Christ the King Sunday 2016

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy Schenck on November 20, 2016 (Christ the King, Year C)

This past week, two Episcopal churches, one in Maryland and one in Indiana, were vandalized with racist messages. In Silver Spring, Maryland, parishioners at Church of Our Savior found “Trump nation — whites only” scrawled on a brick wall in their memorial garden. And the same words were written on the back of a banner advertising their weekly Spanish-language service. At St. David’s Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana, the phrases “fag church” and “heil Trump” were spray painted on the exterior, along with a swastika.

bean-blossom-church-vandalismNow, it would be easy for us to ignore these incidents. I mean, they didn’t happen here in Hingham. Our sacred space wasn’t violated. We weren’t left to scrub hatred off our walls or wash contempt off our souls. In a sense, it doesn’t affect us at all.

But as the church, we are the Body of Christ. So when one of our members is wounded, we’re all wounded. When one of our members is diminished, we’re all diminished. When one of our members is demeaned, we’re all demeaned. And if we can’t share in the outrage of the denial of human dignity based solely upon race or sexual orientation, we need to question what exactly we think we’re doing sitting in a Christian church this morning; worshiping the Lord of love, the one who breaks down barriers between and among all people.

I’m not bringing this up to toss another log onto the the post-election fire that’s raging in our country. Yet hate transcends partisan politics. And there’s certainly no place for it in our world or in our church. But I think this moment in our national life serves as a clarion call to what we must do as a community of faith in divided times, as the hands and heart and voice of Jesus in the world. Because that’s precisely what and who we are.

Our call, as always, is to be a beacon of light that shines amid the darkness of a broken and sinful world. It is to stand with those on the margins of society, the weak and the vulnerable, the fearful and the dispossessed. It is to listen to the cries of those outside the traditional power structures, and to heed their voices. It is to embrace hope and the promise of Jesus’ resurrection, even in the face of darkness and despair. It is to tear down the walls between people who differ from us, politically, racially, culturally, and religiously. It is to make sacrifices, individually and communally, to insure social and economic justice for the poor and downtrodden.

These aren’t merely suggestions to consider, these are gospel mandates to live into. And it’s not easy. But then we worship a king who ushers us into a kingdom of radical transformation through divine encounter, not a life of leisure through a path of least resistance. On Christ the King Sunday we are reminded that we worship a king who is not of this world; a king whose very existence strikes fear into the hearts of the powers and principalities of the ruling class. A king of disruption and change rather than a monarch of structure and stability.

And so, we’re confronted with a challenging question: how will we claim our role as loyal subjects of Christ the King? In a world where might generally does make right, how do we follow the Prince of Peace?

Well, we can start by proclaiming our faith in ever-bolder ways. So that, in a sense, we should be asking ourselves, why didn’t this vandalism that touched the Church of Our Savior and St. David’s happen here at St. John’s? If we are preaching the gospel by word and action as a church community, if we are living out our baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every human being — not just some human beings or only the human beings who look like us and act like us and believe what we believe — we should be the target of vandalism. We should be reviled by the darker forces of this world, those who fight against love and justice and peace.

Do I want our sacred space to be vandalized? Of course not. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not and never has been an easy path to follow. We worship a king, yes. But a king who was strung up on a cross to suffer and die, not one who prances around in royal robes. That’s the great paradox of the Christian faith. That out of death there is life; out of darkness there is light; out of crucifixion there is resurrection. And that sacrifice is always involved in following the divine call to love your neighbor as yourself.

So, in order to be loyal subjects of Christ the King, what are we as a community willing to sacrifice? What privileges are we as individuals willing to sacrifice? These are the hard questions of being disciples of Jesus in an increasingly polarized world. It may be a sacrifice to give up your time to stand with the dispossessed. Or to share your financial resources — your hard-earned money — with the church and other charities that do kingdom work. It may be leaving your comfort zone to enter into hard conversations with those with whom you disagree or differ from in order to see life from another perspective.

