Lamb King

sermon on Daniel 6

 

This is kind of a funny story.

I mean, not funny haha. I especially hope you don’t chuckle too much at the punishing, retributive part when those who have maligned Daniel suffer their own conniving scheme as, along with spouses and children, they are hurled into the lions’ pit and gobbled up—torn to shreds—before they hit the ground. Not a light-hearted bit of the story, that.

Though before you take it too seriously and once again cast aspersions at the violence of the Bible (while disregarding the violence in our stories now or the ways the Bible isn’t supposed to be a rosy picture but bears the hardness of real life), still that seriousness aside, it may be helpful to think of this like an old Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon.

wile eThis is a funny story because it’s meant to be outrageous. Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff, gets smashed by an anvil, has the stick of dynamite blow up in his face, and then the story continues along. Most of us don’t finish that cartoon feeling TOO bad for Wile E. Coyote. If you can accept the cartoon without lamenting the injury too greatly, then let me explain why I make such an association with this Bible reading.

Some of the setting is real. Within the historical flow of the narrative, at this point many leaders and officials and muckety-mucks had been hauled away from the Holy Land into exile in Babylon. They’d been living there for almost fifty years under pressures of the Empire, but not as captives in the way we’d think of a jail or a prisoner of war camp or anything, but in houses and with careers. raising families, simply not in the place they’d call home, where their temple was and had been destroyed.

They were trying to figure out life, and trying to figure out what to make of God, almost to the degree of wondering if God could still exist or matter at all if God’s home had been destroyed. Maybe there’s a hint of that conundrum as Daniel is insistent on prayer, and it’s toward Jerusalem, a distant devotion.

So some of the setting and conundrum are real, but there’s also some stuff here just for the sake of a good story, not least that the attackers have things flip on them and the dynamite blows up in their faces in good Wile E. Coyote fashion.

We could also note that the story was written maybe 200 years after this time period, when it wasn’t the Babylonians, nor the Persians who came next, but some time later under the Greek Empire. But it’s not as if we were telling stories of Napoleon or Genghis Khan with this King Darius the Mede. There was a King Darius, but he was later in the timeline, a Persian whose Empire helped the exiles return home and rebuild the temple. So it seems a King Darius in Babylon with the exiles didn’t exist, except here. Yet in that way this character may actually help us see the story as flexible and able to speak to our own situation.

See, if this remains how one time one guy was persecuted for his faith—or, more accurately, that religion was a target for getting rid of the competition—and that one guy managed not to get eaten by a hungry pack of giant cats, well, that doesn’t matter all that much to my life. I’m not likely to get thrown to the lions, and my faith in God isn’t contingent on whether or not I’d get chewed.

It’s similar to the story of another prophet we heard in our last shared MCC service: your religion is likely not determined by whether a giant fish could swallow you, spew you out onto the shore after three days, setting you on the way toward the enemy capital where a messianic, divinely appointed worm would teach you a lesson. I don’t need any of the details of that story to become my own factual happenstance in order to tell of a God who is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, who redeems and reconciles and won’t be confined to my national borders. In that way, Jonah is one of the truest books of the Bible.

So that makes me ask what’s true in this reading today?

There’s some easy parts of that: First, some people are jerks. They didn’t like that Daniel was an honest hard worker and so manipulated to get rid of him.

Second, we should pause in our assessments and values. We know very little about Daniel in the story. Speaking just one sentence, he’s almost a prop. His work ethic may or may not have related to his faith, but we shouldn’t say being moved up the ranks was a blessing. It may have even been a curse, or at least caused a situation where his faith was tested.

Third, some leaders are obviously gullible and short-sighted. Again, nothing new here. This dolty King Darius got himself weaseled into signing a law he didn’t really want and got backed into a corner by it.

Next: not all laws are good. There are laws directly intended to infringe on the wellbeing and practice of others. Contrary to that, we might think of the antiestablishment clause in this country guaranteeing freedom of religion, that there shouldn’t be persecution based on faith. We could also notice that exiles in Babylon were, in actuality, given wide latitude to practice their religion. The Babylonian Empire had fairly strong religious tolerance, and—as we already heard—the subsequent Persians went so far as to help rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

What’s that truth for us? While we encountered recent violent anti-Semitism and are mired in anti-Muslim bias that has even been written into law, and while we as Christians remain in a dominant position, even amid a secular culture, maybe our own kind of Christianity isn’t. We may not want to be associated with the others, or can be nervous about being too bold, about practicing this faith, about what it might mean when people recognize us in this religion.

