Christ The King

Christ The King

Ephesians 1:15-23

Today marks the end of the liturgical year. Next week we begin again with the start of Advent. The liturgical year ends with Christ the King Sunday, it is a reminder that everything begins and ends with Christ. Christ the King Sunday celebrates the full authority of Christ as King and Lord of the universe. It is interesting to note that this particular celebration entered the liturgical calendar very late in the life of the church – in 1925. It was instituted in response to an attitude in society and among many Christians which doubted Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to continue Christ’s authority as the body of Christ. Instead of Christ, secular powers such as governments and other leaders and social constructs were claiming their authority over Christ’s. If however, the church’s witness is true then no other power on earth is sovereign, no authority is greater over us than Christ. Christ the King Sunday reminds us that our first and foremost allegiance is to Jesus Christ..

Today, the same distrust exists, although it seems potentially even worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self and the idea of anyone, much less Christ, as ruler is rejected. We balk at the idea of kings and queens and governments and authorities who lord it over us. Some even reject the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from systems of government that have used their worldly authority to oppress others. Yet, even so, Christ is King! His is the name above all names, his is the authority to which every knee will bend and every tongue confess that he is Lord. Here we must be careful, however, for Christ is no ordinary king: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service. So what kind of king is Christ? Listen to what Jesus says about himself:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

A different kind of king indeed! Jesus offered mercy to people, even those who, by the standards of the church at the time, deserved judgment. He was criticized for hanging out with the poor, the sick, those with questionable reputations. He sought that which was lost –the shepherd king, he healed the sick and brokenhearted – the servant king. He gave his life for many – the king by whom we are saved. Every person he came in contact with was treated with value, each encounter we read about impresses the (idea/understanding) that Jesus saw something in people that others did not – he saw each person as a masterpiece.

In his book, Unshockable Love, John Burke shares this illustration as food for thought. He wrote this after having viewed Rembrandt’s priceless masterpiece, The Return of the Prodigal Son – a moving painting depicting the father embracing the prodigal who was “dead, but is now alive, was lost and is found,” (Luke 15:24). Burke says, just imagine one day finding Rembrandt’s masterpiece in a back-alley dumpster. It’s covered in mud and dirt, hardly recognizable, except you recognize part of the painting, the famous hand of the father on the son’s ragged back. How would you treat the painting? Like trash? As though it is worthless? No, you would treat it like a million-dollar masterpiece that needs to be handled with care and restored. Even through the mud and damage you would recognize the immense value inherent in this one-of-a-kind work of art – simply because it was created by Rembrandt’s own hand. And rather than cleaning it up yourself, wouldn’t you bring it to a master who could delicately restore it to its original condition? This marvelous restoration in humankind is the work of the master, but recognizing it is our work. It is clear from Jesus’ interactions with very sin-stained, muddied people that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all the people he encountered. His focus was intently set upon the masterpiece to be restored, rather than focusing on the outward appearance. This is the example the king of glory as set for his followers. This is one of our tasks, as a community of faith – to treat those we come in contact with like the immensely valuable, one-of-a kind masterpiece they are – created by the hand of the master.

Jesus routinely chastised those church leaders who misused their authority and who dealt harshly with the very people Jesus came to restore. They had a reputation for condemnation not restoration. And reputation is important; it can have a positive or negative impact.

In our passage from Ephesians, we read this, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love!” The church in Ephesus had a positive reputation, word got around about them and the word was that they were faithful. Theirs was an active living faith. They not only believed in the resurrection power and authority of Christ, they lived in a way that was remarkable to others. Word of mouth is a powerful thing isn’t it? Word of mouth is what drew the huge crowds that sought out and followed Jesus. Word of mouth is what led Paul to say of this community of faith in Ephesus, “I have heard of your faith and your love.”

What does word of mouth say about the Christian church today, overall? Does the Christian church today seem to place itself under this special style of kingship as modeled by Christ, following the model of restoration vs condemnation? Thom Rainer, on his blog “Growing Healthy Churches,” relays this response posted on his site from a non-Christian: “The reason the world hates Christians is because they behave badly, they’re rude, boorish, arrogant, conceited, full of themselves, ignorant, and judgmental.” Ouch. They couldn’t be talking about us could they? Well, we know that reputation is important and word of mouth is important. So we need to  pay attention to what is said.

What about First Presbyterian Church of Zephyrhills? What does word of mouth have to say about us? Probably some good things and some bad things would be my guess. Because we are a church full of sinful people, me included. We try to do everything right, but we are going to mess up from time to time. It just is going to happen. More than anything, the important thing is our attitude. If we can adopt the attitude of restoration vs condemnation that Christ modeled, if we look at people as works of art, created by the master, worthy of restoration, if we bring those who are marred by life, damaged by hurts before the master for restoration, if we have the attitude that everything we do, we do in Christ’s name, as representatives of Christ, people will take notice as we follow the model of our servant king. For the energy, power, and spirit at work in the church comes from our connection to the source of all healing and authority. As individuals and as the church, how we live should declare Christ as king every day.

Let us constantly remind ourselves of the transforming, restoring, and totally upside-down nature of God’s act in the crucified Jesus who now reigns over all creation. When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose “loving-kindness endures forever.” The kingship of Christ is the most unusual you will find but make NO mistake, (reign/system) is not one of power but service, of restoration and love. And we are invited to be a part of this, recognizing Christ’s authority above all earthly rulers for Christ is king of kings and lord of lords. Has always been and always will be. Worthy of all honor and praise. Christ who died, and rose again, and is seated at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. Above every name that is named, forever.

 

 

BENEDICTION

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)