Sunday November 24, 2019
Christ The King - 2019c
Old Testament – Jeremiah 23:1-6
New Testament – Colossians 1:11-20
Crafters of Idols
INTRODUCTION: So this is one of those times when the church year doesn’t quite match up well with the calendar year.
After all, today, Christ the King Sunday, marks the ending of the church year, even though we have more than a month to go before that ball in Times Square drops to officially ring in 2020.
So next Sunday, of course, we will begin a new church year with the 1st Sunday of Advent. We’ll start the church year, appropriately enough, by preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth. From there, of course, we’ll then move quickly to his baptism, the start of his ministry, the season of Lent, and then to his eventual crucifixion in Jerusalem in April.
But the year hardly stops there, right? For with Jesus’ resurrection, the liturgical year then slides into the season of Pentecost and the birth of the church.
So for several months during Pentecost we will follow the growth and spread of the church, while also giving some thought to what it means to be disciples ourselves as those also called to be heralds of the good news.
And then, as always, right before Thanksgiving next year we’ll once again end the church year by observing Christ the King Sunday yet one more time. With its focus on the Lordship of Christ, Christ the King Sunday is a good way to end the church year.
For after following Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection during the year, it is fitting to conclude the church calendar by recognizing how, after being raised up, he now, mysteriously and amazingly, rules over all things.
But now here is the funny thing. Turns out Christ the King Sunday is a pretty recent addition to the church calendar. Yep, it has actually only been since 1925 when Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King that the day has been part of the church year.
You see, as many of you surely recall, in 1925 the planet was still reeling from the horrors of World War I, which had left over 9 million military personnel dead as the Allied nations and the Central Powers duked it out in the trenches of Europe.
And while the Allied forces, thankfully, won, the war itself caused many to start doubting once again the inherent goodness of humans. In the decades leading up to World War I, there was a commonly held assumption that humans were essentially noble creatures who could create a more just and perfect world through their own initiative and dogged determination.
Humans, it was believed, had it within them to sort of usher in a Utopian world order and rid itself of all social ills. The kingdom of God, many believed, was within our collective grasp. We just needed to reach out and seize it.
But World War I, with its blood-soaked trenches and bleary-eyed survivors, brought such rosy optimism about humans to a crashing halt. We once again found ourselves grappling with that old theological idea that human beings, more often than not, are screw-ups.
But even more significant than the jaded view of humanity left by the aftermath of World War I, there was also the growing rise of the totalitarian dictator Benito Mussolini in Italy.
As Mussolini sought to gain more and more control of Italy through his fascist ideology, Pius XI felt it was increasingly important for Rome, which was obviously in Mussoloin’s backyard, to remind Christians that they ultimately owed their allegiance to Jesus Christ rather than to any human ruler, institution, or even system of thought.
So Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925 as a way to remind people of faith who was finally in charge of their lives. Or as Pius XI put it: “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.”
Obviously, other Christian traditions, including our own, were to eventually follow suit, and so along with Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodist, we pause every year just before the season of Advent begins to remind ourselves to whom we finally and ultimately owe our allegiance.
Of course, the idea that Christ is King is replete in Scripture, right?
Whether it’s the Book of Revelation where Jesus announces he is the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end), Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus’ own proclamation that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him, or numerous other passages, we are reminded again and again in the Bible that Christ is finally King and Lord of all.
Our reading from Colossians, of course, is just one more example of the Bible making such a claim. A famous hymn, Colossians’ declaration of Jesus as King has a very cosmic flair to it. Jesus is way more than just some regally dressed good looking white guy with long blond hair, blue eyes, and a beard sitting perched on a throne.
No. Jesus, we’re told, is the image of the invisible God. He is before all things and holds all things together. And in keeping with the opening lines of John’s Gospel, all things in heaven and in earth were created through him, and even for him.
So Christ is King because it is in him that life itself is even able to exist. Apparently, take Christ out of the equation, and existence, according to Colossians, would begin to crumble and fade. For even existence, as amazing, mysterious, and grand as it is, is also finally dependent upon something else for its own, well, existence.
So Jesus, according to Colossians, is the glue, for lack of a better term, that binds everything together.
And while we might readily accept such a robust claim about Christ being Lord of all, as people of faith that doesn’t mean we always do a good job of actually recognizing him in that way.
For we humans...well, we’re pretty good at tricking ourselves, right? We’re pretty good at giving our allegiance and trust to things other than Christ. Yes, Christ is King, but the world is also full of all kinds of other voices, people, and even pursuits that are also desperate to be the Lord of our lives.
And it’s just a hard truth that we humans are all too happy to turn our lives over to those other voices. The fancy theological term we have for such behavior is called idolatry. Or in the words of another person, idolatry is “turning a good thing into an ultimate thing.” It’s to elevate things of finite worth and value to positions of ultimate importance.
No wonder a famous minister can then also say this about idolatry, “Under certain circumstances, money, patriotism...moral principles, family loyalty, physical beauty, social or intellectual preeminence, and so on are fine things to have around; but to make them the standard by which all other values are measured, to make them your masters, to look to them to justify your life and save your soul is sheerest folly. They just aren’t up to it.”
Yep, it’s just seems to be human nature to take what are often good things and turn them into ultimate standards. No wonder we Presbyterians are so insistent that we should always be on the lookout for idolatry. For we know, we know just how pervasive idolatry can be.
It was our forefather John Calvin, after all, who famously declared, “Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.”
Sure, Christ is King. But that doesn’t mean the way we sometimes live our lives clearly expresses that conviction.
There is a story of a wealthy farmer who burst into his home in great distress one day and announced to his wife, “Rebecca, there is a terrible story going around town - the Messiah is here!”
“Well, what’s so bad about that?” Rebecca inquired. “I think that is wonderful news. What are you so upset about?”
“What am I so upset about?” the husband exclaimed.
“After all these years of sweat and toil, we have finally found prosperity. We have a thousand herd of cattle, our barns are full of grain, and our trees our laden with fruit. Now we’ll have to give it all away in order to follow the Messiah.”
“Calm down,” said the wife reassuringly. “The Lord our God is good. He knows how much we Jews have always had to suffer. We had a Pharaoh, a Haman, a Hitler - always somebody. But our dear God found a way to deal with them all, didn’t he? Just have faith, my dear husband. He will find a way to deal with the Messiah too.”
Well, in our way we get it, right? For while confessing Jesus is King is important. Such a verbal confession, frankly, is usually a bit easier than actually living as if he is. For there are always idols in our lives eager to substitute themselves in his place.
CONCLUSION: And so surely, as we stand on the verge of a new church year, it is a good thing to be reminded once again who is finally Lord of our lives.
After following Jesus for the last year, from his birth, to his ministry, to his death and resurrection, to the creation of the church and his commissioning of us to be heralds of his good news, we’re about to start the journey all over again.
So now is the time once again to begin eagerly awaiting his birth. For Jesus, as hard as it is to grasp and comprehend, is coming as a small child born humbly in a manger.
But don’t let his meager and weak beginnings concern you too much. For the story always ends the same way. With Jesus raised up, and Lord of all.
Now to the Ruler of all worlds, undying, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.