That’s an interesting detail in the story. It’s not that Daniel is wearing it on his shirtsleeve. He’s not up in anybody’s business about it. There’s an earlier detail where he’d only eat vegetables so that he didn’t break his religious dietary laws. But here he’s praying in his own private space, and still it causes difficulty for him.

There’s truth for me in this story that even in a tolerant society and even without directly trying to get ourselves into trouble, still we should expect that our faith involves both a fair amount of civility, and civil disobedience. If we’re getting along too easily and not any different than everyone else, we need to ask what we’re missing, what we should be subverting, why our faith has turned out so unimportant.

If it’s a truth about how we continue our practice and remain faithful even when it’s not easy, I appreciate that truth. I have less interest or use if it’s meant to be about my God beating other gods or my culture coming out on top.

We shouldn’t presume it’s a good thing when Darius declares that all should worship the God of Daniel. Becoming the official religion of Empire, it won’t be the same resistant religion that had been able to speak truth to power and could engage differences with grace and understanding. It happened with Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire or with this being the alleged religion of the American.

Finally, then, on this Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday, we are reminded that the one we follow is not about sparing us from danger, not about magic escapes from death, not focused on career advancement, not in for retributive justice, and certainly not about aspiring to power that shames others. The Lamb of God is not a conquering lion.

We call this a kingdom of God almost to be funny, to reset our assessments, since it’s outrageous. Celebrating Christ as King is not for the triumph that all the enemies get tossed to the lions, but with a history of sacrifice, of willingly being thrown to the lions. This religion at its truest won’t succumb to corrupting influences that Might Makes Right and instead turns the whole imperial mindset on its head.

The direction of this kingdom of our crucified Lord is for “the freedom of those oppressed [and] comfort of all distressed,” as we sang, the realm where the “Spirit chooses the weak and small to bring the new reign where mighty fall,” as Jesus’ mother herself sang before his birth, not of exalting thrones, but of bringing down the powerful. It is in that that we join our voices, sometimes in the face of opposition, at others amid acceptance. Sometimes it’s entirely serious, but may be tongue-in-cheek, too. Sometimes when things are going easily and well, but occasionally when it involves risk. Sometimes when it feels lonely, and yet joining a billion voices and the song of all creation.

 

Hymn: “Soli Deo Gloria” (ELW 878)

 

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Jeremiah’s Letter to Exiles

a sermon on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

“My home is in heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”

Billy Graham is among those to say things like that. It may not surprise you that I dislike this notion, locating faith as bound for far away, not here amid this world, amid creation. As an escape from our reality, not as God’s presence and engagement with us. I believe this world is our home. You’re not destined for someplace else. God created you and put you here, and our faith has its heart and essential vibrancy in that God is traveling through this world with you. Not only is this your home: the home of God is among mortals.

Yet that leaves some explaining to do. Not just for disagreeing with Billy Graham. Much more because this world is obviously so far from perfect and heavenly. We yearn for something much different, something better. That is what this heavenly notion points to—that suffering and worry is temporary, that those who are against you won’t be around forever, that the diseases infecting you and strains pulling at you and sadness drowning you will pass, won’t win, and besides coming to an end, must be replaced by wellbeing and peace and joy. Even if it’s having to wait until this life is over, still, if heaven were your home, then wrongs would by definition be a fluke, with bigger and better intentions for you.

I can’t just rule that out. The tension is that we do hope. We don’t simply resolve ourselves to say this is the best of all possible worlds, as bad as it is. We don’t put up with what’s not right as if pretending there’s nothing better. Our faith needs to say that God does not intend pointless suffering, that God is neither incompetent nor uncaring.* There must be some repair, some refreshing, some restoration and renewal. Whether elsewhere and later or here and now, we want something to hope for, to hope in.

Last week we heard hope with children, in a statement “unto us a child is born,” the possibility of the future, the very existence of a child’s life as a sacrament of God’s good intentions for life, with hope beyond the power of the fiercest empire, the ongoing turning of history, the sense of fresh beginnings.

