Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What is heaven like? In David and Elizabeth Heller’s collection of children’s sayings, “Angels Must Get Their Wings by Helping Little Angels Like Me,” one little girl answered, What is heaven Like? “It’s where girls get turned into angels . . . and then God tries to do the best he can with the boys.” What is heaven like? another answered, “There are no doctors or lawyers in heaven. They don’t need them because God does all the healing and because all arguments are against the law.” That’s what heaven is like. It is such a place that gives us hope to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.” But isn’t there more to God’s coming kingdom than the promise of heaven.
The last Sunday in the church year is known as Christ the King Sunday. This is not an ancient liturgical festival like Easter or Christmas. In fact, it is less than a 100 years -old. The title for this was only first given by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Seven years after “the war to end all wars,” Europe was still in chaos. The empires which had once ruled the world were gone. Royal families had been dethroned. Inflation was rampant, and nationalism was raising its ugly head. The seeds of evil that were to produce the terror of the Holocaust and World War II were being sown. And so against all this chaos and evil, the Church of Rome established the Festival of Christ the King to declare that Jesus Christ is king. When nations and peoples rise up against another, he alone should rule and guide our hopes and aspirations. It’s why we can dare to pray in difficult times, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Throughout the church year, we have actually been building up to this point. We began our journey in Advent with the coming of the Christ child, the baptism of Jesus, the ministry of our Lord in Galilee and Judea, we walked the way to Calvary and the Cross. We spoke of the empty tomb and our resurrected Lord at Easter. We’ve experienced anew the power of the Holy Spirit as on the day of Pentecost. Now we dare to celebrate both the present and future, and to give the world what it needs, a kingdom that has no end- and a king who rules and guides with equity, love and grace.
Of course, all around us the world is already preparing for the coming king as well. Stores have been decorated for weeks, and churches are busy making plans. But the message of Christ the King must be more than the joyful good news that the baby Jesus is coming. No, the message of this day is that we have a sovereign king who guides our lives now in this world, and will govern us forever in the world to come. And that is what I would like to share with you.
Let us begin with the question: who is this king called Jesus? After all, one shouldn’t assume that all church goers have an answer. In a recent Gallup poll, 86 percent of all Americans considered themselves Christians, but less than half knew who preached the Sermon on the Mount. Sixty percent of the country was in church the Easter of that survey, but one out of four people there didn’t know what Easter celebrates. The same is true when people say that Jesus is Lord and king. Do they honestly believe and allow Jesus to rule and guide their life and actions?
In today’s gospel reading of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus certainly doesn’t look very king-like at all. He stands before the representative of the Roman emperor, accused of being a criminal, a rebel against the Roman state. And yet, right in the middle of this passage, when Jesus was asked whether he is a king, he answered Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Some older translations of the Bible phrased this verse slightly differently. “My kingdom is not of this world” which frankly makes no sense in light of the Lord’s Prayer where we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It can leave Jesus’ followers wondering, Do I need to bother with this world at all? Is being Christian only a personal choice an ethic, about having a good marriage and a strong family life, or is faith in the Christ also about trying to make a difference in the lives of the poor and needy, both close at hand and far away?
My friends, Jesus may not be of the world, but he entrusted the world to us where we are to be his living presence. Yes, you and I are being encouraged to live as life that proclaims boldly, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Unfortunately, it’s easy to lose sight of Jesus as king, and neglect his calling to loyalty and allegiance and service. We tend to be like Pilate verbally sparring with Jesus. “What kind of king are you after all? And by the way, what is truth anyway? No one believes in such quaint ideas and principles anymore.” But that is not what you can are being called to say in the world.
American theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The Kingdom of God is not a place, of course, but a condition. God’s kingly will is being done in various odd ways among us even at this moment, the Kingdom has come already.”
The world is full of individuals with a multitude of afflictions and sorrows seeking Jesus the King who is active and present. These individuals come to God’s faithful receive the consolation and solace of the gospel. That is why the challenge of the kingdom for each one of us is to let God be God is us.. The challenge is to let God be God…in the church. It is let God be God…in your neighborhood. It is to let Christ be the King in your job, in your family, and .in your world.
Unfortunately, it is easy to let others take his place. An old Native American legend tells of a young warrior who found a lone eagle egg. To be helpful, he placed it in the nest of a prairie chicken. The little eagle grew up with prairie chicks, pecking and clucking around the ground for worms, insects, and seeds. Life was one pleasant day after day–no challenges. When the eaglet flew, like the prairie chicks, he never rose more than a few feet off the ground. The years passed by and the eaglet grew and matured. One day, scratching the ground, the eagle glanced up. Soaring in the clouds was the most splendid bird he’d ever seen. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the bird’s gorgeous, strong, golden wings. It seemed not to move as it commanded the sky. The scratcher asked the head prairie chicken what the noble bird was. “That’s an eagle, the chief of birds, but he’s far above you. Keep scratching.” The eagle kept scratching the ground. He died, never realizing that he was not a prairie chicken.
As we come to the end of another year, I invite you to ask yourself, “Who are you following? Where is your gaze set? Have you kept your eye focused on Christ the King? And then ask, “Are you truly doing God’s will on earth, so that his kingdom can come?” Amen.
May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.