November 20 2016
Reign of Christ
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiven ess of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his rig ht and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up an d offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this m an has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
There are a few things that converge on this Sunday. It’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving and many eyes have turned to the grocery lists and shopping lists that will come with family breaking bread around table Thursday. It is also the last Sunday of the Christian year and the last Sunday of Pentecost meaning that our gospel readings will no longer come from Luke but from another gospel writer. Next Sunday begins Advent, the season in the church’s life when we become expectant that God will fulfill promises and come toward us. The last point of convergence is that today is the Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday.
That is why I’ve included the lectionary selections from Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the crucifixion text usually read on Good Friday. Both of them point to the affirmation of the church made on this day and throughout the year: Christos kyrios, Christ is Lord. And if Christ is Lord, then his lordship and reign calls into question every other competing authority and power.
When I was a child, I remember that my grandfather had a small collection of coins and dollar bills. I wouldn’t say that they are rare, perhaps just difficult to come by. There are a few Susan B Anthony dollars that fell out of circulation because they looked and felt too much like a quarter. There are some $2 dollar bills. And then there was a half dollar, with the side profile of President John F Kennedy engraved on the front of the coin with ‘In God We Trust’ in small text just below his neck line. I’m sure many of you recall exactly what this coin looked like as you carried it in your hand.
Kennedy’s profile takes up the vast portion of the front of the coin. There’s no mistaking who it is. I want you to consider for a moment, who are the folks that the United States mint has chosen to adorn its currency, seen around the globe? Presidents mostly, a few highly influential founding fathers, and a few notable women from American history.
The faces of American presidents are seen by tens of millions of people every single day as they pump gas, pay for a night out at the movies, hand their children their weekly allowances for chores well done, and pay for those last few dinner ingredients on a quick run into the grocery store. While few may consideration the implications, uniform production and distribution of currency legitimizes the government that issues it. Our daily living is dependent upon a stable dollar-there’s little way around that.
You might remember a story told in the gospel of Mark. The Pharisees are attempting to catch Jesus tongue tied as he teaches about the reign of God in the world. If the Pharisees can catch Jesus undermining the authority of Rome, then he can be arrested, tortured, and other terrible things as an insurrectionist. If he blatantly challenges the sovereignty of Roman Emperor Tiberius, Herod Antipas, or Pilate the Roman Prefect, then his growing movement, perceived as an encroaching threat to the ruling order can be dealt with in usual Roman style.
The Pharisees ask him a question. Is it lawful to pay tribute or taxes to the Roman government? This is a question of loyalty more than economics. You may remember that in Jesus’ infancy narrative that Jesus’ parents have to register for a census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Each area under Roman rule owed tribute money to the foreign government to ensure protection. A census would help Rome know exactly how much money it should expect from a paying territory. This is the basis of the question that the Pharisees ask. Should Jewish individuals living in a province conquered by Rome pay tribute money for continued protection and the lordship of an unwanted despot?
Jesus says, let me see a coin so that the question can properly be answered and the front of this Roman coin was a profile, likely of the Roman emperor Tiberius, son of Caesar Augustus. And on the coin was an inscription with the letters DI and FI, divus filius, son of the divine one or Son of God. One of Roman government’s most effective methods of maintaining its sovereignty and power, the distribution of currency, propagated the claim that the Emperor was god-like, if not outright divine. And Jesus cleverly answers, render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.
Let’s read it again with the inscription, render to the son of the divine one what is due him, and render to God what is God’s. The Emperor is due no loyalty though the Pharisees and Herodians completely believe that Jesus has encouraged obedience to Rome. Complete loyalty and dedication is due the Everlasting God, not the regime that has established itself by choking and beating the humanity out of its neighbors. This is not Jesus meek and mild, but the one whose vision of the world does not square with actions and attitudes that are denigrating, destructive, and death-dealing.
The in breaking of the reign of God in Jesus’ ministry exposes the violence and tyranny of Rome and the preference of the crowd to quiet the prophetic justice seeking voice that called for a fuller and complete expression of love for God and neighbor. Jesus is arrested, put on trial, and executed for claiming that the God who authored all of creation was at work bringing redemption among the people. The anointed one of God, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ claimed authority from God above to bring dignity to the poor, healing to the sick, and bread to the hungry, and to bring down the powerful and the haughty and end their systems of violence and oppression. That kind of ministry is a great reversal and depending on where you sit in the stacking order, not the kind of reversal you want.
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ 3Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ 5But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
The kingship of Christ and the reign of God in the world open doors to justice that others preferred stay closed. The reign of God in the world says to the individual with no community, come into the center and experience home, the place where you are always called beloved. The reign of God goes into shadow places where hope and joy hardly exist and pronounces that your sorrow will turn into laughter. The kingship of Christ exposes the insanity of patterns of violence around the world and says ‘no more.’ The reign of God sounds like children laughing alongside adult tutors who say ‘You are somebody, and you are loved. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.’
I believe that we’re going to see and experience the reign of God this Saturday night when this building is full of the aroma of fried chicken, brownies, and sides because we’re going to open the doors, pull out our best serving ware and finest recipes, to serve six men whose names we will learn, for they need a safe warm place to experience Sabbath from living on Nashville’s streets. And Lord-willing, we’ll start asking questions about what conditions exist that put our neighbors out of their apartments and homes in the first place.
These expressions of mercy, compassion, and justice seeking are demonstrations of the church’s affirmation Christos Kyrios, Christ is Lord. If Christ is Lord and the reign of God is breaking in among us, then the world is going to be transformed. Next time we baptize someone in this community or someone makes the vows of membership, I want you to listen to the three questions that are asked, particularly this second one.
“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”
It’s a question of loyalty and service. Does your approach to your neighbors square with the reign of God or the values of Rome? Where are your allegiances? How will you walk through this world? Will it be in a posture of service demonstrating that the reign of God and the lordship of Christ are breaking in through the cracks? Will it be a faithful demonstration that the life best lived is in love of God and neighbor?
Bless you in the name of the Everlasting God. Amen.