Yet from Isaiah’s word then at the birth of Hezekiah, from his hopefulness that military might would not remain the determining factor against the people, from his declaration that even if you feared the darkness a light would dawn, as Isaiah’s vision was looking past the terrors of the Assyrian Empire, they ended up staring a short while later directly at another threat. Isaiah may have been right that the Assyrians wouldn’t conquer the southern kingdom of Judah. But the Babylonians did.

That meant the king and queen mother and family, the officials, the elders, the leaders, the priests, those with prestige or power, as well as pretty much anybody with talent or skills or crafting capabilities was deported, exiled to Babylon. They left behind the dregs of society, the poor and least talented, which included Jeremiah as sort of a remnant prophet, seen as not up to par with the others. And they left behind vast destruction. Much of the capital city of Jerusalem got obliterated.

That eventually included the temple, which bears a few extra words. A month ago, we heard about King Solomon building that temple, viewed as the dwelling place of God. Inside the Holy of Holies, seated on the ark of the covenant, was God’s place. That was where to go to get close to God.

Which raised the confounding question for Jeremiah’s people in exile: what happened to God? It wasn’t only a question of where to worship; they had to ask whom to worship. They were far from God’s place, but it may have even been that God was defeated, was gone. So what to make of life then?

Some counseled brief patience, that things would be brighter before long. These so-called false prophets—because they offered false hopes—said that the exiles would be home within two years. It’s a variation on being a stranger here traveling through this world, that you just need to put up with it, grit your teeth, grin and bear it for a little while, because it would soon pass. I read a phrase this week referring to their work as “merchandising nostalgia.”* Whether looking to the past or offering an impossible future, there is this business of trying to convince people of what will be, or could be, or anything other than present reality.

In the church, this it its own cottage industry, harkening back to the good ol’ days, when Sunday School classrooms were full and Wednesday night was church night and theologians had an important voice in shaping society and Christian values helped inform the norms of culture.

Those days aren’t coming back. One parent said this week that her child may be the only one in his class who goes to church. Lives are so fully programmed with activities that Sunday morning serves as another slot for more, or else the only pause during a hectic week. You know well you’re apologizing too often for allegedly “Christian” morality that’s perverse and shameful, like among those who remain vocally supportive of a senate candidate with predatory sexual tendencies. No, none of that points to a very immediate return to glory days of the church in America.

If such fears aren’t exactly where we’d set our sights at Advent and MCC anyway, if we’re pleased with Sunday School and using our voice for positive influence in culture and figuring out how to be Christians at this time and to live well, still we know the struggle.

On this day observed as Christ the King Sunday, we remember that this isn’t triumphal success or getting swept up in the endtimes, but is Jesus who loved to death, who told us to see him in the poor and hungry and imprisoned and ill and outcast, who revealed God for us not through visions of the future but within our own lives. We say he’ll come again. But we need him for now.

That’s also what Jeremiah’s talking about. He won’t claim everything will be alright, or same as it ever was, or all glittery and happy. Neither will Jeremiah suggest remorse that puts up with misery for the meantime. In this letter we heard today, he lets these people know they won’t be coming home anytime soon. It will be several generations before the exile is over. Throughout their lifetime, then, God’s word is to go ahead—to plant gardens, to have weddings and celebrations, even to strive for the good among their captors, to seek the good of the city where they didn’t choose to live.

It’s notable within this that Jeremiah doesn’t direct them how they ought to practice religion without the temple, when life won’t allow for weekly worship. Neither is there the standard biblical injunction not to get tied up risking intermarriage with foreigners. Indeed, before the people leave from Babylon they’ll have assimilated enough to take on Babylonian names and adopt some of the language as their own. They’ll have had to deal with the rest of life, like other foods and jobs and changed social standing.

With this, I read plenty this week on society receiving strangers, on what it means to be a refugee or immigrant, how they adapt to new cultures and maintain old identities. Those are important cultural conversations.

But I’m most invested in what God’s word means for your lives, especially those places you’d prefer not to find yourselves, for what’s not going perfectly, for what seems too often boring or frustrating or, indeed, hopeless. I hear dissatisfaction with jobs and worry at how family gatherings play out and the feeling of wasting valuable time that has been given to you, wondering what else may be and where faith fits into it.

