November 26, 2000
"Find Us Faithful"
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
Christ the King Sunday
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.
Scripture: Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
My mother called a few weeks ago and said, "I'm having Thanksgiving Dinner at my house. Can you come?" I politely responded, "Yes," but if my mother could have seen me she would have seen my eyes rolling. I have lived away from home since 1976 and in all these years I have faithfully eaten Thanksgiving dinner in my parents home. I did the math. Counting this year, that's 25 consecutive Thanksgiving dinners. I may not be faithful in all my habits, but this is one that I believe my family can count on.
This morning I pose this question, "In what areas are each of us faithful?" Many of you, like me, may be able to use the Thanksgiving feast as an example of faithful routine. For others, your faithfulness might involve that Lions game on Thanksgiving Day or another autumn ritual in East Lansing, Ann Arbor or Columbus. There are other areas where we can certainly be counted on to be faithful. Last Wednesday, a mother and her young son from Petersburg were volunteering with the Caring and Sharing Food distribution. We were cleaning up and the little boy lost sight of his mother. He couldn't find her and he feared she was not in the church. I assured the boy that his mother would not leave the building without him. Parents, for the most part, are faithful. They don't leave their kids behind. (Even if they really seem to deserve it!)
Since we can be faithful in many ways, here's a challenging question: Could we. . . can we.. . be faithful to a king? Our scripture this morning claims Jesus as king, first is in John. Pontius Pilate had a good reason for questioning the kingship of Jesus. It was Pilate's responsibility to keep this unruly territory under the control of Roman authority, and any person claiming political power as royalty would have to questioned carefully. There was only room for one ultimate emperor, Caesar, and any kings that did exist, did so in the outlying territories by the authority of Rome's emperor. They had only the power that Roman would let them have. The guards brought a poor and humble man before Pilate, a man who was from the rural backwaters of a nation that was already considered backward and undesirable. And Pilate had been told that this man claimed to be a King. What Pilate saw and what he had heard did not match. He questioned Jesus, and Pilate heard an extraordinary explanation. Jesus' kingdom was not of this world, if it had been his followers would have responded in the way the world expected, with angry shouts and armed attack. Jesus was born to testify to the truth of God's kingdom, and those who listen to his voice belong to that kingdom. Pilate was left to question the meaning of truth and to declare that he found no fault with Jesus. Jesus had made his kingship clear, and had also explained who belonged in that kingdom. . . those who listened to the truth. . . those who called Jesus king.
In our scripture reading from the first chapter of Revelation the writer has a vision of the great king, lord of all, and he is compelled to record his vision of the victorious king for all to read. He sees Jesus sitting upon a throne and calls him a faithful witness of God, the firstborn among human beings, the ruler of the kings of the earth. He explains what King Jesus did for all humanity. He loved us so much that he freed us from sin by his blood. He made us to be his kingdom. This King of kings is the Alpha and Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come.
Now, when the first hearers and readers to in the accounts of Jesus before Pilate and the vision of Jesus as seen in Revelation, they fully understood the power of a king and they understood what faithfulness to a king meant. Kings were the ultimate authority in the land. Kings decided what would be done with the land; kings could conscript citizens into armies for service as they chose; kings could demand tribute to support their building projects and their life styles. Disobedience or resistance could bring punishment or death. People were used to harsh and arbitrary kings, and the notion of Jesus as benevolent and victorious king over all earthly kings was hope-filled. While nothing can fully describe the authority of God through Jesus Christ over all things, king was a title that people of the first and second century could comprehend, and act on when they were asked to be faithful to Christ the King. Jesus was a king who expected allegiance through the gifts of forgiveness and grace, but did not demand it.
We, today, have difficulty with this whole notion of being faithful to or worshiping a king. We may sing songs about the king of all creation and worshiping the newborn king, but the practice of following a king is not in our real lived experience, and we may even be a bit resistant to it. It's in our history. Our nation separated from a kingdom; we didn't want anything in our government or social structure to reflect royal rule or privilege. Believe it or not, our founders argued over what to call our top elected official. The title "King" was out of the question. But should the president of the United States be addressed as "your majesty" or "your highness"? Some thought so, but it was eventually dismissed for the more egalitarian, "Mr. President". To this day, when a cartoonist wants to lampoon a politician who seems to be reaching for too much power, that cartoonist puts a crown on his or her head.
