And now unto Christ, the King of Kings, Amen.
Today is the last day in the Christian calendar, the last Sunday in the Christian calendar which runs from the first Sunday in Advent to the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost. So today, on this last Sunday in the season of Pentecost we celebrate Christ the King. We begin the Christian year in Advent, anticipating the coming of Christ, and we end it proclaiming Jesus is King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
But what does that proclamation mean?
First, I believe it means that we acknowledge that Jesus is our Christ, Christ which comes from the Greek christos, meaning savior or Messiah. We are persons who believe that God has given Jesus power to save, to save all who would believe in and accept the revelation of God, the Light of God, the very living Word of God revealed in Jesus.
But saved from what?
Yes, saved from sin. From those things which make us less than God has created us to be as individuals, and as a human community, from those things for which we have a simple proclivity, but which diminishes our humanity—pride, arrogance, the hunger for power over others, are example of such things which diminish us and our truest and most treasured relationships.
And yet somehow, these are the qualities we seem to naturally aspire and hold in esteem: Envy. Hatred. Revenge. Retribution. And self-righteousness. That is, contempt for any ultimate values which might limit our moral freedom. What is right is what is convenient to us. And yet our personal world, and the large world that we experience and that we read about in the news, are both literally perishing as a direct result of envy, of hate, of revenge, of retribution, and self-righteousness.
And I don’t know if you’re like me, but sometimes I stop and I think about myself, and I think about my world, and I say, “What will save us from our selves?”
The answer for me is always, “Jesus saves.”
Jesus saves us from fear. From the fear of living the truth we know in our heart of hearts, less our ambitions die and our esteem in the eyes of others important to us also die. And yet the words of Jesus have never rung truer than in our own time when Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “Come, follow me, for what does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your self?” …The self God has made and the self God desires for me and for me to become? Following Jesus, saves us from losing the essence of our beings, our very soul, the opportunity to discover the truth about ourselves, and accept it, and live it.
Jesus also saves us from the fear of death. By assuring us by his living presence of eternal life, not only by faith in his resurrection, but by the presence of his Spirit, the very Spirit of God within him, by the presence of the Spirit in prayer, in worship, in service, in Christian fellowship. Has anyone here ever sensed, experienced the presence of Jesus in your life?
If you have, just sneak your hand up a little bit. And, yes, I have also.
My brothers and sisters, the deepest human need is for love. From the inconsolable infant, to the self-assured CEO, our deepest human need is to know that we are loved, that we are loved. Even in our imperfections and our insecurity, to know that we are loved. And you know the burden of our imperfection and the burden of our perfection are both very heavy. The burden of perfection is idolatry. It is the idolatry of the imagined self we are determined to make, rather than to open our selves to discover and accept the self that God has given us. And I want to remind you and to assure you that if you are struggling today with the burdens of imperfection or even more so, the burden of being perfect, the fear of failure and the fear of not being all that others expect us to be, hear the words of Jesus, because he understands.
And the living word said, “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burden. And I will give you rest. For I am gentle, and I am humble, and in me you will find rest for your souls.”
Have you even been just tired in the soul? Just weary from the burdens of life and the expectations, the heaviest of which we place upon ourselves? Have you ever felt that heaviness of soul? Jesus said, “Come unto me in prayer, in worship, and I will give you rest.”
So Jesus is for the Christian, for you and for me, he is the King of Kings. And he is the King of Kings because he is more than a healer, more than a teacher, more than a philosopher, more than a mystic. He is more than a unique historic figure. He is even more than a prophet or a messenger of God. For Jesus is the very Living Word of God. In Jesus is the inescapable truth that every hope of God for human living, every promise of God revealed in every revelation, finds fulfillment and clarity in the life and living of Jesus.
And you know, every major religion, even those that do not choose the doctrine of Christian faith, acknowledge Jesus with reverence. Even religions that began before Christianity in the neo-Hinduism, in the reinterpretation of texts, Jesus is acknowledged. Among the Buddhists, Jesus is acknowledged. The Jewish community, even Muslims. You know, Muslims believe that the miracles of Jesus and the sanctity of Jesus is even higher than Mohammed’s sanctity. Whenever they speak of Jesus they say, “Jesus, peace be upon him.” And the only other ascription that they give is when they speak of Mohammed. Yes, they believe that Mohammed’s revelation is the final revelation of God. But still there is the reverence for Jesus.
