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That's Not Right

There is a current commercial – I think it is for car insurance or some such thing. In this commercial people imagine things that “aren’t right.” For instance, one woman imagines shower stalls lined with shag carpeting. She thinks about it for a second and says, “That’s not right.” Another woman imagines a finger-dip reception in which people go around sticking their fingers in the chip dip or guacamole, lick them off, and stick them in again. She thinks about it for a second and says, “That’s not right.”

Well, I’m at that point where I’ve thought about the name for this Sunday, and have decided, “That’s not right.” The name for this Sunday is “Christ The King Sunday.” It is the last Sunday in our liturgical year. This is my 41st “Christ the King Sunday,” so I’ve had a lot of time to think about it – and I have finally come to the conclusion, “That’s not right.”

Think about it. Why should I spend 51 Sundays of the year talking about Christ the Servant, and then do an about face for this one Sunday and talk about Christ as King? Why should I spend 51 Sunday of the year talking about Jesus as a humble, modest, unpretentious, unassuming, simple servant – and then take this one Sunday to use “king” language which conjurs up potentates and tsars and monarchs and emperors? How can I possibly tell people on Palm Sunday that Jesus not only shunned the trappings of royalty, but that he actually mocked and ridiculed such things as he rode into town on a donkey. A donkey! Finally, how can I preach about social justice when the language tilts toward those who oppress the poor keep out the foreigner. Kingdom reminds me of empire which reminds me of nationalism which reminds me of autocratic rule and authoritarian regime. This would be like calling her, “Mother Theresa the Empress” or him “Gandhi the Mighty Warrior.” Christ the King?

And it doesn’t help to know that this particular Sunday is a relative newbie to our church calendar. Pope Pious XI instituted this in the Catholic Church 1925 in a response to a conflict in Italy regarding the church’s authority. Evidently the church needed a king to counter the secular governing authority. The whole thing was invented to counter power with power. We Lutherans didn’t adopt it until after 1970. So, I’m looking at all of this and I’m saying, “That’s not right.” Here’s my plan: Let’s change it to “Christ the Servant Sunday.” Given the name of our church, I think this is a splendid proposal. Bishop Eaton is a friend of mine. Maybe she’ll buy it! Then she can tell Pope Francis and he can change the whole thing.

If there is one thing – the one thing – which redeems this mis-named Semi-High Holy Festival in our church year, it is the gospel chosen to go along with the name. The gospel actually belies the name. It is the account of Pilate calling Jesus on the carpet and asking him if he were king of the Jews. “Are you king of the Jews?” Pilate asks. One commentator has pointed out that, in Greek, the “you” actually comes first, as if Pilate were saying, “You? Are you king of the Jews.” Jesus answers (and I’m paraphrasing), “You say so. But my kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world I would be using violence to put you in your place.” He tells Pilate that his purpose is to testify to the truth.

What is the truth? The truth is that God is love. God is not about power. God is not about empire. But about love. And why is it so necessary to witness to this truth? Because, so many times, people consider that God is love and say to themselves, “That’s not right.” You see, the way we think about things is often determined by our experience. And because we live in a world of violence it is hard to get away of thinking of God as violent – sending plagues, smiting enemies, raining fire down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. We consider the concept of grace, acceptance, and unconditional love and say to ourselves, “That’s not right.” God loves us only if we fear and obey him, just like is says in the Small Catechism. We are offered the cross as a model of sacrificial love and we say, “That’s not right.” The cross was God’s way of punishing Jesus for the sins we commit. In short, we’re offered peace and we say, “That’s not right.” It’s all about power.

I like Christ the Servant Sunday because all the other synonyms for King carry with them a whiff of violence, power, and empire. “Lord.” “Ruler.” “Monarch.” We are trying to imagine God in a way which doesn’t have a faint echo of violence. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.” King said, “ Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. SO it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” King said, “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

I have an illustration which accompanies King’s quote nicely and also underscores the point I made in last week’s sermon about provoking one another to love and good deeds: I hope it is not apocryphal, But if it is, it is good anyway. The story claims that Mother Theresa was once in the United States to raise funds for her work among the lepers in Calcutta. One morning she was to meet with two high-powered Wall Street executives who had decided ahead of time that they were not going to give her any money As the meeting began, the diminutive little saint from Calcutta shuffled into the room and took a seat at the shiny mahogany table across from the two men in Armani suits. One exec said, “We appreciate your work, but at this time we cannot commit any funds.” Mother Teresa nodded quietly and said, “Let us pray,” and then proceeded to ask God to open their hearts. After she said a soft, “Amen,” the man again said, “Look, I’m sorry but at this time, we are unable to make any commitments.” Mother Theresa looked at them both in the eyes for a moment, bowed her head, and said, “Let us pray.” At that point both men took out their checkbooks and contributed generously!

THAT’S how the world is changed through provocative non-violence!

I suppose we are stuck with this mal-named “Christ the King” Sunday. At least it is counterbalanced by Jesus own words: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Let’s conclude with this. When we slip up and find ourselves imagining God to rule through violence, when we slip up and conceive that God’s grace comes to us only if we fear and obey him, when we regress into thinking of the cross as a father’s way of killing his own son, then lets say to ourselves, “That’s not right!” and provoke the world by witnessing to the truth. Let’s witness, as David Lose put it;

“… to the one who demonstrated power through weakness,

Who manifested strength through vulnerability,

Who established justice through mercy,

And who built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic, and violent world, taking its pain into his own body, dying the death it sought, and rising again to remind us that light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate, and that, with God, all good things are possible.”

Now, that’s right!

Text: Hebrews 13: 1-8

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