These are the kinds of things that we as Christians must do now more than ever. We must proclaim as a church and as individuals that we will not stand for the demeaning of any human being for whatever reason. To stand idly by is to be complicit. It is to condemn Jesus to the cross again and again and again.

My friends in Christ, this is not an easy time to be a Christian. But it is an important time to be a Christian. We have such an opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless and to offer hope to the hopeless. Never has your commitment to this place mattered so much as it does in this very moment.

You know, I was in Arizona for a few days this week to attend a conference on church leadership. And one of the attendees was Kirk Smith, the Bishop of Arizona. I’ve met Bishop Smith several times over the years and we’ve interacted over social media, but he said something that startled me. At the end of the conference he shared some thoughts with the group and in reflecting on the church’s role in the days, months, and years to come, he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to jail.” This wasn’t uttered as a badge of honor, there was great heartache in his words. But also deep conviction. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to jail because I’ll be standing with the immigrants.” This is precisely where the church needs to be, standing with the marginalized. Working for the kingdom of God always entails some suffering along the way. But in the saints of the church, we have plenty of powerful examples of perseverance and endurance we can always look to for inspiration, right along with a vision for bringing us ever closer to realizing God’s kingdom here on earth.

I’m proud to engage in this struggle with all of you. Because of it, we will grow spiritually; our minds and hearts will be expanded; our comfort zones will be extended. We’re not in this alone. Jesus, our royal brother, is with us at every step of the way. And there is great comfort, if not always solace, in this.

At St. David’s in Bean Blossom, they left the hateful messages up in hopes of fostering dialogue. And at Church of Our Savior, in Silver Spring, the community pulled together the evening of the attack and packed the regular Spanish-language mass in a show of support and solidarity. Attendees wrote messages of love on the sidewalk in chalk and covered the vandalism with signs saying “love wins.”

May we, like those seeking reconciliation, look to the courage of our convictions. And may we never, ever back down from following Christ our Lord and our King.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2016

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Christ the King 2013

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on November 24, 2013 (Christ the King)

I’ve always loved Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. You know, the story about the vain ruler who cares only about his fancy clothes and is taken advantage of by two conniving thieves pretending to weave him a garment out of the finest cloth available. The catch is that it’s only visible to those who are wise. The emperor won’t admit he can’t see anything – to do so would be to admit his own incompetence; neither will his councilors acknowledge they can’t see the cloth – to do so would mean they weren’t worthy to hold their important positions. Well, the emperor ends up in a parade to show off his new royal “robes,” only to be exposed when a child innocently announces that he’s not wearing anything. Finally everyone’s eyes are opened and the truth is revealed.

In some ways the scene from Jesus’ crucifixion shares a parallel with this story. In The Emperor’s New Clothes it takes a child, an insignificant member of the community, to point out the truth.  And on Mount Calvary it takes a criminal, a marginalized, disgraced, and dying member of the community, to point out the truth. That Jesus is truly a king, not of an earthly realm, not a kingdom of powers and principalities, but a heavenly one.

This certainly wasn’t the conventional wisdom that day. You can imagine the thoughts of those who put Jesus to death — the religious leaders threatened by his message; the soldiers charged with carrying out the execution. The ones who scoffed at him and mocked him and spit at him. The ones who sought his death and the ones who carried it out.

“A king. Right. What a joke. Who does he think he is? Let’s make him wear a crown of thorns. Maybe make him sit on a throne of nails or hold a scepter of brambles. ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ Such treason! There’s only one king and his name is Caesar.”

It takes a man being crucified next to Jesus to recognize the truth. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he says. And Jesus’ response speaks volumes about this new kingdom built on forgiveness not vindictiveness. “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”

But this curious reversal is in keeping with Jesus’ realm where tax collectors and sinners are welcomed and the religious elite are exposed as hypocrites. Where those seemingly in power are not in control and those seemingly degraded and killed see the truth. 

