I think that most of you are aware that our church, Douglas UCC, follows the Christian church calendar. Not all churches follow this calendar. But we do. It's a very ancient calendar. It was established all the way back at the Council of Nicaea, which happened in 325 AD. So it's almost 1,700 years old, this calendar. At that council, those dates on the calendar were established, the dates for Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Easter, and all of the special feast days, Epiphany and Pentecost and Palm Sunday.
Now, today, on the Christian church calendar, we are celebrating one of those special feast days. It's called Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday. This one wasn't established. 1,700 years ago. As we heard in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, the Feast of Christ the King is a fairly new feast day. It's less than 100 years old. It was established by the Christian church in 1925. And if you know anything about history, you know that that's a time around the world of great political turmoil and unrest. It's a time when we got to see the rise of people like Stalin, and Mussolini and Hitler. It was a time whene we got to see the rise of authoritarianism, and dictatorship, and nationalism, and fascism.
And so the Christian church at that time established Christ the King Sunday to declare, there is only one power in the world. And that is the power of the Christ. The Church established Christ the King Sunday to challenge those political leaders, and those political movements that value power over peace, and dominion over justice.
And that is why our feast of Christ the King Sunday is so timely today in 2022. Because sadly in recent years we have seen once again the rise of nationalism and fascism, not only in our country, but around the world. And so today's Feast Day is an important reminder for us that Jesus came to establish a different kind of kingdom. He wanted us to build a new world order, one in which strangers would be welcome. One in which the hungry would be fed, and the sick would be taken care of. He wanted us to establish a new world in which the least of these would be the most important, where the last would be first, and where the lonely would be lifted up high.
But that's not how kingdoms are usually built, are they? That's the opposite of how worldly kingdoms are built. Most kingdoms around the world were built on power, and domination, and control. On the oppression of people, especially the poor and the marginalized. That's how kingdoms are built. Jesus was envisioning a different kingdom. But then again, Jesus was a different kind of king.
We see in the Gospel reading today for Christ the King Sunday, Jesus on the cross.
If he is king, why is he on the cross? We see they even have above his head, King of the Jews. And he's asked, Aren't You the Messiah? If you are the king, save yourself! Jesus never answered that question. Throughout the Gospels, he's asked several times Are you the king? And he never answered that question. He always resisted that title. And so here we are today. We're celebrating Christ the King Sunday. And I wonder how Jesus would feel about that, since he always resisted that title.
I wonder how Jesus would feel about the works of art that are hanging in museums by very famous artists, depicting him as a king. You may have seen them. They show Jesus with a gold crown, and he's holding a bejeweled scepter, sitting on a golden throne. I wonder how Jesus would feel about that. Because you see, I don't envision Jesus that way.
When I think of a king, I think of someone so far removed from people. I think of someone in a tower or a castle that’s surrounded by gates and moats and bodyguards, someone who's so hard to reach. When I think of kings, I think of someone who has servants at their beck and call, someone people fear.
That's not who Jesus was.
Now, our friend John Pavlovich –many of you follow John Pavlovich – he is a Christian writer. And we were so fortunate back in 2018, to have him here, standing on this altar preaching to us. But John Pavlovich recently wrote that if Jesus came back today, most Christians wouldn't even recognize him. Because most Christians have a very different idea of who Jesus actually was.
Pavlovich reminds us that Jesus was a poor refugee. He was a dark-skinned Middle Eastern man who spoke Aramaic. And he was leading a popular countercultural movement, a movement of the poor and the oppressed and the marginalized. And that movement was so dangerous to people in political power that they needed to silence him. So in his blog, John Pavlovich wrote this, he said, “Jesus started a revolutionary underground movement. He championed the poor and the oppressed. He freely gave food to the hungry and care to the sick. He welcomed women in ministry, and he treated them as equals. He decried personal and systemic violence, he condemned the hoarding of wealth. And he was an activist for the common good.”
An activist for the common good? That doesn't sound like a king, to me. But as I said, Jesus was a very different kind of king. My friends, if we truly are to call ourselves Christians, followers of the way of Jesus, then we have to keep building that kingdom that He envisioned, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, lifting up the lowly. That was his vision. And we, as his followers, are to continue to build that kingdom.
Now we in the progressive church, we don't really use the word “kingdom,” because kind of harkens to that establishment of a worldly monarchy. In the progressive church, we tend to use now the word kin-dom, because that's what Jesus wanted us to build – a world where all people are kin. All people realize we are all one. We all belong to one another.
Jesus wanted us to create a kin-dom a just world for all people, one that would be ruled not by power, but by love. A world in which peace and justice would reign supreme. So that's what we're celebrating on Reign of Christ Sunday.
This isn't a day of coronation for Jesus. We're not putting a crown on Jesus's head today. I think Jesus would have been repulsed by that idea. He didn't want to be King. Today's feast day isn't called Jesus the King. It's called Christ the King. Now, yes, Jesus was the Christ, as we heard so beautifully in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning. But those words also reminded us that the Christ existed billions of years before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. In our first scripture reading today from Colossians it says that the Christ is the first born of all creation. That means when God birthed everything into existence at the Big Bang, there was the Christ, the firstborn of all creation. God's presence, power, light and life. That's the Christ. And that's what we're celebrating today on Reign of Christ Sunday.
Reverend Marty last Sunday was talking about how worldly leaders, worldly institutions, they will crumble and fall, but one power will remain. That's that power, that light of God, that Christ light. Today on Christ the King Sunday we remind ourselves there is only one power and one presence in the universe and in us and that power and presence is God. The good, omnipotent Christ light and love that dwells within your heart.
May peace and justice rule in our land.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
Rev. Greg Wooley, United Church of Canada
Today is the Feast of Christ the King. I’ve always rebelled against this title, because for me it suggested monarchs of old conquering lands and people. But when I learned about the origins of Christ the King Sunday, I discovered it only goes back to World War I. The Church instituted the feast of Christ the King to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler as opposed to earthly rulers. On this feast day, we ask ourselves: Will we, as individuals and as nations, seek the disintegrative forces of power and dominance, or will we seek the integration that comes with Christ’s way of forgiveness and reconciliation and trust? It’s a question that needs answering over and over again, and perhaps that’s why each year, just before Advent, we have a time to ask that question. One year ago, as I prepared to preach on Christ the King Sunday, I encountered the work of Richard Rohr, who has done some remarkable work explaining the notion of the “Cosmic Christ.” In this notion, found in our reading from Colossians today, Christ is present at the time of creation. Christ is seen as an aspect of God’s own eternal existence. Rohr says, “The Christ is born the moment that God decides to materialize. Modern science would call that the Big Bang. The Big Bang is the birth of the Christ, 14.5 billion years ago – and this material manifestation has been revealing the glory of God, the nature of God, since then. In a moment of time (2,000 years ago) this cosmic Christ was revealed for us in a human person, Jesus, so that we could see and touch and hear and listen and fall in love with God.” Christ didn’t come to earth in human form to save or fix something that was broken. Christ came to earth in human form to embody the process of love that moves all life forward. Today, we celebrate that love, and we let it – not earthly rulers – reign over our lives.
What did you think?