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The Kingdom of Christ

This past week every time I mentioned to a friend that I was writing a sermon for this Sunday, the typical question of “what are you preaching on” came up, and when they heard me say “It’s Christ the King Sunday” their response was, “Already?!?”  Perhaps we’ve always been lulled to sleep around this time of year.  Pentecost is a long season and we become so wrapped up in Jesus’s teaching of things such as the parables every week that maybe we become too comfortable for our own good.  I, for one, am ready for the change in season.  Advent is always a comfort for me.  Whether we use the time for the traditional reason of penance or the modern interpretation which is preparation, Advent is ready to lead us on into a deeper relationship with God and hopefully with a fuller understanding of this Christ who is our king.

Who is this king?  And where is he?  His initial coming was promised as far back as Isaiah and his return has been proclaimed through the ages; perhaps none more dramatic in style than what we hear in today’s readings about this ‘now-and-forever’ kingdom.  And as for this kingdom, what is it and where is it?  What makes it different than others?  Our lives are surrounded by kingdoms.  Everywhere we look, a piece of this world is under the jurisdiction of a king or queen who attempts to take charge of our every movement and lead our thoughts into the realm of its world.  They are countless.  We have the kingdom of consumerism which creates witty phrases and catchy tunes to lure you into buying their product.  There is the kingdom of politics where various sides do whatever possible to convince you their ways will keep you the safest in everything from foreign aggression to local traffic laws.  Then there are the more personal realms we may not consider to be kingdoms at all that are composed of such things as school alumni, sports teams, television shows, and the latest kingdom of social media that strives without end to get us involved.  Some private, some public, some local, some universal, all of these kingdoms begin with the same focus; to draw your attention to what they think you should be paying attention to.  Each claims to be the best, the truest, the most believable and the most beneficial to your existence.  Anything else is just not worth your time or effort.  The thing is, we all follow along to some extent. We may follow with nothing more than keeping an eye and ear out for the next greatest thing to come along that will be worthy of our allegiance and money, but we all follow along.  We have our favorites and in some cases it can be quite easy to allow them to rule us.

Turning to our readings, not much was different in the middle east of the first century, BCE.  Caesar was king.  The politics of the time was that of the politics of Rome, and Caesar ruled wherever his armies travelled and set up camp.  It was not that great a difference from any previous era for the tribes of Israel.  Some king was always trying to rule over them.  Whether it was the pharaoh in Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon or now the Romans who occupied the region; freedom was not something that was often experienced by their people.  Even in times of self-governing, they avoided having a king as much as the world would allow until they, too, gave in to the demands of the people to have a human ruler.  The Jewish Kings came and went, success was often brief, and at times, being in exile seemed to be the most reasonable thing to do.  Their minds and prayers always looked to the future with a promise of a king that would lead them into their own wealth and security.  They were promised it.  It was prophesied and foretold by many that one day a king would lead them to their home.  These prophets were dramatic.  They were dramatic testaments to this promise of a divine kingship that would save the people from their suffering.  The apocalyptic works of Daniel and John of Patmos are brilliant; Daniel looking to the future of the first coming, John anticipating the return of Him in the final days.  But they are not just ordinary visions or prophecies.  In their own worlds, each was embroiled in a battle for a kingdom.  The people surrounding Daniel were occupied with the attacks on Jerusalem from the Syrian-Greeks.  John’s writings in the Book of Revelation were driven by the continued aggressions from Rome.  Each of our writers sought comfort and assurance that there is a kingdom without the dread of oppression, tyranny and war, and that there is a king who will rule over it righteously.  Each looked for an end to the pain and suffering caused by kings who ruled by greed and built up their earthly powers by abusing others.  Daniel’s magnificent account of his vision and prophecy proclaims a king that will have dominion over everything for all times without end.  The writer John relates how this king has not merely arrived, but will return to right all wrongs.  And of course we heard the Gospel with Jesus explaining how we already have this kingdom available to us, and that He is our king.

He tells us the kingdom is not the government, not the family, not the social clubs, and definitely not the companies that sell us the necessities we need to survive.  And in a time of history that was so politically charged that we see both secular and religious leaders trying to get the other to condemn an innocent man, so that the other will be held responsible if something goes majorly wrong, Jesus pulls us out of the kingdom of politics and says “it’s not here either.”   He shuts down all of our major learned behaviors concerning this outer visible world that is our home and where we live out our human existence, and says, “That’s not it.”  Aldous Huxley once said “The third petition of the Lord’s Prayer [Thy will be done] is repeated daily by millions who have not the slightest intention of letting anyone’s will be done but their own.”  Might I add the second petition of that prayer as well:  “Thy Kingdom come?”  The kingdom is here and we do pray for it and we have it available to us whenever we choose.  So the real question might not be “where are the kingdom and our King?” but more like “how do I live in this kingdom with our King?”

To do this, I don’t believe God is asking us to give up any of these things we’ve turned into our kingdoms.  In their own right, they are good and often necessary aspects of life and living and happiness.  The error is in allowing these worldly things to rule over us and control our lives as if they were the source of our living and happiness and therefore, we are not to worship them and their kings and their queens.  Even our own King, Jesus Christ does not ask us to worship Him in order to find the true kingdom here on earth.  He doesn’t say, “Worship me.”  Jesus says “Follow me.”  And that, my friends, may be a good way to begin living in the Kingdom now; by allowing Christ to lead us through our journey during Advent, by following Him and His way as the only King in our lives.  Amen.

(readings:  Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14  Rev 1:4b-8  John 18:33-37)

by:  Rev. Peter M. Gdula

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