I like to think of this as the “upside down” kingdom. A place where the king was born not in a palace but a stable; a king who didn’t ride into town on a white steed but a donkey; a king who didn’t wear royal robes but the simple clothes of a peasant; a king who didn’t have a powerful army but a ragtag group of disciples. And yet if there was ever a king who could authentically claim to rule by divine right, it was Jesus.

So what’s our role in this kingdom? If Jesus is king of a heavenly realm built upon justice and love and forgiveness and hope, that makes us, as faithful Christians, his subjects. And the next logical question is how are we living as loyal subject in Jesus’ kingdom? 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When we hold onto his vision of the Kingdom of God and proclaim Jesus as the “king of Kings,” our entire worldview shifts. We move from being admirers of Jesus to becoming disciples of Jesus. And there is a major distinction here. As the German pastor, theologian, and martyr under the Nazis Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentleman — just as, after all, I can also live without Plato or Kant. Should, however, there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that here God himself speaks and if the word of God once became present only in Christ, then Christ has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me.” 

That’s what it means to be a loyal subject of Jesus’ kingdom. To take your faith seriously, urgently, and passionately. To put Jesus at the center of your life. To proclaim him “Not only with our lips but in our lives.” To use your God-given gifts and talents in service of the Gospel. That’s something we must strive to do every single day through small acts of love and broad proclamations of hope.

It’s not always an easy path — it led Bonhoeffer to death in a concentration camp. There’s a cost to this discipleship. We’re not likely to get martyred for our faith here on the South Shore. But we can be prophetic voices amid the spiritual apathy of our culture. We can point out injustice in the world; we can share our conviction of God’s presence in even the darkest moments; we can serve those in need. 

Communal worship provides fuel for the journey — which is why it’s so important to regularly worship together. Our service begins within these walls, yet it doesn’t end here. We can’t leave here feeling satisfied with ourselves for having gone to church and leave it at that. Our faith must become embedded into every aspect of our lives; injected into our bloodstream; so that we have the strength and courage to follow Jesus as disciples and not merely admirers.

In a letter to his brother in 1935, Bonhoeffer himself mentioned Hans Christian Andersen’s story as being particularly relevant to their own day and age. And surely it was in the days when Hitler had seized power but had yet to unleash the full horrors of the Holocaust. “All we are lacking today,” he wrote, “is the child who speaks up at the end.” 

Prophetic voices, voices that speak the truth at moments when truth is elusive, often come from places we’d least expect. Like a child or a criminal being put to death. Perhaps the prophetic word today is calling us to toss aside the spiritual nonchalance that surrounds us and more fervently embrace our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. In this way we claim our role as loyal subjects of the only realm that matters, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the only king who deserves our undying loyalty, Jesus Christ.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2013

Christ the King 2005

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on November 20, 2005. 
Based on Matthew 25:31-46 (Last Pentecost, Year A).

Back to basics. Whenever a football team gets off track, the coach reminds his players to get back to basics. It’s a standard sports cliché. One that ranks up there with giving 110% and taking it one game at a time. But, as with most clichés, there’s a fundamental truth at its heart. As injuries pile up and egos emerge and finger-pointing starts and distractions arise and losses start to mount, the coach urges his players to shut everything else out and get back to basics. I’m not specifically referring to my own team, the Baltimore Ravens, but at 2-7 it’s definitely time for them to get back to basics.

God may not care who wins on any given Sunday, but Jesus does call us back, again and again, to the basics of our faith. And, boy is it easy to get distracted. This morning’s gospel passage from Matthew is itself distracting and often misused and abused. It’s an apocalyptic drama, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of God. A place of both judgment and comfort where the sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep are the faithful ones, the people who follow God’s commands and the goats are the unfaithful ones, the people who reject God’s commands. Set up this way, it all seems so black and white. You’re either a sheep or a goat, end of story. But of course it’s more complicated than this. There’s a bit of sheep and a bit of goat in all of us. None of us are purebreds; we’re all hybrids. God loves the sheep in us even while he seeks to transform our inner goat.

