A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on November 28, 2006.
Based on John 18:33-37 (Christ the King).
“Who died and made you king?” I get this response whenever I make a decision that I really don’t have the authority to make. Like when I, without first begging for permission, change the channel from CSI Miami to Monday Night Football. “Who died and made you king?” You’ve probably either been asked this question or asked it yourself. The implication being that to be king is to hold absolute power. And to hold absolute power is to occasionally abuse that power.
But when we come to Christ the King Sunday and examine the kingship of Jesus, we see that we’re dealing with a different sort of realm. Jesus’ kingship is not about the iron grip of absolute power. Indeed, when Jesus says to his loyal subjects “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” we realize this is something altogether unlike earthly kingship. It is a kingship that, as we prayed in our opening collect, frees and brings together those divided and enslaved by sin. So it’s a kingship of freedom rather than imprisonment; a kingship based on peace rather than fear.
And this sounds a lot different than our usual kingly perceptions: crowns, castles, knights, moats, dungeons. “It’s good to be the king,” Mel Brooks has told us. And, barring a coup attempt, he’s probably right. But maybe celebrating Christ’s kingship is particularly difficult for Americans. After all our country began with a war to get rid of a king. We equate kingly dominion with muskets and Redcoats and “No taxation without representation.” While we’re all about democracy and bicameral legislatures and having every vote count. So to celebrate kingship is a stretch for us. The idea of being subject to the whims of royalty goes against our own sense of “rugged individualism.”
But, again, this is a different sort of kingdom. It is also a realm into which we may freely enter. We have a choice: be subject to the living, loving God or stay outside the walls. No one’s throwing us into the dungeon if we don’t submit. There’s no hanging for royal treason.
Jesus tells Pilate in this exchange, “My kingdom is not from this world.” And the events that follow certainly corroborate this. But there is also a subtext to Jesus’ trial at the hands of Pilate. Because in the Roman world of Jesus’ day, kingship was the only known form of government. And so a claim of kingship was a bold act of treason punishable by death. And of course Pilate can’t distinguish between earthly kingship and this seemingly bizarre statement that Jesus’ kingship is “not from this world.” Which leads to a significant disconnect on Pilate’s part. No one fully understood that they were talking about two completely different things. There is political kingship and then there is theological kingship. And even many of Jesus’ followers grossly misunderstood the kingship of Jesus. They were expecting this messiah to usher in a reign of earthly kingship that would overthrow the Roman oppressors through military might. But of course this is not why God’s only son came into the world. Jesus’ power and authority derive not from force or intimidation but from God. Jesus rules by divine right in the purest sense of the phrase.
And so we end up with what Kathy Corley calls the “upside down kingdom.” A place where a king is born in a lowly stable. A place where a king is not King Midas wealthy, set up in a fortified castle but a man without a place to lay his head. A place where a king has not 12 knights but 12 unarmed apostles. A place where in darkness there is light and in death there is resurrection. A place where nothing makes sense from a human perspective but it all makes complete sense through the divine lens of God.
Once we’ve established that Christ is our King, the next question becomes how do we serve him? That’s what loyal subjects do after all; they serve and pay homage to their king. The primary way to serve Christ is simply through worship. We gather here, we pray, we remain in relationship with Jesus by attending to our spiritual lives. I bid you to reflect upon ways in which you can be a more loyal subject of Christ the King. It’s not about groveling at the throne. It’s about submitting to Christ with all your heart and soul. It takes discipline and dedication.
So, Jesus is a king. And we are free to celebrate this kingship not as feudal servants but as participants in the royal banquet that is set before us. Who died and made Jesus king? Well, he did. And so on this day that wonderful canticle from the service of Morning Prayer taken from the Book of Revelation resounds: “Splendor and honor and kingly power are yours by right O Lord our God, for you created everything that is, and by your will they were created and have their being; and yours by right, O lamb that was slain, for with your blood you have redeemed for God, from every family, language people, and nation, a kingdom of priests to serve our God. And so, to him who sits upon the throne, and to Christ the Lamb, be worship and praise, dominion and splendor for ever and for evermore.”
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006