Why? Well, no where, in no religious revelation or community, including the Christian community, is the love of God, the justice of God, the forgiveness of God, the sacrifice of God, the peace of God, more evident than in Jesus. The Jesus we know through Scripture and the Jesus we know by our personal faith.
And so when we compare him with all others, historically, philosophically, theologically and spiritually, no one’s message, no one’s life, no one’s presence fully embodies God’s revelation of the Divine self. God as love. God as just. God as forgiving. God as a sacrificial sacrifice for the world God loves. God as peace. None, more reveals this than Jesus Christ.
I was thinking the other evening, even in this time of terrorism at home and abroad, in this time of wars and pending wars around the world, including our only deadly dance with Iraq, we are reminded that all religions preach the primacy of peace. All religions do. And they preach it, including Christianity as the way of God. Even though there are adherents, including many Christian hawks, do not live or exemplify it.
But it is preached.
But even within the Abrahamic family, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, only Jesus fully lived the way of peace. Abraham, Moses and Mohammed all led armies into battle. There was in their belief systems and their message, concessions for violence. They understood themselves, and we understand them, as great messengers from God, as leaders. Leaders of a devout people and prophets. We are influenced and indebted to each of them, some ways in our own culture and even in our own faith.
But Jesus is the only one to be the peace of God, to love, not just his own, but the world. And thus allowed himself to be delivered into the hands of sinful, nonviolent people, to suffer willingly the worst of human aggression and violence. And then, to truth God to show the world that by resurrection that the way of God and the word of God can never be defeated.
That is why we call him not only King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, but Prince of Peace.
And think about it. Every modern leader of non-violent resistance has not only been grounded in their own faith and philosophy, but have found inspiration, indispensable inspiration, in Jesus’ courage to see through the power of violence and the fear of death, to stand for justice, for truth and peace.
Think of the Hindu, Mohandas Gandhi. The Baptist, Martin Luther King, Jr. The Buddhist, the Dalai Lama. The Polish Catholic, Lec Walenska. The eclectic South African, Nelson Mandela. The Anglican South African, Desmond Tutu. The Irish Roman Catholic, Myriad Maguire.
The work of these and others has had a more lasting effect than all the wars of modern history. And it is Jesus’ life, more than his words, but the Spirit the essence of his life, which inspire and reign in the long run.
So we call him King. For us, Jesus is the supreme witness of God. Jesus is the very embodiment of God’s dream for humanity.
And so as we gather today as not a memorial service, no Christian worship ever is. As Christians we know Jesus to be living, alive in our prayers, alive in the worship, alive in the sacrament, alive in caring service to others, and in the grace to live our own lives more fully, to serve love and justice and the peace of God.
Now today many people talk about do-gooders. It’s not really a good thing, or at least a bog thing to be a do-gooder today. And the assumption is that anyone can do good. But do-gooders can’t do good to their enemies without the conversion of our lives. Without the conversion of our lives, we don’t as a way of living risk to sacrifice ourselves for strangers, or for those who have not earned our trust, our respect or our familiarity. It takes the converting power of a living Lord to give us grace, day by day, to find our way towards living as God would have us to live.
Remember a corporate executive said to me a few years ago, he said, “Remember this, Dean, people in my situation will do more for charity than they will for money if they have enough money.” But then he added, “and sometimes then, not very much.”
But Jesus says this. You have heard it said, “Love those with whom you are familiar and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love, have Godly respect for your enemy, and pray for those who treat you ill.”
Now if this true that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lord, Prophet of Prophets, what does this mean in this pluralistic age in which we live regarding our attitude towards non-Christians? Do we, like the marketers of our time, simply look at others as potential customers of our product, the more conversions, the greater our share of the market and the more endorsement of our superiority?
