Christ the King – no really!

I didn’t realize that the CBS show Undercover Boss was just about 3 years old now. While I haven’t watched too many episodes lately, I used watch it occasionally. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is a reality tv show which follows an company exec, a CEO or some such as they leave the comfort of their corner office, disguising themselves and go Undercover. Working alongside their employees, they see the effects their decisions have on others, (and as it described on the Undercover Boss’ website) where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run.
What I always enjoyed about this show was at the end, at the reveal when the CEO revealed himself or herself to the workers, both the good and the bad. As part of the revelation, the CEO would make changes, tweak company policy and procedures here or there, or reward a hardworking struggling employee or re-train, re-purpose, or fire a bad one. All because the boss had disguised himself or herself as one of the “little guys”.
Today, Christ the King Sunday almost seems like another one of these episodes of Undercover Boss. Take our Gospel story for this morning. These verses that I read just a few minutes ago are part of the bigger scene toward the end of Jesus’ life. He has been betrayed and abandoned by his own followers and arrested. His own religious leaders have handed him over to the occupying Roman powers and are accusing Jesus of rebellion, insurrection, and treason. Facing these charges, Jesus now stands before Pilate (the Roman governor of their region of Palestine).
Like an episode of Undercover Boss, we know who Jesus is. We know because the Gospel writer John has told us, this isn’t just an ordinary insurrectionist trouble-maker. This isn’t just another innocent man caught up in the system, this isn’t even the just the King of the Jews. Standing before Pilate (this Roman official), under arrest and in chains is the one who we will sing at the end of our time together this morning is the Lord of all nations, king of creation.
Watching Pilate, hearing his questions, we know the Truth. Pilate while he knows something is up won’t get the “reveal” that he’s expecting.

Crown of Thorns
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There will be no last-minute pulling off the mask, the disguise to reveal Jesus in all his glory. No Jesus our King will suffer the humiliation, the pain, torture, wrongfull execution. That’s where the truth of who he is will shine forth, just as it has in all that he has been doing and saying. Jesus hasn’t been hiding who he is just to see what life is like for the little guy. It’s more than that.
It’s got to be more than that. People of faith, followers of Jesus, people who know Jesus haven’t done, and don’t do, and aren’t who they are for a sight-seeing savior. Remember that evil called apartheid. It was the political system used by a white minority to control and dominate the black Africans in the nation of South Africa. An Anglican priest—a pastor tells about how his small congregation only about the size of us, of St. Paul’s refused to obey their government because they obeyed Jesus, and they were arrested, not just the pastor who spent over a year in jail, but the entire congregation from a 90 year old elder to mothers’ with babies locked up in jail for following Jesus.
The truth that Jesus is talking about—the truth that Pilate is fumbling around and groping for, what Jesus is revealing is that we won’t see Jesus’ kingship in visions of heavenly splendor if we don’t see Jesus as he is on the cross—innocently suffering at the hands of political expediency. His reign and kingdom are revealed not with armies of soldiers, not in super sales and door-buster bargains, but with the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, not in princes of power, industry, business, not in acts of violence, but in the hands the hungry, in acts of mercy and forgiveness. That is our king. Amen.

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Oyster Pie and Christ the King

Christ the King, 2011
I don’t have visions of dancing sugar plums (whatever those are) in my head, but we’ve already entered what is known as “The Holidays”. While I’m not ready for Christmas yet (heh in the church we haven’t even started the four weeks of Advent), I am so ready for Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, cranberries, egg nog, green bean casserole, fruit salad, filling, turkey, pumpkin pie, oyster pie. Yeah, I said it. Oyster pie. My family added oyster pie to our holiday feasts as a way to include my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, oh and did I mention I really don’t like turkey. And that’s what we want, choices. Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for a bounty of foods, in my case so much food that I can skip what I don’t like.
That’s how we like to live our lives with plenty of choices, of options so that we can skip over what we don’t like, and enjoy what we do. Just go to the mall, or maybe stay away at least this coming Friday. We have the choice of looks, do we want to be skater, urban, hipster, conservative, flirty, power suits, and then within those categories there are options galore.
Options, that’s what our political system is based on, our desire to have a choice of leaders. We don’t want to be stuck with a dud. I think that’s also at least one of the messages of what the Occupy Wall Street protests are about—we have options—we don’t need to have banks that are too big to fail, we don’t need to have a stock market and credit agencies determine the present and future, we don’t need to have some 20,000 or so more millionaires pay no/ 0 federal income taxes if the capital gains tax is ended.
We want options. And, if we’re being terribly and faithfully honest we want to choose our spirituality and our religious traditions. Several years ago a new label came into fashion among church leaders—church shopping. It’s when folks visit several different congregations (denomination unimportant) looking for the right fit, or looking for their needs to be met. Along those lines, if honesty is the policy of the day we need to admit that we even pick and choose in regards to our scripture. We value certain passages and stories over others. Mark Twain put it this way, “It is not those parts of the Bible that I do not understand that bother me. It is the parts of the Bible that I do understand that bother me the most.”
Take Jesus’ words in our gospel reading. In Matthew’s gospel, these words come as Jesus is wrapping up his time with his disciples, his enemies are plotting to get rid of him, to get rid of this inconvenient rabble rouser. And, I can see why. His words have as we like to say, comforted the afficted and afflicted the comfortable. He was always turning the tables. This morning it’s no different. We, especially us Lutherans with our Reformation faith, with our belief that God loves us and saves us through sola fidei (faith alone), this passage couldn’t have been on the Reformers (Martin Luther and others top ten). Here Jesus gives us a completely different picture–one where it’s not our faith, not our creed, but our actions that matter. It’s what we do for and with those who are the most vulnerable among us. It is being with the thirsty, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and oppressed.
The other thing about this is that these are actions that are done unaware, almost unconsciously, not out of religious devotion, not out of any desire to please God, but simply out of the goodness, or out of the pure need of the other.
Jesus redefines what and who is holy. It isn’t worship attendance; bible reading; it isn’t creed confessing; it isn’t check writing, committee serving, but pure compassion for the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the stranger, the exile, the immigrant.
And it doesn’t seem all that optional either.
Today, in many churches, not all is Christ the King Sunday. Unlike so many other feasts and festivals that are long on history and tradition. The designation of this day as Christ the King isn’t even 100 years old. It was created in 1925 by the Pope – Pope Pius the XI (11th). As he observed the world he was living in, a post World War I, a world on the verge of a Great Depression, a world becoming more secular (or in our terms – a world becoming more worldly) and with Fascists (ultra-nationalistic dictators) becoming more and more powerful. The Pope thought it was about time declare Christ as King—not Mussolini, not Roosevelt, not Obama, or Reagan, or Grover Norquist, or Walker, or democrats, republicans, not even capitalism. As Christians we are seriously limiting our choice. Christ is our King—means our ruler, our guide, our savior.
The choice we have is to admit it and live it. We don’t have the option of letting the Salvation Army be the only ones doing the most good. If Christ is really our king, Matthew’s words tell us what that looks like. There’s no avoiding it. Jesus just says if you say you follow me, this is what it looks like, this is what eternal life looks like. Jesus says, if you choose to call me Lord, this is what you and your life look like. For us there is no other option, in a world of so many, sometimes even too many choices– it’s that simple. Amen.