I’m not immune from those things, whether with family friction ill-resolved by me or with spending my vacation day working on this sermon with diversions putzing with laundry and ridiculously mowing my lawn after Thanksgiving while distractedly and desperately pondering selfish wishes and seriously speculating on what would be more important, how I could really make a difference, what exactly life is supposed to be.

In that way, there’s a verse in our reading that gets an awful lot of attention. Verse 11 said, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not to harm, to give you a future with hope.” This verse suffers the inspirational merchandising of posters, graduation cards, mugs, blogs, and more. I take that to mean people like to focus on what those future plans of God might be, trying to figure out what is in store, to get geared up for it. It could easily lead to the sense that heaven is your home and this world is only an inconvenient temporary holding area. Or, maybe less supernaturally, that God has big intents and purposes to prosper your life, so you probably should be doing something else, more important and exciting, or even just dreaming about it.

Those reading the Reinhold Niebuhr book might have come across the quote that Christians shouldn’t presume to know too much about the temperature of hell or the furniture arrangements of heaven. It’s the sense that we can’t predict much of any of what is yet to come.

Jeremiah 29:11 says you don’t need to predict it. Your future is entirely secure with God. There is no reason in the world to doubt God’s unfailing goodness and unconditional love for you. God will give peace more than you can possibly understand. You are secure in God’s blessing and promised life. Even if you waste your time or miss the point or blow it completely. Even if you try your hardest and nearly succeed. If you meet everybody’s goals or fail at every last expectation. If you feel comfortably at home or like everything is foreign and you’re far from where you’d prefer to be, still God’s assurance remains with you.

Since you don’t need to be elsewhere or elsewhen, the remaining question is, what do you do for now? One good set of answers: don’t just pass through. Instead, care for the city. Celebrate life. Build your house and cultivate your garden.

* http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=44

* Peterson Run with the Horses p150 (cited by Andy Twiton)Peterson, Run with the Horses, Pg. 150 Peterson, Run with the Horses, Pg. 150 Peterson, Run with the Horses, Pg. 150

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The King & You

sermon for Christ the King Sunday

(Luke23:33-43; Colossians1:11-20; Psalm46; Jeremiah23:1-6)
I’d like to begin introducing you to Alexa Rose, her parents Danielle and Ramon and their family, to get ready for her baptism and to orient us amid this Christ the King Sunday.

The odd connection is Alexa’s grandmother Robin used to work with a man who became a church music director with whom I later worked. Tracing that forward some number of years, past Danielle’s graduation party (which, if I recall, was one of Ramon’s first visits to Wisconsin), beyond that, I had the privilege of officiating at their wedding, fue la primera y la única vez que hablé español en una boda.

Later, when Alexa’s brother Leo was only a newborn, came the misfortune of presiding at the funeral of Danielle’s little brother DJ. He was a delightful young man, with great care and a huge smile and the enormous tragedy of an addiction from which he couldn’t escape in this life. A couple months after that, yearning for something positive, we celebrated Leo’s baptism and how blessing continues in our lives. Danielle’s father, Darrel, polished the baptismal font to sparkling. Yet to come, he and I have long talked about doing some icefishing together.

So there’s a lot there. In one respect, that’s the kind of stuff I’m honored to anticipate sharing with you, the big celebrations, and hopefully not too much tragedy, and all kinds of really regular moments and conversations and details.

Much larger and more important, though, than me as a pastor who happens to intersect with your life is the notion today that Christ is the King of this. As King or Lord, it means all of this falls within the realm of Christ, under the influence of his reign and his jurisdiction. He has claim that extends over and around all of these moments.

In Alexa Rose’s baptism is the declaration that nothing in her life will be separated from Christ or left outside of his blessing: her delights in her big brother and her smiles at her parents. Their efforts in so many ways to keep her secure—in providing a home and working long hours and throwing birthday parties and struggling against society when its racism or sexism or tribalism would threaten her wellbeing. Christ is in connections with grandparents and the guidance and care of her baptismal sponsors. All of this is held and nurtured by Christ.

And the promise continues far beyond what we know today, as she grows and meets new friends at school and discovers what her interests and passions and abilities are and as she begins making choices in her life (whether good or questionable, as all of us experience), on through years and decades.

