Our True King, November 25, 2018, St. Paul’s, Vancouver
Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 93; Rev 1:4b-8; Jn 18:33-37

“‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’”

Prayer

Queen Elizabeth II is going to die. Maybe not tomorrow. But it is inevitable. She has been England’s Queen for over sixty-five years! For many of us, she is the only monarch we’ve known!

But one day, there will be a new king in England. Possibly Charles—King Chuck?—or maybe his son William—Billy the King the tabloids will call him. We will have to change the picture on the back of all of our money—and we will have to have both of our prayer books reprinted since they both refer to “Elizabeth, our Queen.”

But besides that, I don’t expect that there will be much change. The tabloids will run different stories—still focused on the royal family of course—but a change in the person wearing the crown won’t have a lot of impact on our lives. A monarch hasn’t had much impact in the Western World since—I’m not a historian here so the historians can correct me—but probably since the French Revolution. Since then countries are governed quite differently. Today people aren’t born into that kind of power. Nobody inherits a nation anymore. Rulers can’t simply command subjects to pay taxes and follow laws or face punishment—without worrying about how it might impact their re-election. The rulers in our part of the world no longer send people off to die in war as a part of some debt that they owe to their nation. Now people volunteer for military service and are paid for their service.

So, today, the “New Year’s Eve” of the church calendar (as we heard Alain-Michel tell us last week), what does it mean when we celebrate the Reign of Christ?

The readings we have are all quite helpful in establishing the sovereignty of God. [The Psalm says “the Lord is King,” though it was written well before Jesus arrived on the scene. The title “Lord” is one used in scripture for both Jesus and the first person of the Trinity and so for Christians, they can be almost interchangeable.] In our first reading, it is easy to hear the vision of Daniel and imagine that Jesus is the fulfilment of that prophecy. Jesus is the “one like a human being” presented before the Ancient One, to whom was given “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him…an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away…[a] kingship…that shall never be destroyed.” In Daniel’s time (the Babylonian Captivity) the people in captivity were looking for a saviour, someone from among their ranks who could restore the people to their past glories—someone appointed by God. To Christians, Jesus fulfils that role, reconciling Humankind to God—but to those who heard Daniel’s prophecy before Jesus’ time, perhaps it was Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish freedom fighter against the Greeks, or Daniel himself—or even king David. The tricky part about the apocalyptic visions we have in the book of Daniel and in the book of Revelation is that it is not immediately clear whether these metaphoric visions are talking about a future event, something taking place in the present, or something that has already taken place. So when we look at the Apocalypse of John, the book of Revelation, the passage that we heard repeated twice this morning highlights that ambiguity:  The “Alpha and the Omega,”(or the beginning and the end), “says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is coming, the Ruler of All.” In this part of the vision we heard of “Jesus Christ, …the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth…who loves us and has freed us from our sins in his blood, and made us to be a kingdom…[to whom] be glory and dominion forever and ever”. This is not some future event we are waiting for or some past event that has already taken place—nor is it merely a current event, but all three, at the same time.

And Jesus himself is uncharacteristically clear about the nature of his reign when he speaks to Pilate (which we heard in our gospel reading). Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world”. He is a ruler of something, somewhere, but he is not merely the ruler of a piece of land in the middle east, as Pilate was. Jesus’ kingdom is something else entirely.

So, what does it mean that Christ is the King? Pilate was not threatened if Jesus was the “King of the Jews”. “‘I am not a Jew, am I?’” he asks Jesus. The implication is that even if Jesus was the king of the Jews, Pilate wouldn’t owe him any allegiance.

Is that an option? If Jesus is a King, as he claims, and if it is of a part of the world even bigger than the small slice that the Christian Church takes up, could we possibly “opt out”? Can we take or leave Jesus’ rule?

“‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’”

Jesus doesn’t call himself a “king.” I think that Jesus realizes that a king means something particular to Pilate and that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody else—even in Jesus’ time. Many people in John’s gospel called Jesus “the King of Israel” which was a particular and messianic title. But it meant something entirely different to those people who were waiting for the kingdom of Israel to be restored (and freed from Roman rule) than what the title “King” meant to Pilate at the time of “King” Herod and the Emperor in Rome. Even in those days to some it meant absolute power and authority while to others it spoke of unrealized aspirations.

There can be a great comfort in pinning our hopes on someone else, the subject of these unrealized aspirations—someone who can take responsibility for moving the world a little bit further forward (in the direction we want it to move). This takes the burden off us—someone else is responsible for making the world a better place. And if the person in charge is taking the world in a different direction (ie: not the one we want), then we’re powerless to do anything about it, right? At least until we have the chance to change that person who is not doing the things that we don’t want them to. We don’t live in a world anymore where our rulers have absolute power over their subjects—but it is very easy to allow ourselves to be passive—and it can be far more comfortable than the alternative. It’s hard work to try to change the world!

Jesus is not the kind of king that some of us have been waiting for—the kind of ruler who commands absolute obedience but has good solid moral values—the kind of ruler who will single-handedly take this world to where it needs to be (to where we think it should be). Jesus is not the kind of King who absolves us of all responsibility for the world that we had a part in creating and maintaining. We didn’t simply inherit the world that we live in. We continue to be a part of it today—and bear some of the responsibility in where it is going.

Rather, Jesus is the kind of king where all of his soldiers are volunteers—and none of them are paid (not by Jesus, at least). Jesus is the kind of king who asks people to give up their own goals and dreams and ambitions—their lives even—to follow Him, trusting that Jesus’ way is infinitely better than any path we might have chosen for ourselves. Jesus is the kind of King who doesn’t impoverish his subjects to support his lavish lifestyle. Instead, Jesus encourages his subjects to give to the poor and to help the widows and the needy. We are concluding our Stewardship Campaign today at St. Paul’s—and if you have heard the message that “God wants you to give until you are impoverished” then I hope you didn’t hear it here. Yes, St Paul’s wants your support—but St Paul’s needs your time, your talent, and your treasure—not for decadence, but to support and enhance the services that St. Paul’s provides: worshiping God, reaching out to the community, and teaching about who God is (to name but a few).

But just like Jesus’ requests to follow him and help those in need, you are free to disregard St Paul’s stewardship campaign. You see, you still have a choice in this matter. You are free to make your own decisions.

Jesus does not compel any of us to do anything. Jesus invites us. Jesus welcomes us. Jesus encourages us to come along with him for the journey. And, of course, Jesus led us by his own example. Jesus didn’t ask us to love without loving us first. Jesus didn’t ask us to give up anything that we wouldn’t get back—we are called to be co-inheritors with Jesus of the world! And Jesus doesn’t ask us to give up our plans, our dreams, or our lives to follow him—not before giving up his very life for us.

If Jesus were a traditional king, these would not be requests and invitations but commands. Orders. Jesus is not a typical king. We are all free to choose what we will do with his invitation. We are even free to choose whether or not we want to believe that Jesus is a king at all.

But if Jesus is the Ruler of All, king of an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, then we had best pay special attention to his invitations.

“‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’”