(Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24, Ps. 100, Eph. 1:15-23, Matt 25:31-46)
(A sermon for Christ the King – A holy day not celebrated in the Episcopal Church)
We are all ruled by something. The question is do we have the right king?
Today is the last day of the Christian Year, known to Anglican Christians as “Stir up” Sunday. That title came from today’s collect in the first, 1549, Book of Common Prayer. We have moved that collect to Advent 3 in our current prayer book: it starts, “Stir up your power O, Lord…”
But then along came the 20th century and WWI. 45 countries took sides in unimaginable violence. Ironically, that the European countries claimed to be “Christian,” and their leaders were all related to one another. Thanks to peerage requirements to “marry an equal,” the gene pool among Europe’s monarchies had become very, very small as European dynasties intermarried. Europe was led, not by royal “families” as much as by 1 big not so happy family. If you opened their tombs you would notice that many sport a genetic feature known as the “Hapsburg Jaw” – an enormous under bite, passed down from Maximillian, an Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1500. Think about this tragic fact: The leaders of the European nations had proximity, culture, religion, and family in common – Yet 18 million died in WWI. They prayed to the same God. They were members of the same family…and still, in four years a generation of young men had been wiped out.
The Hapsburgs were kings. But not the right kind of kings.
Reflecting on the Great War, Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical letter, “On the Kingship of Christ.” The encyclical dealt with what Pius XI described as “the chief cause of the difficulties under which mankind is laboring.” He wrote that evil in the world was due to a majority of humanity having thrust Jesus Christ and His holy law out of our lives; that Our Lord and His reign had no place either in the private or political sphere. For Pius, and the classical Christian message, as long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of the self-emptying Savior, there could be no hope of lasting peace among nations. Humanity must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ—Pax Christi in Regno Christi.
For Pius XI, only Jesus Christ could possibly be the right kind of king.
So Pius XI instituted a new holy day – the “Christ the King” as “a solemn affirmation of Our Lord’s Kingship over every human society” – King not only of the soul and conscience, intelligence and will, but also of families and cities, peoples and states, and the whole universe. Pius argued that societies without reference to God, deny Christ’s Kingship, and lead to the apostasy of the masses and the ruin of civilization. The Pope believed that an annual public and official assertion of Christ’s divine right of Kingship over humanity in the liturgy would be an effective means of combatting the growing secularism, by “stirring us up” – hence its appropriate placement in the calendar at the close of the Christian year.
It is a liturgy to remind us to bow before the right king.
Christ the King Sunday is more than the logical conclusion to being immersed for the entirety of the Christian year in the story of Jesus. Christ the King is the church giving up on political rulers, even Christian ones, to stem the decay of civilizations. It is only when we have the right king – the saving, servant king of human hearts, that we are able withstand the deadly pestilence of hatred and oppression the world’s systems bring.
It is easy to misunderstand where I am going here…to jump to conclusions. I am not arguing for dominionism, Islamic theocracy, oppressive fundamentalism, or even a return to Christendom. Read our passages carefully: Ezekiel tells us that God is a Good Shepherd. Psalm 100 tells us, “The Lord himself is God.” Ephesians tells us Jesus is, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” and that the acting out of that rule “gives us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him,” that we have a “hope to which he has called” us, “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” Finally, the Gospel reading told us, that someday Jesus will return, judge all flesh, separating the sheep from the goats and saying to his own, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
The right king, although above all others, deals with his own as a shepherd deals with their sheep. The right king is himself God and brings his own a spirit of wisdom and revelation. The right king will return for his own and give us a portion of his inheritance.
As Pius the XI so eloquently put it, “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.” (Pius XI)
The right King, God himself, is beckoning us into a new fellowship as redeemed humanity through a trinitarian union with all that we are. As Christians, we have often confused membership in “one nation under God” with membership in the Body of Christ. But governments are not called to eternal union with Christ. Humans are.
Where will the right King lead us? The natural outcome of Christ our King is that we will can do nothing less than to serve others…as our prayer book says, “serve Christ in all persons.”
Let me give a little direction on how to press on as a child of the right king: In the light of the world’s troubles and our own sinfulness, our lives are only rightly ordered when we have a very, very high view of our King. So I want to close today by reading you an excerpt from one of the great sermons of the 20th Century: “My King,” by S.M. Lockridge, an African-American Baptist preacher. (I recommend you find this on Youtube, because I promise I do not do Pastor Lockridge justice.) Here is Lockridge’s…
“The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King. He’s the King of the Jews – that’s a racial King. He’s the King of Israel – that’s a National King. He’s the King of righteousness. He’s the King of the ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of glory. He’s the King of kings and He’s the Lord of lords. Now that’s my King.
I wonder…do you know Him?
My King is a sovereign King. No means of measure can define His limitless love. He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful.
Do you know Him?
He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He’s God’s Son. He’s the sinner’s Savior. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He’s the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He’s the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior.
I wonder if you know Him today?
He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He strengthens and sustains. He guards and He guides. He heals the sick. He cleansed the lepers. He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors. He delivers captives. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent. And He beautifies the meek.
I wonder if you know Him?
My King is the key to knowledge. He’s the wellspring of wisdom. He’s the doorway of deliverance. He’s the pathway of peace. He’s the roadway of righteousness. He’s the highway of holiness. He’s the gateway of glory.
Do you know Him? Well…
His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His Word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous. His yoke is easy. And His burden is light.
Oh, I wish I could describe Him to you.
But He’s indescribable! He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible. You can’t get Him off of your mind. You can’t get Him out of your heart. You can’t outlive Him, and you can’t live without Him. Well, the Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him.
Yeah! That’s my King.
That’s my King.”