Sermon for Christ the King Sunday November 20, 2016

Duane LarsonBased on Luke 23: 33-43

This is Christ the King Sunday, when we put an exclamation point on the church year’s end. We do this because Christ alone is before all things; because through him all things came to be, and in him all things are held together. It is the day when we lift up the promise that we are held together even when our world looks fractured all around.

We’ve anticipated today for a long time. We’ve looked forward to a great party and outreaching service. A great party and fine neighborly care we made. We’ve looked forward also to a positive stewardship campaign conclusion, including the renewal of our vows now as members of Christ the King Lutheran Church.

Of course, as is the way of real life, since we began planning for these days, “stuff has happened.”  This day of recommitment has taken on further new meaning and purpose lately. . News snippets of the return of Jim Crow, the rise of intolerance, and the outright celebration of incivility are not the all of it. But they are precursor enough to press these questions. What do the movements for power today mean for seemingly routine things like church membership? How is church pledging a public act rather different in kind from an NPR pledge break or another also worthy commitment?

A brief history lesson is in order. It may surprise us that Christ the King Sunday is a recent addition to the liturgical calendar. Indeed, its addition was a faithful response to politics. Pope Pius XI instituted the festival in 1925 when Benito Mussolini dissolved the Italian democratic process, named himself dictator, and assumed god-like supremacy. You will remember that other Darth Vaders assumed human flesh elsewhere at the same time.

Major Protestant denominations soon also adopted Christ the King Sunday for the same reasons, made explicit in The Barmen Declaration of 1934. Barmen was one more declaration in two millennia of faith doctrines that while Christian faith must never be reduced to politics, politics always presents a demand for particular Christian confession and action.  One of Barmen points states clearly and practically what it means to confess Christ as the King. “We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”

It is one thing to make a general confession of faith, as we do every Sunday. It is quite another thing to confess Christ with certain words for a particular time and situation. What does it mean to confess Christ as King right now in your personal and in our shared situations? What does it mean for how we live our daily vocation? For how we raise our families? For how we live with integrity?  For how we respect the diverse opinions among us that rest on better principles than the base and visceral ones of ignorance, fear and hatred? For how we would support and do the ministry of this congregation?

Remember, Christ’s kingship is not of this world. That means literally that political humanity does not define Christ’s kingship. God does. Political humanity historically exercises power with terms of violence. God uses power under the terms of non-violent love. Political humanity threatens people to comply by force “over and against.” God converts us into respectful relationship from the inside out.

Consider this king whose throne is the cross. His rule does not happen by edict from afar and away in a mansion or tower. His presence and rule happen down deep where life is at its hardest. Planted between two criminals, the crucified King reveals the power of love to those ready to recognize it. One criminal is the typical bully. Even while dying he shares the false values of the Roman and religious violence mongers who stand now below the crosses. Mocking Jesus as a loser, he swallows the propaganda and allows no self-reflection. But those who see themselves for who they truly are can see others more truly. The other criminal sees in Jesus an authority he had never met before. Somehow he locked eyes with Jesus and saw a human compassion he had never met before. Thereby the dam of self-hatred that violent men project onto others was broken. The ego’s river of bile was drained. The criminal was freed to confess Christ humbly and generously.

Put the other way, Jesus locked eyes with him. Jesus restored the criminal to his humanity. Thereby Jesus showed that God’s love works not with hate-filled violence in speech or act, but by loving from the inside out. That’s how Christ and we who dare to share his name will change the fallen world. After all, for Christ to be king and for God to be God means that God is not only that beyond whom nothing can be greater. God also is the holy one near to us than whom nothing can be closer. God’s love works from outside-in and inside-out and No other power is so powerful as the Holy Lover who loves from the outside-in and inside-out, whose love is both fierce and gentle and unending. To so gently and humanely rule in this way is what it means for Christ to be the king.

Last week I said that the good news is that there is a messiah and that the better news is that it’s not any of us. But we are the King’s citizens. What will it mean for us so to confess and serve as members of Christ the King Lutheran Church?

For me, it means that I will be a Christian who belongs proudly in a global and local church where all people are openly welcomed and cared for. I will be a Christian who insistently sees the image of God in people of every color, every religious tradition, every sexual orientation, and every political role. I will be a Christian who is careful with condemnation and generous with Grace. I will be a Christian who so sees God’s dreams for the world that I dive into it for its own hope’s sake. Pope Pius XI bravely and brazenly waded directly into dangerous political waters by instituting this festival in his encyclical, Quas Primas. It was directed to RC bishops, but also encouraged the laity throughout to not trust in the increased secularization and nationalism throughout the world. Pope Pius XI’s papal motto was, “The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” I will be a Christian eager to be imprinted by the character of Jesus; “his humility, his compassion, his gentleness, his intolerance for religious hypocrisy.” I will be a Christian in and from Christ the King Lutheran Church who lives with “expectation-defying Grace and counterintuitive love” [John Pavlovitz].  I will be a Christian as salty a salt and as luminous a light as my will and God’s Spirit can co-create. Finally, I will be a Christian who depends on you, my sisters and brothers, for care and correction when I fail in my vows, for it is only when together with our gifts of difference and our common core of divine love that we are truly the body-of-Christ in the world

The King’s way is so different, and thus so liberating! Is it not a great thing today that we are invited to confess Christ as King so generously, so situationally, and so counter to false common vision? This moment of confession is a gift. It is brought to you by the King from the cross, who has locked on to your eyes, and has secured for those who see him truly a place forever with him. That leaves great work to do here and now.
Duane Larson    Christ the King Lutheran Church    Houston TX   November 20, 2016