“Jesus is King!”
Is it just me, or does that statement sound… political?
I’m not trying to be political; I’m trying to be liturgical! Today is “Christ the King” Sunday, a day on our church calendar when we remember that Christ is our King – and if you think about it, we talk about it a lot more than just today.
When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe that Jesus “sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
In the Lord’s Prayer we ask for God’s kingdom to come.
When we recite those phrases out of rote memory, and they don’t sound fighting words… partly because they’re not. Jesus said that his disciples wouldn’t be fighting for him because his kingdom isn’t of this world (John 18:36). Later, Paul would reinforce that by encouraging the early Christians to respect the authority of their government (Romans 13:1). Jesus can be our king even while we’re citizens of the Roman Empire or the United States of America.
It’s cool. It’s fine. “Jesus is King” – we say it all the time.
So why does it feel a little edgy to say it this year?
I’m thinking it’s the midterm elections. They were so intense, it’s like they left a political charge on everything. But instead of dismissing that feeling, maybe we should indulge it for a moment – because when Christ was first discussed to be King, the words had a dangerous charge.
In the first-century Roman world, there was no king but Caesar. To make a grab for that title was a capital offense; it could get you crucified. That’s why Pilate presses the issue repeatedly with Jesus, trying to get real clear on whether or not this guy was saying he was the king. It’s the reason he later asks the religious leaders, “Do you want me to kill your king?” They reply like good Roman citizens: “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15).
Even though Jesus’ kingdom was not be of this world, declaring him to be King still stirred up trouble. It was a shocking claim then.
And it should shock us a little today.
On this “Christ the King” Sunday, let’s recognize that when these words mean that our ultimate allegiance is to another kingdom. When we declare Jesus to be king we’re committing to live by his way – a way that requires sacrifice, a way that stands in contrast to ways of the world.
In his farewell discourse to his disciples (John 14-17), Jesus sketches out some of the details of that way – how they’re expected to live in the absence of our King. Listen to the prayer that Jesus ends with:
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
The word “one” jumps out here, repeated four times over. Jesus is praying that we would be made one through him, so that our oneness would make God evident in the world. I think that’s a pretty intriguing chain reaction: our unity under Christ can make such a dramatic statement that it actually convinces people of the reality of God.
In order for anything to show up that clearly, it has to stand against a contrast. Light shines brighter in the dark. Sound is most obvious in the silence. And unity shows up most clearly when there’s great division.
We have plenty of division to contrast against, don’t we?
I visited a woman recently in her home. She had the TV on in background, a news network rattling off recent events. “Are you into politics?” I asked.
She laughed. “Oh, it’s like my sports!” she said. “You know: Go blue team! Go red team!”
I think she’s very right. Our politics have become like a bitter rivalry. Here in North Carolina we know what it means to take a favorite color deeply; depending on your allegiance, the color blue comes in “right” and “wrong” shades. If our team loses in a matchup, we dread going into work the next day and facing the opposing fans. The last few elections have had that feel to them; if my team loses, I don’t want to have to deal with the gloating winners. As the rivalry runs out of control, we start to think we really are on opposing teams in everything. Too often we meet someone new and feel like we have a lot in common… until we learn who they voted for, and then all that common ground goes out the window because how could you vote for him/her/them?
Those divisions make me sad, but here’s some good news: they give us a great opportunity for our oneness to shine in contrast. When we Christians are united, it gives evidence to the one who unifies us. Our unity shines like a miracle.
But unity doesn’t come cheap.
Right now you might be thinking about another Christian that you don’t feel very “one” with. Maybe it’s someone who voted for the other color team. Or is from another country altogether. Or attends a church with a totally different style of worship. Or has different beliefs about ordination. Can we really be “one” with people like that?
Yes. Absolutely we can. I know it, because I’ve felt it here in Andrews.
Andrews, NC is a small town. One of the (many) great things about a small town is that we’re forced to work together. My previous church was in Charlotte – and if I needed another church to work with, I’d just call up one of the kabillion (my estimate) Methodist churches in a 10-mile radius.
Not so here. There is no other Methodist church in a 10-mile radius. If we need help from another church, we’ll need to cross denominational lines to get it. That necessity has invented a lot of great connections with other churches. I feel a genuine spiritual kindredness with the Catholic and Presbyterian and Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist friends I’ve made.
But that’s not to say we don’t have differences. We have a lot of differences, and some of them are significant. Here’s the most obvious one:
I’m a she.
Of the dozen or so churches I regularly work with, almost none of them ordain women. This is a significant difference, right? I have strong feelings about women’s ordination. Strong because I first felt the call in elementary school, and it never went away. Strong because I’ve wrestled with the same texts that they might point to, and come out with a different opinion. I would not be preaching and pastoring if I didn’t 100% believe that this was what God wanted.
And yet I’m able to feel “one” with these folks who have a different believe on this same issue. When we get together for our community worship services – like we did last Sunday, for Thanksgiving – my heart is strangely warmed with our unity.
How, you ask?
Because we have the same King.
I know Christ is the King of Barbara the Catholic, because our King asked us to feed the hungry – and she works tirelessly at the food bank. I know Christ is the King of Don the Seventh-Day Adventist, because our King asked us to care for the poor – and even in retirement, Don continues to give leadership to our Good Samaritan fund. I know that Christ is the King of Brody, who doesn’t claim any particular denomination – because our King asked us to proclaim Christ to the world, and Brody is reaching thousands of people through his work with Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters.
I know we serve the same King. I know it. I have no doubt.
Because we all serve one King, it makes us one.
And when we’re one… Christ shines in us.
In a world where so many people can’t put their differences aside, we can. We set those differences aside so that more people are fed, and more people are saved from homelessness, and more people are told about a God who loves them. We are one because that’s what our King wanted, and what we want most is to be obedient to him.
So, let’s say it again: “Jesus is King!”
Let the full power of that statement come over you. Allow it to make you just a little bit uncomfortable. No, it’s not a political statement; but yes, it’s a life-changing one. It’s one that will open your heart to find unity with red and blue, Catholic and Protestant, us and them – all made one by our one great King.