Yes, there are what we would call exclusionary texts. There is the text in Acts where Peter says there is salvation in no other name under heaven by which mortals can be saved. And there are the words of Jesus, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” And I’ve been asked about that text a lot, and I believe that Jesus is speaking of his Spirit, not about a doctrine, but the Spirit of love and of justice and of peace and of reconciliation which God brought alive in the incarnation of Jesus.
And so wherever persons are willing to submit themselves to these gifts and revelations of Jesus, they have access to the Father.
But there is that text in Philippians, the ninth verse, the second chapter, where it says that God gave Jesus the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee would bend in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Now for the knee to bend and the tongue to confess is to reference the Spirit of God in Christ. As Christians, and it is my hope, that every professing Christian as well as non-Christians, would know Jesus in the fullness of his glory through prayer, devotion, worship, the sacraments, and Christian service for justice and peace.
But in that same text in Philippians where we talked just a moment ago about the ninth verse, beginning at the first verse, this is what Paul tells us. Paul talks of Jesus as humility saying that we are to have the same mind that Christ had. For he said, “Jesus was humble, not acting towards others with selfish ambition or conceit, but with humility.” So then Paul says, “let the same mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.”
And so therefore we must hold in tension this sense of the glory and the exaltation of Jesus with that sense of humility towards others, as Paul wrote in this text preferring others above yourself, whatever their culture or tradition.
Yes, we must remember that Jesus did not make any distinctions when he talked about the Spirit of his ministry. Every religion in some way honors the spirit of Jesus. The deeper truth is known as Gandhi once said to us, that the problem in the world is that Christians is Christians won’t be Christian. Humility, service, love, respect, this is the calling and the witness of Christ.
And so we must also remember that Jesus did not make any distinction of religion or culture when he said in the beatitudes that peacemakers would be called the children of God, whomever they are, whatever their experience, that they see the light of being peacemakers.
And then in the Gospel today, when Jesus said that on the Day of Judgement, that judgement would be based on those who lovingly served the greatest need of those who were without. And I’ve got a picture of the great line of judgment that John talked about that no man could number. And I saw that some were standing there in Brooks Brothers suits and some in Neiman Marcus dresses, some had on dashikis and some had their heads wrapped with turbans and some had on Saudis and some had on yamikas. But Jesus looked over this sorted group, knowing that it was his job to separate. You know, sometimes we think it’s our job to separate, but Jesus said, “No, when the King comes, he will separate. So let the wheat and the tear grow together. In the time of judgement I will separate.” So here we are standing in this great line, and Jesus will ask us, “Did you feed the hungry?”
“Well, Lord, I’m an Episcopalian, and I was baptized and on the cradle roll.” “No, I understand, but I want to know, did you feed the hungry? Did you give your resources to help those who were in need? Did you volunteer in a soup kitchen? Did you support policies for the poor? Did you give someone water?” “Well, Lord, you know I got to synagogue every Sabbath.” “No, I understand that, but I want to know did you give the thirsty water? Did you find a way to provide clean wells and use your technology for clean water not only in foreign countries, but those in your own country, your own city? I want to know did you treat the stranger with justice?” “Well, Lord, you know I’ve been a Presbyterian. In fact, I’m a charismatic Presbyterian and I speak in tongues.” “I understand that, but what I want to know is did you stand up for the rights of the stranger? Did you stand up for the rights and the dignity and the acceptance of the alien? Did you stand for those and the one whose gender, whose sexual orientation, whose race or views, or culture, was different from yours, or from the majority? And what about the sick and the dying? Did you work for health care for the most vulnerable? Were you mindful of the pandemic in the world of AIDS/HIV? Or what about prisoners? Did you affirm society’s proclivity to throw away the key and forget about those in prison? There’s so much that God wants to be done for the world God loves, have you done any-thing? ….Anything?
I’m reminded of a story of St. Peter of the Gate, one of these St. Peter stories….And there was a man standing at the gate. And St. Peter asked him why he should allow him into heaven and not send him to hell. Well, St. Peter asked him, he said, “Have you done anything for anyone else?” Well, the man thought and he thought, and then his face brightened. He said, “Yes, just the