Sermon for Sunday November 25th
The Truth of Jesus’ Kingdom
Today is a special Sunday in the Church’s liturgical calendar. You may know that the start of our liturgical year does not coincide with the start of our secular year on January 1st. It begins, instead, with the season of Advent. Next Sunday, December 2nd, we begin another four weeks of Advent. This means that today, November 25th, is the last Sunday of our current church year.
We could even consider today as being a liturgical “New Year’s Eve” Sunday of sorts. Now, we won’t be singing “For Auld Ang Seine” during the service, or dropping a large glittery ball from the top of the bell tower. Yet, like December 31st, we do not let this last Sunday of our church year pass quietly and without distinction. We’ve changed liturgical colors from the green of the ordinary time after Pentecost to the white of celebration. And, on this last Sunday of the church year we also celebrate the feast of Christ the King.
This is a relatively new liturgical designation. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 to counteract the growing worldliness and atheism of the early twentieth century. In the Roman Catholic Church it was first celebrated on the last Sunday of October. During the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, it was moved to the last Sunday of the church year, immediately preceding the start of Advent.
The Episcopal Church also celebrates this special Sunday marking the end of one church year and the start of another. This is why our Collect of the Day describes Jesus as the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Our first and second readings narrate apocalyptic visions where the divine reign is restored. In contrast to these end-of-time revelations, today’s gospel reading is an unexpected text.
In John’s version of the Passion story, Pilate is privately interrogating Jesus. The Roman governor is trying to confirm the Jewish authorities’ charges. They insist that Jesus is staking claim to be a Jewish king. Jesus is clear in his response to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
The conversation between Pilate and Jesus continues. It is as though the two men are talking past each other. Pilate, baffled by this concept of an otherworldly kingdom, again tries to confirm Jesus’ kingship. Jesus affirms his “kingly” mission in terms of bearing witness to the truth. Perhaps you remember that this interaction ends with Pilate’s final question: “What is truth?”
Many have understood Jesus’ statement about his other-worldly kingdom in relation to the apocalyptic descriptions found throughout the Bible. The Gospels contain many such accounts narrated by Jesus. For example, last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark was such a passage. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent always has Jesus’ describing the details of some future end-of-the-world scenario.
Perhaps there is another way of understanding Jesus’ statement that his kingdom ‘is not of this world.”
What if the truth of Jesus’ kingdom is its contrast to the familiar workings that represent secular power?
What if it does not call for any kind of violence as a primary means of securing desired results? After all, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword.
What if it ‘respects the dignity of every human being’? Remember that Jesus reached out and aided the untouchables of his time.
What if it “seeks to serve Christ in all persons”? Jesus spoke of being a servant; he even washed the feet of his disciples as an example!
In this context, Jesus’ ministry describes a kingdom, but not in the pattern that would be familiar to Pilate.
Jesus’ kingdom is not about power, or, prestige, or position. We remember his many parables that described the attributes of this kingdom:
It is where the prodigal son is welcomed home, to the chagrin of the well-behaved older brother.
It is where all receive the full measure of grace, like the workers invited into the vineyard throughout the day, even if it disrupts our usual understandings of what is fair.
It is where, like the sower spreading his seed over all sorts of surfaces, God spreads God’s love throughout the entire world without any regard of the possible return.
This was Jesus’ description of the kingdom of God when he first showed humanity his way. This description hasn’t really changed since then. Like those first disciples who were called by Jesus to work for the coming of that kingdom on earth, we are invited to participate in the realization of this kingdom.
As we live in our world, our individual and corporate spiritual practices include re-calibrating our priorities in light of Jesus’ description of his kingdom.
Frederick Buechner contrasts the directives of the secular world with the invitation of Jesus. He writes:
The world says, “Mind your own business.”
Jesus says, “There is no such thing as your own business.”
The world says, “Follow the wisest course and be a success.”
Jesus says, “follow me and be crucified.”
The world says, “Drive carefully; the life you save may be your own.”
Jesus says, “Whoever would save her life will lose it,
and whoever loses her life for my sake will find it.”
The world says, “Get.”
Jesus says, “Give.”
The world says, “Law and order.”
Jesus says, “Love.” (1)
We are invited to manifest the reign of Christ in the ordinary events of life, as we extend the gift of divine compassion to others. Like the first disciples, Jesus commissions us to continue his kingdom work, here and now. God knows that our world needs this re-calibrating grace more than ever before!
Our work of witness takes place in our private and public relationships: in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in this congregation, even in our social media interactions. Our kingdom work is as comprehensive as recognizing the presence of God in everyone and welcoming them. It is as simple as being able to meet the needs of others willingly, offering them genuine hospitality. It is about living our faith with reckless abandon as we consciously ignore the overriding social messages of our culture to “play it safe with our piety.”
As followers of Jesus we believe, according to the words of the Nicene Creed, that his kingdom will have no end. On this feast day of Christ the King, let us actively engage our work of manifesting Jesus’ kingdom of peace, compassion and justice. Amen.
(1) Adapted from Listening to Your Life, “Under a Delusion”, p. 95.