BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
November 20, 2016 Christ the King Sunday
Lections: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43.
Stat crux dum volvitur orbis
(“The Cross is steady while the world is turning”) – Carthusian Motto
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth.” – Ps 46:10
Today we celebrate “God becoming king” and the inauguration of his kingdom “on earth as in heaven.” Heaven is “God’s place,” and Jesus – from the moment his public ministry began – assumed his sovereignty on earth “as the Father’s accredited and appointed agent,”[i] For this reason, we celebrate not only “God becoming king” but also “the kingship of Christ” over every earthly power. Christ’s kingship – his sovereign rule on earth – is the central story of the four Gospel accounts. Therefore, we celebrate Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for their accounts of the life of Christ the King. On the final Sunday of the liturgical year, which draws to its close this week, the church gives us these three things to reflect on: God becoming king, the four sacred stories passed down to us about the life of our king, and the kingship of Jesus.
Where, then, do we begin our meditation on God becoming king? First, we hear in the Collect that it is the Father’s will to restore all things through his well-beloved Son. The words “well-beloved Son” recall to mind two events: Christ’s baptism and the Transfiguration.[ii] The first comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the second at the end. In both, God the Father confirms the righteousness of his Son; the restoration of all things is brought about through the righteousness of his well-beloved Son. We, too, as individuals, will be restored; but we are not the center of “all things,” though many find this somewhat disconcerting. Rather, our unique role is to act as caretakers of God’s creation, to cultivate its garden-like life and to preserve it through the shifts and turns of being.
The grandeur of our lives is consequential. In between the Baptism and Transfiguration, the proper endpoints of our lives, the four sacred stories that the Gospel writers tell show Jesus freeing people from sin in many ways and bringing them together under his merciful rule. In all his ministry, Jesus works to establish his kingship in an occupied territory; foreigners are in control of the land and its people. This is the context in which as King of the universe he breaks the power of evil and make all things new. King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus challenges us to reject atheism, communism, democracy, dictatorship, fascism, monarchy, and nationalism. Instead, we are to render service and “ceaselessly proclaim his praise,” for “the whole created order” is meant “to worship at his feet.”
Stepping back for the moment, we observe Jeremiah likens the office of king to the role of a shepherd and recounts the failure of Judah’s kings to live as God required of them. They ruled unwisely, unable to “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Their subjects lived in fear and distress, and many died, before the Persians conquered and enslaved them. Remembering Zion, they continued to hope that from the line of David would come “The LORD [who] is our righteousness.” Jeremiah prophesied that this “righteous Branch” would “reign as king.” Four hundred years after the Babylonian captivity and the resettlement of Jerusalem, guerrilla-like armies under the command of the Maccabees succeeded in establishing an independent Judah. The command and exploits of the Maccabees leaders later became the model for a popularly expected Messiah, who would once and for all deliver the Israelites from captors, such as the Romans, who expanded into Jewish territory and established a regional military and administrative outpost. In his public ministry, Jesus was hailed as that Messiah.
When crowds greeted the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem by waving palm branches, they were making “a sign that the time of Maccabees had come back.” However, before a week had passed, the Crucifixion revealed a “very different kind of Messiah” than the anticipated “Hammer of God,” or figure of Judas Maccabeus.[iii] In Luke’s gospel, we hear that Pontus Pilate had an inscription placed over Jesus at the site of his crucifixion, “This is the King of the Jews.” Caesar was taunting the Jews, for they would see a crucified Messiah as a failed Messiah. The initially negative occurrence of Christ’s apparent defeat would then be re-interpreted by the gospel writers, in view of their teacher’s subsequent Resurrection and Ascension.
The kingship of Jesus, as it turned out, was a different kind of kingship, a reversal of the world’s expectations. God’s kingdom does not look like any kingdom of the world, and Jesus reigned even as he hung on the cross between two thieves. Luke provides an emblem of his real authority when he narrates the response of the repentant thief to the King’s presence beside him. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the thief says, speaking as beautifully as was ever spoken. And Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” When we keep in mind this image of Christ the King, we appreciate the language of “worship and praise” that we heard earlier in Colossians. In the kingship of Jesus, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Christ the King Sunday is the day we celebrate three related aspects of Christ’s kingship: God becoming king, the sacred stories that picture for us the life of our Lord, and the kingship of Jesus. We have seen that the kingship of Jesus is for the sake of reconciling all of creation and humankind with God. As members by baptism of the body of Christ, we hope to be transfigured and share fully as adoptive sons and daughters fin God’s kingdom life. In the past century, however, global events have occurred concurrently with widespread rejection of the hope of the world for Christ the King’s lasting peace. Increasingly, world leaders, governments, and nations fail to honor Christ in their civil and political affairs or uphold the role of his Church in society, culture, and the planet’s ecosystem.
Jesus draws all men and women to his death and resurrection, providing for us the steadiness of his Cross “while the world is turning.” We are called to serve him as loyal subjects in his royal office and to take His suffering for us as an example of how we are to steadfastly endure for the sake of the least among us. Then God’s love and countenance will turn toward us, and we will hear him say, “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.”
Let us pray: Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, richly bearing the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded; through Jesus Christ, who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.[iv] Amen.
[i] N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, 16
[ii] Christ’s Baptism: Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:22. The Transfiguration: Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7.
[iii] Lamerson, Sam, Knox Theological Seminary, NT 601: Intertestamental History, Module 3. video
[iv] The “Stir Up Collect,” meant to be said during the week before the First Sunday of Advent.