Sermon B Proper 29
“Christ the King”
Preached at the Church of the Incarnation, Ann Arbor, MI,
November 25, 2018
By Bill Wylie-Kellermann
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
I do love the church’s liturgical year, setting the rhythms of our prayer, our community life – and, on occasion, our public witness and action. Even when it’s is appropriated by the culture – inverted, inflated, commodified, corrupted – it still stands primarily as a counter rhythm, a different drummer to which we move.
So…Advent is still sparse, simple and watchful in resistance to the hectics of the commercial Christmas season. And today’s last Sunday of the year rings in a kind of liturgical “new year’s eve” in November (not December) and next Sunday marks for us the true New Year, an end time giving way to beginning
The kingship of God in Christ is itself subversive, signaling an allegiance that truly obviates and supplants every other allegiance that might be summoned or imposed upon us as Christians and disciples. Yet there remains something problematic about Christ the King Sunday. Though a counter subversion, the very notion of kingship can serve to replicate or endorse the hierarchal, patriarchal, militarized system of domination, blessed as the order of things as they are.
When Joe asked me to preach this morning, I went to the RCL lectionary page where today is dubbed – “Reign of Christ Sunday.” That’s one way around the problem. We share a similar struggle to translate “kingdom of God, so central to the life of the Christian movement. Reign of God is one of those, or realm (more spacial), and “kindom” which has become good and common. My own preference is Martin King’s phrase, “beloved community” which he used to reference church, movement, and “kingdom.”
I believe this problematic is reflected Gospel passage this morning.
Pilate: Are you king of the Jews?
Jesus: Did others tell you this? My kingdom is not of this world.
Pilate: So you are a king.
Jesus: You say I am. I came to testify to truth.
Jesus never calls himself a king, here or elsewhere. That’s true of virtually all the titles set upon him in the New Testament. In fact, the only tag he seems to really claim is the one from our Daniel reading this morning…the human being. That really is the best translation of what the King James Version (hint: be wary of translations sponsored and funded by kings) renders as “son of man,” a literalization of the Hebrew beneath the text.
So (and always in a kind of third person) he says…the human being is lord of the sabbath; the human being will be handed over and crucified; even, you will see the human being come in glory…
There is one more translation issue in this text, the Greek word “cosmos.” We have it here as “world.” My kindom is not of this world – which makes it sound like it’s somewhere in spiritual outer space.
Walter Wink, a mentor and friend of mine, the scripture scholar now of blessed memory, did a study on this. Cosmos can mean universe, or yes, world in the sense of earth. But most commonly in Christian literature is signals the sum total of human enterprise, the fallen and inauthentic system of society. Hence, his own translation here is “world system.”
My kindom is not of this “world system,” if it were my disciples would fight violently to prevent my being handed over. Think: In the system but not of it. Or, the system will hate you as it hates me.
This is actually one of the great passages, and there are many, of what we call “nonviolence” in gospel.
It occurred to me to think about the Gospel passages for the other years of the liturgical cycle. Year A is Matthew 25 where the nations are gathered and peoples separated in judgement by the Human Being based on providing food, water, and clothes to the least of these, and welcoming the stranger or visiting the prisoner. The works of mercy.
And Year C is actually the crucifixion in Luke where Jesus says, “Abba forgive them for they know not what they do.” “King of Jews” is tacked to the cross above. Going by the gospels, maybe this should be called Nonviolence Sunday, or Catholic Worker Sunday, or simply Kindom of God Sunday, Beloved Community Sunday.
I’ve been thinking a lot again about the trial of Jesus. Seven of us are getting ready to face a jury trial in 36th District Court. Last June, as part of the Poor Peoples Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in which members of this congregation have participated, we blocked the QLine, a fancy, expensive, and largely useless Woodward Avenue tram which epitomizes downtown development. Our blockade was part of a larger nonviolent direct action pointing to the downsizing of the city’s footprint at the expense of poor and Black neighborhoods. Currently, the Water Department is actively considering turning off the water mains to entire neighborhoods. This is simply the culmination of using water shut-offs, mortgage or tax foreclosures, school closings and withdrawal of services to expel people from neighborhoods without a future. Ours was part of the broader campaign to confront war on poor, white supremacy, militarization, and planetary destruction.
When we take the stand to testify about what we did and why, we will first affirm that we are telling the truth. It’s worth considering Jesus’ commitment to “testify to the truth.” He lives it an embodies it.
The assault on truth is nothing new. In the 5th Century BCE Aeschylus, the founder of dramatic tragedy wrote, “In war, the first casualty is truth.” But we live in a period when the normalization of falsity, of fake news, of self-delusion, and relentless little lies comprising the Big Lie, is a primary method of rule. Like Pilate, the highest of public officials might shrug and mutter, “What is truth?” This is a time when the assault on the poor and the planet is one with the assault on truth.
In court, the prosecutor will try to constrict the truth to a narrow definition of the law, to portray our actions without conscience or context. We will try to tell a larger truth, the truth of impacted people expelled by design, the truth of our lives, even the truth of the gospel.
I think this morning of Gandhi training the satyagrahi – truth warriors – in nonviolence. Wage Truth he would say.
Let’s call this Truth Sunday, when we pray for the reign and realm of truth among us. Let us pledge our allegiance to the one who lives and embodies the truth, who calls us and orders the life of this world better than any king. Amen.