We know this love and blessing of Christ was with Ramon and Danielle at their wedding, but we also confess with sure and certain hope that even death couldn’t separate DJ from love and life and blessing in Christ Jesus. Christ as King must be amid threatening politics just as surely as icefishing. Today we identify that for Alexa Rose, through the thick and thin of it, through the sorrows we’d so much like to spare her and the triumphs we wish heartily for her, all the way to her final breath.

And then, even as today we’re holding that very moment for a saint at the opposite end of life’s spectrum and saying goodbye to Eileen Bolstad and commending her out of what our care could accomplish, releasing her fully into the eternal care of Christ’s embrace, even in this moment of death we trust a promise of Paradise, that that last enemy will be overcome, and the love and life and blessing in Christ Jesus will continue.

So as we trust this for Alexa and for Eileen and as we are able to hold onto it for ourselves, let’s notice that in calling Christ the King, rather than it being a similarity to our typical rulers, we should hear a contrast. When we say Christ is King, we very particularly mean he’s not like other kings, those who rule and control and disregard our lives for their own benefit or whims. This title, exemplified by one being tortured and executed on a cross, clearly is not trying to claim Jesus is the mightiest or the bossiest. He’s not an authoritarian who always gets his way. He’s not in a posh palace separated from the realities of our life.

Embodied in his crucifixion, Christ’s kingship is precisely exemplary in patient endurance for reconciliation, is with suffering, knowing the realities of life, not separated from those mundane and difficult details of your existence. He is a King who can relate to you or, to say it stronger, is related to you, your brother. (That also has the implications that you are entitled to your inheritance as part of the royal family! That focus will have to wait for another day, but please don’t lose track of it!)

Another aspect of Christ being King also contradicts a common notion about faith and belief, and that’s in what makes him your king. Just as it wasn’t the ironic inscription on the cross that made him a king, neither was it by popular acclaim. It’s not that you invite him into your life. It isn’t the degree to which we attribute credit or how we pray or how we might try to claim favor. Jesus doesn’t need your confidence in order to be king. His work and his reign aren’t dependent on you or subservient to you like that. Though he’s a servant king, he’s not at your beck and call or waiting to do your bidding.

He—and he alone among all who would be called king—holds the role by divine right, in accomplishing God’s will. In the language of Colossians, this extraordinary passage that portrays for us the fullest widespread concept of a cosmic Christ—a king of the universe—the thrones and dominions and rulers and powers are subject to him not because they’re reporting for duty, but since his realm encompasses all.

So, in a huge distinction, while he doesn’t cause sin, he must in the end still be responsible for it. Tragedies and addictions aren’t attributed to him but neither are they outside of his realm. Even the worst corruption and decay and death, the nastiest and most virulent attitudes, the fiercest exclusionisms, the ugliest religious hatred, the most careless environmental destruction all fall within his redemption, are embraced by his healing love, are purged with the breath of resurrected life.

That’s for us, too. For Alexa at her baptism and Eileen at her dying and for your lives overcome with worry, yet bound in his kingdom, we have to confess it is vital he makes the promise good forever in baptism, because he’s not the king we’d choose. He isn’t the leader we’d like. He wouldn’t win elections or popularity contests.

Imagine and sense, if you can, some of the despair for the women disciples at the foot of the cross and those men who looked on from a distance. Imagine and sense their loss, their disappointment, their worry. It would be much more appealing to have a glorious and triumphal ruler, who shattered the cross, uprooted its deadliness, saved himself, then swung out with a force-field that brought his opponents to their knees and protected his chosen ones and helped us always to escape the worst scenarios.

That’s not Christ our King.

Our model is, yes, compassion and sacrifice and a long arc of justice. But the most important and most difficult word today of Christ as King is so countercultural you’ve likely hardly heard it in recent weeks: forgive. We may be surprised or even skeptical that it should be part of baptism for precious little Alexa Rose, but she’ll need it, and Christ will still be for her then. And as it sets her on the course for receiving forgiveness, it also prepares her to be forgiving.

