Monday, November 30, 2009
So if a day late is a dollar short, then a week late is...about 7 bucks? Ah well. Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday for those church families who follow the lectionary year...it was also the week after my church's high school youth trip to the Sounds Like Love music festival in the Twin Cities.
Here's the message I gave at church, followed by the video of the kids at Sounds Like Love singing "Go Light Your World".
A Different Kind of King
Last week, I had the privilege of accompanying 20 of our high school youth and 2 other adult sponsors to the 27th annual Sounds Like Love festival in the Twin Cities. Sounds Like Love is, in a nutshell, an annual gathering of about 400 high school students who sing and learn choreography for 7 Christian choral songs, and then put on two concerts. Really, on the surface, that’s it. Pretty simple. But I’d be selling the work of the Holy Spirit short if I left it there. Because so many kids arrive expecting that surface stuff, but along the way something surprising happens. The Spirit shows up. The Holy Spirit, who as we profess in the Small Catechism calls, enlightens, and sanctifies us, makes an appearance, transforming the weekend from just a fun time of singing into a call into relationship, a call into mission, a call into participation in the act of opening hearts and lives to the goodness of the gospel. For all of you youth who went, know that in the midst of geckos and “whoop whoop whoop whoop,” in the middle of trying to dig your flashlight out of your pocket while still trying to sing AND do the choreography with one hand, in the middle of the games, the silliness, the hard work…through ALL of it, YOU were missionaries in the truest and best sense of the word. How was that? You were living out God’s love in the world. Alton, our bus driver for the past 3 years, poked his head in during the final concert and afterwards, on the bus told me that to see all those kids up there singing about faith was one of the most powerful things he’s experienced in a long time. I can guarantee you, he wasn’t the only person God touched through this event last week.
The theme for the weekend was based on Micah 6:8: “For he has told you, o mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The Bible study time, the speakers, the conversations, all revolved around that theme—the theme of what it means to live God’s love in the world.
So, other than the fact that today is the Sunday after Sounds Like Love, what does all of this have to do with worship today? Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day that we focus on the Lordship and reign of Christ over all the universe. And what does this kingdom look like? In today’s reading from John, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.
We in the church have been guilty of two mistakes when reading Jesus’ words here. The first is that we’ve tended to hear that Jesus’ kingdom is not IN this world, that his kingdom is heaven, and that therefore all we can do is struggle the best we can in this life and look forward to pie in the sky in the sweet by and by, someday off in the future. We say things like “my real home is not on this earth.” I refuse to believe that life is just something that God gave us to get through until we get to heaven. Doing nothing but waiting for some distant kingdom off in the future, away from earth cheapens God’s gift of life, it cheapens God’s gift of the world we live in, it makes our relationships with each other completely meaningless, reduces God to a bouncer at some heavenly nightclub, keeping out the riffraff, and reduces our relationship with God to some ticket we have to punch just to get in. God’s kingdom may not be OF the world, but God’s kingdom is certainly FOR the world. Again…God’s kingdom may not be OF the world, but God’s kingdom is certainly FOR the world.
Before I get more into that, the other mistake we’ve been guilty of is trying to make Christ’s kingdom one that is OF the world. We’ve tried to make the church look just like those kingdoms that Christ was saying he was unlike. Christianity has been used to kill, to oppress, to exclude, to wield power over.
Is that the kind of King we worship today?
Is that the Kingdom of God?
To answer my own rhetorical question, no.
We worship a king whose instructions to his followers were to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly.”
We worship a king who showed power through weakness, who emptied himself, who came to heal, to reconcile, to give of himself for the good of the world.
We worship a king who found his power in love.
We worship a king whose kingdom is not OF the world…after all, what are the kingdoms OF the world about? They’re about power. Finding power, wielding power, keeping that power by any means. Jesus was talking to Pilate, a representative of the Roman Empire, and empire so skilled in war that it had conquered most of the known world, keeping its citizens in line with brute force. Crosses were incredibly inefficient killing machines—sometimes it would take a full day for someone to die, usually through asphyxiation—but they WERE incredibly efficient at keeping the peace. Line a few roads with crosses, criminals hanging from them, and people got the picture. Pax Romana was peace through force.
Jesus promises us a different kind of peace. This is a peace that comes through healing, through reconciliation, not through conquest and fear. “I do not give to you as the world does,” Jesus tells us. Christ the King does not rule as the kings of the world rule. This is a different kind of peace, in a different kind of kingdom, because we worship a different kind of king. A king who is seen most clearly through the eyes of justice, kindness, and humility. And a king who is heard most clearly through sounds…like love.
A kingdom that is FOR the world…for the benefit of the world. Not for its own benefit, not placing conditions on the world, but a kingdom that exists purely for the benefit of others.
Later in the service, the youth will be singing a song called “Go Light Your World.” We are called to shine the light of the king who rules through love into the dark places of the world. “Carry your candle, run to the darkness, seek out the hopeless, confused and torn,” the song tells us. “Carry your candle for all to see it…take your candle and go light your world.”
The first chapter of John calls Jesus the Light of the World. Our king, the one who died for us, the one who rose and defeated the power of sin and death for us, the one who is making all things new, has called us partners and friends in his mission of light-giving.
We can rejoice today, because we know the end of the story. God has given us a glimpse, a foretaste of the feast to come, one that we participate in every Sunday when we gather for communion. We read of the vision of the risen and victorious Christ, of God making his home among God’s people, of all tears being wiped from our eyes. But even more, we rejoice because we know that very same king walks beside us, showing us the opportunities to be the answer to the prayer “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
How are YOU called to shine the light of Christ? How are YOU called, outside of this sanctuary, to be the church wherever you are, whether that’s at work, school, at the football game, with your family? Christ IS king! And that’s not something that restricts us, that’s something that frees us! Because Christ is king, we are free to live not worrying about ourselves, but for the good of others, just as the one we worship lived and gave himself for our sake. What might that look like in our life, in my life?
Can you imagine what the church will look like when together, we all ask ourselves that question?
More importantly, can you imagine what the world will look like when the whole church asks itself that question?
The kingdom of God, with Christ the King!