Sermon for Christ the King Sunday – November 21, 2021
John 18: 33-37
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout the history of the church, Christians have had opportunities to confess the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of kings.
In the ancient world, political rulers often claimed to be gods. They demanded to be worshipped by their subjects. It was expected that everyone within their kingdom would proclaim their loyalty with the words: “Caesar is Lord.” The painted domes inside some of the earliest Christian churches show how the Christians of that time confessed the truth of who was really King. Gazing down on worshipers from the sanctuary ceiling in many of those old churches are enormous paintings of Christ, who just happens to be dressed in the royal robes of the Caesar! Those paintings not only mocked the rulers of the day, they also reminded the worshippers below who was really king. They were, and are, a powerful statement that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.
In more recent history, the rise of Adolf Hitler gave the Christians of Germany an opportunity to confess who was really Lord and King. While Hitler never claimed to be a god, he did claim to be the supreme ruler of the Third Reich, which he saw as a divine new manifestation of the Holy Roman Empire. Hitler demanded complete loyalty from his subjects. If you didn’t obediently raise your hand to him or his henchmen with the words, “Heil Hitler,” you’d find yourself in deep trouble. Once Hitler’s tentacles of control reached into the church, a declaration was made by members of what came to be known as the Confessing Church. These Christians were disappointingly few in number, but they were bold in faith. In the introduction to what is called the Barmen Declaration, they stated – in direct opposition to Hitler’s claims – that “Jesus Christ alone is Lord.” Publishing that statement was a daring act that continues to inspire Christians around the world to this day.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. On this last Sunday in the church year we are invited to confess the truth that Jesus Christ alone is Lord. We are invited to confess that he alone is our King, that he alone has our highest loyalty and allegiance and authority over our lives.
As we gather together on this Christ the King Sunday, our gospel reading from John reminds us what sort of a king Jesus is. Jesus and Pilate were together in the marble halls of Roman power, and the contrast between the two couldn’t be more stark.
Pilate was full of hubris, while Jesus was full of humility. Pilate was surrounded by servants who would snap to attention at his every command. Jesus was himself a servant. Just hours before his arrest, he had knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. Pilate had at his command the most powerful military force in the ancient world. Jesus’ supporters included a rag-tag group of fishermen, lepers, and prostitutes. Pilate was among those who ruled through raw power, through manipulation and fear. He was from a breed of Roman rulers who controlled their subjects through sheer force. Jesus drew people to himself by healing them, by forgiving them, by feeding them, by loving them. Pilate was like pretty much all worldly rulers throughout history. They send people out to die for them and for their glorious causes. Jesus, on the other hand, is a King who chose to die for his people.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked. “My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus replied. Jesus admitted he had a kingdom, but his kingdom, he said, was unlike any the world had ever known. Jesus rules with a different kind of power. He rules through the power of love. He draws all people to himself not through coercion, but through his Passion. Jesus’ throne is his cross. His crown is the crown of thorns. His royal power is the power of self-giving love.
So what does it mean to confess Christ as our King today?
Unlike Christians in times past, or even in other parts of the world today, no one today is blatantly claiming that they are our rightful Lord and King. Instead, we live in a time and place of profound individualism. Even with all the current debates about the extent of personal liberty, we live in a time and place of an incredible freedom that is rarely seen in other parts of the world. Even with all the crises and challenges with rising inflation and supply chain issues, we live in a time and place of profound material wealth. The vast majority of people in our culture and society have a standard of living well above the wealthiest and most powerful kings in ancient times.
This is all wonderful, to be sure. I’d much rather live here and now than a thousand or even five hundred years ago. But the luxuries of our lifestyle do pose a grave spiritual danger. As Christians in this time and place it is very easy to think of ourselves as our own lords. We start to think of ourselves as our own kings and queens. As they say, “A man’s home is his castle,” right?
When we start to think we deserve everything we have, like some entitled royalty, when we start to live by our own rules rather than the gracious commands of the one who made us, when we start to pull up the drawbridge so we can enjoy our stuff while ignoring the needy peasants at the gates, then we are acting like our own kings and queens. Then Christ is no longer in his rightful place on the throne of our hearts.
To confess Christ as our King today is to step down from our thrones, from our sense of personal entitlement about everything, and instead live in humility and love.
To confess Christ as our King is to live lives that go beyond only looking to the betterment of our own personal kingdom and instead start being more mindful of the needs of others.
We can claim Christ as our King this morning because he has first claimed us.
He has drawn us to himself by healing us, forgiving us, feeding us, and loving us.
On the throne of his cross, he died for us. From our great King we have received a pardon for all our sins and he has made us his subjects forever.
His kingdom is not of this world, but it is breaking into this world even now as we receive his gifts anew today, given to us in Word and Sacrament, and as we go out into the world to live as his loyal and joyful subjects.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church