Christ the King
November 26, 2017
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Christ the King, the date we now end the season after Pentecost, is a hard one for us to get excited about. While Christ as king fits our understanding, there may be an internal awareness that this festival is a relatively recent ‘Johnny come lately’ that does not fit with the Lutheran Christian grace emphasis. The celebration was initiated by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to mark the end of a Jubilee year which was largely a church response the growing post WWI secularism of the 1920s. It has only been on the Roman Catholic Church calendar since 1970 and placed on the Lutheran calendar in 1978 in the Lutheran Book of Worship. In both 1925 and definitely by 1978 the only kingship we are comfortable with is the constitutional monarch, an important symbol representing the country with an influential voice but with little official power.
Our objections have been shown humorously on television and in the movies. There is Ralph Cramden in the 1950’s series The Honeymooners. Ralph enters their very Spartan apartment with a poorly furnished living room and poorly equipped kitchen and blusters to his wife Alice, “A man’s home is his castle, and this is my castle, and here I am the KING! Got that, Alice, me, KING, KING, KING!” Being the king means he is supposed to be served, whatever sort of person the king or queen is and however ludicrous their requests are. I also think of the French Revolution Sequence in History of the World Part 1. In a historically inaccurate portrayal of the actual dutiful husband, Mel Brooks is a Louis XVI who spends much time making assignations with the young serving women, and he looks at the camera and gives the wink only he could while saying, “It’s good to be the king.” The king or queen is someone who gets to do what they want.
On top of that the king or queen as portrayed and in history has had or sees themselves as having absolute power over their domain. In Christ the King that power is on clear display as the assigned lesson is about God’s ultimate judging power and its utilization, taking the nations and separating their peoples into the blessed sheep and the condemned goats. We live in a country founded, among other things, with some level of distrust with concentrated power. Both such power and actually being judged are discomforting to say the least.
Jesus Christ as King is Good News. Jesus Christ having the power to back the different lordship he displayed during his life on earth is something desirable. Jesus is not Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Cramden or Mel Brooks Louis XVI, or the very real absolute tyrants witnessed during WWII and the Cold War, and that still shows itself in some countries. It is true that we often call Jesus Lord and on days like today king. It is a lordship fleshed out be other titles we give him, Savior, Good Shepherd, and Great Physician. As Martin Luther wrote Christ the King is served being a little Christ to our neighbor.
Focus on Jesus language to the sheep in today’s Gospel lesson. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” That reward for people was built into the master plan from the creation of this world.
Compare that with his words to the goats. “You are the accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The place of punishment was designed for demons. The goats are additions who chose a ‘me, myself, and I’ over everything existence.
Jesus kingship is described by himself in an encounter amongst his disciples recorded in Matthew 20. It is the incident when the brothers James’ and John’s mother asks Jesus to seat her boys at the places of honor on the Lord’s right and left hand in his kingdom. The other ten disciples resented this request and showed their anger to the two. Jesus changes the tone teaching, “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wished to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is the nature of our king.
The grounds for the sheep and goats division are based on two different approaches to living. One is well illustrated by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his story Ethan Brand who sought the unforgiveable sin, the one that puts him beyond the devil’s temptations to power, plenty, and prestige. He finds it in a life that comes to have no fear of God and no love toward others. Imagine the even bleaker world when people say of Jesus Christ, “Lord, Lord” but do nothing to grow in Christ and become more and more God’s ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light to the world.’
The ‘goat’ behavior is a startling departure from the Church before Pentecost praying and preparing for the promised manifestation of the Holy Spirit, being conduits of God’s saving word when the Holy Spirit manifested in them in a dramatic way that caught people’s attention, and who grew in number in the face of great opposition because their Christian lives were marked by generous hearts that grew in prayer, worship, learning, and service.
There are wonderful examples of the ‘sheep’ attitude that I see in this parish. Coming up in a couple of weeks is an enrichment opportunity to hear God’s Christmas event in word and music at a Christmas Cantata being performed by the Trinity Lutheran choir. Last Sunday at St. Jacob’s the women made Thanksgiving goodie baskets for all the member and regularly participating families like mine who are not official members. Listening to the council’s refine and then approve budgets for recommendation to the members I noticed there were a number of line items for service to the wider community.
Christ on a throne with all authority is a powerful image. There were medieval representations with an enthroned Jesus with an olive branch coming out of his mouth for sheep and a sword for goats, which understandably shook the younger Martin Luther. Recognizing Christ is the king with a base as servant ruler makes his kingship one to celebrate and apply in life. Jesus Christ the king commands with a call to serve him by seeing and acting in love as he loved us, even when we demonstrated or saw ourselves as of little worth. “It is good to have him be The King!” Amen.