“Remember Who Is Really in Charge”


Christ the King

November 20, 2016

 

Text:  Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 23:33-43; Colossians 1:11-20


 

    Today I had the choice of focusing on Thanksgiving or on Christ the King.  Now of course it is always appropriate to give thanks to God for our blessings.  But given the current circumstances in our world, I find myself led to focus on Christ the King.

    Twelve days have passed since the election, and I have seen little sign that the rancor surrounding it is abating.  There have been continued protests against the President-Elect, some of which have turned violent and destructive.  There also have been continued incidents of people taunting, harassing, attacking, and vandalizing the property of ethnic minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQI people.  There are people in this country who fear for their safety because of what is going on.  None of this is good.  None of this contributes to the well-being of this nation or of the world--instead it does harm.  

    Before the election, I was seeing memes on Facebook reminding us that regardless of who would be elected President, Christ is King.  I found this to be a much needed reminder for all of us.  In those words we were being reminded to remember who is really in charge in our world.

    The festival of Christ the King is a modern addition to the church calendar.  It was first instituted in the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.  It was adopted by Episcopalians, Lutherans, and mainline Protestants (including United Methodists) in the 1970’s.  The festival was instituted to help Christians remember who is really in charge--that our ultimate loyalty is to Jesus Christ, not to earthly rulers.  Part of the reason Pius instituted the festival was to counter the rise of secularism and non-Christian dictatorships in Europe and Mexico.  In a 1925 encyclical, he quoted with approval Cyril of Alexandria, an early 5th century bishop and theologian, “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.”  Jesus did not take his kingship by force; it was given to him by God the Father.

    We are also invited to remember who is really in charge in our Scriptures today.  Our passage from Jeremiah is God’s judgment of bad shepherds, bad kings who mistreated their people instead of caring for them.  God declared that these bad rulers would be disposed of, that God would gather his people back together, and place over them rulers who would care for them and ensure that they live in safety.  God also promised to raise up a righteous Branch descended from David who would rule justly and rightly and save his people.  The name of this king would be “The Lord is Our Righteousness.”

    Now in Hebrew “The Lord is Our Righteousness” is the meaning of the name Zedekiah.  Zedekiah, as it happens, was the last king of Judah before the kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 587 BC.  Scripture tells us this Zedekiah was not a righteous king.  He did what was evil in God’s sight.  He also only ruled at the pleasure of the Babylonians, and the destruction of Jerusalem happened when Zedekiah started an uprising against Babylonian rule, which the Babylonians mercilessly crushed.

    Through Jeremiah’s prophecy, God promised his people a new Zedekiah who would truly live up to his name, “The Lord is Our Righteousness.”  This new ruler would rule on God’s behalf in God’s way.  He would care for his people rather than exploit them, and would enable them to live as one in safety rather than scatter and harm them. He would remember and acknowledge who is really in charge.

    Our Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Colossians also invites us to remember who really is in charge.  Paul wrote extensively in this passage about the supremacy of Christ over all rulers and authorities on earth and in heaven, because he was involved in their creation.  In addition, Paul writes about how Christ is to be the ultimate leader in our lives, because of what God has done for us through Christ:  “(God) made it so you could take part in (God’s) inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people.  He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.”  All of this is because “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.”  Christ is really in charge.

    Now today we have a baptism.  We are proclaiming that little Braxton belongs to God first and foremost.  In the promises that are made at baptism, whether we are making those promises for ourselves or for our children who cannot yet answer for themselves, we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  What does it mean to say this?  It means that Jesus is the ultimate authority, leader, and ruler in our lives.  He matters more than our political leaders.  After all, in the early church to say “Jesus is Lord” was to say that “Caesar is not Lord”, to say that Jesus is greater than Caesar, and the Roman Empire considered that treasonous.  Jesus also matters more than the whims of popular culture or the trends of what is fashionable.  He matters more than being rich, powerful, or successful.  He matters more than anything any of us may want for ourselves.  As we participate in this baptism this morning, let us remember who is really in charge.

    But what sort of king is this Jesus?  After all, the title “King of the Jews” was attached to Jesus when they crucified him.  It is the title that was posted above his head on the cross.  But kings are not supposed to end up getting executed, especially by means of a slow, agonizing, and publicly humiliating death.  Jesus’ crucifixion was intended to make him an example for anyone who would dare challenge the authority of Caesar and the Roman Empire.  As far as the Romans were concerned, Jesus was an impostor.

    However, Jesus’ authority came from God, not humans.  And what he said and did on the cross tells us what divine authority is really like:

  • He asked God to forgive those who crucified him, saying, “They don’t know what they are doing.”

  • He showed sacrificial love, choosing not to save himself so that by his death God would save us all from our sins.

  • He demonstrated forgiveness by assuring the penitent thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

If Jesus is our King, and we his subjects, it means we, too, must live the way of sacrificial love, the way of forgiveness, in the things we say and do to others.  We must seek justice and righteousness and the well-being of all people, just as he did in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah.  We need to acknowledge his leadership in our lives.  We need to give the rulers and authorities of this world, and the desires of our hearts, second place status to him.  He calls us to follow him to the best of our ability by the grace of God.

Remember who is really in charge, and live accordingly.  Amen.

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