The Reign of Christ

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Luke 23:33-34.

Power, power, who’s got the power?

I’ve been thinking about power a lot over the last couple of weeks. I’ve read in the news about an orderly transfer of power between the current president and the president-elect, and how vitally important that is to our American democracy, especially after a contentious campaign.

I’ve been hearing commentary about governmental consolidation of power, with the White House and the Senate and the House of Representatives soon to be in the control of the same political party.

And I’ve been disturbed by reports of a different sort of power: what seems to be a resurgence of the power of bigotry, the power of hatred. I saw a news item just yesterday that said there have been some 400 reported instances of hateful harassment or intimidation in the US just since election day.

My daughter texted me photos of a school in Maple Grove, Minnesota, an affluent, comfortable suburb not known for its angry divisions – a school that had “White Power” spray-painted on it, along with crude swastikas.

An Episcopal church in Indiana was desecrated with the spray-painted words “Fag church” because of their support for marriage equality. We are, sadly, kind of accustomed to hearing about mosques and synagogues being attacked in this way; but an Episcopal church? A nice, respectable, establishment Episcopal church?

Right here in Staunton, just a few days ago, a Mary Baldwin student said someone shouted a racial obscenity at her and spit at her as they drove by in a car – drove by so quickly, of course, that she had no way to see who they were or hold them accountable for their hateful action.

It seems as though in the last few days a lot of angry people have been feeling their power, feeling that it is now safe to attack people they don’t like, feeling that this election has given them permission not to hold back their bigotry and their resentment and not to be constrained by “political correctness.”

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about the harmful effects of a certain kind of destructive power.

And that makes today, the Feast of Christ the King, such an interesting day. Today is the day we hold up Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords, the One in whom it is God’s pleasure to bring all people together under his most gracious rule. Today we celebrate the good news that the power of Jesus reigns.

But as soon as we say “Jesus reigns,” we must also recognize that we are speaking a paradox. We as Christians proclaim the faith that the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything, that the whole condition of human life and human work and human hope is transformed by the Good News that Jesus has overcome death and has closed the gap between God and us, that because of Jesus the powers of destruction have been defeated and our ultimate destiny of co-creating with God a world of justice and peace and right relationships for all creatures is assured. We mean all of that when we say “Jesus reigns.”

But even while we proclaim that power of Jesus has changed everything, we look around us and sometimes we have a hard time seeing that very much has changed. We proclaim that Jesus came that we might have life, and have life abundantly – and yet so many people in our world live un-abundant lives, lives oppressed by poverty, lives without even the basics required for survival. We proclaim that Jesus came to bring communion and community in the discipleship of equals among all peoples – and yet we see division and disunity and conflict between nations and tribes and sects. We proclaim that Jesus came to inaugurate God’s reign of justice and peace – and yet injustice, oppression, exploitation, warfare, violence continue to hurt and destroy people and communities and ecosystems throughout our world. We proclaim that Jesus reigns – yet the signs of Jesus’ reign seem very hard to see. The reign of Jesus is for us at best a paradox.

The reign of Jesus is a paradox in our Gospel reading today, too. In this scene from his Passion story, Luke presents Jesus as a king whose power is in his humility, a king who reigns not from a throne but from a cross. There are certainly no signs of worldly power around Jesus in this Gospel. The bystanders and the soldiers call Jesus “Messiah” and “King,” but they do it to mock him, to underline the fact that he certainly has no power to stop the violence they are committing against him. The inscription on the cross says “The King of the Jews” – but that’s just the Roman army’s way of saying “You have no power against us; you see what we do: we take your king and kill him like a common criminal.” The only uses of the word “King” in this passage are meant to be ironic, adding insult to injury, twisting the knife to make sure Jesus suffers as much as possible. There are no signs of worldly kingly power about Jesus in this Gospel.

And yet throughout this Gospel Jesus acts like a king. As the soldiers are crucifying him, he says “Father, forgive them” – and it is the role of the king to forgive offenses. To the thief who asks to be remembered when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus says “Today you will be with me in paradise” – and it is the role of the king to commute sentences and restore people to their just place. Even though Jesus has no worldly power, still he acts like a king, a king whose power is not bound by this world, but whose power comes from opening the Way into God’s future.

And that is the paradox – and the resolution to the paradox – of the Reign of Christ. Jesus reigns now, but the way he reigns is by opening up the possibilities for us to co-create with God the future God wills yet to be. Jesus does not reign by throwing power around, by issuing supernatural commands which the human and natural worlds must obey. Jesus does not reign by forcing the world to bow to God’s will. Instead, Jesus’ reign goes deeper than that, not imposing God on the world, but drawing the world to participate in God.

And we are part of the world Jesus is drawing to participate in God. We live in Jesus’ reign now, in the present; and the way Jesus reigns in us is by opening us to the possibilities of justice and peace God wants to co-create with us for the future. We show forth the power of King Jesus by helping to open up the way toward the peaceable world that God wills yet to be.

And that is a very different kind of power from the power we’ve seen in the headlines these last few days. Over against the power that wants to hate and exclude, we follow a power that promises a place in paradise. Over against the power that attacks at night and runs away, we follow a power that is lifted up to draw all people. Over against a power that revels in division and bigotry, we follow a power that gathers all people into its most gracious rule. Over against the power of hate, we follow the King of Love.

And if we want to be followers of King Jesus in this troubled time, we need to think, each one of us, in our own way, how we will stand up for love against hate, how we will reach out rather than close off, how we will build up the common good rather than hoard to ourselves the little goods we can grab. I want you all to think of one thing you can do, one concrete practical thing you can do this week, that will show you follow King Jesus by building up peace and justice and love around you. It doesn’t have to be anything political – in fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t political – but it does have to be something real, something that involves other people, something that helps folks know and experience togetherness and mutuality and among them the power of love. Do that, and you will celebrate the Reign of Christ.

Power, power, who’s got the power? On this Feast of Christ the King, we proclaim our faith that we know who has the power – and we rejoice in that power that will save us all. Amen.

Comments

  1. Shirley Ruedy says:

    A thoughtful, thought-provoking sermon. Thank you.

  2. Cindy Hickman says:

    Thank you, Paul. It is a difficult time that challenges many to the depths of our souls.

  3. Thanks for your sermon. I always get a lot from them.

    I could not help think, however, about “The Cyrus Prophecy” as I was listening this week. It has helped me understand what the Almighty might be doing in our nation these days.

    All God’s best

  4. Anne Hanger says:

    Good suggestion!