This is the challenging reconciliation that is at the heart of Christ’s kingdom and stands so starkly in contradistinction to all other authorities and rampant blame. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” We are people striving to embody God’s justice for our world in these days, but our identity is not just in trying to do better, much less in feeling better about what we’re doing or more self-righteous. We are people challenged as we give our lives in sharing this prayer: Father, forgive. Forgive their selfishness. Forgive their prejudice. Forgive their violence, their greed. Forgive their hatred. Forgive their incompetence or ignorance, that they don’t know what they’re doing. Forgive their disruptiveness and destructions. Forgive their incivility and immorality. And me, too, forgive me.

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Christ the King & Author

sermon for Christ the King Sunday (John18:33-37; Revelation1:4b-8)
This is a day that begs us to slow down and think what we’re saying.

First is that when we say “Christ the king,” we have to notice that we don’t have a king, and so don’t relate much to that idea. The closest we typically come is the King of Hearts and Burger King, neither of which promotes much reverence or devotion, unless in a pretty warped sense.

Further, we’re also instilled with this Revolutionary American notion that we want to get away from kings. Freedom from kingly pressures is exactly why we attribute those alleged forebears of ours—the pilgrims whom we recall at this time of year—were getting out of Dodge and sailing across the ocean in the Mayflower and why Paul Revere rode at midnight and Boston became the site of that rebellious Tea Party.

Of course, we can’t say “Tea Party” without calling to mind the present political climate and those who view government still as too authoritarian, too oppressive, too domineering, and perhaps monarchical, that almost any government is a shackle to be cast off.

So, again, as we celebrate Christ the King, how does that relate to other authorities? What sort of king is Christ? There are, on one hand, Christians who resist, still believing we need to get away from kings, even Christ, and they avert any references by systematically excluding terms like king and lord from worship. I understand the notion, but it undoes what Jesus was already trying to undo, how he was working to subvert regimes of traditional patriarchies.

Perhaps on the reverse side are Christians who are so totally subject to worshiping Christ as king that they refuse any other sense of order, claiming Christ must be victorious in visibly and noticeably ruling our lives.

Being the sort of folks we are, I expect we’re more apt to find ourselves in the middle. To begin, we’d say that following Christ directs us to the obligation to love our neighbor. We may, then, see governments in service of this task, welcoming the stranger in immigrants or in preventing hate crimes, and feeding the hungry through food stamps, and making sure we can’t kill each other willy-nilly. Those are roles that our government should be up to, according to the perspective of trying to follow the order of Christ.

Yet, for us in the wise middle, we also observe neither an evil empire nor shining beacon, not demons or heroic knights, but an awful lot of gray area. We would be reluctant to equate anything in our society—much less in our own lives—as all that “Christ-like.” As much good as we do, and for all the successes of our government and society in caring for the vulnerable and oppressed, we’re also met with glaring examples of falling short.

With that dual perspective, scripture tells us in one place (Rom13:1) that we ought to respect the governing authorities, and remember that they are in place to do God’s work. Yet our Lutheran forebears held that verse and let Hitler get away with way too much. Even today in our Gospel reading, the government official goes exactly counter to the will of God: the crafty Pontius Pilate finagles the system and ignores integrity in order to have Jesus killed. He is clearly not on the side of justice. So much the opposite, in fact, that while he’s trying to entrap Jesus in his words, Jesus counters by saying that his role is to testify to the truth.

It reminds me of a favorite quote of my Grandpa Utphall, that he’d “been lied to by experts.” We are much too accustomed to lying experts. That is our default understanding, fitting with the tragic joke that asks, “how do when you know when an authority is lying? Their lips are moving.” This accusation is most frequently leveled against leaders, but also against news reporters, and against salespeople and corporate mouthpieces, and sometimes medical professionals, rallied against teachers, applied to the church, and on and on. If anything, our basic sense of society becomes that we are always being lied to and manipulated and most everyone is for hire or is just so selfish that we can trust no one.

So maybe Christ the King is the start of reversing that trend. If our usual sense is that authorities can’t be trusted, then we can begin again to reground our hope and find a foundation in this one who came to speak the truth. The basis of our faith is, in fact, that God’s Word is good, that God keeps God’s promises.