The problem with this passage, its inherent danger, is that it’s easy for us to become preoccupied with the sorting. We obviously presume that we are sheep. But then we can’t help but wonder if the person sitting in the next pew is a sheep or a goat. And of course anyone who agrees with us is a sheep and anyone who disagrees is a goat. Whole denominations of Christianity are unfortunately formed on this premise. But of course, we’re not the sorters! That’s not part of the human job description. Our job, and this is where Jesus reminds us to get back to basics, is simple. It’s to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners. We are not the sorters. If we are faithful Christians, we are the feeders and the welcomers and the clothers, and the caregivers and the visitors. Not the sorters.

So Jesus takes us back to basics, back to what’s real — loving our fellow brothers and sisters. That’s what living a life of faith is all about. And thus, it’s particularly appropriate that we have a baptism this morning. The service of baptism always takes us back to the beginning, to the roots of our faith. Baptism is all about getting back to basics. The lofty doctrines of Christianity always return to that single relationship between an individual and Jesus Christ in the context of a community of faith. In this case, Ryan Matthew Fitzgerald. But it also speaks to each one of us. Which is why in a few moments, as we do at every service of baptism, we’ll renew our own baptismal covenants. Reiterating the promises we either made ourselves or that were made on our behalf when we were baptized. And remembering that, with God’s help, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Getting back to basics.

What’s truly radical about this passage is the criteria for entrance into God’s kingdom. It has nothing to do with being a sheep or a goat. It’s not about right doctrine or where you stand on the current issues of the day. It’s simply about how you treat your fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith. It’s about the basics. And that’s amazing. Because it means much of our church infighting is time taken away from the basic mission of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ. In the current political climate of the church, I’ve often wondered how much more ministry could happen if people spent as much time feeding the poor and clothing the naked as they did arguing about sex.

One point about the kingdom of God. And on this day that we celebrate Christ the King, it makes sense to reflect upon his kingdom. While this passage from Scripture is an apocalyptic vision about the kingdom that is to come, the kingdom is not exclusively a far off and distant phenomenon. Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom is also very much right here right now. Because Christ is present in our lives, when we feed and clothe and visit the least of these, we feed and clothe and visit Christ himself. So the kingdom exists here and now just as much as it exists in the world that is to come. Christmas, the entrance into the world of God in human form, is all about the in-breaking of the kingdom into our present reality. God bursts into the world as an infant in a manger. And the kingdom begins. But more about that in the days ahead.

This morning I simply urge you to get back to the basics of your faith. To remember the words of your baptismal covenant. And to revel in the one who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29, Year B)

Proper 29, Year B
November 29, 2000
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck

Some people just know how to make a dramatic entrance.  If you’ve ever seen the sit-com “Seinfeld,” you know that Kramer is one of them.  I’m not sure why, but this quirky character with the gangly limbs and the constant deer-caught-in-the-headlights facial expression can’t seem to simply open a door.  No, Kramer has to come crashing through his neighbor Jerry’s door as if he’s being chased by an unruly mob, even if he’s just looking to borrow a cup of milk.  He never knocks and, for some reason, Jerry never seems to lock his door (I’m not sure why, come to think of it).  But at any rate, Kramer just comes barreling in at least half a dozen times per show.  Graceful they’re not, but Kramer’s entrances are dramatic.

Our readings this morning are full of dramatic entrances.  First, we get the introduction to the Book of Revelation, a book that recounts Christ’s revelation to John of Patmos.  The language is cryptic and difficult to understand as it begins to describe the second coming of Christ.  Apocalyptic literature, of which the Book of Revelation is a stunning example, is ultimately about entry into a deeper relationship with God.  And this relationship is full of mystery, full of the unknown, but also full of life.  To enter into relationship with God is to suspend what is certain, what is quantifiable, what is known.  And the same holds true when we attempt to read apocalyptic literature – when we enter into the revelation of Christ to John we enter a world of metaphor and language beyond the everyday ways in which we communicate.  And so we often feel lost.  Apocalyptic imagery is so unfamiliar and it demands that we suspend our preconceived notions about the natural order of things before we can enter into its world.  In order to read such a book we must dramatically enter unfamiliar territory.

