Feast of Christ the King
Have you ever been so frustrated with a situation that all you want to do is walk away? Sometimes walking away is the best thing we can do for our spiritual and mental health. Sometimes one needs to walk away to make a point. But sometimes, we walk away too fast.
In the last decade, there have been all sorts of studies related to the decline in attendance in the Sunday morning worship service. However, I am sure many here today can remember a time when this church was filled. It may have been some time ago, but the reality of the situation is that time is gone, and it is never coming back.
People walk away from church for various reasons, and some walk away because they could not have things their way. People are people, and we all have our wants and desires, and the desire to get our way can be frustrating if it does not happen.
Although people have been walking away from the institutional church since the 1960s, the good news is people are not walking away from the faith. On the contrary, studies show that people are more faithful today than when churches burst at the seams. And the even better news is, people are being church whether there is a building or not.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Although this idea of Christ being King of the Universe has been around since the very early days of the church, it was not until 1926 that it appeared on the church’s calendar. Then it was for political rather than theological reasons.
Secularism, Nationalism, and Nazism were on the rise, and Pope Pius XI declared this feast a Universal Feast of the Church. He stated this feast was a response to the evil and destructive forces making their way across Europe and would eventually lead the world into another war.
I call these forces evil and destructive because they break down the very nature of what it means to live in a community. These dark forces call us to individuality and to care only about what is good for me, even if it is at your expense. With his declaration, Pius was saying there is another way, the way of the Kingdom of God where we care for each other, sometimes at the expense of self.
In the Gospel passage we heard this morning from John, Pilate was trying to discover if Jesus was the King of Jewish people. Jesus had been brought before Pilate by the Jewish Temple Authorities claiming that Jesus had said he was King. This would be treason, and treason used to be a severe crime. At one point in history, attempting to overthrow a legitimate government with deceit and lies was a severe crime, and this is what Jesus faced.
Jesus responds to Pilate’s questions with questions and explains that the Kingdom that Jesus belongs to is not of this world. Ultimately Jesus and his followers belong to a Kingdom that is not earthbound. Ultimately, Jesus and his followers belong to the truth. Thus, Jesus is redefining the terms “king” and “kingdom” in terms of the belief in the one who came into the world to testify to the truth.
Truth is something that is supposed to be valued by those who claim to follow Jesus; truth is absolute and not some version of the truth that is bent to fit a particular ideology, regardless of what that ideology is. Proclaiming the truth is what makes Jesus King.
The past several years have seen the truth bent and twisted in some cases beyond recognition. The truth is not always pleasant, but the truth, none the less is the truth.
Several times in Scripture, after Jesus presents a teaching, people cannot understand to believe what he has just said, and they walk away. So ingrained is their belief that nothing, even the words of Jesus, will change their minds.
But we also see this in a contemporary way. Those same teachings of Jesus have been so manipulated from a position of love and care for all to we have the right to exclude people for whatever reason we decide is necessary. We humans have this mistaken belief that we have to defend God and be the keepers of who gets in and who does not get into God’s Kingdom. Truther be told, that is the very thing Jesus came to show that we were doing wrong.
When we decide that we will be followers of Jesus, we give up some of our individualism and focus more on the community. At the time Jesus was walking the earth, there was a communal understanding of everything. The idea that what is good for me regardless of what it does or does not do for the community was not something they thought of. There was this awareness of the group and what was good for the entire group and not just some of the group.
When Jesus speaks to Pilate about those who listen to Jesus’ voice belonging to the truth and are a part of the Kingdom, he says that belonging is less about individual decision making and more about collective participation in a community, and this participation transcends the individual.
The Kingdom of God is present wherever Jesus is, and Jesus is present wherever his followers are. It is present whenever we feel God’s presence through invitation, healing, and restoration, but this is not an induvial thing. Nowhere in Scripture does it say we have to have a personal relationship with Christ. Our relationship with Jesus comes in and through the community.
Our belonging is up to God. That is the new reality that Jesus comes to proclaim. That is the new truth to which all of us – the community of those invited, healed, and restored – belong.