“A Different Kind of King”
November 20, 2011/Christ the King Sunday
One of my favorite, favorite British comedies, actually one of my favorite tv shows British or otherwise, is a show called The Vicar of Dibley. It airs on Oklahoma Public Television on Sunday nights. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s hilarious! The show tells the story of Geraldine Grainger, a woman vicar in the Church of England, and her slightly insane parishioners in a small, slightly insane English village called Dibley.
In one of the episodes it’s Christmas time. Gerry, or Mrs. God as she’s sometimes called, is in charge of the annual Christmas show which must be extra exciting as it is the last Christmas before the new millennium. The Christmas show is to be a living nativity, set in a real farmyard. The manger is in a real barn. The audience follows the cast around from place to place to experience the birth of Christ in a new way.
The scene I’m thinking of in particular is when the vicar is holding auditions for the play. Three of the regular characters, Jim, Frank and Owen, all come to audition for the Wise Men or the Kings. But they don’t seem to fully understand who they’re supposed to be. First, Frank auditions using a voice that’s supposed to sound like Stephen Hawking. Hawking is a wise man, isn’t he? Then Owen comes dressed as Elvis. After all, he was the King. Jim is turned away before he can audition as Martin Luther King. But he does come to the first rehearsal dressed as Billie Jean King. There was definitely some king confusion going on.
But I don’t think that confusion is reserved only for a television comedy. What do we think of when we hear the word “king?” What is a king anyway?
When I hear the word king, I think of monarch. And when I think of monarch, I think of the English monarchy. I can’t help myself. I’ve been fascinated with them for a long time. I was 15 when Diana Spencer became Princess Diana, and yes, I did get up at 4:30 to watch the royal wedding. And I got up at 5 am to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton as well.
But there are other monarchies out there. In fact, when I did some research, I was surprised at how many there actually are. The King and Queen of Norway just visited the town we lived in Iowa this fall. There is still a monarchy in Sweden and Denmark, the Netherlands, Monaco, Liechenstein, Belgium, Luxemborg, Spain, Jordan, Qatar, Oman. I could go on and on. Some of these countries have a constitutional monarchy, which is essentially what the United Kingdom is. They have a democratic form of government with the monarchy as the head of state in name only. But some of the countries have absolute monarchies. They are ruled solely by the King or Queen.
But what are other defining aspects of a monarchy? Generally you only become a monarch through birth or marriage. A monarch is not elected. There is the rule of succession.
Monarchs tend to rule for life, unless they abdicate. Monarchs often have a family home or homes. They don’t grow up, leave Mom and Dad’s castle, go to royal college, then start shopping for a palace of their own. The home comes with the title.
There are protocols when it comes to meeting monarchs or addressing them. I know that when Queen Elizabeth has her regular awards ceremony, essentially recognizing different citizens for accomplishments, sometimes even knighting them, they have to approach her slowly, bow or curtsy, then leave her presence equally as carefully; not turning their back on her until they’re several feet away. When a new prime minister takes office in the U.K. he or she must meet with the Queen and ask for permission to govern the country, which she then bestows. It may be in name only, but it’s still a protocol that has to be followed.
I’m sure I’ve left a lot out, but I think my point is that monarchs generally do not live the kinds of lives that we lead. They’re still human, with the same failings and foibles as the rest of us, but I think it’s safe to say that they world they inhabit looks very different than my own.
It would seem that there is no confusion about what a king or a queen, a monarch is then, is there? A king is a ruler, a leader. There is a specific etiquette involved in relating to the king. If I were to get the chance to visit with Queen Elizabeth or one of the other royals I would have to be schooled in what to do and how to do it. Why? Because she is the Queen and that’s what is required.
So if we’ve got this monarch thing all figured out, then this Sunday should be a piece of cake. It’s Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday we begin again with Advent. We leave the gospel of Matthew and focus on the gospel of Mark. Everything begins again. We start with expectation of a new messiah and end with a king.
But as my sermon title suggests, when we talk about Christ as king, we’re talking about a different kind of king. And perhaps that’s why there is king confusion. Especially as we approach this passage in Matthew’s gospel.
It’s not particularly surprising that this passage is about judgment. Judgment has been a part of the majority of passages we’ve been studying in Matthew. This passage begins with Jesus telling those around him that when at last the Son of Man comes in all his glory, surrounded by his heavenly host, and sits on his throne, he will judge the nations. This sounds very royal and kingly.
Judgment will involve separating the people like a shepherd separates sheep from the goats. The sheep are the ones who fed him when he was hungry, gave him something to drink when he was thirsty, clothed him when he was naked, cared for him when he was sick, welcomed him when he was a stranger, visited him when he was a prisoner. And the goats are the ones who didn’t.
But what is so surprising about this story is the surprise. Both the sheep and the goats are surprised by what they hear from the Son of Man, their king. Neither group knew that they were doing these things to or for the Son of Man or that they weren’t.
The sheep are surprised because it turns out that when they were helping people in need, they were actually caring for Jesus. He was the king in their midst, and they didn’t even know it. The goats are surprised because they are being judged on something they didn’t even know about. Their argument to Jesus is that had they known he was hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or lonely, they would have gladly provided for his need. But they didn’t know! They would have gladly followed the correct etiquette in caring for a king, but they had no idea that king was in their midst in the first place, nor the etiquette that he required.
And that’s what I mean about a different kind of king. Think about it. The protocol for meeting a monarch of this world, a king of our expectations, involves using the correct titles of respect and mannerly gestures such as curtsies or bows. But our protocol for meeting Christ as King involves caring for the poor and the needy; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. The proper etiquette is visiting the prisoner and welcoming the stranger. And it’s not done in view of a reward, but because Jesus through his life and his death modeled what it means to care for the least of these. Throughout Matthew’s entire gospel, we are called to show love through our actions, more than through our warm fuzzy feelings. Because when we love our neighbor, we love God. And when we love God, love for neighbor follows. And Christ our King resides among the least of these.
That is a different kind of king indeed.
And on this last Sunday, let’s think about all the ways that Christ is King.
Christ is King of Advent.
|Purple: The color of Advent and Lent|
We expect a Messiah, a royal savior who will lead his people out of misery and despair into a glorious new future. Yet we receive helplessness. A baby. And one who is not born in the sterile environment of a labor and delivery room. Not even one who is born in the welcoming warm comfort of a home. This baby and his parents are refugees, shunted off to a cave, born among animals, but heralded by angels.
In the same way Christ is King of Lent. Again, we expect a warrior. But we are called instead to travel with Jesus on a wilderness road, and follow him to the cross. We cheer him, then betray him. Christ is the King of death.
Christ is the King of Easter.
|White: The Color of Easter|
He is the King of life where there should be no life. He is the King of an empty tomb. Christ is the King of Resurrection. The grave does not win.
Christ is King of Pentecost.
|Red: The Color of Pentecost|
He is the power of the Holy Spirit which gave voice and strength and courage to those who had been fearful, timid and weak. He is King of the church whenever and wherever that church does work for the sake of his name.
Christ is King of all the days in between.
|Green: The color of all days. The color of life.|
He is King of the days we call ordinary. He is King of the days of our living and our dying. He is King of the days when we thrive. He is King of the days where we merely seem to survive. Christ is King of all our days.
Christ is King. We give thanks that he is not like the monarchies we know. We give thanks that he does not meet our expectations. We give thanks that our only protocol in serving him is to help the weak, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, visit the lonely, comfort the sorrowful and love the least of these. We give thanks that Christ is a different kind of king indeed. Let all God’s children say “Amen.”
|Whatever the color, Christ Is King|