Sermon from Rev. Clarence–Christ the King: Defying all Odds; Exceeding all Expectations

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Ps. 100; Ezekiel 34:11 – 16, 20 – 24; Ephesians 1:14 – 23; Matthew 25:31 – 46

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:10

Truth in advertising: On this Sunday, we conclude another liturgical year and declare, perhaps with a sigh of resignation, but also, so hope I, with a shout of joy that we have made it through a year like none previously experienced and can look forward in hope to new beginnings.  We have succeeded in reviewing and celebrating the life of God’s Messiah and are able to declare him KING.  However, that is an odd thing in our modern world, since many, if not most nations, have ousted monarchies, such that kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses belong all to the “Once upon a time” world of yore and fairytales.  In the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries in the British Commonwealth, the Queen of England reigns, but she does not rule.  We Christians proclaim to the world that God’s Messiah both reigns and rules, and we Christians commit ourselves to his rule and recognize him as head.  We, by right and by employment of a vocabulary of a bygone era, acknowledge him as KING!

What is perhaps even more incredulous is how Jesus got to where he is.  In the vernacular, all odds were against him.  When did the trump sound in Zion, heralding his birth?   Where was the display of pomp and circumstance, the obligatory ceremony of ascension to the throne?  Where were those who came forward to receive a ceremonial, yet essential sword tap on the shoulder, as they accepted Jesus of Nazareth as their Liege Lord?  Our Book of Record informs us that this did not happen.  Yet, we insist on calling him Lord and acknowledging him as KING.  Given the circumstances surrounding such an elevation, one could indeed ask what pollsters could have predicted this success, his kingly reign.  All indices spoke against such a possibility.  Although we know the outcome, it is critical, should we continue to call ourselves Christians, or “little Christs,” that we do two things: a) refresh our memory how Jesus of Nazareth managed this accomplishment and b) refresh our memory of the “platform” on which he built, and builds still, his kingship.

I. The road to Christ’s reign and rule. Before us stands the liturgical season of Advent, in which we prepare to celebrate Christ’s earthly birth. Shocking as it must seem to those who have a different expectation of royal births—his claim to royalty is made via Joseph who was of the house and lineage of David, Israel’s legendary king—Jesus’  earthly parents, Mary and Joseph,  could not have been further removed from perceived, traditional royalty.  There was no royal carriage to transport Mary, “being great with child,” to Bethlehem, the place of his birth.  She is rightly imaged as riding a donkey, a beast of burden. There were no castles, no servants scurrying quietly about, no declared holiday for the masses who would congregation outside to await a proclamation from a turret.  Where were the media to capture this important event for present and future generations?  Without this exposure, how would the future king validate the legitimacy?  Rather, Jesus’ birth took place in a stable, among animals.  Moreover, had not messengers of God, a.k.a. angels, alerted nearby shepherds who were going about their daily routine, no one would have come to the crib, softened by straw and not by soft cushions encased in purple.  Eventually, three kings/wise men came from afar, but their appearance placed the boy-king, who had no security force for protection, in mortal danger.  They fled to a foreign country, in order to protect their lives.

As the child grew in stature and wisdom, his status was continuously challenged, for he came not from the elite of his day, but from the countryside.  He could not produce a long birth certificate which declared him unambiguously a scion of King David.  The son of a carpenter was he, but he did not hesitate to declare that he brought Good News to the poor, to the downtrodden, those in prison, healing to the sick, the blind, the deaf, to those on the periphery of society.

A king, most assuredly, had other more pressing matters of state that required his attention.  Yet, this king dined with the dreaded tax collectors and was known to be seen in the presence of “women of the night,” and could declare that the Good News of God’s Kingdom was for them as well.  He would demonstrate his disdain for the rigid rules of the religious right, by healing on the Sabbath, and informing his adversaries that, whereas hygiene is essential, ultimately it is what comes from a person’s heart that make him/her unclean and not eligible for inclusion in the Kingdom of God.  No matter how often he would declare “my kingdom is not of this world,” or “the kingdom of God is like…” his authority was called into question.  And nor were those closest to him, his chosen friends/disciples exempt from doubt.  Indeed, the folks from his hometown could see, many of them, only a hometown boy trying to rise above his station in life, and threaten to cast him off a cliff.  Royalty and most assuredly a future king would not been out and about without his security detail.

 

II. What was the platform, by which he would establish and by which his followers and detractors alike would recognize and enact his kingly rule? Dispersed throughout our Book of Record, especially as left us by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are sayings, proclamation, mandates, vignettes, reflections—call them what you will—that describe his mission and kingdom. (One must not ignore or forget the prophecies of the Old Testament and the Epistles.  However, as a trained linguist, I believe it imperative to go to the source, to the one who is to be declared king, and to listen to what he declares as precepts, as the foundation of his kingdom!)  I implore your Poverty_Jerusalemattention to an early section of the Gospel according to Matthew (5:5 – 12), and I repeat them here deliberately.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be call sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Succinctly stated by Jesus early on in his earthly ministry, it becomes clear that his kingdom, the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Kingdom “on Earth as is in Heaven,” is not one bolstered by coercion, weaponry, or by figurative or actual walls of exclusion determined by rank, wealth, tribal affiliation.  Rather, the kingdom over which he intends to reside is one based on LOVE, as he declared relentlessly and as he once summarized: Love God; Love neighbor, as self.  Indeed, I believe justified in suggesting that these Beatitudes are the matching Bookend to the Ten Commandments given Moses by the Eternal Creator.  To be sure, the articulation, the vocabulary may be different.  However, the intent and the “endgame” are the same.

And the truly good news is that the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth, of God’s Messiah, includes the likes of you and me.  And so it is that we pay homage to a Servant King, God’s Messiah who is bound by his understanding of the Divine Will, of which he, a member of the Holy Trinity, was a part from the very Beginning, homage to a Servant King who rides on a donkey and reigns not from a gilded throne, but from a Cross on rough beams hewn from wood.  And where even in that moment of agony for the whole created order, he is not alone, but shares time and space with two others.   This is the Christian’s core belief.  This is the foundation on which everything, as incredulous and unimaginable to the secular world it may appear, we people of faith believe.

It is this Jesus of Nazareth who gives us hope in the year 2020, a year so laden with anxiety and fear, that, as the psalmist has so eloquently articulated for us, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” (Ps.23:4)

And so it is that we offer in the words of George Herbert (1593 – 1639) to this Jesus of Nazareth, our hymn of affirmation and praise:

King of glory, King of peace, I will love thee;

and that love may never cease, I will move thee.

Thou hast granted my request, thou hast heard me;

thou didst note my working breast, thou hast spared me.

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Wherefore with my utmost art, I will sing thee;

and the cream of all my heart, I will bring thee.

Though my sins against me cried, thou didst clear me;

and alone, when they replied, thou didst hear me.

                                 

Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee;

in my heart, though not in heaven, I can raise thee.

Small it is in this poor sort to enroll thee;

E’en eternity’s too short to extol thee.

(The Hymnal 1982, #382)

Images:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_of_thorns

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