Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King
Proper 29, Year C, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
When we think of kings we imagine fabulous wealth, fine clothes, fancy car, and of course servants to be at our beck and call. Not many of us have lived under the authority of a monarch and those of us who have, probably haven’t lived under an absolute monarch. I think we tend to have romanticized ideas of them from what we have seen on TV or movies, especially from the Disney princesses. It really doesn’t matter if you are the evil queen or the peasant who becomes queen because either way the monarch has a tremendous amount of authority over others. Today is Christ the King Sunday and we celebrate it as our church’s name sake. So who is this King we celebrate today? How can he save us if he can’t even save himself? It is a pitiful state to have a king who can’t or won’t fight back. This is the frustration we see in our Gospel account when people exclaim, “Are you not the Messiah?” “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
We know he has power, after all Paul’s letter to the Colossians says, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power.” The power Jesus has isn’t what we usually think of. Jesus didn’t come with the power of great strength, or even an advantage or dominance over us. In some real ways he wasn’t very different than we are. Some of you might say,” well what about those miracles, those are clearly signs of power.” There are theologians who would say that those miracles were not powerful signs of his divinity. These miracles actually made him appear to me more common, more similar to others around him. In the first century just about anyone could do miracles. It was a world where magic was ascribed to all sorts of people. This made Jesus ordinary rather than extraordinary. This may be why the people in authority didn’t find his miracles so amazing. Or why people like Herod wanted him to just put on a show.
In Christ, God came to us as unconditional love. If in his manifestation he had any power, one of two things would happen. The first possibility is that we would lose our free will. A relationship that is built on power is not love. If someone comes to you and forces you into a relationship against you will this is not unconditional love. This is like an autocratic king taking what he wants; forcing his servants to bend at his beck and call. As such we would lose our free will.
Secondly, people tend to be competitive. So even if he didn’t force us, we would find his power to be a challenge. We would want to compete with him. This unintended challenge to us, elicits a response from us out of our human nature. Christ would not be for us even if he wanted to be. We again would not have an unconditionally loving relationship with him. We would be struggling for power. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, “God must not be fighting for us; for power, advantage, or influence. He must be helpless. The visible form of a suffering, failing humanity absolutely refuses to force a response. Jesus, the Word of God, renounces any force so that he can be God’s message to us through unconditional love. Love is not about power.
We know that Christ has power; he is a very powerful figure in the Bible. But this power isn’t physical or coercive. Returning to the Colossians passage that asks for us to receive the strength that comes from his glorious power, we find this. “May you be given strength so you will be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints.” The power is preparedness and endurance; patience, and joyful thanksgiving. These are marks of Love, or the power of loving.
We know life is difficult at least at times. There are times when we often want immediate gratification. In some situations we try to act in power by physically or verbally attacking others. We try to show our strength through threat or manipulation; “If you don’t do this for me, then I won’t do that for you.” Isn’t it our faith in Christ that gets us through difficulties? For threat and physical strength are only temporary fixes. In truly tough times, our physical strength usually cannot help. We need endurance, which takes patience; just as prayer takes endurance and patience. The power Christ offers us is to be strong in these situations not by fighting back but by offering love. This is the harder way. A way the actually take more strength and maybe the less socially acceptable way. But it is the way; for Christ is the way.
We have to look beyond Christ as being the messenger of God; to Christ being the message of God. Let me repeat that. We have to look beyond Christ as being the messenger of God; to Christ being the message of God. If we are made in the image of God and Christ is a perfect reflection of this image then we not only hear his words but see his actions and his interactions. He is the model of how we should live our lives through both his words and actions.
In 1885 this parish was founded, but it wasn’t founded as Christ Church. It was named Church of the Heavenly Rest. Bishop Gregg the first bishop of Texas laid the cornerstone. Then in 1900 the building was destroyed by a tornado. The people came together. Over the next 4-5 year this congregation found a better plot of land and raised the money to build a new building. In this time of transition they also changed the name.
I can only speculate as to why, and I wonder if it is because they didn’t want this community to represent a place where we comfortably rest. Any church can be a sanctuary of heavenly rest but is that what we are? Is that what we strive to be? Many churches are named after Saints. They find qualities of a saint that either inspires or upholds the missional focus of that community. But that is not what our ancestors did either. They must have had a different vision than that; for they named it Christ Church. Thy named it after Christ himself. I would love to know what inspired them to choose this name. No matter why they chose it; they must have wanted, at least on some level, for this place to be a symbol of Christ in the world. And as we all know Christ changed the world.
From the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary the trajectory of the human race started down a new path. The King that was born opened the hearts and minds of people to God’s amazing love for them…for us. Look at the shepherds or the Wiseman. Jesus opened their hearts not by being a powerful force, at least not as we normally perceive powerful forces. He showed us how we are loved, by loving us. This was no easy task. It even cost him his life. As Colossians says through Christ, God “reconciled to himself all things…by making peace through the blood of his cross.” We as Christians are Christ in the world and we are called to show this same love to everyone; and as we all know this is no easy task. We as Christ Church, know the hardships of life. In 1924, 20 years after we moved into that new building, it was burned to the ground. Out of the dust and ash, designed and built by individual hands of the congregation, we were resurrected as a symbol of Christ in this community
I wonder if there are some of us here who would rather be a symbol of comfort and rest, but that is not the vision of this church, at least not any more. We are called to be in the world as the hands and feet of Christ. This takes time out of our busy schedules. This takes money, out of our lives; and it takes energy that we often feel we don’t have. We are now in a time when the world needs us, need this parish, to be an example of Christ in the world.
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Let us celebrate Christ the King.