you follow the daily lectionary, the Psalm for the first part of last week was Psalm 13, one of the “how long” psalms of lament and I thought it was perfect for trying to think about Christ the King Sunday especially in light of the Paris attacks. It starts, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Verses 3 and 4 continue with, “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed.’”

All of that is typical lament, but here’s what got my attention: The psalmist says, “my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” Terrorists try to shake us; they try to create fear and they’re pretty good at it. They rejoice, they win, when they succeed in making us afraid. They also succeed when that fear makes us question our faith.

Psalm 13 doesn’t end there though; it doesn’t end in fear. Instead, the psalmist says, “But I trust in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” It’s not a case of naively ignoring what’s going on, the first part of the psalm makes that pretty clear; but it says that’s not the reality that’s going to define me; fear is not going to define me. It says that there’s another more hopeful reality where the steadfast love of the Lord is what rules. To be sure, that reality is not fully realized but with the psalmist we can say that reality centered on the steadfast love of the Lord will be what defines us.

As we observe Christ the King Sunday it does represent a call to remain faithful to what we know is the truth. For us that truth has to do with Jesus and it has to do with resurrection. In the book we used for the Lay School class on Acts one of the questions posed had to do with how effectively the contemporary church proclaims resurrection, the implication being that maybe we don’t always do it very well. I don’t think the author meant that we should just keep saying over and over again, “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” like we do on Easter. Instead, it’s about proclaiming what it means that “He is Risen.”

If “He is Risen” it means that we live according to a different reality. It means we live and believe in a reality in which death and brokenness never have the last word because Christ is King. Jesus’ resurrection revealed the future; it marked the beginning of a new time in which evil will ultimately be defeated, a time when questions of “How long” will no longer be heard. In the meantime, there will be evidence that says otherwise.

That makes the proclamation of Christ as King and proclamation of resurrection even more important because what it says is that, like the psalmist of Psalm 13, we do trust in the steadfast love of the Lord and….and we believe that God can and will act in new, unanticipated ways that will reveal his kingdom in its fullness. In other words, the future is not limited to variations of the past or the present, it’s not just about rearranging the furniture; it’s about God breaking into our world in new ways.

Maybe the most important thing to reflect on at the end of a church year is the significance of what we do. Amid competing versions of reality, we have something different to say. As we persist in our proclamation of resurrection we offer an alternative that isn’t blind to the reality of evil but an alternative that says that’s not all there is. Jesus has been raised from the dead and because of that, we will continue to live in hope.

Christ is King; new life is possible!

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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