LAST PENTECOST: CHRIST THE KING, Sunday November 24, 2019
Thou art the King of glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man,
thou didst humble thyself to be born of a Virgin.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy saints,
in glory everlasting.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
At the end of October, the music industry press, fans of hip hop, and really so much of the world under 50 was ready to receive the next album from the artist, Kanye West. Now usually album releases don’t rate a mention in a Sunday sermon, but it just so happens that the album’s name is pretty consonant with our Sunday’s celebration. When “Jesus is King” was released last October, by an artist known for being provocative, there was a lot of conversation about the motivation and goal of Kanye’s work. There was a lot of conversation about Kanye himself, of course, and his relationship to the King he proclaimed in his chosen album title.
To me, judging the veracity of a famous person’s conversion seems like a waste of my time. I pray that Kanye has indeed found a King in Jesus, and I think the parts of his new record that I’ve heard are pretty ok. What I am more interested in this morning is the amazing claim that Kanye makes on the cover of that record. Because, at the end of the day, I agree with Kanye in at least those three words, Jesus is King.
And like I said a second ago, that is an amazing claim. It’s made all the more challenging for a couple of reasons that quickly come to mind. One, is the easy observation that as Americans we don’t really do kings. I mean we like them in history and in books and movies and such, but after a revolutionary war and with a legally binding constitution in place, we’re not super enthusiastic about the office of sole monarch.
But beyond our American allergy for the office, we also know that Kings throughout history are not super great in the aggregate, and this is an idea we found throughout the Scriptures. We actually see some of that in the word given to Jeremiah. Using shepherds as a metaphor for the Kings and leaders of Israel, God said through His prophet:
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.
Strong words! And there are many parts of Scripture that sound pretty similar. That there are Kings is a fact often taken for granted throughout the Bible, but so are their limitations, foibles, and failures. You might even remember that when the Israelites sought for themselves a king in 1 Samuel, it was only because they wanted to look more like their neighbors (not to mention they had consistently fallen away from the covenant promise made to Abraham and his progeny). That king, Saul, who started with such promise, would end up reminder of how God’s chosen people were so apt to forget God’s call and provision. Many places in the Gospels, Jesus has choice words for the bad kings of his time. He called them out in a similar fashion as Jeremiah: as shepherds that had abandoned their flocks. Interestingly, Jesus usually followed up his critique by doing something shepherd-y. In Mark Chapter 6, for example, he called out the absurd king and wayward shepherd in Herod, and then proceeded to have compassion on the crowds around him, feeding the five thousand there gathered with bread and fish.
In that example, I think we see that Jesus represents a different kind of king than we are used to; one without limitation, foible, or failure. One that is known instead for his humility, kindness, and righteousness. His acts are always on our behalf, and for the glory of His Father. Jesus does not act selfishly in his rule, and unlike the rulers of this world, is not overly concerned with maintaining his power. After all, “thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him.” He doesn’t need a check on his power: the heavenly throne is not bound by a magna carta and parliament of angels. The Holy Trinity does not represent three equal divine branches with checks and balances. These are unnecessary. Jesus proves his worthiness to rule not by the might of his arm (though he has it) nor by popular consent (though he deserves it) but by nature of his very person and ministry. As Paul reminded the Colossians:
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.
What king would give himself so completely for his subjects, not only to the death but to defeat death itself so that his subjects would not have to endure the pain of death but be invited into the same paradise as the thief on the cross- what king but Jesus? Indeed, even as Scripture is rife with the critique of earthly kings Jesus is the true king, God Himself, present among us to guide us into his Kingdom as his beloved family.
And as his beloved family, we are called to represent his rule. Not all of us will be able to write records and emblazon merch with those sweet words, “Jesus is King.” But those that have them written on their hearts should, with his help, love and seek his righteousness, love, and peace. Beloved, I often charge you to shine the light of Christ in a darkened world. But on a day such as this when we proclaim the Kingship of Christ, the worthiness of the Messiah, and the rule of God, I think it is especially important for us to hear and respond to this encouragement for the common good and for the life of the world:
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.
I pray that we are all filled with the power and humility of King Jesus as we seek his face and build his Kingdom in this needful world.
To Christ who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
1603 E Winter Park Rd.
Orlando, FL 32803