McFarland

Christ the King Sunday November 21, 2021

Readings

First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

Gospel: John 18:33-37

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever.  Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home, lookup the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Come Thou Almighty King – ELW 408
Jesus Shall Reign – ELW 434
Beautiful Savior – ELW 838
Lift High the Cross – ELW 660

Reflection on John 18:33-37

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

It was said, “Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.”[1]  And that is exactly where we are in our church calendar, looking at a new beginning.  Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the lectionary year. Our calendar stars over again next week with the season of Advent.  So a rousing “Happy New Year!” is in order.

“Another church year has told its story,” writes Dr. Matt Skinner, “taking us from anticipating the Christ, to encountering the Christ, to killing the Christ, to marveling at Christ’s new life, and finally to following the Christ into the future.”[2] On the cusp of transition and change and new chapters, Dr. Skinner invites us to reflect on the questions, “what future do we imagine?  Where is our story headed?”[3]

We are in a fantastic position to do this reflecting and imagining on Christ the King Sunday, a day whose very name evokes images of long, red, velvet capes.  Ornate jewelry encrusted with rubies and diamonds.  Opulence. Giving orders. People whose sole purpose is to keep you happy. Getting your way. Power. Throughout time people came upon royal titles through birth or through physical aggression and violence. For many kingdoms, the leaders stayed in control because they had the physical power to do so. But these are not the images the Gospel of John gives us on Christ the King Sunday.

Author Debie Thomas points out that on this regal sounding feast day, Jesus is not transfigured or baptized or performing miraculous deeds of power. “Instead,” she writes, “the Gospel of John offers us a picture of Jesus at his physical and emotional worst: arrested, disheveled, harassed, hungry, abandoned, sleep-deprived – and standing before the notoriously cruel Pontius Pilate for questioning.”[4] A far cry from long capes and ornate jewelry.

Jesus’ distinction that his kingdom is not from here is not to imply that he’s from heaven and Pilate is from earth, but that, in the words of Dr. Skinner, “My kingdom is not like this.”[5] Jesus’ kingdom is not one of physical aggression or violence. It does not maneuver and manipulate and murder all to stay in power with no regard to who gets hurts or left behind. It does not leave people harassed, hungry, and abandoned. That’s not the way of Jesus’ kingdom. His kingdom is not from here.  His kingdom is not like this.

Even Jesus’ followers – those who had traveled with him, learned from him, witnessed him love and care for people – even they were confused by Jesus’ kingdom. They expected regal maneuvering. They expected a large-scale, aggressive, physical overthrowing of Rome…not a crucifixion.

Dr. Karoline Lewis teaches, “That’s what Pilate misses, what most of the world misses, and what potentially might pass us by. That Jesus’ Kingdom was never a place but a perspective, […] a determined mode of being in the world.”[6] Jesus’ kingdom is not a physical location but a way God’s children operate in the world, a way God’s beloved creation interact with each other. It’s a way of being. And just how are we to live in the kingdom here and now? How do we recognize the kingdom in our midst?

The kingdom looks like offering life-giving, clean water to those who are thirsty and carrying torturous emotional weight. The kingdom looks like welcoming those shrouded by heavy shadows and honoring their questions about what faith in the flesh might mean. The kingdom looks like making sure that deep hungers – physical and otherwise – that they are met, served with compassion, and no one gets passed over. The kingdom looks like not shaming or harming the vulnerable who are in impossible situations and being taken advantage of. The kingdom looks like recognizing when the powerless are dehumanized, defending them, and working towards their full inclusion into community. The kingdom looks like challenging systems and traditions that have a history of exclusion and widening the circle of acceptance. The kingdom looks like helping remove what keeps people bound to death, eliminating what prevents people from living a whole and authentic life. The kingdom looks like gently holding the parts of people’s stories that are sore, raw, and caked with grime, and helping rinse away the burden.

This is what Jesus did. None of these examples include displays of might or violence. The power of Jesus’ kingdom is in his love and courage and focus on others. His kingdom is not a place but a perspective, a way of being in the world. Verbs for God’s beloved to emulate. It’s a life shaped by deep concern for the wellbeing of those around us. The kingdom is outward focused and it acknowledges and respects people’s concerns, humanity, and lived reality.

The Truth calls out to us and asks us to listen to their voice.  Recognizing voices implies a familiarity. It means that not only does that Truth speak to us, but does so with such frequency that we can grow to recognize it. It also means that we spend time listening to the voice – time spent in prayer, in reflection, and in conversation with other disciples. Like the sheep that know the Good Shepherd’s voice, like Lazarus who followed the imperative to “come out,” like Mary who will soon discover the man speaking her name at the tomb is not, in fact, the gardener – like those disciples, the relationships established in the kingdom will help us recognize the voice of the Truth.

Jesus’ kingdom is communal – lived out in relationship with God and with others. We can’t live in the kingdom alone, which can be a bummer because not everyone is great. But there’s also grace in this community-based kingdom because, if I’m being honest, sometimes I’m not all that great either, but I’m not exiled or ejected from community. We’re in this together. We’re never alone. We have partners and companions as we think about and plan and work toward a desired future in the kingdom.

As this liturgical year comes to a close and we consider what future we imagine for ourselves, we are accompanied by the one who is so determined to be with us that he would stand before Pilate, go to the cross, leave an empty tomb behind him, and defeat not just Rome but the very power of death itself. And Jesus does this all to ensure that he will always be with us.

There is no virus, confusion, diagnosis, divorce, or fatigue that could keep God from us. No verdict or grief or pastoral transition or uncertainty could stop God’s promise to always be with us, calling us to new life in the kingdom. We may not know the future, but we can trust that promise. God calls us to live in the kingdom, to find our footing in the one who knows both the horrors of Good Friday and the liberation of Easter morning.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but it’s not some distant, faraway place either.  It’s right here. It’s right now. We are currently smack dab in the midst of it. The Truth’s voice is calling out to us and inviting us to live in the kingdom, to express power through courage and focusing on others, and to grow and develop and love more than we ever have before.

This invitation to kingdom living is a tall order, but we’re not alone. We have fellow citizens of the kingdom – fellow disciples and coworkers in the Gospel. We are also led by the voice of our Good Shepherd who calls us to step forward in faith trusting that the True Vine grafts us to himself, the Bread of Life feeds and sustains us, the Living Water washes and refreshes us, and the Christ our King is always with us and guiding us all along. Happy New Year, indeed! Thanks be to God.

Amen.

[1] Country Living, “25 Inspirational Quotes to Celebrate New Beginnings – quote by Jonathan Lockwood Huie,” accessed November 19, 2021, https://www.countryliving.com/life/g30337217/new-beginnings-quotes/?slide=2.
[2] Matt Skinner, “Dear Working Preacher: What Are You Waiting For?” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/what-are-you-waiting-for (accessed November 17, 2021).
[3] Skinner.  Italics his.
[4] Debie Thomas, “What is Truth?”, Journey With Jesus: A Weekly Webzine for the Global Church, Since 2004, November 14, 2021, accessed November 17, 2021, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay.
[5] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 813: Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday – Nov. 21, 2021” Nov 14, 2021, video, 27:03, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrB2Qw2T9CA.
[6] Karoline Lewis, “Dear Working Preacher: The True Kingdom” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/the-true-kingdom (accessed November 17, 2021).

Let Us Pray

God of life, thank you for journeying with through all seasons of the year and of our lives.  As we look into a future full of unknowns and uncertainties, help us to trust the promise of your unfailing presence.  Inspire and nudge us to be citizens in your kingdom, sharing your mercy and reflecting your grace with the world you so love.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.