An Antidote to Kingship
Christ The King
25 November 2018
The year is 1925. The Great War ended seven years earlier (and this fall marked 100 years) but the seeds of the second world war are being planted as nationalism arises several countries, Germany as it bent under the burden of the peace agreement that ended the war. Stalin was consolidating his brutal regime in Russia. Woodrow Wilson had tried unsuccessfully to get nations to join together to work out the problems they faced without resorting to wars. Mussolini was gathering strength and power in Italy, which perhaps is what inspired the Vatican. Pope Pius the 11th issues an encyclical entitled Quas Primas (in the first) which stated that The Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state, that leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ, and that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies. We are to detach ourselves from earthly things and to have a spirit of gentleness. This was the origin of Christ the King, or the Reign of Christ. It is a fitting way to end the church year, is it not?
The times in which we live may not be all that different from those of Pope Pius. Look around and what do you see but a rise in nationalism. America first, Brexit, and the increasing popularity of political parties in Europe that are anti-immigrant and pro-ethnically “pure” nations. Our president sends troops to the border to head off what he terms an invasion. The congressman from our district supported a right-wing nationalist in Canada for a mayoral election.
Into this fray steps Jesus. He does this every year the last Sunday in November. The focus may be a bit different in each of the three lectionary cycles, but the question is the same and it is simple: to whom do you pledge your allegiance? I don’t mean you cannot both be a citizen of the United State and a Christian, but your ultimate loyalty can only go to one place.
We all belong to tribes or clans. You may think of it as “primitive” or something that only aborigines and indigenous people “do”, but we all belong to our clans. They can form along many lines and in many ways. I recently became aware of a group called More in Common that is doing research on what seems to be dividing the United States but more importantly how can we bridge those divides. That group categorized Americans into seven groups from Progressive Activists on the far “left” to Traditional Liberals, Passive Liberals, Politically Disengaged, Moderates, Traditional Conservatives, and Devoted Conservatives at the far “right”. No surprise: I was as far to the left as you could get. But my point here is not to tell you that we need to engage in tribalism; it is rather to say that as human beings we find ourselves with passionate beliefs that categorize us; we find ourselves race or ethnicity or education or by where we happened to be born and/or raised as different ways that we define ourselves. I am a loyal citizen of the United States of America as far as that will take me. Today we are told that we must step into a different kingdom, or better yet kin-dom, one that knows no bounds by any of the parameters that I just mentioned! It is a kin-dom of weeds and seeds, wine, treasure, prodigal children welcomed home. I am declaring that the tribe to which I place my ultimate loyalty is God. I want to be part of the reign of Christ because I have seen what that kingdom is like and, believe me, it is paradise. I have glimpsed what it is: a place of transformation, where mercy and justice prevail and where there is true equality. Yet paradoxically if I place my loyalty with God, with the reign of Christ, then I step into a world that is possibly more dangerous than that in which I live now.
What does it mean that Christ is King? What is the Kingdom really all about? Pilate asks the question of Jesus: are you a king? He is asking if Jesus is like Caesar: a king who is considered a god and one whose kingdom, not kin-dom, is built on domination, where the few own the wealth and engage in a tyrannical and despotic rule over the many. It is a reign of terror for the many. But the reign Jesus describes is a galaxy away.. It is about being a servant to all. It is about the capacity to love everyone, even if you do not like them. It is about being willing to give up everything for the sake of Christ and for one another. We are celebrating a king who was nailed to a cross!! That either tells you Jesus was a fool or that he was the son of God and that everything he did and said was true in the way of ultimate truth. Indeed he comes as the alpha and the omega!! The first and the last. He testifies to the truth, not truth as fact, but truth as revelation of God and what God’s kin-dom is all about.
The truth to which Christ calls us to pledge our loyalty is not a truth bound in power, strength, or domination. It is truth bound in love, in a love that knows no bounds. It is a truth that demands forgiveness, not retribution, charity and abundance, not greed and scarcity and a complete surrendering to love.
This description of the Reign of Christ is at the heart of liberation theology, where the most basic premise is that God’s preference is for the poor and the forgotten. It was what drove Oscar Romero to stand with the poor of El Salvador and ultimately be murdered. It was what drove James Cone to articulate black liberation theology. I was reading Schussler-Fiorenza’s work on feminist theology years before I even came back to a church service.
In 1925 Hitler was hard a work building the Nazi party in Germany, Mussolini became the de facto dictator of Italy, and the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Washington DC that drew 35,000 white supremacists. We know the horror that WWII was, with millions dying globally to support or to oppose fascism.
But human memory is short and our belief that the rulers of earth are the true kings and queens continues to keep us enslaved to systems that destroy human dignity and destroy love. All black males are “threats”, journalists are killed in an attempt to prevent truth from being told, desperate refugees wander in Mexico, Myanmar, Sudan, and places all over the globe.
I like these words of Melissa Florer-Bixler, writing in Sojourner’s magazine. “Pilate is not alone. The disciples quip on about the future kingship, arguing over who will sit at his left and right. Each time, Jesus tells them stories. Over and over again he roots the liberation of God in ordinary life, in what happens around us, not in throne rooms with princes and crowns but in baking bread and sowing seeds.”
We are but ordinary people, mere mortals. Yet the kin-dom of God is in our hands. We can draw near to those that offer us a false security, and if we are one of the lucky few wealth and power. Or we can draw near to the one who offers us that which seems foolish: a kin-dom based on being a servant to all and, as Bishop Curry is always ready to say, Love.
What choice will you make? Whom will you serve?
More of Florer-Bixler’s insights:
“Lamps and debt. A friend in the night, and a sower of seeds. Wine, nets, pearls, weeds, and treasure. What is the kingdom of God like? It is like leaven and it is like two sons, like bridesmaids and sheep, like workers and judges.
In the 37 times that Jesus describes the reign of God in the Gospels, not once is the kingdom of God like a kingdom of earth. Thirty-seven times Jesus reshapes the imaginations of his followers. Thirty-seven times Jesus tells them a story to help them remake the only world they know.”