A couple of summers ago I worked as a chaplain in a nursing home.  As part of my ministry I spent a considerable amount of time on the Alzheimer’s floor.  At first this was a terrifying experience because I felt so out of place.  None of the residents ever remembered me, their short-term memory was long gone, so each time I visited the floor I had to reintroduce myself to everyone, often right in the middle of a conversation.  And, as is pretty common with those suffering from Alzheimer’s, many of the folks on the floor were living solidly in the past.  They often believed that they were much younger than they actually were.  If a woman thought that she was in her early twenties she obviously wouldn’t have recognized her own children because they hadn’t been born yet.  This is very hard on families and I had trouble relating to these elderly men and women who seemed to be in some sort of time warp.  It wasn’t until I spent some time with the professionals who worked on the floor that I was able to change my perspective.  Since nothing I could say or do could have any impact upon changing the mindsets of these folks, I wasn’t able to truly minister to them until I entered into their world.  Once I suspended all of my preconceived notions about how older people should act and speak I was free to enter into the present state of their lives.  By entering into their world and leaving mine, I was able to meet them where they needed to be met.  And I learned a tremendous amount from these precious men and woman about breaking through my self-constructed natural order of things.  Things aren’t always as we think they are.  Things aren’t always as they seem.  Our human perspective is limited – it’s not right, it’s not wrong it’s just not complete.  And it’s amazing that people with a debilitating neurological disease can teach us so much about perspective.  Entering into their world is confusing and it doesn’t follow what we see as a normal pattern of life.  It doesn’t always make sense and it doesn’t always follow a familiar outline.  It takes a dramatic entrance to enter into their world.

And the same could be said about entering further into our relationship with God.  There are twists and turns that we could never ask for nor imagine.  Some are joyful, some scary, some enlightening, some confusing but all are sacred because of God’s abiding presence with us through it all.  To enter into a deeper relationship with God is to travel into the unknown.  It’s like taking that first step off the elevator and onto the Alzheimer’s floor.  You have no idea what you’re walking into, who you’ll meet, or where the conversation will go.  You’re not in control of the situation and yet you are called to actively participate and to be fully engaged in the relationships you encounter along the way.  It’s not always comfortable but the rewards are rich.  Because the more we know God the more we’re able to trust God; the more we trust God the more we’re able to be loved by God; and the more we’re able to be loved by God, the more we can share that love with others.

Our Gospel lesson from Mark is usually referred to as the Triumphal Entry and it’s read every year on Palm Sunday.  Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, the place where he will ultimately be hung on a cross to die, and he does so to great fanfare.  Palm branches are spread in front of him, people shout his praises, and Jesus is treated like royalty.  It is a dramatic entry, no doubt.  But triumphal?  Once Jesus is crucified and the disciples have been scattered it seems anything but triumphal.  And yet, after the resurrection there is both a dramatic and triumphal entry.  And this entry has nothing to do with palm branches or “Hosannas.”  Rather, it’s the entry of God becoming more fully known to the disciples.  Through Christ’s resurrection God has entered our lives in a more complete way.  And through our ongoing daily walk with the Lord, God continues to enter our lives in unexpected, surprising, and dramatic ways.  

In less than a month we celebrate the entrance of Christ into the world.  It would seem that God taking on human form would be quite a dramatic entrance.  And yet it took place in a manger.  From the beginning, then, we see that Christ’s kingdom would be different than any other kingdom.  Its humble origins belie its ultimate majesty.  And this first coming is certainly a lot different than John’s Revelation of what the second coming might look like.  On the first Christmas Jesus didn’t come into the world on the clouds, all the tribes of the earth didn’t wail.  We don’t know if John’s vision will look anything like the actual moment when Christ returns.  It might, it might not.  But the dramatic entrances that God makes into our lives, into our hearts are never exactly what we’d envision.  If we couldn’t have imagined the Savior of the world coming to earth wearing swaddling clothes, it’s difficult to try to project what his return will look like.  But make no mistake.  It will be dramatic in whatever form it takes and it’s dramatic because it calls us further into relationship with God.  It’s dramatic because God is always full of surprises.  It’s dramatic because the living God enters our very lives and dwells among us right here, right now.

