St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King Sunday

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
November 24, 2019
Christ the King Sunday
Luke 23:33-43
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     I think its always a bit of a shock for us on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the final Sunday in this liturgical year, to hear about Jesus' crucifixion. We are looking forward to Thanksgiving, with Advent and Christmas coming right up, yet we seem to have jumped all the way to Good Friday. But this last Sunday on our liturgical calendar is called Christ the King Sunday. On this Sunday, we recognize the kingship of Christ, our ruler, our king and our judge.
     Now Jesus is not like an earthly king. When we think of kings, we think of pomp and circumstance, of palaces and parades, of elaborate clothing, fine meals, the best wine. Kings are rich and surround themselves with powerful people who are like them or who support them.
     In our gospel lesson, Jesus is on the cross, being ridiculed and taunted by the soldiers and others who have gathered around to watch this horrific event. A Roman soldier has put a sign above his head that reads, "This is the King of the Jews", making a mockery both of Jesus and the Jews. Someone in the crowd calls out, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one." "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself," another yells out.
     Obviously, they do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the chosen One. They do not see him as a king because he does not fit the image of the kind of king they know. Kings ride into town on powerful horses, surrounded by their legions of soldiers, commanding attention and honor. Kings wear crowns, fine robes and jewelry. People bow down before them and acknowledge their power.
     Jesus comes into Jerusalem on a humble donkey. He is not dressed or adorned as a king. He surrounds himself with common people, with those who are sick or are in need, with outcasts, sinners and tax collectors. That's not what kings are supposed to do. So how then can Jesus be a king? So they mock him and they laugh at him and they kill him.
     Even one of the thieves being crucified next to Jesus taunts him. "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" If this Jesus is really a king, he would stop this suffering and save himself, and maybe the thieves with him. This thief wants Jesus to get him out of the jam that he has gotten himself into. The thief is looking out for himself, for his best interests.
     But the thief on the other side reprimands the first thief and says, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."
     Obviously, this second thief knows something about Jesus and his ministry. Whether he has experienced him first hand or has heard about him from someone else, somehow this thief knows Jesus is the Son of God. Somehow, when he is close to taking his final breath, he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. The thief then says to Jesus, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus replies, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus' last words to another human being before his death and resurrection are words of love and forgiveness.
     On this Christ the King Sunday, we are challenged to examine our priorities and see who or what really holds our allegiance. The observance of this Christ the King Sunday is relatively new. It was in 1925, after World War I, in an encyclical, that Pope Pius XI instituted this feast day in the Roman Catholic Church, which was later adopted by the Anglican Church. He wrote this encyclical about Christ the King, in part because of the political questions regarding Papal territories, and in part, as a response to growing secularism and nationalism. Addressed to the hierarchy of the church, the document states, "that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations." Obviously, world leaders have chosen to ignore this message.
     The Pope goes on to define the nature of Jesus' kingdom. "This kingdom is opposed Satan and the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross."
     The encyclical concludes with these words. "Christ must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. Christ must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. Christ must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things. Christ must reign in our bodies ...which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls." *
     Although some of the language in this document may seem a bit archaic, it raises a timeless question. "Do we belong to Christ or do we belong to the world?" If we belong to Christ, are we ready for his return at the end of time, or are we too busy with our own affairs to prepare ourselves? Are we willing to enter the season of Advent as pilgrims awaiting with anticipation the birth of the Christ child? Or are we more inclined to totally immerse ourselves in the holiday frenzy of shopping for the perfect gifts, and getting our "to do" lists done as we frantically approach Christmas and we forget what the season of Advent is all about.
     Do we belong to Christ, totally and whole-heartedly? The kingdom of God is not just in the future, but in the here and now. It's in how we treat each other, especially those we may not like or who we disagree with. It's in how we treat our planet, created by God. It's in how we minister to those who are seen as outcasts, those who are homeless or hungry, those who are physically, mentally or emotionally ill.
     Do we belong to Christ or do we belong to the world? That is an important question for all of us. On this Christ the King Sunday, may we remember Jesus' great sacrifice for us all and his response of love and forgiveness to the thief on the cross next to him. "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." Amen.
*Pope Pius XI encyclical Quas Primas, found in "Synthesis" November 24, 2019,
     article by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart in "Sunday Bible Talk" 11/25/18

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