Christ the King Sunday: New Year’s Eve of the Church Year

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25/11/18
Christ the King

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14
Revelation 1:4-8
John 18:33-37

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.
Amen.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year – this is New Year’s Eve! On this last Sunday before Advent – also known as Christ the King Sunday – we take the opportunity to look at Jesus as King.

This Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – that season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Christ the King is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that!

Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to two issues he was facing. Firstly, the growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of the war. The men had left for war and they didn’t come back; and the women left the church and God.

Secondly, Pope Pius was also dealing with issues in the Catholic church about what authority the Pope had in the civil matters in Rome in the 1920’s. This context led him to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:

‘If to Christ Jesus our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’

This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. There are two dimensions to Christ the King Sunday – the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden really embraced the final judgement dimension of today as they use to referred to it as the Sunday of Doom. Those cheerful Swedes have since amended their focus to the Return of Christ. Good choice I think – even if only from a PR perspective.

The second dimension of Christ the King Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – the season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.

I tend to see Christ the King Sunday as New Year’s Eve on the church calendar. New Year starts next week with the first Sunday of Advent. Forget January 1st – December 2nd is where it is at!

Looking back on the year that has just past – I know many people for whom 2018 has been a fair mix of peaks and valleys; much better than 2017. For others it has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. And others for whom it has been full of blessing and delight.

Wherever you find yourself this morning – God bless you! Know that you are loved. It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings; whatever season we are in. We live in the in-between time – the first Advent and the second, the now and the not yet. The new born King has come and yet we wait for His return as the grown-up King.

Christ the King Sunday reminds us that we live in the in-between. Most of us – I would bet – prefer certainty and security to uncertainty and chaos. We like to know where our next meal is coming from, when the next train arrives, that there is money in the bank.

We might even prefer more certainty of Jesus or hold a view of Him that is containable, manageable and fits with our view of the world. If you happened to notice the readings this morning but they come from some of the more difficult bits of the Bible.

The Lectionary for this morning has readings from both Daniel and Revelation which present us with dreams and visions of some very scary things! Luke has Jesus in front of Pilate who is about to condemn him to death and he doesn’t seem to be putting up too much of a defence for himself or acting very king-like.

Revelation is the start of John’s visions while he was an old man exiled on the Greek island of Patmos. John knew Jesus, he was the beloved disciple, he had spent 3 years with him, following him around, listening and learning from him. John was there when Jesus was crucified – a young man probably still a teenager!

Now he is an old man, having lived a life telling people the Good News that he heard and saw when he was with Jesus. In this final event of his life, John is given the most extraordinary visions of what happens when Christ comes again. It is dramatic, it is frightening and quite frankly hard to understand.

John starts with God and Jesus – John knows the grace and peace he extends to others, he knows the faithful witness of Jesus, John knows the love and freedom that comes from the forgiveness of sins. He knows what Jesus did while he was on earth – he was there!

And John sees Jesus coming again – coming with the clouds and every eye will see him. In the first coming, as a baby in the manger, it might seem easy to overlook – but there will be no mistaking this King’s return.

The painting by William Blake ‘The Ancient of Days’ is his interpretation Daniel and Revelations ‘Ancient One’ – this Jesus who will come on clouds descending.

My Advent book for this year is Jane William’s ‘The Art of Advent’ – it is beautiful! She describes Blake as helping us to see what is meant by this phrase ‘Ancient of Days’. This is no old man, but a timeless one, both aged and yet full of vitality.

God is older than time, more ancient that any human thought or life. God is measuring the out the shape of the world in this picture but also measuring to see if the world is measuring up in other ways – to its full potential. This powerful figure is pouring out life into the chaotic darkness around.

John’s Gospel presents us with another vision of Christ the King – maybe one that we are no more comfortable with but maybe more familiar. John gives us a picture of the human Jesus stood before Pilate – tired, beaten, exhausted. Again, not a great picture of a King!

Pilate has been put into a difficult position – he is puzzled over the charges brought against Jesus but has to decide whether Jesus should be sentenced to death or not. As Pilate is trying to work this out he asks Jesus point-blank ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus gives – what was probably a woolly answer ‘My kingdom is not from this world’. It is a bit of a crazy answer!