Our society resists the notion of claiming a king or a queen. The ones we are most familiar with in Great Britain have little political power and a lot of bad press. Other kings and queens that we've heard about are either in children's stories or from countries around the world that seem far removed from us. While we understand the concept of royalty, we are more likely to use it in our clichés rather than to describe true leadership.
The "king of the hill" is on top and when we are "treated like royalty" we're delighted. Some of you may remember the TV show that let everyday housewives become "Queen for a Day." The fast food chain that claims to have good burgers calls itself Burger King, and when you eat Imperial margarine, you get a crown. Normal checkers become kings and have the power to move more freely. While the queen in chess has more options, one wins by trapping the king. A young man stands on the bow of the Titanic and shouts, "I am king of the world!" And when we're feeling just a little too full of ourselves an older relative will ask, "Who died and made you king?" And if you asked people "Who is king in the United States?", many might answer, "Why, Elvis Presley!"
And yet, in our Christian tradition we have a real king, and we must set aside all of our present-day notions of kings and royalty, and claim allegiance to this loving and merciful king above all earthly rulers. This king is the one who was born into the royal family of David, in a stable in Bethlehem. This king ruled in the hearts of thousands when he walked the earth as a man. This king sent the city of Jerusalem into a joyous and triumphant song that plunged days later into calls for his execution. This king challenged the authority of both political and religious leaders with his call to the kingdom of God. This king died on the cross and rose triumphant to rule heaven and earth for all time. This king, Jesus Christ, has taken his place on the throne of heaven above all the earth, and is faithful to those who love him. And this king expects to find us faithful. While our faithfulness as today's followers of Christ is not identical to those who follow worldly kings, our faithfulness is evident in our actions.
To be faithful to the King is to pray, to be in conversation with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Give honor to God and ask for guidance and assistance daily. There is irony in the practice of claiming Christ as King in our Christmas carols and making little personal effort to let Christ rule in our hearts. To be faithful to the King is to gather with other believers in worship, study and devotion. Jesus Christ the King does not rule over subjects in isolation, with each individual being a separate little kingdom for Christ. Our King is the very connection in our community, the mortar in the bricks, the glue that holds fast. Our King connects the faithful in one body in all places where Jesus' name is spoken with reverence.
To be faithful to the King is practice dedicated and careful stewardship. Faithful subjects, assured that they live in the Kingdom of God, see all of the abundance that they possess as on loan from the ultimate owner, God the Creator. And stewardship decisions over what to work for and what to refrain from, what to hold as priority and what is not important, what to keep and what to give away are made faithfully as "kingdom people".
And when we truly accept Christ as king it is reflected in our actions in this world, how we prioritize our time, how quickly we say "yes" when the call comes. The earliest Christians talked of Christ the King and understood that this meant they could called up at anytime to be in the King's service. They were watchful for it; they expected it. And when they were moved to serve, there was no questions of whether they thought the service was worthy of them or worth their time. For the one we serve, Christ the King, is worthy. Each of us is being called everyday in multiple directions that ask for our faithfulness. We can be faithful to possessions and the acquiring of possessions. We can faithful to the demands of every voice that cries out. Or we can be faithful to Jesus Christ and trust that in his service, in his kingdom, we will do what is right.
When we are faithful to the King of Kings, when we are loyal subjects in his reign, our faithfulness is a beacon before us and a light that shows others the way. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the days before he was assassinated preached that it was his hope to live so that when he died the eulogy would be one short sentence, "He was faithful."
Hopefully those who look back at the legacy we leave will remark on our faithfulness. Maybe someone will say of me, "You know, she never missed a Thanksgiving meal in Lexington." Maybe they will say of you, "You know, she never left a child behind in KMart" or "If he said he'd be out to help, he came." But our greatest hope can be that those who come behind us will find us faithful servants of Christ the King. Let us commit ourselves to lives of prayer, presence, gifts and serve that build the kingdom. Let Jesus Christ our King find us faithful. Let all who come behind us find us faithful.