Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sermon, Christ the King Sunday, Year B 2012

Last week we heard about, and I preached on, the end of the world.  The end of the world, I said, will not be due to wars, famines, earthquakes, falling stars, darkened sun or a desolating sacrilege.  The end of the world will come when God’s kingdom finally breaks through and changes how things are done.

The world is built on the oppression of others.  Every empire to ever exist has existed because it conquered and oppressed Others.  The institution of slavery, Jim Crow laws, limiting who can vote, and unequal pay among other things – those are all ways in which the world works and are examples of oppression of one kind or another.  In short, the world thrives on systems of inequality.

As one example, look at the lockout of NFL officials earlier this season.  Some of the dividing issues included salaries, the hiring of full-time officials and a change in the pension plan.  Looking at the salary issue, the average game fee for an NFL official is about $9000 per game.  Not bad considering I earn between $55 and $65 for a varsity game.  At that pay scale, you can argue that no official is oppressed.  But get this:  of the $9 BILLION – with a “B” – in revenue, the percentage dedicated to officiating – salary, equipment, training, etc. – amounts to 0.385 percent of the NFL budget.  The lockout occurred because the NFL felt that giving the officials less than one-half of one percent of every dollar was too much.

That’s how the world works.  I got mine and I’ll be damned if I am going to offer equality to Others, much less share what I have with them.

But the kingdom of God shows us a different way.  The truth of the kingdom of God is that there are no Others.  There is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, gay or straight, black or white, profane or unclean.  The kingdom of God raises up the lowly and brings the powerful down.  The kingdom of God ensures that all who hunger and thirst are satisfied.  The kingdom of God releases the captives and oppressed, gives sight to the blind and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.  The kingdom of God is based on equality.  And it is based on the belief that those who have help those who have not.

This is one reason among many that we pledge to the church.  We give of our abundance so that we can worship God in this place, help those around us in need and welcome people into this family and God’s kingdom.

I want to go back to the NFL for a minute.  The NFL operates the way the world demands – through a system of inequality designed to make the rich richer.  One way we saw this was through the lockout and the disparity of league earnings versus what the officials are paid.  The NFL claimed that they were not able to financially meet the demands of the officials.

I tend not to operate that way.  Depending on how you calculate our income, Mrs. Ref and I pledge 10 to 15 percent of our salary to St. Luke’s:  10 percent of our combined take home salary, 15 percent of mine.  If I were to give to the church at the same level the NFL pays their officials, at 0.385 percent, then I would be pledging between $14 and $21/month.  It’s the difference between using the world’s system and believing that the kingdom of God asks us to live differently.

And that question – will you live according to the demands of the world or according to the desire of God? – is a theological question we all need to ask ourselves.

It’s not easy to put our prejudices aside and actively welcome all Others into God’s kingdom.  It’s much easier to believe we have the right answers and set up barriers to determine if outsiders are worthy of entry.  It’s not easy to limit our own desires and ask how much stuff is too much.  It’s not easy to help people with no strings attached.

But it’s the theological question we must ask – what does God’s kingdom really look like and am I willing to make sacrifices for it?

Jesus does just that in today’s gospel.  Jesus is brought before Pilate, a Gentile, by “the Jews.”  And although they claim to be different, both parties operate as the world wants them to.  The Jews can’t stand the idea of sharing God equally with outsiders.  Pilate and the Romans can’t stand the idea of treating the vanquished equally.

Jesus doesn’t play by the rules of the world, so there are no troops for his rescue.  Jesus throws his title of king back on Pilate stating that he has come to testify to the truth.  And the truth is that the kingdom of God isn’t based on power and oppression; the kingdom of God is based on love, mercy, respect and equality.  Jesus testified to that truth and that testimony got him hung on a cross.

Earlier in John, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me."

Jesus proclaimed the truth and showed us the way to God’s kingdom.  He didn’t do it through force or coercion.  He didn’t do it by demanding that the government follow his religious precepts.  He didn’t do it by giving 0.385 percent of himself to God.  He shows us the way to God’s kingdom by getting us to think deeply on a different level.  He gives us a theological framework that redefines our understanding of power.

God’s power doesn’t come through force, coercion, oppression or demands.  God’s power comes through love, mercy, invitation, equality and acceptance.  That truth is more powerful than anything the world can muster.  It is that truth that is the basis of the Kingdom of God.  And it is because Jesus lived out that truth that we proclaim him king.  Christ, the king who rejected earthly power in favor of love.  Christ, the king who was crucified for standing up to the way the world does business.  Christ the King.

On this Christ the King Sunday, the gospel challenges us to ask ourselves this question:  What power do we choose to follow – that of the world, or that which proclaims the love of Christ?  How you answer that question will determine how you choose to exercise power.



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