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Pentecost 26 The Feast of Christ the King November 22, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, November 22, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Yesterday my two little dogs
spent the afternoon growling and barking
and snapping
at each other . . .
over who is sovereign
in our little kingdom in Shoreline –
a small domestic metaphor
for the endless battle for supremacy
in and among the kingdoms of this world . . .
(Somehow Spike Jr. and Charley
seemed to have forgotten
there is already an alpha dog in our kingdom
and she is me . . . )
So I was thinking about this Feast of Christ the King
and this sermon
amidst snarling canines
and the glorious images
of God’s reign
in the lectionary texts assigned for the feast . . .

Daniel’s night visions
of “one like a human being”
presented to the Ancient One in the heavenly courts,
given everlasting “dominion and glory and kingship”
over “all peoples, nations, and languages . . . .”
The psalmist’s praise of
the splendidly appareled God and King
whose throne
has been established from everlasting . . .
Revelation’s exultant announcement
of the one “who is and who was and who is to come,”
Jesus Christ the alpha and omega,
the firstborn of the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
And in the Te deum,
the early Church’s majestic vision
of the heavenly throne-room
and its throngs of saints and angels,
apostles and prophets and martyrs,
all singing their praises
to God
and to Christ the King,
seated at God’s right hand in splendor . . .

All that power and glory,
building up to John’s gospel
and the
inglorious interrogation
of the seemingly powerless Jesus,
in the grim headquarters of Pontius Pilate,
Rome’s appointed Governor
of occupied Judea.
Jesus, arrested
on trumped-up charges
          leveled by the religious authorities
                   of his own tradition,
                   who wanted him gone . . .
handed over by them to Pilate
to be executed on their behalf
by the occupiers of their country,
with whom they co-existed
          in an uneasy truce of appeasement.
Christ the King.
Jesus the soon-to-be-crucified.

The Feast of Christ the King
is a relatively new addition
to the Church’s calendar . . .
instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI:
a liturgical proclamation
of the risen, ascended Christ
as sovereign over all things in heaven and on earth . . .
In the origin of this feast there was
a political as well as theological agenda –
An uneasy Pope’s pushback against the
rising forces of European nationalism and secularism competing with the Church
for power and authority
          in human affairs . . .
An embattled Pope’s pushback against the
unresolved so-called “Roman Question:”
whether the Pope could retain sovereignty
          over the territories known as the Papal States,
          (a considerable piece of the Italian peninsula,
                   including the city of Rome . . .)
or whether the government
of the gradually unifying nation-state of Italy
would claim them . . .
Wars had been fought . . .
Oh yes, the Papal States had an army . . .

Ironic . . .
the Feast of Christ the King,
established by a Church
engaged in a struggle
to hold on to its own earthly kingdom.
It is an ironic and a political and a paradoxical feast,
with much to reveal
about kings and kingdoms
human and divine . . .
its ironic, political, paradoxical content
in the lectionary’s juxtaposition
of all that Scriptural and liturgical glory
with Pilate’s dialogue
with the enigmatic man standing before him
in travel-worn peasant clothing . . .
“Are you the king of the Jews?”

If so, Jesus would be guilty
of sedition,
of setting himself over against
the Roman Emperor,
and fomenting rebellion
among an occupied people.
Pilate found himself
between a rock and a hard place . . .
between the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem,
          whose collaboration he needed
to maintain the peace
                    (so . . . he should cooperate
                   with their desire to get rid of Jesus)
and the Roman Emperor,
          his brutal employer,
          the source of his position and power
          whom he must at all costs please . . .
                    (. . . might executing Jesus
                   become the catalyst
                             for an uprising?)
“Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Why do you ask?”
Jesus responded,
“Do you really want to know who I am . . .
or are you just trying to verify
what others have told you?”
Between a rock, and a hard place,
and a man who should have been trembling with fear
          or attempting to ingratiate himself . . .
a man
whose self-possession
in the face of all the power of Rome
was profoundly unsettling.
“I’m not a Jew,” Pilate replied,
“but I am the governor,
and your own people have handed you over to me . . .
What have you done?”
“My kingdom is not like yours,”
Jesus said in oblique response,
“not as the world knows kingdoms,”
          not won or defended by violence,
          not maintained by oppression and exploitation.

The concept simply did not fit
the categories by which
Pilate understood his world.
“So,” he replied, “you are a king?”
“For this I was born,” said Jesus.
“for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth
hears my voice.”
the makers of the lectionary
have left out Pilate’s telling reply.)
“What is truth?”
“What is truth?”
he said,
political expediency having been for so long
the reality
governing his life.
He knew
to whom he belonged . . .
first to Caesar,
and then to the Jewish authorities
who had brought Jesus to him.

If we are familiar with John’s gospel,
we know Pilate had been going
back and forth,
back and forth,
          between Jesus
          and his accusers waiting outside the headquarters,
not to sort out the truth,
          but to find a way for himself
                   through a dicey situation . . .
He’d have liked to wash his hands
of the whole perplexing and threatening affair.
          (and later, he would.)
His truth for that moment
was whatever
would get him out of the mess he was in.
“I am the way,
and the truth,
and the life, “                                   John 14.6a
Jesus had said to his disciples
          at the last supper.

What is Truth . . .
the purpose and aims of God
as seen in Jesus . . .
a way of being
that arises in relationship with the God
          who is all Truth . . .
a way that leads
          not to the facts of the matter
but into Mystery,
the Paschal Mystery,
the Easter Mystery
of God’s dealings
with God’s people in
          Jesus Christ,
                    crucified as a criminal
          risen and ascended as Lord.
God’s beloved Son,
who by his death
and rising from the dead,
freed us from the powers
that corrupt and destroy the children of God,
that resist and sabotage
the flowering of God’s kingdom
in our hearts and in the world.

Truth is life lived
as if the kingdom
of which Jesus spoke,
the kingdom revealed in all his actions,
God’s kingdom,
were already here,
or should I say
Truth is life lived
because the kingdom
of which Jesus spoke,
which he revealed,
is already here
          coming into being,
          although not yet come to its fulfillment.
In this kingdom
we are free to choose
to whom or what we will give our allegiance,
and whom we will serve,
free to give our obedience to the king
who is not a king as the world knows kings,
but a king whose majesty and glory
          are found in his love, humility,
          and self-offering for his people.

This is the story
we have told and lived and seen
in the past year,
from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany,
from Lent through Holy Week to Easter,
from the great Day of Pentecost
          through the long season after it,
and this is the story
we will begin to tell again
and to live again
with the coming of Advent next Sunday.
Always old and always new,
this ever-unfolding story . . .
this story of Christ the King,
and our story woven into it,
the story of a people
called, redeemed, baptized
to be a kingdom of priests,
serving God
by serving the world
God has made.

Truth was on trial before Pontius Pilate,
Truth and the Life to which it leads . . .
and to all appearances,
Truth and Life
were overcome that day
by Fear and Death.
But Truth and Life had the last word,
as we know,
and that word is Resurrection.
Against that word
all the kingdoms of the world
cannot stand.
To belong to that Truth
we need only listen to his voice,
and follow where he leads.
It  won’t be,
in this life,
to royal throne rooms,
position and power,
possessions and wealth.
The journey is the way to humility and self-offering,
          the glory is found in acts of compassion and love
          in the meanest and poorest of places,
the majesty in devoting all that we are
                   and all that we have
                    to serve the King of Truth and Life.