November 20, 2016
In Jewish prayers, there is a common beginning, a common address to God. When we pray, we say different things. “Dear God,” we might say. “Heavenly Father.” “O Lord.” And of course, “Our Father who art in heaven.” That’s a good one! Think about which you use when you pray. How do you “address” God?
Well, as I said, in Jewish prayers, there’s a common beginning. And this is especially true in the prayers I’m familiar with, having led Passover celebrations over the years. Those prayers often begin with the words, “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam.” That’s horrible Hebrew! But it means “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe.” And those words are followed by various things, “who brings forth the grain of the field, who gives us the fruit of the vine.” – things like that.
The Jewish people had a great affinity with the whole idea of having a king. In the Old Testament, (which was their scriptures!) the nation of Israel was historically a kingdom. And the quintessential king – the greatest king of Israel, was(?) David! David’s kingdom was always considered to be the glory days of Israel. Throughout the scriptures, the people often longed for a king “like unto David.”
Now, contrast that thought to the trial of Jesus. At that time, Jesus was accused by the Priests of Israel for saying he was the “King of the Jews.” And(!) they were talking to Pilate, the representative of the power of Rome in that region. Pilate represented the Emperor – the king. There’s that whole overarching idea of a central, royal power. And then think of the irony of the words on the plaque that was nailed to the cross above Jesus. The plaque said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” (Jesus was accused of being the very thing he would become!)
Are you with me so far? Then keep in mind that a lot of the New Testament was canonized – or established – in the time of the Roman Empire. And much of its terminology and symbolism grew in the middle ages, when there were various kingdoms and monarchies. So a lot of our Biblical language comes from that history. Think of the words we use, words like “Lord,” “Sovereign,” “Crown,” and of course “Prince of Peace.” And because of that, I think there’s always a slight disconnect with that kind of terminology, which we often use in our faith!
So then, today is Christ the King Sunday. And I think it’s very interesting that the people who designed the liturgical calendar – also in the Middle Ages – used that same imagery for Jesus. And they chose to “wrap up” all the yearly celebrations of the life and ministry of Jesus by making the culmination of all of that into this celebration, in which we celebrate “Christ the King.” And that’s great!
So, as we celebrate that today, we have to get into that “kingship” mode. And as I said, that’s not easy, in a country that doesn’t have a king. However, there was a time I was in New York City, and the president and the first lady were in town. And seeing the police protection, the secret service, the barricades, and the entourage, I started to wonder if maybe we did have a king!
On Christ the King Sunday, we have to think in terms of a “king” – a “Sovereign ruler.” And we have to do so in a positive way. Because the other problem we have is that we ofte see kingship as negative. We think of the despotism of King George III, from whom we broke away in 1776. We think of kings that subjugate” people – against their will.
I was joking with a friend the other day, and after all the political things going on in our country, I said, “Maybe we need a king.” And he said, “Hey, I know people who live in – and he named a country – that has a king, and it’s terrible!” He obviously didn’t see my statement was a joke! But that’s how kings are often thought of in our world. They’re seen as some kind of “throwback” to a time before more sophisticated governments were established.
We have to remember that there were times that kings were seen in a positive lithg. They were sen as protectors. In the middle ages, they had the castle. If there was danger, the people could be protected there. And there have been kings people have loved, and of whom they were willing subjects. Again, we think of a king like David!
So, I invite you to consider all that imagery, all that history, and think of Jesus as king. And I invite you to think of him today in terms of his “kingly power.” Today, we celebrate his majesty, his glory, his sovereignty. We think of him, perhaps with the Jewish address, as “King of the Universe.”
I think this is good for us. Because I think too often our vision of God is that he is too small, to weak, and to powerless. Yes, through Moses God parted the Red Sea! Through him, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But take care of my problems? Well, that’s a different story! And I can find myself in that mode just as easily as you can! It’s hard to trust God’s power! We need all the help we can get in expanding our vision of God and seeing his power in our lives!
As we move into Advent, we remember once again “Jesus the baby.” And there’s nothing wrong with that! That’s a wonderful picture! But as I’ve said for years, far too many people leave it there. They don’t want to take that baby out of the manger and acknowledge him as an adult, a savior, and now Christ the King.
We need to do that! We need to know that Jesus Christ saved the world. Not only that, he changed the world! He is risen from the dead! He has ascended into heaven. He indeed “sitteth on the right hand of the Father, from whence he shall come…” We need to believe our own creed!
Jesus Christ is king! The kingdom of this world has become, the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever.” You don’t have the music in front of you, but go ahead and sing those words with the choir at the end of this service!
Take all of that in! And then ask yourself the most important question of all. Jesus Christ is king, yes! But is he your king? Have you pledged him your allegiance, have you given him your devotion, have you acknowledged his sovereignty? Do you strive to rely on his power? Make this a day you do that! Or make this a day you remember that!
Take this time now to prepare your hearts for this sacrament. As you do, think about this special fellowship we have, with each other, and with Jesus Christ – King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!
God our Father, Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful for your power in our lives. Help us to know that power. Help us to remember your sovereignty. Help us to know we are part of your kingdom, today and every day. Be with us in this time of communion together. For this we pray in your name, Amen.