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Luke 23:33-43
November 21, 2010

Christ the King.

For any theologian worth their salt, simply uttering the phrase DzChrist the Kingdz opens up

a huge box of questions. Among them: How does this king rule? Who are his subjects?

Where is the Kingǯs kingdom and what is it like?

It only makes sense to turn to todayǯs gospel text in search of answers to our questions,

unfortunately, weǯre presented with some pretty dumbfounding details. We hear of Jesus,

bloody and beaten, hanging on a cross along with a couple of small-time criminals. Below

him, a crowd rudely mocks him and his supposed Dzpowerdz; above him a sign that reads

DzKing of the Jewsdz silently mocks along with the crowd. As my friend Russell Rathbun

says, where we expect to see a coronation, we instead witness humiliation.1

This Sunday, we hold these two paradoxical realities in tension: on the one hand we see

the incarnate Son of God hanging from the cross and on the other we boldly call him

King. But what are we actually saying when we proclaim Christ King?

Today, the last Sunday after Pentecost, marks the final week in the liturgical year, the

calendar by which the Church keeps its time. Next Sunday we celebrate the beginning of

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a new church year by entering into Advent. Christ the King was officially inserted into the

liturgical calendar by Pope Pius XI in 1925. While the world was in the throws of

enormous political, social, economic, and cultural change Ȃ 1925 falls between World

Wars I and II Ȃ Pius proclaimed the Kingship of Christ over and above human


In the papal encyclical instituting the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI wrote, DzIt has

long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of ǮKing,ǯ because of

the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign Ǯin the

hearts of menǯ.dz2 Pius is addressing a common issue in churches both ancient and

contemporary Ȃ we find it easy to say Christ is king of our hearts, but is that enough?

With that little flick of the theological wand, saying Christ is merely king of our hearts, do

we inadvertently domesticate Christ? Pius continues, DzBut if we ponder this matter more

deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in

the strict and proper sense

Let us heed his advice and Dzponder this matter more

Before being called to Faith Lutheran, I served as a youth director at another church, and,

as I do here, I taught the Confirmation class. Every week, the students were presented

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with what we called the DzBig Ideadz. The Big Idea was an easily remembered sentence or

two that summed up what we would be learning that evening. On this particular night,

the Big Idea was this: "Jesus turns things upside down: The have-nots become the haves,

and peace and justice reign." Now, we could have left it at that, but throughout the course

of the year, the students had developed a game, wherein they would take the weekǯs Big

Idea and try to distill it down to only two words. Shortly after we had all read the Big Idea

out loud together, one of the students blurted out, DzJesus flips!dz Donǯt ever let anyone tell

you that junior highers arenǯt an intelligent lot.

So now weǯre beginning to shine a bit of light on one of our initial questions: how does

the king rule?

I want you for a moment to envision the worldǯs conceptions of wealth, power, and

success. Think of all the empires throughout the ages, big and small, that have built

themselves upon fidelity to these conceptions, the men and women who have devoted

their lives to them. The revolutionary thing about Jesus, as these Confirmation students

pointed out, is that !  Kingship, !  way of ruling, turns our conceptions of wealth,

power, and success on their head. Jesus flips.

Today we call this Dzgood newsdz. For Jesusǯ original followers, however, it was anything but

good news. His death at the hands of the empire, although alluded to frequently by Jesus

himself, was neither expected nor applauded. They wanted a  king. They wanted a

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powerful, worldly king. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way: DzThis hope that the

Messiah would restore a free kingdom of David and do away with Roman rule came to

nothing because of the unexpected weakness of Jesus in his passion Ȃ a cruel

disappointment for all the people who had left everything, acknowledged him, and

followed him.dz3

Their disappointment Ȃ our disappointment Ȃ is not ultimately with Jesus; it is with the

recognition that no worldly conception of wealth, power, or success will provide

salvation. Jesusǯ rule is offensive in its weakness. But that, we believe, is precisely the


Yet it is not enough to simply say Christ rules in weakness. We must also ask: King of

whom? When we say, DzChrist is King!dz what parties are we implicating? In todayǯs epistle

reading from Colossians chapter 1, we read, Dz...through [Christ], God was pleased to

reconcile to himself !  , whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through

the blood of his cross... He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might

come to have first place in He is king of you and I, and he is king of all.

Where the world praises human institutions, we praise Christ. Where the world exalts

political leaders, we exalt Christ. Where the world worships wealth and status, we fall on

our knees and worship Christ.

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If Jesusǯ rule is offensive in its weakness, then it follows that our obedience to him as loyal

subjects is offensive to the world. The world would rather we Dzgenuflect to the machine,dz4

as poet R.S. Thomas puts it, than to genuflect to a crucified God. Whereas the machine

profitably preys on our less-than-desirable human traits like selfishness, Christ whispers a

call to self-denial. Perhaps this is why Jesus thought it important to remind his followers,

DzBlessed are those who are persecuted for righteousnessǯ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of

Which leads us to question, finally, DzWhere is the kingdom and what is it like?dz To help

us understand this question, Iǯd like to read a poem by the man I just mentioned, Welsh

poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas. The poem is titled DzThe Kingdomdz:

Itǯs a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. Itǯs a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.5

With this King, in this kingdom, there are indeed Dzquite different things going ondz. When

we proclaim Christ as King, whether in word or in deed, we are making a revolutionary

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statement about the way things are and the way things should be. We look toward the

dying, deflated man on the cross of todayǯs gospel reading and say DzHallelujah! Christ is


Christ  King, and heǯs calling you and I into the world to proclaim it. If he is only Dzking

of our heartsdz, as Pius said, then how on earth shall the kingdom ever come as it is in

heaven? After all, the ELCA tagline is not DzGodǯs Work, Our Hearts,dz itǯs DzGodǯs Work,

 .dz People who know me well know of my unashamed love for Dietrich

Bonhoeffer Ȃ heck, I named my cat after him! Bonhoeffer once wrote, DzThe hour in which

the church prays for the kingdom today... binds the church... to faithfulness to the Earth,

to misery, to hunger, to death."ƒ Pius was right: This is no metaphorical king. This king is

God-in-the-flesh, the Mighty One who dined with sinners, welcomed outcasts, healed the

sick, fed the hungry, and was ultimately killed for doing so.

So as we look toward Advent, how might we, members and friends of Faith Lutheran

Church, proclaim Christ as King? How might we witness to the world that the kingdom

we serve has quite different things going on? What actions might we take? What

conversations might we have with friends and family members? What ministries might

we serve within and without the church? My sense is that we heed Thomasǯ advice. Let us


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purge ourselves, leaving only our need and our faith, and let us look to the cross and the

Crucified One and confidently say: DzChrist is


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