Who is King?

Christ the King 2015

John 18: 33-37

Today we celebrate the day which is known as “Christ the King” on our liturgical calendar.  A relatively modern day to the church, Christ the King, was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the growing sense of nationalism and secularism throughout the world.  With this, Christ the King Sunday, moves us today, in a world arguably more or less nationalistic than that of Pope Pius, but no doubt one more secular, to ask the same question…  Who, or what, is King?

This past weekend, our youth director, Sally Hoh and I, along with a number of adult volunteers, spent Friday evening through Sunday morning, surrounded by evergreens and apple trees, at Camp Nawakwa with some of our Middle School youth.  As you would suspect on such a weekend, the schedule consisted of capture the flag, Ga-Ga, basketball, ping pong, various board games, long hikes in the woods, and of course making s’mores.

The number of youth who participated in the weekend totaled to the mid 20’s, made up of both St. James members and non-members, and I think I can speak for Sally and our adult volunteers, in that we have some pretty amazing youth who participate in the life of this congregation.

In saying that, the world these young people face presents some pretty frightening realities… realities that often go ignored or overlooked, and even politicized at times by adults.  With an overarching theme for the weekend focusing on bullying, and in learning of the events that took place in Paris last Friday, discussions moved to the overwhelming expectations to succeed and the pressures to fit a certain mold, to do well in school both academically and athletically, and to dress a certain way and act a certain way… and as if this wasn’t enough, add to the mix, the weight of various family problems, harassment and bullying in person and online, and doing their best to care for friends who face these things for themselves… including thoughts of suicide because life is simply too hard to face.  As the parent of a 16-month-old daughter, all things that make me fear the world she will come to know…

Our Gospel scripture for Christ the King Sunday comes from the 18th chapter of John’s Gospel.  In these verses, we hear a description of Jesus as King, far from how we typically imagine a king to be.  Not one who sits upon a throne, scepter in hand, draped in gold and red robes, with a crown of jewels upon his head, but one handed over for execution, draped in rags, soon to bear a crown of thorns.

In today’s final verse, Pilate says to Jesus, “You are a king?”  Jesus responds, “You say that I am a king.  For this is the reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who is on the side of the truth listens to my voice.”  For this is the reason I was born…  To testify to the truth…

So, what does it mean for us today to belong to the truth?  To listen to the voice of Christ?  Is Christ the King we hold above all others?  Above all things?  Or do we allow the things of this world to take His place on the throne?  Do we follow the One who gave his life so that we may have life for ourselves?  Or do we follow the temporary things of this world that draw us away?

I learned this past weekend, that for our youth, listening to the voice of Christ is a hard thing to do when the voices of anxiety, bullying, and depression ring loud.  When friends have uneasy home lives and thoughts of suicide become a close reality.  And too, for myself, and I suspect for each of you here today, listening to the voice of Christ isn’t always an easy thing to do in adulthood either.

Our world not only gives an image of king drastically different than that of Christ, but it also reflects an Earthly Kingdom drastically different than that of the Kingdom of God.  Isis and other sects of Radical Islam continue to persecute and kill innocent people across the globe in the name of the same God that we as Christians worship for ourselves.  Racial division seems to be on the rise in new ways and in new arenas every week throughout the United States.  And news reports tell of such events as, “Indiana Pastor’s wife and unborn child murdered in home break in”, “Former Subway spokesperson pleads guilty to child porn, and sex crimes.”, and “Father murders six week old son.”  Not to mention the thousands of reports on Syrian refugees, each one seeking first to fill the needs of political affiliation, causing further division between neighbor.  With this I ask; who, or what, is king?

Just a week from today marks the beginning of the Advent season.  Hard to believe.  Our sanctuary will be decorated with blue paraments, the Advent wreath will be thoughtfully placed before us, and our minister of music, Tim, will devote countless hours a week to selecting hymns and planning worship services that guide us to prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of the baby in the manger, our Lord and Savior.

But today… today, our focus is drawn to a far different image… one of Christ… not in the beginning of his life, but at the end.  One of Christ crucified, where God incarnate, will soon give his life on the cross, in order to change forever, the world into which he was born.  It is through this image that the season of Advent and Christmas, are celebrated at all, that we are all here today, that we come to this place and gather as a family of faith week after week.  It is through this image that the youth who participate in the life of this congregation, can spend a weekend in the woods, away from technology and cell phone service, and be fed with the bread of life.  Where they can pour out life’s challenges, empty themselves, and be filled with the promise of God’s love and never ending grace.  Where they can learn how to lean on Christ… to “Lean on Me”, as this year’s youth theme proclaims.

May this promise give you strength in times when life feels too much to bear, and may your heart be filled with the truth of which Christ speaks in today’s Gospel text.  The truth of our Lord and Savior, who comes to us as King not of rule and riches, but of service and of sacrifice… who through his death, gives life to us all, and to whom we bow our heads not out of fear or obligation, but out of praise and thanksgiving.  This is why we offer worship and praise here at St. James, why we support its ministries, and why week after week, we gather around this table.  So that in a world filled with darkness the light of Christ can be seen.  So that the world in which we live, becomes more reflective of the world from which Christ came, the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

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