Saturday, November 24, 2012

When We Are Kings--A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Within our context, kings and kingdoms may seem relatively fantastical.  Renaissance festivals, royal weddings, and symbolic monarchies are about all most of us know of kings.  If we have small children in our lives, we may spend time with royal prince and princesses as we engage in their imaginative play.  Princes fight dragons, princesses twirl...and the script is one in which there is always a happy ending.  Christ the king becomes the sanitized version of this happy score--crowned with an ever larger and more elaborate crown.  

But, in many ways this “crowning of Christ” was a politically daring act.  For, in 1925 when Pope Pius XI created the feast of Christ the King, he did so as a very public check upon Benito Mussolini who had declared for himself  “earthly supremacy”.  The pope’s work and words served as a reminder that true supremacy is not of this earth and that Mussolini is not, and would never be, the king of creation or the alpha and the omega.  The feast day was also intended to remind Christians that we are called to serve Christ beyond any earthly ruler or secular desire.  

But, as we move further and further from the realities of are we to connect to the language we hear today?

I grew up in Hawai'i, and the imagery and reality of monarchy was more recent.  As a child I learned about the unification of the islands under King Kamehameha.  I learned about the bloody battles and high price of this unity.  Eventually, I learned about the overthrow of the monarchy, and the injustices perpetrated against Native Hawaiians as lands and traditions were overwhelmed by outsiders.   This history was woven with the persistent message that wrongs had been done and reparations still needed to be made.    

In this fashion, when I hear the scripture today, I hear the promise of wrongs righted and reconciliation and peace taking hold.  I hear the promise of a king that cannot fail, and a reign that surpasses all.  And, in some ways I wonder if that is part of what the early Christians resonated with as they heard the language of kingdom and kingship.  I can imagine their thrill at the notion that under the reign of Jesus’ the world would be set to rights...and that they were to serve in bringing about that reign.  

There is an approach to reading scripture that theologians have described as “reading the Bible from the margins”.  So, when I think of the injustices done in Hawaii and throughout the world to indigenous peoples I can begin to gain a better understanding of the context within which Jesus and his disciples lived.  

Because, unlike most of us, the early Christians were a small and persecuted minority.  Subject to the imperial power of Rome, they existed more or less on the margins of society.  Early Christians met in private homes and upper rooms, quiet gatherings in the catacombs where goods and meals and coin were shared.  Each to each, needs were met and stories were shared.  

These early Christians, these followers of “the way” lived in the midst of political and social unrest.  From the zealots who embraced the notion of violent overthrow to the Essenes and the community at Qumran who had stepped more or less “off the grid”--Jesus lived within a culture that was actively searching for a new way of being in the world. 

And, using the language of the culture--Jesus and his followers described a kingdom, a kingdom that operated outside of the dominant culture of Rome, a kingdom that was not of the world, a kingdom ruled by God.  A kingdom that exists in order to tear down the need for kings.   

This is a new kind of kingdom, and for the early Christians, Jesus represented a new way of being.  Neither violent revolutionary or hermit, he stood outside all conventions and paradigms.  He turned our notions of kings and kingdoms upside down--operating outside of the rules that everyone “thought” they knew about how to live and who to serve.  This kingdom didn’t exist in order to justify or sustain the domination of the powerful.  Those who followed Jesus, those who proclaimed his kingdom come,

died on crosses.

were imprisoned.

were stoned.

And, in the midst of this milieu they told the stories and shared the meals.  The stories what we call the canon and eventually...eventually, somehow...

Their stories became the story of the powerful.    

There is something startling to realize that stories that emerged out of a small, persecuted minority have became the texts used by a massive and powerful majority.  And, no matter how much it makes us squirm...we, as Christians in the world today, are part of that majority.  

Now we may not identify as kings, but by the measures of the world we hold great power.  There is a website called the global rich list.  You can enter your income and it tells you where you stand in the world in relationship to others and their wealth.  If you make more than 1,000 dollars a year you are in the top 44 percent of the world.  And, I imagine most of us make much, much more.  So, how are we to read the Bible from the margins?  And, how are we to hear this proclamation of kingdom?  When our reality is SO different from that of the early Christians, how do we find meaning in this language?

We cannot ignore the truth that we hold a great deal of power in the world--for example 7.2 percent of congress currently identifies as Episcopalian (this when only 2% of the United States population does).  And, given this truth--what truth are we testifying to in our actions and our words?  How do our whole lives reflect the reign of Jesus rather than the fruition of our own desires?  John of Patmos writes that we have been made to be a kingdom.  If this is indeed the case how are our lives a reflection of the will of God?  How do we testify to the truth?

First of all, we are called to learn and embrace the truths that Christ offers.  One aspect of which is that we are called to be a resurrection people, a people who bring new life, new hope and a new kingdom.  But how are we to do this?  In the grocery store, in our cubicles, in the waiting rooms and court rooms?  How will we be the kingdom?  It seems like an impossible task--but what Christ gives is the constant reminder that the impossible can and will happen through us.  And in reading the Bible from the margins we are able to more concretely identify the people who we are called to serve and imagine a world set to rights by the love of God.  A love made manifest by our words and actions...

In one famous passage from St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582), she writes

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

We carry Jesus within us.  Our privilege and power become tools to serve, to love and to share the truth of God’s love and redemption.  We can testify to the truth and in so doing we can continue a life of service to the one who is and who was and who is to come.  

1 comment:

Terri said...

Well said. Love the Avila quote....

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