2 Samuel 23:1-7; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
The language of “king” perplexes and confounds.
For some, it creates a stumbling block to seeing God. Male. Dominating. Subjugating. Hierarchical. These are adjectives akin to anathema in our postmodern, #MeToo, pluralistic culture, right? Hard as I try, that scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” keeps playing in my head:
“I am your king.”
“Well, I didn’t vote for you.”
“You don’t vote for kings.”
We, too, question kingship: Who made you king? Who gives you authority? How will that authority be enforced? Over what do you have authority, anyway? I didn’t vote for you.
Given our tendency to chafe at such regal expressions of power, what do we do with Christ the King Sunday? How do we wrestle with such authority in our cultural season of anti-institutionalism and conspiracy theories? How do we talk about obedience, or fear of the Lord, or reign of God, or the King of kings? The three texts appointed for this week give good clues for where to start. 2 Samuel offers a window into the role and character God requires of earthly leaders. Revelation gives a beautiful glimpse into the glorious, majestic, all-encompassing power of the Risen Christ. John makes sure we never forget that the One we worship, the Lord of all, poured himself out to the point of death on a cross. Christ the King is no dictator, despot or tyrant. None of those adjectival anathemas apply to Jesus Christ.
Those of us who worship Jesus Christ place ourselves in his service and seek to follow, begin with the recognition that we are not to lord it over others. Our witness is counter to the prevailing and perennial example of worldly leaders who abuse their positions by exploiting the ones for whom they are charged to care. Jesus, our teacher and master, washes feet. He tells us to do likewise. If the Spirit of the Lord speaks through us our words and acts reflect the God who calls us. To rule justly is to fear God and no other. Christ the King Sunday demands that we assess how we use our influence and power, our privilege and gifts. Do we lord it over others or instead seek their interest? Do we look to please God or capitulate to earthly adulation? Do we strive for integrity or scramble for status? Christ the King is the servant Lord and our lives should imitate his example.
Christ the King, the Risen Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” is the one “who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.” The One now seated at the right hand of God to judge the quick and the dead, made us to be a kingdom of priests who worship God and care for the people and in so doing serve the Lord. Even in glory, the King of kings, intercedes for us, prays for us, never abandons us. Until that time when we gather around the heavenly throne, we can be encouraged because we are not alone, nor are we without purpose. The Risen Christ enlists us into service for the sake of the world he so loves. We are made regents, entrusted to act in the name of Jesus Christ. Such knowledge ought to give us pause, humble us and move us to prayer. Executive orders and unilateral decrees are not the stock and trade of Christians. We work together in community (and yes, on committee) — one Body with many members, with Christ and no other at the head. The will we seek to discern is Christ’s, regardless of what other authorities may want.
Jesus Christ, our Savior, the very one betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked and summoned by Pilate, tells the ruler with the power to kill him: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Faced with the opportunity to spare himself, he chooses truth over safety. Jesus says he came to testify to the truth. Whoever belongs to that truth listens to his voice. Are we listening to Jesus’ voice? In a season awash in lies, a time when not just talk but truth is deemed cheap or worthless, those of us who worship the King of the Jews must testify to the truth, no matter the cost. In the words of Katie Cannon: “Even when they tell you your truth is a lie. Tell it anyway.”
When earthly kings, prefects, emperors and politicians shrug their shoulders and ask dismissively, “What is truth?” Disciples of Jesus Christ bear witness to the truth. God’s truth. The gospel truth. The eternal, unchanging truth of the Ten Commandments, the prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ new commandment and his words from the cross. No matter the cost. No matter if many refuse to hear it. No matter if some seek to silence it. No matter if people in positions of power, secular and religious, condemn it and us.
The language of kingship may gall or grate, but only if we equate our King with earthly authorities. Like so many other words, concepts and institutions, the model of Jesus reframes, redefines, reforms and restores this one. On Christ the King Sunday point to Jesus: Risen Lord, servant Savior, crucified Messiah. Point to Christ the King of kings in all you do and say. Fear God. Strive for God’s will and not your own. Be the priestly regents who extend forgiveness and compassion in the name of the One who anoints and appoints us. Never forget that the Body of which we are a part has the head of Jesus who wore a crown of thorns. Testify to that truth. The gospel truth. God’s Truth. The Truth the world needs to know.
- Do you struggle with the language of “king” and “kingdom”? Why or why not? Are there other words you might use or choose?
- Some use the word “kin-dom” to describe Christian community. Do you find this helpful? What is gained and what is lost when we use “kin-dom” rather than “kingdom”?
- What does it mean to testify to the truth? What do you think Jesus means by this? What does this mean for disciples?
- What are your spheres of influence? Where to you have authority, power or sway? How are you using it? Does your use of power reflect and further the gospel?
- How do you listen to Jesus’ voice? What do you hear when you listen to Jesus’ voice?
- What difference does it make that Jesus is the “King of kings” or the “ruler of the kings of the earth”?
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