Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sermon; Christ the King; Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 23:33-43

Today is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, traditionally known as Christ the King Sunday. Although, as far as traditions go, this is a relatively new one. The Feast was originally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and celebrated on the Sunday before All Saints Day. In 1970 it was moved to the Last Sunday of Ordinary Time by Pope Paul VI, where it remains today.

Pius XI established this Feast day in response to the growing nationalism and secularism that he saw in the world. While nationalism had been around for awhile, the tide was rising in this area and people were beginning to be much more focused on the ideals of who truly belonged. It was seen in its extreme form in Germany with the creation and rise to power of the Nazi party in the early '20's.

In this post-war world of rising conflict, violence and resentment (which would ultimately lead to another world war), Pope Pius XI said it was Christ who had dominion over all creatures, and that his dominion is not gained through violence but by his very essence. Christ truly was King of all.

I'm not so sure we've ever recovered from the uber-nationalism of that time. In its most basic form, we hear cries of, “My country, right or wrong,” “Love it or leave it,” and, in some cases, “Go back to where you came from.”

These statements are most often used by the dominant group and those in power. They are an attempt to control minorities and those on the margins through unquestioned loyalty, and they advocate removing, eliminating and cleansing the nation of those people whom the powerful find undesirable. And while we certainly haven't descended to the level of the Nazis, we live in a world where the powerful try to silence and control the powerless for fear of losing their privileged place in society.

That power comes in many forms. Most often it's wielded politically and socially by white males. But it can have other manifestations – such as when the Tallahassee police allegedly told the victim of a sexual assault not to pursue charges against the star quarterback because “it's a big football town and your life would become miserable.” Power allows all the right people to ignore the powerless and simply brush them aside.

This sounds a lot like what Jeremiah was addressing. The powerful are scattering the flock, driving them away, not attending to their needs. Those in power are supposed to use their power and position to bring together and care for those who fall under their power. But this wasn't, and isn't, happening.

Through Jeremiah, God says he will raise up shepherds who will do this work of gathering and caring, and he will also raise up a king who will be wise and execute justice and righteousness in the land. This king will be like no king we have ever seen before.

“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“My kingdom is not from this world.”

A king like no king we have ever seen before.

In today's gospel we hear Luke's version of the crucifixion. It seems an odd passage to hear on Christ the King Sunday. But this is the story of a king like no king we have ever seen before. He could have used his power to save himself. He could have used his power to come down from the cross and defeat those who persecuted him. He could have used his power to rally the troops, crush Rome, drive them away and scatter them. But this is not that king.

This king doesn't crush; this king heals. This king doesn't drive away; this king welcomes. This king doesn't scatter; this king gathers. This king transforms the destructive force of power used to control and scatter into life-giving power that frees and gathers.

The prayer of St. Chrysostom reads in part, “When two or three are gathered in his name, you will be in the midst of them.” This king gathers. The people who are gathered by him, or who gather together in his name, are a part of his kingdom.

The gathering of the twelve disciples represents the kingdom. The people who gathered to be healed by him represent the kingdom. The gathering of the 5000 and 4000 represents the kingdom. The gathering of the people on what came to be known as Palm Sunday represents the kingdom. The people who gathered at the foot of the cross represent the kingdom. The gathering of the criminal represents the kingdom. This gathering here today represents the kingdom.

Part of the Mystery of God is that people are gathered, not scattered; people are healed, not crushed; and that the kingdom is not attained or held together through dominating violence but through surrendering to God's life-giving spirit.

This surrender allows us to see God in all. It allows us to not fear the equality of others. It allows us to relinquish our hold on a power that isn't ours and that we often misuse. And in this surrender, we see the King of kings and Lord of lords.

This is the king of whom Jeremiah spoke.
This is the king for whom Pope Pius XI created a Feast day.
This is the king who was crucified for our sake.
This is the king who gathers all to him.
This is Christ the King.



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