All Saints’ Church – Nov 24th 2019
Christ the King: A different way of being in the world
Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6; Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11–20; Luke 23:33–43
Ex-offenders must learn a different way of being in the world when they return to the community. The culture and life of prison is different than the culture and way of life we are accustomed. In the Canadian penal system conflicts are resolved differently, the speed of life is different, the approach to relationships and the social hierarchies are different. I could go on and on about all the ways prison culture is both similar and different to modern society; but for our purposes, it’s important to know that a parolee’s return to the community requires a shift in consciousness, and a fundamental change in their way of life, in order to successfully remain in the community crime-free. Some choose to reoffend or break parole conditions simply to return to prison because it’s familiar, and our community’s culture is far too overwhelming to navigate. Right or wrong, they must discover a different way of being in the world.
But the truth is, if we follow Christ the King, we are all seeking and discovering a different way of being in the world. Our society’s culture can be just as toxic as prison culture. It’s not much better, even though it’s dysfunction at times is less obvious. I grieve ex-offenders must jump from one cultural dumpster fire into a whole new one, and then must learn how to ‘successfully’ live in these contrasting and confusing prison or community narratives.
Put in another way, we are all learning to live in a different type of kingdom,
on this Christ the King Sunday.
Discomfort: Truth be told, I’ve never been particularly comfortable or at ease with calling Christ ‘King’. When I think of a ‘King’ I think of nepotistic monarchies, military control, judicial corruption, avarice, extravagant wealth, colonialism, oppression, and nefarious manifestations of injustice. Lumping Jesus into these preconceptions of ‘kings’ is not particularly helpful or a true reflection of the Jesus I see in the Scriptures. If anything, Jesus sought to critique, dismantle, and humble these kinds of principalities and powers!
My discomfort with sharing a message about ‘Christ the King’ began to subside when I looked closer at the Gospel Lesson for this morning and what early Christians practiced and believed about King Jesus. Jesus’ articulation of his kingdom, as well as what early Christians practiced illustrates a completely different type of King and a completely different type of Kingdom. They were discovering a different way of being in the world, and they paid for it with their lives.
Scandalous rumours about early followers of Jesus
In the late 1st and 2nd Centuries, there were three provocative rumours circulating in the Roman culture about this obscure and mysterious faith we call Christianity. We have primary historical documentation that suggests early Christians were accused of three things: atheism, cannibalism, and incest. Yes, that’s right, incest. Even though these rumours were misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the early Church’s doctrine and practices (collective sigh of relief), these rumours do reveal something helpful for us to consider.
First, Christians were accused of atheism because they refused to worship the gods of Rome or bow to Cesar as Lord. This refusal was not only a theological statement, it was a political statement. All economic and political life in the Roman Empire was contingent upon and connected to emperor worship. When early followers of Christ said, “Jesus is Lord”, it meant, “Cesar is not”. Jesus’s Lordship was an early form of political resistance and anarchy, which challenged nationalistic allegiances and systems of political power that excluded and oppressed anyone who was different.
Christians were accused of cannibalism because they supposedly ate and drank the body and blood of their leader, in what we call Communion or the Eucharist.
And finally, Christians were accused of incest because they called each other brother and sister. All Christians were siblings in Christ; they were as good as family. Followers of Jesus received one another into the spiritual family of faith regardless of gender, race, ability, economic means or social status. Everyone was gifted, everyone was equal, and everyone was part of the body of Christ. This was radical to the occupying culture of the Roman Empire.
The truth is, Jesus wasn’t singularly offensive because of who he excluded, he was offensive because of who he included! Jesus’ inclusion upset the kings and kingdoms and cultures of power that thrived on keeping people divided. Jesus’ way of being king is completely different than how we understand kingship, power, and authority. Others hated Jesus because of it, and killed him for it.
Followers of King Jesus were citizens of a different type of king and a different type of kingdom, something altogether different than what we, even today, understand as power and leadership.
A closer look Luke 23:33-43
Three times Jesus is referred to as King/Anointed One in the Gospel Lesson from Luke, but in a mocking assumption about the nature of kingliness.