Pilate takes this as meaning that Jesus admits to being a king. Pilate is probably not sure about what kind of king Jesus is meant to be. He likely doesn’t care – his question is rather more about whether Jesus is challenging his power or not. Is this Jesus supposed to be a king in a military-style to come in and wipe out the enemies (those being the Romans) of the Jewish people? We know the rest of the story – this King that goes on to be crucified. Again, this is not a great or comfortable view of a King!

Both the readings this morning give us two different perspectives on Jesus and his kingship. I wonder if there is one you relate to more deeply than the other? We have the huge vision of John and maybe have a representation in William Blake’s ‘Ancient of Days’. We also have John’s telling of Jesus’ presentation to Pilate. A very human Jesus, on his way to his death. And today we are asked to look ahead to the remembrance of Jesus coming as the baby in the manger.

I think it is really important to our faith to understand how we see Jesus – where do we place him. Is he the tiny baby that comes out only at Christmas for some warm and fuzzy memories? Is the cosmic Jesus a little too different, too distant? What about Jesus the man, the human ‘king’ standing before Pilate.

Christ the King Sunday gives us the opportunity to adjust our eyesight so that we can see Jesus in all his fullness. If we have diminished Him in any way – we can ask for Him to expand into our lives, our relationships and our understanding of who is He. We need Him! We need Him in this church badly!

We share in his Kingship in the practical matters of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, being present with those in need. We also share in the hope of the King that is to come in all his fullness and glory – both the baby at in the manger and the Son of Man who will return. The Son of Man who will descend of the clouds; who loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to a be a kingdom.

Until then we have to wait and watch. Take the time to be prepared. As we stand on the cusp on another church year – which promises to be eventful – let’s look again at Christ our King.

Amen

Christ the King Sunday: The Love & Judgement of God

St Peter’s Lutheran Church Cochrane 
Christ the King  Sunday
26/11/17

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25:31-46
Psalm 95:1-7

Prayer – God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.
Amen.

Today is Christ the King Sunday – I am not sure what Martin Luther would have made of this. This is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that!

Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to two issues he was facing. Firstly, the growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of WW1. The men had left for war and the didn’t come back; so the women had left the church and God. Secondly, Pope Pius was also dealing with issues in the Catholic church about what authority the Pope had in the civil matters (matters outside the Church) in Rome in the 1920’s.

This context led him to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:

‘If to Christ Jesus our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’

This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. There are two dimensions to Christ the King Sunday – the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. The second is pointing to the more immediate season of Advent.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden really embraced the final judgement dimension of today as they use to referred to it as the Sunday of Doom. Those cheerful Swedes have since amended their focus to the Return of Christ. Good choice I think – even if only from a PR perspective. Of course, the Norwegian Lutherans would never do this!

The second dimension of Christ the King Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – the season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. Advent also marks the start of the new Christian year.

We live in the in-between time – the first Advent and the second, the now and the not yet. The new born King has come and we wait for His return as the grown-up King.

I tend to see Christ the King Sunday as New Year’s Eve on the church calendar. New Year starts next week with the first Sunday of Advent. Forget January 1st – December 3rd is where it is at!

Looking back on the year that has just past – I know many people for whom 2017 has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. I know others who have had a great 2017 filled with many blessings and excitement. And others for whom 2017 has been a fair mix of peaks and valleys.

Wherever you find yourself this morning – God bless you! Know that you are loved.

It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings whatever season we are in. He is also the King of the Sheep as Ezekiel describes for us.

The sheep here are a metaphor to represent the people of Israel. They are God’s flock and they are a mix of strong and weak sheep. It is interesting that God uses sheep as a metaphor for people. Sheep are not the brightest animals in creation, they are not able to take care of themselves the way other animals can, you can’t teach them tricks, they need a lot of care and attention, they need to be guided – hence the need for shepherds.

God acts as the shepherd for his people – he will search and seek out the lost, the lonely and the oppressed. He brings back the strays, strengthens the weak, binds up the injured. He feed them, he will make them lie down – 23rd Psalm anyone?

This is a picture of a King who gets deeply involved with his mixed flock of strong and weak out of deep love and concern. This is not a King who is disinterested in his people!

