Christ the King Sunday 24 November 2019
(Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 46 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43)
“Counter-narrative: Reclaiming Jesus!”
Two thousand years ago Jesus of Nazareth began a movement. It was a movement of people for whom Jesus was the very center of their lives, and his example of unselfish, sacrificial love became their way of living. Scholars sometimes call this the Jesus Movement. It is the earliest origin of Christianity.
I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Christianity in America today is in danger of being hijacked. Some may say it has already happened. But I do not think it is happened by secularism; but rather, by being popularly identified with political agendas, by the propagation of a so-called prosperity gospel; and far too often, by being associated with thinly-veiled religious animosity, often directed toward certain non-Christian religions and cultures; and other times by subtle, religiously disguised bigotry toward groups who are considered “different;” as well as the delight of narrow-mindedness toward scientific knowledge and learning—and there is so much more.
I also need to clarify that I do not believe Christianity to be in the pocket of either the left or right wing, or any other human ideology; however, there are perceptions running askew, and perceptions too often become reality.
What I wish to suggest today is that we need a counter narrative to the perceptions of Christianity today. And I will suggest that this counter narrative begins and ends with the image of Christ the King from the throne of the Cross.
It is time for all Christians to reclaim Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels. It is time we reclaim Jesus as the very heart and soul of our lives. It is time we reclaim the lived example of Jesus—his loving, liberating, and life-giving way—and only then will a revolution of love, a reformation of life, and a renewal of our relationship with God, each other, and all of creation ever take place.
My daily confession very often is that it has become so easy for the church in various generations, including our own, to disregard, disarm, and domesticate Jesus to the point that He may not even resemble the Jesus of the New Testament.
The Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus we need to reclaim in our churches and in our lives is the Jesus on the Cross, who went to the cross because nothing is more important than the way we love and care for all others.
It is no accident that we bring our entire church year to an end with Christ the King Sunday, and the image of “King,” the image of Jesus on the Cross—the ultimate, most violent, yet most beautiful picture of the Jesus we must reclaim—a most tender moment of forgiveness and grace and unmitigated love. If we do not reclaim this Jesus in our lives, then I do believe Christianity is doomed! There’s my counter-narrative!
This celebration of Christ the King (Universal Reign of Christ) was initiated by Pope Pius XI, in 1925, in response to what was perceived then as growing secularism and nationalism in the world. I cannot help but recognize the similarity of events in our world nearly 100 years later. Today we are challenged to recognize the opportunity that is right before our eyes, for us to reclaim our true identity as Christians, by reclaiming Jesus of Nazareth and his way of love.
Now is the time to reclaim the bold and counter-cultural Jesus who said things such as “blessed are the peacemakers,” “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” “you cannot serve both God and wealth,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now is the time to reclaim the Jesus who turned expectation upside down with stories like The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan. Now is the time to reclaim the Jesus who was not afraid to sit with those others considered unacceptable, the Jesus who was unwilling to be co-opted by power, unafraid to reach out to the friendless, the put-down, and the disinherited in society.
Now is the time to reclaim the Jesus who showed us truly what love looks like, giving up his own life, not for what he could get out of it, but for the good, the well-being, the salvation and the redemption of others.
I began my sermon by saying that I do believe Jesus is in danger of being hijacked today. But I also want to say more emphatically that this is an opportunity for the church to reclaim its roots. Now is the time for the church, for each and every one of us to become more than the church and the Christianity that too many people perceive us to be.
If Jesus is Lord, then there is always space for grace. Let’s stop being judgmental, and critical, and fault-finding and narrow-minded, and hiding behind our faith. Let claim the forgiving, grace-filled Jesus who offered life to the thief at the very end. Let’s claim the embodiment of God’s love, justice, grace and mercy—which is exactly the counter-narrative, the formula for what could bring healing and unity to our hurting and frightened world. This is the King we celebrate today. Amen.
1. I speak in gratitude to Jim Wallis for his powerfully prophetic and challenging, hope-filled writing in Sojourners magazine, and in his various books, especially one of his more recent ones, Christ in Crisis. His thoughts and challenges can be found in this sermon.