- The religious rulers
- The soldiers
- The first criminal
Essentially they say, “if you are a king… save yourself.” The irony is two fold, they speak the same words the devil speaks to Jesus when he is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, “if you are the Son of God… save yourself.” Secondly, Jesus is saving them in that very moment, and forgiving them in that very moment.
For the second criminal, the irony is not lost on him.
Notice how he doesn’t call him ‘king’, but refers to his kingdom, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” If you want to know what it looks like to call Jesus King, you must look at the nature of his kingdom.
What does a Jesus-shaped kingdom look like? How does Jesus reign?
1. His throne is a cross
- Jesus continued to upset the system by reigning as king on a cross, by forgiving his executors in real time.
- He opens his heart and invites a ‘criminal’ into his kingdom before anyone else. He does this as he is crucified at his side.
- If you think about it for a moment, the cross is strange piece of jewellery for people to wear (it’s like wearing an electric chair around your neck). But we wear it because Jesus’ electric chair becomes a throne. Jesus transforms a tool torture and execution, a symbol of death, oppression, intimidation, and hopeless into a symbol of hope.
- He reigns through practicing transformation. We follow Jesus when we practice the transformation he models to us, in us and through us. The Apostle Paul called it resurrection power.
- He reigns through vulnerability
- Who is most open to God?
- In my experience church-folk are not the most open to God, pastors and priests are not the most open to God, artists and authors are not most open to God. In my experience, the soul most open, the heart most open, the people who have the most raw and unfettered openness to God are ex-prisoners, ex-offenders.
- Why? I believe they are most open to God because unlike you and I, they are regularly confronted with their vulnerabilities. Like the 2nd criminal on the cross, he is vulnerable alongside Jesus.
The Gospels communicate to us over and over again that people at the center of Jesus’ reign are the people who live on the margins of our worldly kingdoms. The vulnerable, the misfits, outcasts, failures, the excluded, the despised, the rejected are Jesus’ people. Jesus’ kingdom is not for you if you think you have all the answers, if you think you’re a self-made man, if you like being seen as a moral and progressive paragon that merits social and religious standing in your community – you wouldn’t like Jesus’ kingdom very much.
Here’s what it looks like to call Jesus king…
Jesus is King whenever we live as though sin, darkness, and injustice doesn’t have the final word. When we do not let failure be the final word, we are proclaiming Jesus is King. This is a different way of being in the world.
If you know what it’s like to be excluded or left out.
When you choose to no longer let your exclusion be the final word, you are proclaiming Jesus is King, and not whoever excluded you. That is a different way of being in the world.
When you choose to no longer let the harm done against you have power over you- to identify you, to live in bitterness and resentment as a result, or let it undermine your value… in that moment you are saying Jesus is King.
To forgive is to say Jesus is King. To love your enemies, is a different Jesus-way of being in the world.
When you choose to persist in the work of justice in the face of slowness, abandonment, setbacks, and eye-rolls, you are proclaiming Jesus is King.
When you choose to be vulnerable about your doubts, struggles, imperfections, and weaknesses – you are proclaiming Jesus is King. When you ask for help and when you share your limitations, you are saying Jesus is King.
But the most direct and clear application to the Gospel Lesson is this:
Jesus Kingdom is a place where criminals can be fully restored.
When we share in the work of restoration, we join Jesus, and say in no uncertain terms, Jesus is King.
My chaplaincy position at St. Leonard’s is fundamentally about restoring people through hospitality, accountability, guiding relationships, compassion, and pastoral care.
When you identify with and embrace the outcast or the despised, the ex-offender, the unclean, you are proclaiming Jesus is King.
It is a king and a kingdom whose power is discovered in weakness and vulnerability. Most folks won’t understand this, because the fragile ego thinks power is accomplished through taking power or having power over others, instead of power manifesting through standing beside others… or in Jesus’ case, hanging beside them.
Jesus’ kingdom is altogether different than anything you will ever know or come to know.
It truly is a different way of being in the world.
It is not a rule that operates by the love of power; it is rule that operates by the power of love.