November 21, 2021 The Last Sunday After Pentecost

November 21, 2021, The Last Sunday After Pentecost
The Feast of Christ the King
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: 2 Samuel 23: 1-7; Psalm 132:1-19; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

From this morning’s Gospel, “(Jesus said) For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     This is the time of year when our attention turns from raking leaves, adjusting to colder temperatures, and watching and waiting for falling snow, towards Thanksgiving and hearty family gatherings, followed by that uniquely American pastime, “Black Friday Sales!”  

     I am always amazed that throughout the week when many are preparing to gather and give thanks for all our blessings, retailers are relentless in urging us to get up early on Friday morning or in some cases, leave our thanksgiving dinner tables, and rush out the door to trample others for sales just hours after saying we are so very thankful for what we already have. Like many of you, I do tire of the constant barrage of ads claiming 50% off, 60%, 70% off, spend a $100 and get an additional $15 free merchandize: spend, spend, spend, save, save, save; except for the future. I worry about the continuing impact rampant consumerist greed has already done and will continue to do to our communities and nation. I long for a day when people, when success, when happiness, will be measured not by what we have, but for who we are and how we embrace and live God’s values.

     Yes, “Black Friday” has become a part of our culture and yet our hangings here in this Church and many Christian churches throughout the world this morning are not black, but rather, white. White reflecting the wholeness and grace of God we have come to know in Jesus Christ whom we proclaim today as our King. Today marks the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar Year and our New Year journey will begin next Sunday with Advent: that season that anticipates both the birth of the Christ at Bethlehem and his someday triumphant return for which we long. We all want our King to return and for good cause.

     You know, some of my favorite books as a child were medieval stories of bravery and self-sacrifice. Stories like Ivanhoe and Robin Hood who came to free an oppressed peasantry from the tyranny of evil and abusive overlords who had come to power while “Good King Richard, the Lionheart,” was crusading in the Holy Land. People were treated so badly in those days that from the very depths of their being, they cried out for justice and peace, and pleaded with God to bring King Richard safely home again. They believed the King’s return would restore their fortunes, bring peace to their land, and forever end all divisions and strife. His return would usher in a time of prosperity for all people regardless of tribe and kindred.

     I thought of those stories while crafting today’s sermon. After all, given everything unfolding throughout the world: from an ongoing Pandemic; to the refugee crisis in Belarus and Poland; to the threat of climate change; to questions about the impartiality and integrity of courts of justice; to the breakdown of civil discourse and respect for others especially in the realm of politics and religion, people are desperate for an Ivanhoe, for a Robin Hood to intervene and for their king to return.

I cannot think of a more appropriate and timely setting for the observance of this Feast of Christ the King: that day when our Lord Jesus Christ, our King, will, indeed, return. This Second Advent of Christ is described in scripture as a day of glory and fulfillment, that day when our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come” will become a physical reality on the  earth, just as it is in heaven. But this day is also described in scripture, as a day of reckoning, a day of judgment when all people - including you and me – will wail with repentance for our failure to fully and consistently live God’s commandments. Still, like Richard the Lionheart’s return, we believe that our king’s return will, indeed, make all things right again … and this time, forever.

     And so, it is appropriate that on this day our Old Testament and Epistle readings speak about kings and what kingdoms should be about. Our reading from 2nd Samuel offers the last words of King David: one of the greatest kings of Israel. David accomplished much in his lifetime: he reunited the nation of Israel and ushered in an era of peace and prosperity; he is the sort of leader that every nation both dreams and longs for. And yet, David was subject to failure and sin just like all of us. And like we will someday, David died. He was, after all simply a human being – a human being who put his trust and hope in God. The Psalmist laments David’s death and yet, he clings to the promises of God that through David a new king would arise: a king who will be God-incarnate; the Messiah.

     Our reading from the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, describes Jesus as that Messiah, as God-incarnate and tells the story of how Jesus of Nazareth will someday return to usher in God’s kingdom on earth. And yet, the Revelation describes a kingdom that is not marked by walls or mapped out as an empire, but rather, a kingdom marked by the mercy and love of God.

     Our lesson from the Gospel according to John moves us beyond our perception of kings and kingdoms. I have to admit that I initially wondered why this particular story. After all, a story about the resurrection or transfiguration or ascension of Christ might be more fitting for the feast of Christ the King. And yet, our reading from John’s gospel wisely draws our attention to a different kind of Black Friday – a Friday we call “good.” It tells us that Jesus is not about kings and kingdoms, but much, much more.  

John shares the story of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Palestine. While other gospels portray him as a powerless figure convinced of Jesus’ innocence, John portrays Pilate as scornful of the Jews and Jesus. Pilate sees himself as judge: he and he, alone, will decide who lives or dies. Pilate asks, “Are you a king?” and Jesus answers by saying what his kingship and his kingdom is not. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world … if it was, my followers would be fighting you.” Remember, establishing and then maintaining power in those days was impossible unless those in charge threatened to harm dissenters. Even today, so often the only solution to violence is more violence – and forcing one’s values on another. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from here.” In fact, it will not come, nor will it survive, through violence or force. No, my kingdom, Jesus affirms throughout the gospels, is built upon, and secured through, love – God’s love. Jesus then goes on to describe what the nature and function of kings should be. True kingship, Jesus says, is not about armies, walls, fortresses, or empires, but rather, it is about truth. Jesus offers a kingdom marked by truth – the truth about God.

Now Pilate did not understand Jesus’ response. But, then again, neither did the scribes or Pharisees or even Jesus’ disciples, all of whom wanted a new earthly king like David to re-establish their nation and free them from Roman occupation. Jesus says that is not the kind of kingdom he desires. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” And like Pilate will ask in a future reading, we might wonder, “What is that truth?”

     The glorious promise of the Feast of Christ the King is the realization and fulfillment throughout the world of these simple words of Truth from our own “Black” or “Good Friday” story also from John’s gospel; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to the end that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.” John continues, “For God sent not the Son into the world to condemn it, but in order to save it.” That is the truth about God, and it is the truth and the measure of God’s kingdom: a kingdom not marked by swords, but by God’s love, mercy, and grace. God’s truth says God will always accept our repentance and forgive us; that God will always nurture and guide us; that God always reaches out to us, and that God promises to be with us always. God will always respond in mercy to those who call upon God’s name. In God’s kingdom, citizens are measured not by what they have, but who they are in Christ: people of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love.

     No army or earthly king has ever defeated the powers of darkness and evil. No bomb has ever ended the power of death. No day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” Sale nor the promises of consumerist societies have ever brought lasting fulfillment and joy. But God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, always do! And that is the kingdom of God we can know in our hearts today and must show forth every moment of our lives. It is a kingdom known by God’s values: God’s truth, and so must we.

     At Christ’s return, our prayer, “Thy kingdom come” will no longer be the prayer of an expectant Church, but rather, the real-life experience of every person on earth. God’s will is that through Christ all people may be restored to unity with God and each other. That is the day we long for; the day we pray for. It is the promise of this feast day: the promise of our Christian hope; the promise of a loving and merciful God. And friends, God’s promises are always cause for celebration. So, therefore, on this Feast Day of Christ the King, let us keep the feast! Alleluia!