We stand on the brink of this season of Advent ready and waiting for Christ to make a dramatic entrance into the world.  I’m not sure how many shopping days are left until Christmas and I’m not sure how many days, shopping or otherwise, are left until the second coming of Christ.  But I do know that God calls us to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus right now.  And that kind of entrance is absolutely dramatic.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2000

Christ the King 2002

Christ the King
November 24, 2002
All Saints’, Briarcliff

 Through Scripture and the Christian tradition, we have and pray with many images of Jesus. He is our shepherd, judge, comforter, and the rock of our salvation, to name a few. On this last Sunday before Advent we celebrate Christ as King. Our readings this morning remind us of Christ’s kingly power. We see him throned in royal splendor and we stand in awe of his kingly realm. Of course none of the words and images we use to describe God in Christ can completely capture who Jesus really is for us. Words and images can never convey Christ’s true power because they are limited. They are formed by human vocabulary and perception. We can’t fully grasp the wonder of the divine, at least not in this life. But that’s why it is important to hold onto a number of images of Christ, rather than just one. Christ is not exclusively our shepherd or judge or king. He is all of these things and much more.

But today, we reflect on the image of Christ the king. And “king” is one image that can be particularly tough for us. As Americans we don’t have much experience with kings. In fact we got rid of the last king we had over 200 years ago! And given the latest round of tabloid stories out of Buckingham Palace, Christ’s image as royalty is even less attractive.

But Christ’s reign has little in common with earthly kingship. It is not about coercion or tyrannical power. It’s certainly not about tabloid gossip or extreme wealth. It’s not about the creation of a ruling class with little in common with the ruled. Christ’s kingship is about perfect freedom not absolute power. It is about true divine right not the pretense of it. It draws people together rather than isolating them from one another.

Our Scripture this morning points us toward a different understanding of kingship. A kingship that blends several images of Jesus. He is both king and shepherd. He holds authority but he wields it with loving tenderness. Matthew’s Gospel speaks of a sorting out on judgment day, a sorting into two groups. On the one hand we have the sheep who will be sent to eternal righteousness. On the other hand we have the goats who will be sent to eternal punishment. So there is no questioning the authority of the king eternal who will come to judge the earth. But if we look at the wider context of this we see the tenderness of the shepherd. 

The prophet Ezekiel points to this aspect of our shepherd-king. God doesn’t find enjoyment in the sorting of sheep and goats. We’re told that he himself searches for his sheep. And feeds them. And brings them to rich pastures where they can live in peace. This is a beautiful image of God’s love for each one of us. And when we stray, Ezekiel assures us that God seeks us out and when we’re injured, God binds up our wounds and when we’re weak, God gives us strength. God seeks out the sheep in all of us, not the goat. There may well be a sorting on judgment day but God our shepherd and our king desires that we are brought into his fold. God actively seeks us and calls out to us. And for this reason we can celebrate Christ the king and give thanks for this particular image of Christ.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2002

Christ the King 2006

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

Christ the King 2007

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on November 25, 2007. 
Based on Luke 23:35-43 (Christ the King Sunday, Year C).

 I had a brush with royalty once. About twenty years ago my family took a trip to London. We hit all the usual tourist hotspots; the Tower of London, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Then we loaded onto the top of one of those red double-decker buses and toured the city. From that vantage point we had a stunning view of the Thames River as well as some amazingly colorful and unique punk hairstyles. It was the ‘80’s after all. My brother and I even spotted Billy Joel walking in Trafalgar Square and we got him to wave to the whole bus. But that’s not the kind of royalty I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about the real deal. Because towards the end of the day, we ended up in the famous Tate Gallery to see a special Franz Hals exhibit. At some point I wandered off by myself to stare at one of his more magnificent portraits, and when I turned around I came face-to-face with…the Queen Mum.

