Christ the King Sunday: November 20, 2016, Living Waters Lutheran Church. Pastor Bruce Davidson preaching.
From what I’ve read, 1925 was kind of a tipping point in world history. Communism had taken hold in Russia, and was gaining strength in places like Germany, Italy, France and even India. Vladimir Lenin, the revolutionist leader in Russia died in 1924, and in 1925, Joseph Stalin began to accumulate and consolidate power. He did this by conspiring to ruthlessly eliminate any other challengers: And even as early as 1925, he was quite successful.
Nationalism and authoritarian rule was becoming common at the time, inside and outside communist movements: In 1925 dictators took over control of Iran and Syria and what became known as Saudi Arabia. Any of those places sound familiar? Benito Mussolini was elected Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, but in 1925, he dissolved the Italian Parliament, and was declared “Il Duce”, the leader. He then outlawed all political organizations except his own fascist party, and brutally enforced the one-man rule of the country.
Also in 1925 Adolph Hitler revived what would become the National Socialist party, the Nazis. He was among a few radicals who had tried to overthrow the German Government by force in 1923, He served nine months in prison when the coup failed. He was released late in 1924, and by February of 1925, he wrote that he would “hold his nose” and work to win Germany through the electoral process: he would challenge “catholic and communist” deputies in the German government by “outvoting them” rather than “outshooting them”. Well, at least that was his first step… other plans would follow.
So why the history lesson on1925 today? Well, because I like history… But actually it’s because of something that happened late in 1925: in December of that year, Pope Pius XI established a brand new Feast Day in the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church: A Festival day called “Christ the King”. The Pope created this annual observance “to call Christian people to seek the peace of Christ and the rule of Christ.” Reading the signs of his own time, he noted that fascism, communism, and nationalism that either openly rejected God, or used religion to incite division and prejudice “offered no hope of a lasting peace among nations.”
And he was right: In little more than a decade, the political movements identified by the Pope would lead the world into a deadly, massive world war.
That’s how we got this day: Christ the King Sunday: Lutherans have joined Roman Catholics and a wide variety of other Christian denominations in observing this festival. It’s worth remembering that this commemoration is less than a hundred years old, and that it grew out of a time of immense political turmoil: It’s worth remembering that it is rooted in the church’s deep concern about political movements that can be seductive and dangerous. This day in the church calendar was meant to be a challenge to modern leaders and political movements that prize power over peace. It was designed so that followers of Jesus can weigh, evaluate, and even confront our human ways of governance in the light of Christ’s example.
No matter what you may think or feel about the outcome of the last election, this day in the church calendar seems particularly timely right now. National and global change ais happening, and depending on how you see things, that may fill you with excitement, fear, hope or uncertainty. We are a divided nation and mistrust is evident in some of the recent protests and the protests against the protests. I’ve read at least seven articles in a variety of publications, religious and otherwise, that talk about how families gathering over the holidays can “negotiate” conversations with family and friends who are on the other side of the political spectrum. For many of us, this is a very real concern this year.
The election may have diverted some attention away from it, but we still live in a hostile world. Wars are being fought today, people are being displaced by them, and religious, racial and ethnic divisions continue to threaten peace in some of the places many of us thought were secure and stable.
So I think this is a time “to call Christian people to seek the peace of Christ and the rule of Christ,” It is a time to think more deeply, perhaps, about what does or does not “offer hope of a lasting peace among people and nations.“ This is a time for us to seriously consider what the rule, sovereignty and reign of Christ demands of us citizens today. There are principles and values we are called to recognize that are related to the kingdom Christ came to bring.
The lessons for today do give us some things to consider: Jeremiah invites us to recognize that God calls leaders to “shepherd” God’s people: they are not true to God’s intention if they do not “attend” to the flock, or scatter and divide them. Jeremiah reminds us that God’s rule is shown in establishing justice and bringing people into right relationship with God and each other. In a democracy like ours, in addition to our vote, what responsibility do we believers have now to shepherd our communities in ways that gather and do not scatter? How can a congregation like ours be vigilant and courageous in standing for justice?
In the gospel for today, Jesus cares for his flock from the cross, of all places. He forgives those who mock and crucify him, he offers paradise to a convicted felon, and he dies. This is not about the kind of power that seeks self-satisfaction or revenge. It’s about what the Apostle writes in the second lesson: “Through Christ God was pleased to reconcile all things to God’s own self… by making peace through the blood of the cross.” If the sovereign rule of Christ is seen in self-giving love through which God accomplishes reconciliation and peace, how can those gifts bring healing in and through believers today? In what ways can this community of believers walk into and with the anger, pride, hurt and despair others encounter now? How can the well of forgiveness in Christ quench our thirst for payback? When we hear that the only statement of faith Christ heard through his suffering on the cross came from a criminal, can we see those the world may count as lost causes with different eyes? How can we advocate today for those who look to the church for inspiration, welcome and rest?
In all three lessons the reign of God in Christ is not just a vision for tomorrow: shepherding, justice, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, hope are things to be experienced in this life, not just the life to come. The human thirst for unbridled power and domination stands in opposition to God’s call to live under a different rule. Let us keep our minds and our hearts open to one who truly is worthy of centering our lives and our world in peace.