The clearest case-in-point today is the baptism of Ada Florence. Her grandmother, Sally Keyel, is well-involved in this community. But that isn’t the reason for the baptism. Sasha and Anna aren’t even going to live in this state. She’ll not be part of our Sunday School. With the news of my impending departure, we’re faced with the rather direct reminder that, even though I’m doing the baptizing, I won’t be around to care for her and raise her in the faith. Even more, I like to remind families that there’s the possibility that this would never be mentioned again. We baptize babies who’ll have no individual recollection of it. And yet we believe that Ada will be held as a beloved daughter in God’s care for all her days no matter what, amid her successes and failures, in celebrations and brokenness, as long as she lives, and even beyond that. We trust that God’s promise is good.

With that, we’re getting closer to the heart of what it means to recognize Christ the King. In the Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. We might first take that to mean that his kingdom is up in heaven. But I believe there’s something more striking and meaningful. See, where the President presides over this country, or where a Burger King rules over the other burgers and the King of Hearts may be the most powerful of his suit, where an earthly king reigns over a territory and dictates what is or isn’t allowed in that area and fights to make sure somebody else doesn’t take away his power within his boundaries, the kingdom of God isn’t about power or a locale exactly. This is different.

Here’s a phrase we heard today from Revelation: Jesus is making you into his kingdom. That wording is really, really important. He’s not bringing you to his kingdom, as if it’s someplace else and you’re not there. He’s not making you fit for his kingdom, as if it’s about following a certain specific set of rules. He’s not waiting, as if it’s for you to acknowledge who’s really in charge. He’s made you his kingdom.

When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, that is not in defeating another religion or overcoming fundamentalist radicals per se. Neither is its success marked by making our own nation somehow more quote-unquote Christian. We may have any of those as our pet projects and firmly want to believe we are doing right. Yet, since Jesus somehow discounts the fighting, evidently this kingdom is not identified by the spread or resilience of those triumphal marks or any of our other worldly standards of combative competition.

Rather, the truly shocking and almost ridiculous thing is that the kingdom of God is founded in you, your unstable, uncertain life, followers who betray and hand him over. Yet Christ the King makes you the kingdom. You are his turf. Not just his subject who should be obeying his orders. You are his territory, his realm, the place where his power is wielded and manifest, where his claim is. You are the kingdom of Christ.

To say it in another way, Christ is your authority. Except because our ears are attuned to lies and our lives accustomed to rebellion, even that we need to understand afresh. He is not the authority meaning the boss of you, at least not most fundamentally. He is your authority as in the one who authored you. Christ is your author. You have been created by God and owe your existence to God, just as a character of fiction would not exist if an author had not put a pen to her paper.

And now, like a fictional character, you’ve soon taken on a life of your own. Stan Lee no longer controls Spiderman. JK Rowling couldn’t have known what Harry Potter would become. They’ve grown in unexpected ways.

For us, too. The stories of our lives collide and part ever in new ways. The circumstances of our world bring us with each passing calamity and each bright invention to something new, to become something we weren’t before. It can feel worrisome, since there’s no prescription and it doesn’t leave us with much clarity. We wonder what will happen with the decisions we make and if we’re doing the right thing amid anxious possibilities. We have regrets that linger and too many endings that continue to haunt us with sorrows. Such flux involves some very nervous tension in the present.

Today is the assurance that little Ada Florence is blessed by God. Her story was thus begun by God, but it isn’t pre-written or prescribed. She will live it in her own unique—and creative—way. But neither is it that she as God’s good creation is only to be released to try to succeed in life or to try to follow the rules as best she can and had better or to struggle solo against the horrors and frustrations of life in this world. After all, she is the kingdom of Christ.

So here’s where we come to the other part of Christ the King. He is Alpha, your creator, the one before you, your author, your source. He is also Omega, your destination. From Alpha to Omega, from A to Z, he is with you. He has the final word; it all wraps up with him. And somehow he will bring you to the ending in him. It’s not because he manages to manipulate every moment of your existence. It’s not predictable. Just the opposite, though we are in the messy middle of things that seem unclear and worrisome, though so much seems out of any control, still he will not release you or fail you. You are his kingdom and the ending is secure in him.

If an author begins a story, I wish we had a word for the one who can gather the chaos of terrors and somehow bring it to its goal. It’s not just an editor, for God can’t erase your wrongs. Rather, this must be a word for one who manages to tie it all together, holding it all, redeeming the worst, making hurts whole, and bringing it to majestic and glorious fruition. I guess our only term for that is “Christ the King.”

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