I’m not much of a royal watcher but even I couldn’t miss this one. There she was, in all her glory, wearing a bright purple dress with matching bright purple shoes and a bright purple handbag. She was short but dignified and quite, well, old. She was at least 90-something at that point – she lived to be 101. But she made a striking impression. And there she was, close enough that I could have literally reached out and touched her. But something held me back – probably the large bodyguard who had his hand inside his sport jacket ready to blow anyone away who even looked at her funny. I smiled slightly and scurried off to find the rest of my family so we could all gawk at a safe distance.
 
This morning we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. And so we’ve got royalty on our minds and in the readings. We acknowledge the kingship of Jesus and pray to the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Christ as king is a traditional image of the Church – he’s often portrayed as such, complete with crown and royal robes and orb, in icons and paintings and in crucifixes known as the christus rex. Scripture depicts Jesus returning to judge the earth at the Second Coming adorned in kingly majesty.

Which makes it all the more jarring when we look to this morning’s gospel passage and encounter Jesus’ crucifixion. Hanging on a cross is certainly not how we’d envision the royal splendor of Christ the King. We want to see him coming to us in great glory and robed in purple majesty. But this is hardly the kind of royalty Jesus embodies.
 
And so when we reflect upon Christ the King, our earthly notions of kingship must be suspended. Because Jesus isn’t about the trappings of earthly monarchs – he was born in a stable, not a palace; he had a rag-tag group of nomadic followers, not a royal court; he had “nowhere to lay his head,” not a royal bed chamber. And yet, as the son of God, Jesus is the only king in the history of kingship who could authentically lay claim to Divine Right. 

It was certainly hard for many of Jesus’ own disciples to make sense of his legacy. So many of them misunderstood his kingship. They earnestly believed that he would deliver them by the power of the sword and overthrow the ruling authorities. They wanted to crown Jesus as their king and establish for Jesus an earthly realm over which he and his ancestors would rule for generations. They yearned for a messiah who would change the world; but they wanted it changed on their terms, on the human terms that they knew and understood. They misunderstood the meaning of the kingdom of Heaven on earth. And to counteract this, Jesus often performed his miracles in secret and then demanded that no one tell of his mighty deeds. This, of course, didn’t work out so well. But the reason for this was simple: he didn’t want people to misunderstand his kingship; and he knew it wouldn’t be until after the resurrection that people would begin to fully grasp his teachings about this new kingdom; a kingdom not of this world but of the next.
 
In the coming weeks of Advent, we’ll hear the Old Testament prophecies foretelling this kingdom. We’ll hear from Isaiah about a place of peace; a place where the lion and the lamb lay down together; a place where swords are beat into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. And together we’ll await the coming of the Christ-child, that incarnational act that ushers in this new kingdom. A kingdom where Jesus expands the notion of royalty to include all of us, not just the chosen few. You and I are part of this new kingdom. Our faith in Jesus Christ makes us royal courtiers in the kingdom of heaven. We’re not left on the outside looking in; we’re brought into the throne room, into the inner sanctum of God’s presence. And that was, and is, a radical notion of kingship. It is the “upside down” kingdom – a place where death leads to resurrection; where light overcomes darkness; where suffering yields to joy; where war gives way to peace.
 
This morning we hear one of the most compelling exchanges in the New Testament. The so-called penitent thief who is crucified alongside Jesus, says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And thus is embodied the whole notion of “Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door will be opened unto you.” The penitent thief seeks the kingdom of God and is rewarded. So, too, are we bid to seek the kingdom. Perhaps that’s what we can take away from this day: a renewed passion for seeking the kingdom of God. Not a bad entry point as we prepare for the season of hope and expectation that is Advent.
 
It is a different kind of kingship. Jesus isn’t part of a high profile and obscenely rich and dysfunctional royal family. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John aren’t comparable to the National Enquirer, the Star, the Sun, and the Globe. Jesus Christ embodies a different kind of kingship, he rules a different kind of kingdom, and he is a different kind of king.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2007