[This sermon was given on Sunday, November 25, 2018 (Christ the King Sunday) at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles]
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The first world war ended just over 100 years ago.
By the time the Allied and Central Powers laid down their arms, about 40 million people, military and civilian, had perished.
That’s right, you heard correctly. 40 million.
That’s more than the entire population of Minnesota, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and Colorado combined.
World War One utterly devastated the continent of Europe. In the aftermath, the Allied and Central Powers vowed to do all they could to prevent another catastrophic war.
But, as we know from history, within two decades, the world would again be at war, and this time over 60 million people would die.
Beneath the conflagration of both wars was a dangerous ideology of nationalism – placing the wellbeing of one’s own country over that of, and often at the expense of, the wellbeing of others. When we forget that we are one human family under one sovereign God, we can be so easily given over to nation-first ideologies that lead us, inevitably, to catastrophe.
In 1925, seeing that the world had not learned its lesson from the first World War and foreseeing that, unless something drastically changed, the world was on its way to a second world war, Pope Pius XI created a new feast for the Roman Catholic Church – the Feast of Christ the King. The idea was simple: as the world hurdles headlong towards divisive secularism and nationalism, we must be reminded of our allegiance to Christ and connection to one another. When fear, anxiety, scarcity, and uncertainty stalk our world, we must see beyond them towards the ultimate reality of the Reign of God.
Today’s sermon is about what it means to affirm the Lordship of Christ and how our lives are meant to be lived differently because of what we believe to be the ultimate reality of our world.
The Book of Revelation, also called John’s Apocalypse, is one of those books most of us would rather just ignore. We view it as somewhat of an embarrassment to our faith. It is filled with fantastical creatures like dragons and sea monsters, weird imagery like scrolls and seals, and hard to decipher events like an entire city descending from the sky. To our post-modern ears, it all sounds unreal.
It might be helpful to understand the book of Revelation as the coded communication of an oppressed people. The communities that would have written and read John’s Revelation were early Christian living under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. Their faith in Christ placed them on the margins of society, often being killed for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not legal to be a Christian during this time, so they had to communicate in code, using weird imagery and numbers to convey this message – the tyranny of Rome will come to an end. God, they believed, would ultimately come and set everything right.
When they affirmed Jesus Christ as Lord, they were making a powerful statement. In Roman society, “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” was a title that ultimately belongs to Caesar. By giving this title to a poor, itinerant rabbi from a backwater Roman territory, they were making a statement about the upside-down, which is really right-side-up, reality of God’s reign. If Jesus was Lord, Caesar could not be. If Jesus was Lord, those who were baptized into his death were called to give him their ultimate allegiance.
But it goes beyond Jesus’ Lordship. Not only does the Church affirm his Lordship, but the Church also affirms that Jesus will return.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
Jesus will return, we believe, and all the earth will behold the fullness of his reign.
The “Second Coming of Christ” is one of the more embarrassing beliefs of the Church. I grew up in the South where much of we thought about the Second Coming was informed by Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind book series. These books, popular in the mid 90s, seemed to suggest that a series of events would bring about the end of the world – the apocalypse. These events included the election of the “Antichrist” as a world leader and a cataclysmic war in the Valley of Megiddo in Israel.
But the Second Coming of Christ is not that.
When the Church affirms that Jesus will come again, what we are affirming isn’t a set of cataclysmic historical events, but the eventual unfolding of the full Reign of God. The word “Apocalypse” itself is a Greek word that simply means “unveiling” seeing something, in this case the world, for what it truly is.
In saying “he will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end,” we are saying that we believe that ultimately goodness, compassion, justice tempered with mercy, truth, peace, and love will triumph.
We believe that oppression, injustice, death, division, fear, and scarcity will be destroyed.
We believe that, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Jesus rules a kingdom that is the antithesis of every earthly kingdom. It is not based on racial or ethnic identity, religion, or even creed. It is a kingdom that is based on the love of God, love that spilled over the banisters of eternity to create you and I, love that calls us back to God and one another again and again, love that, in the fullness of time, condescending to walk among us in Jesus to show us the way back to God and, when we put Love to death, Love rose again, destroying death, and making the whole creation new.
The Kingdom of God isn’t about power, or command, or coercion. The Kingdom of God is about love and joy and peace and kindness and humility and justice tempered with mercy and faith and hope and it coming with the clouds; every eye will see it; even those who tried to kill it, those in our own time who try to destroy it, and when it comes all the tribes of the earth will wail.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Long says this about what it means to be a person who follows the Lordship of Christ: “we are ambassadors without portfolio, from a disputed sovereignty, who have arrived at court too soon.” You and I, those who have been baptized into the life and death of Jesus Christ, are called to represent the Kingdom of God in all we do.
If affirming the Lordship of Christ and reading about sea monsters and flying cities seems ridiculous, it should. We are called to be ridiculous because we believe in a world that does not fully exist yet.
We bear hope where there is none.
We speak peace when it seems impossible.
We carry joy into places of despair.
We believe that reconciliation is possible even in the most thoroughly broken of relationships between individuals, communities, and nations.
We live heavenward in an earth that seems to run headlong towards hell.
Everything we do, everything we say, our relationships, the ways we move in the world, all of it ought to show what we believe about the world – that despite what it might look like around us, we are destined for love and joy and peace.
So, keep your head up, be encouraged, as my grandmother would say, “keep on keeping on,” because “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
Keep believing that change is possible, keep loving those who can’t or won’t love you back, keep speaking truth even and especially in hard places, keep hoping against hope that tomorrow will be better than today, keep following the blessed of Jesus into a world that is being recreated right before our very eyes, keep on believing that love, true love, powerful love, truthful love, the love of God can still make a difference in this world.
And in the words of St. Paul the Apostle, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Or in the words of Journey, “don’t stop believing.”
 Romans 8:18