(click above to listen along)
This sermon comes in 6 parts.
Part 1: Reagan’s terrible choice for favorite Christmas song and my awesome one.
Reagan and I were in perhaps our first major disagreement this week. It wasn’t a point of doctrine or a workplace squabble; it was the answer to the question “what is your favorite Christmas song?” Reagan said that as a boy growing up he was always a big Sandy Patty fan (which, for the record, is perhaps the gayest thing I’ve ever heard). Anyhow, Reagan’s favorite Christmas song is some nonsense called Christmas is coming the Goose is getting fat. Ridiculous.
But, in all fairness, my friend and colleague Reagan also scoffed at my favorite, which is O Holy Night. The reason for this being my favorite, I will get to later in the sermon.
Part 2. Why I don’t like Christ the King Sunday
I don’t like Christ the King Sunday because unlike Lent and holy week and Advent which have been celebrated for more than 1000 years, Christ the King has only been a part of the Liturgical calendar since the 1920s and it was added for sort of political reasons. In the fallout of World War One and amidst the Kaisers and Kings and Czars, it felt to the church that it was time to reassert that Czar Ferdinand or Kaiser Wilhelm isn’t king, Christ is king.
So like 90 years ago this day was added to the church year. I mean, come on…What does “king” even mean to us these days? It’s something from history books or fairy tales to us.
So I always have resented this day because the idea of the kingship of Christ may have meant something in the political climate 90 years ago but now it’s like celebrating Christ the CEO Sunday
Part 3. Why I don’t like that this reading from John’s Gospel is bizarrely out of context.
Every Sunday we speak of how on the night that Jesus was betrayed he gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom…well on that same night, he then taught them some stuff and then prayed for them for a long time, and after the prayer he and his disciples went to this garden they hung out in a lot. And in this garden, knowing that Jesus would be there, Judas, with 30 pieces of silver rattling around in his pocket, betrayed his friend and teacher and Lord, and brought with him a heavily armed detachment of soldiers and some cops and some religious authorities.
And Jesus, asked who they were looking for.
They answered “Jesus of Nazareth”
And Jesus said “I am he”.
And they fell to the ground.
Unarmed, with no money or status to speak of, probably some old tunic he’d had on few weeks and zero Twitter followers, He said “I am he” and the cops and soldiers fell to the ground.
But then Peter, the most vocally earnest follower of Jesus ever, drew his sword and cut the ear off this guy Malcus who ended up being not even a cop or soldier but the slave of the high priest.
Then Jesus was arrested and subject to some police brutality and then brought to Pilate. And that’s where our reading starts. Which is why it feel like the context MIGHT matter a little bit.
Part 4. I’d like a better king, please
So, Jesus, Pilate asks, are you a king or are you not a king? And Jesus says my kingdom is not of this world.
Well, no kidding Jesus. I mean, nothing personal, but you’re a joke of a king.
I mean, if we are going to celebrate a king here today at least it could be one who will wipe out all the racists and those who do violence to women and those who hurt children and everyone who is more interested in protecting the wealth of the rich than protecting the wellbeing of the poor. I want Christ to be a king who can wipe out Isis and Al Qaeda and Boko Haram and the people who cancelled Firefly after just 14 episodes. But considering the number of bombings and shootings and hate crimes toward trans people that are daily events, then If Christ is my king he’s doing a lousy job of smiting my enemies.
But the problem is that when that vengeance seeking and violent part of me calls out to have a king who would destroy my enemies I inevitably would be the one that same king would have to destroy. Since God is the God of all and I too am someone’s enemy. And where does that leave us?
Because here’ the thing, as much as I “believe” in non-violence, it does not mean that there is not also violence in myself. As much as I “believe” in non-violence it is simply delusional for me to believe that the only reason I have not taken up arms is anything other than the fact that my privileged, peaceful, educated, high standard of living is procured by violence elsewhere that is safely out of my sight. Since, let’s be honest, the life I lead of relative peace and prosperity is procured by child labor and police actions.
So, given the way I benefit from violence, given the fact that I too want my enemies to be destroyed, what I need, what we need, what this broken-ass world needs is not a king with the greatest arsenal – we don’t need a czar who knows how to keep everyone under control and doing his bidding. We don’t need a Kaiser who wins the violence and retribution cycle, or a CEO who can protect our wealth.
We need a Lord who saves us by refusing to play that game at all.
Part 5: I’m the one who would have drawn the sword
When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, maybe it’s not like that thing where he’s like, do what you will with me because I might seem weak and pathetic here but in heaven I’m like basically ceasar. No. I think he was like, my kingdom is not of this world because his power is not centered in our endless cycle of violence. No. He’s not a defender, a protector, a soldier, a cop, a secretary of state. He’s a savior. A savior who knows that more violence will never save us from our addiction to violence.
Which brings me back to that garden that day.
I could easily see being the one who tried to save myself by making sure the designated problem was taken care of, or by betraying him, or by watching it all happen and doing nothing, and I could very easily have been the one who drew a sword trying to fight violence with violence. But the only true hope, is not to be the betrayer or the one who draws the sword, the only true hope is to be one of those who falls to the ground when the unarmed, and unimpressive Jesus of Nazareth says, I am he.
Because the violence in us that has been from the beginning – since Cain killed Abel…that thing within the human heart that wishes to destroy the enemy, is actually destroying us and it always has. So we don’t need any more Kings of vengeance, or Kings of worldly power or Kings of closing the border. We need a King in a cradle. We don’t need to throw up our fists, we need to fall on our knees.
So here it is:
Part 6: Why O Holy Night my favorite Christmas song
It’s that one line.
Fall on your knees.
For that is what we do before a king.
Fall on your knees before a God whose love comes to us in delicate unprotected, unarmed, defenseless flesh. Fall on your knees before the one who loves without caution, without measure, without concern for pre-existing conditions. Fall on your knees before the one who submitted to the very worst that humans are capable of, who let the twisted thing in us, the thing in us capable of betrayal and flogging, and violence and vengeance and even murder and didn’t say “I’m going to get you back” but said “you are forgiven.”
Because at the feet of this king what we can do but spread our trophies. Our victories, our standard of living, and our delusion of safety.
Fall on your knees. Because we are out of solutions here. His kingdom is not of this world’s values. It is not a kingdom that guards its borders or arms its citizens or takes hostages or bombs theaters.
Christ is our king because the human violence competition, the need to be right and the need for everyone else to be wrong and the belief that God favors us above all others and the use of that delusion to kill and alienate is seen by Jesus for what it is: so, so small. This is why we are in need not of a king who kick ass but of a savior who draws all people to himself in the pure love of what James Allison calls the non-resentful loser. A crown of thorns and a throne of a cross.
What can we do but spread our trophies at his pierced feet. And call him Lord of all. Amen.