November 25, 2018 Hope Lutheran Church Riverside, CA
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 Rev 1:4b-8 John 18:33-37
Grace to you and peace from him who is an who was and who is to come from the seven spirits who are before his throne and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of this earth. It’s Christ the King Sunday! It’s Thanksgiving Sunday! None of this is what you think it is.
Thanksgiving isn’t about shopping for the best deal or about sweet little Pilgrims and Americans sharing pumpkin pie. Christ the King Sunday isn’t about a powerful ruler who wields a sweeping sword and conquers the world. Every part of this weekend, from our national holiday to our Christ the King celebration, is about humility not power about offers of life, not death..
Thanksgiving was never meant to be a day when we spend more time viewing advertisements or standing in a line to buy things than spending it together and considering the gifts of abundance in our lives. We weren’t supposed to be focused on taking land or gathering more things. The Pilgrims were saved from sure death by people they did not understand and were rightfully afraid of, who had every right to deny them life and land, but who instead offered them life and room at the table. Instead of continued thanks, the pilgrims and others who followed them abused the kindness and generosity, taking immoral and deadly advantage. The thanks-giving was honest that first year, I am sure, but once they secured their livelihoods, it changed. We lost the narrative of thanks of what we were saved from – death and what we were saved for- life- and turned it into a right to destroy the very cultures that gifted us with safety and life.
And I often think we have done the same thing with Jesus Christ. We have used him to conquer and steal, to control, rather than offer and submit. I don’t think he would be comfortable with us ever celebrating him as a king of this world the way we think of kings. Even as he rode into Jerusalem, he knew he was not a king of the world in the way we think. He never meant to commission us to go out and risk the lives of innocents in order to put a notch on our belt by sharing the gospel. Jesus came to give life, not take it away. And the idea of him as a king is permeated by the preconception of what a king does and how they rule-with power, and might, and swords and law.
Christ the King Sunday, – created on the cusp of WWI as a political tool of the church, a response to power hungry monarchs. It seems to buy into the need for a powerful ruler who knows the score and “really” controls the world. It is buoyed by a need to be on the winning side, not the submitting, humbled, and serving side. But we are talking about Jesus – and if anything is true, he likes to flip the narrative and when we consider scripture, the winners in the New Testament are really never on the side of power. It was not about power for Jesus, when on the true black Friday, he knelt and submitted to those in power- even offering his life to the one who would betray him. He did this not so he could rule in power and might, but so that we might be given life.
Sometimes I think those first thanksgiving americans who did not know our God showed more Christian charity than many who came in the name of Christ ever did. It wasn’t about power when they saved a scraggly, smelly bunch of European cast-offs They did not wish to be subjugated by these aliens or to have their culture destroyed by these strange, pale skinned immigrants, but they saw hungry, pleading strangers, and chose to offer life. So too, Jesus came to give life not take it away. We weren’t commissioned to follow Christ and share the good news in a way that steals life- because our savior never did that. He showed us how to love with radical hospitality and generosity and told us this is the kind of kingdom he is a part of. The kind of kingdom we are invited to begin here in our daily living; by feeding the hungry, comfort the grieving, and accompany the lonely.
We are not meant to twist the gifts of Christ, the mission of the church, or our own spiritual path for power, prestige, or even our own sense of evangelical duty. We are meant to serve, with gentleness and love. We are called to participate in our world and in our thanks by giving that which grants life, not death. Christ didn’t come as a king the way we think, but as a servant, on his knees, washing our feet, as a babe in a filthy manger, as refugee fleeing corrupt government. He came to give life, not take it away and he did it not in power and prestige, but in humility and thanks. This, is what it is to give thanks. This is what it is serve and to celebrate Christ the king, him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his life blood, and made us to be a kingdom of servants for our God. Happy Thanksgiving and Hosanna to Christ the alpha and omega, the one who is and was and is to come.