Jesus never says to the sheep – ‘sort yourselves out and then drag your sorry tails back to me’ or ‘behave yourselves and then you will be good enough’ or ‘I only help those sheep who help themselves’. No – Jesus goes to them – where they are at and brings them home. We have a King who loves. This is Jesus the Shepherd King.

In this reading we also see a King who judges as there is inequality in the flock. There are both strong and weak sheep living together in his flock. We are told that the strong sheep are not looking after the weak sheep the way that they should.

Now that I have dropped the J word – we need to hold on to some important truths:

God does not judge the same way we do – I am very glad of that. God judges out of love – not hate or pride or envy. For this King love and judgement go together. Let’s remember that we will be judged by the same standards that we judge others.

There are people around – maybe you know some of them – who seem to think that God has outsourced the business of judgement to them. They seem to know what God hates which is almost always the same stuff or people that they hate. We all make judgments every day! I also know that the standards that I hold myself to are far less than the standards I hold other people to.

A trivial example of this – speeding tickets. Every speeding ticket I have ever received is justifiable because I had to get somewhere quickly because it was really very important. Every speeding ticket you have ever received is completely your fault, you bad driver and danger to society!

We do need a God of judgement though – otherwise He quickly becomes ineffectual and useless.

In the Ezekiel reading God is judging between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. The fat sheep are the ones who butted the weaker animals, took their food, tread down the pastures for their own gain. The fat took advantage of the lean by mistreating them and will be punished for this.

If God did not judge between the two – what is He saying? To the fat sheep – you can do whatever you like to serve yourself – there are no consequences. I don’t love you so I will ignore what you do. To the lean sheep – God is saying you are not worthy of help. I don’t love you enough to want to help you. You are on your own.

This is similar to the picture of judgment in Matthew’s Gospel – the separation of sheep and goats seems to emphasize that ultimately every person on earth will be called to account for the use of the opportunities to serve others.

It also suggests that there will be some surprises – people who did kind things for God only to find that what they did for the ‘insignificant people’ were kind things done to the Lord who was in them. Other people will be punished for failing to make use of opportunities to serve the lowly and thereby failing to serve God.

Our own justice system – although imperfect – is meant to work the same way. Penalize people for the wrong they do and protect those who cannot protect themselves. One person fails to serve another and is punished for it. How one person treats another is always the central issue.

The world does not operate as it should – it doesn’t take much imagination to work this out. We don’t treat people as we should – whether that is the people next door to us or the people on the other side of the world. The injustice in the world is rampant – socially, politically, economically. We have had the global examples of Zimbabwe and Egypt this past week.

It is not all bad news though.

It might be helpful to hold that this is not the full picture of judgement. This passage only deals with works – not grace or faith or the atoning work of Christ. Works are the evidence on which people will be judged here, not the cause of salvation or damnation. It is common to all of scripture that we are saved by grace and judged by works. The works we do are the evidence of either the grace of God at work in us or of our rejection of that grace.

Out of love God wants the fat sheep to care for the lean sheep – share food, protect them as he does. Love you neighbour as yourself! We will be judged on this.

We have a King of love and of judgment. Whatever season of life we are in – we have a King who loves us and will defend us. This will come to pass at the end of time.

We also look ahead to the more immediate future of the Advent season. In Advent we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who was born into the world as both God and man, died so that our sins may be forgiven and rose again so that we may live with him forever. We also look forward to his glorious return at the end of time. Advent helps us to remember that God is present in the world today.

The Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. We may live in dark times but the light of Christ will show us the way.

But we do have to wait. Wait with expectation and anticipation. We wait in the light of new hope.  There is always work in the wait – Pastor Paul in his sermon last week reminded us that God gives us challenges in this life and what we do matters. We have jobs to do in this life and the next and we will be rewarded for what we do. These jobs require some risk and there is always the possibility of failure but we are not to let fear and anxiety hold us back.

As a New Year is about to dawn – as Psalm 95 sings to us ‘let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ We live in uncertain times – globally and personally. What a relief it is to have the rock that is higher than I to cling to.

Verse 4: The whole world is in His hands. The mountains, the sea and the dry land are his for he made them. We are the sheep of His hand. We cannot escape him! We are safe in the safest hands possible as we wait.

The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. I think we need to know this – God is great and good and loving towards us. He is so worth listening for. He is so worth waiting for!