Last Pentecost (Proper 29).C.22
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
What kind of king do you want? It happens that Christ the King Sunday occurs right about the time of elections in our country. We’re a nation that values the vote. We’re all about choosing our leaders, so this is a fine question with which to be faced this morning. What kind of king do you want?
In general, I would say that people seek out those who promise to grant them a measure of security and affirm their values. Perhaps we want someone who promises a strong military with a firm response against aggression. Maybe we want someone who promises free education and a health care system open to all. Some folks want a person focused on the economy, others would add to this list an individual who can work to promote better relationships with world leaders and their countries. Surely we’d like someone with a sense of humor, who works well with others, a person who likes animals, has extensive experience in home and international affairs and is also comparatively young. Preferably this person would be married, with well-behaved children, and physically fit. Ideally they would be able to finesse the old boys network while at the same time win the hearts of the progressives. This would be a person who is smart and can converse with ivy leaguers while at the same time identify with blue collar workers. On the list would certainly be a person of strong moral character, though, depending on the person and particularly when we are frightened, we might be willing to throw in our lot with someone who we profess decidedly does not reflect our values but who we believe will offer us security against our enemies and prosperity at home. Perhaps we’re jaded and we just want someone who will pack the courts with those of similar ideologies and beat the party that we don’t like. Maybe we have fallen into apathy and could care less who our king is as long as our lives continue as they are.
No where on this list is a person remotely like our Savior. No where on the list of most of the American voters is someone who is poor, who stands on the side of the sinner and the powerless, who eschews wealth and the glories of this age for a reign that appears to end upon a cross.
Ask most of us what kind of king we want—and odds are good that we’re going to be disappointed with the reality once they land in office. What we want is someone who wins. What we can be certain is not on our list is someone who dies ignominiously, with criminals on either side.
And to this I say, Thank God. Because—historically, humanity hasn’t done such a great job when it comes to choosing their kings. For you Old Testament aficionados out there—remember that for generations the Israelite people had Judges who ruled over them. Judges were appointed by God in response to the prayers of Israel, from the death of Joshua through Samuel. God was their King. Listen to that again. God was their King—no one else. A judge was called by God for a specific mission and then served during their lifetime in a leading role in Israel. Judgeship was not inherited by their offspring. Nor was judgeship exclusively male, there was at least one female judge—Deborah. But Israel wanted to be like all of the other nations—having a king meant that they would have someone to lead them in battle and give them a sense of national identity, security and unity. Having a king sounded like a fine idea….didn’t it? What they got was Saul—who, as it turns out, wasn’t that great.
So, it is worth taking a closer look at the Gospel lesson for today. The authors of the lectionary could have chosen differently. They could have chosen something glorious from the Book of Revelation, perhaps, about Jesus, seated on his heavenly throne, decked out in beautiful robes and sporting a jeweled crown. Or, maybe something grandly prophetic from Isaiah: “A son will be given to us, and the government will rest upon his shoulders.” Then, the Gospel could have topped it all off with a mountaintop experience—say, the Transfiguration. And if that’s not your cup of tea, perhaps Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, or our Savior emerging from the waters of Baptism, with the voice of God thundering from the heavens: “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” Instead, what the church, in its wisdom, gives us today is the crucifixion. A stripped and suffocating Christ, wracked with a pain I cannot begin to fathom. Into this picture there are those who deride and mock him, others who gamble for his clothes and those who spit upon him. This is our king. This is our king.
And we should be grateful beyond measure. Because while this King Jesus doesn’t promise us prosperity, wealth, progress and gain; this is a King who saves us from our sins—saves us from ourselves, and from the real enemy, which is not other people or political parties, but death. This is a King who calls us to build a Kingdom not based upon the values of this world, but upon justice, love and peace.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth once wrote that the church is born in this story, out there in the shadows on that desolate executioner’s hill. For it was there that the promise of God, to send his son to save us from what we could not save ourselves, came to fruition. Jesus turns to the repentant criminal and speaks these words: “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”
What kind of king do you want? The answer, by most, both in the first century as well as the twenty-first is “Not this one.”, preferring instead a demonstration of power to a picture of vulnerability. But the Gospel is clear that this is not the type of King that we need. Ours is a King who declares not the glory of might, but the wonders of love, grace, compassion and mercy. This is the king for whom we wait. As we gather on the cusp of the season of Advent, may we—as we work to bring this kingdom to fruition, anticipate his coming. In Jesus’ name. Amen.