The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Follow the Leader—A Sermon on Christ the King

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you always.

As American Christians, celebration of the feast of “Christ the King” can feel a little odd. Our historical connection to the British monarchy is really only relevant to us now in these exciting times of Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle, an American. When we’re not watching royal weddings on television, we’re mostly not thinking about kings and queens. Right?

The feast of Christ the King is officially known as the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It came about in 1925 during the rise of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator in Italy. Pope Pius XI insisted that supremacy over the universe belonged to Christ alone, not to any earthly leader. Contrary to popular belief in 1925 and in this year of our Lord 2017, no human being deserves our unwavering allegiance—no political leader, no church leader, no celebrity, no king.

We say so, each time we pray the Lord’s prayer—”for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” True leadership and true power belong to God.

At LEVN night this week, we talked about feeling kind of uncomfy about ascribing Kingship to Jesus the Christ. It feels...patriarchal, and oppressive, and corrupt. The way Jesus wielded power was truly the opposite of the way the Roman Empire wielded power, and so it is very reasonable to feel some type of way about equating the two. But perhaps that’s just it. Perhaps we’re not equating the two, or putting Jesus in the shoes of Caesar. Perhaps, in response to the sin that so easily entangles us in our earthly kingdoms, the feast of Christ the King proclaims that the only, true way to wield power is to wield it like Jesus. To preach good news to the poor, to free the captive, to liberate the oppressed.

The lectionary texts assigned to this day should tell us all we need to know.

Did you notice that Jesus has this whole conversation with himself? He anticipates that it will be difficult for his hearers to understand what he is talking about. The disciples have been with him for a couple of years, at least, and they are often confused. Layers of storytelling often confuse them further, so Jesus leaves pretty much no room for error. He plays both sides of the story and gives out all the possible scenarios. This king that he speaks of has never been hungry or imprisoned, just as Jesus himself has not been, while in the company of his disciples. But he knows that they have not made the connection between their lives and the lives of the least among them.

What might this sound like if Jesus was telling it to us, today?

Someone would ask: “When did we see you hungry and not feed you?” And Jesus would pointedly reply: “When you perpetuated the economic and agricultural system in which 795 million people go hungry around the world each day.”

We’d be a little confused, because Jesus is not currently a starving person, and we cannot feed a billion people out of a soup kitchen. But someone would ask another: “Okay, but when did we see you sick and not care for you?” Jesus would look at us and say, “When you elected a congress who declared that healthcare is a privilege, not a human right.”

We’d start to understand, and avert our eyes. Except for the one person who would ask:  “Okay, but when did we see you in prison and not visit you?” Jesus would not mince words on this one: “When you did not dismantle the prison-industrial complex and the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States.”

In the lives and deaths of the marginalized and minoritized, we are averting our eyes from the face of God. We fail to see Jesus in the bodies that surround us in our everyday lives. We fail to treat each other with the dignity and respect and appreciation that we’re certain we’d treat Jesus with.  

We talked at bible study this week about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It was easy for us to place ourselves as the rich man in that story, because we are much closer to his life than we are to the poor man, who lay dying at the rich man’s gate. We may not be the richest people we know, wear the nicest clothes, drive the newest car, or eat the fanciest food—but we are, by the world’s standard, among the wealthiest people to ever live.

We have power. As Americans with good educations (and in the process of receiving good educations) and the right to vote and the freedom to travel and the many choices we make each and every day about the trajectory of our lives, we are powerful. We have varying degrees of power, sure. We understand that there are differences in power between men and women and people of all genders; we understand that white people wield much more power than black people and other people of color; we understand that US citizens have power that residents and immigrants and those in the citizenship process do not have.

And y’all are young, starting out in your adult lives, and you still have a lot of rules governing you and hurdles to make it through before you can feel fully independent and autonomous. But in the grand scheme of things, you have great freedom and great power. Which, as we all know, comes with great responsibility.

Now, church tonight is not meant to add to the laundry list of awful things you’ve been worrying about in the world. You’re not on the hook for solving all of the world’s most humungous problems. You may feel inspired by a particular issue of justice and want to go out full speed ahead and right that wrong. Do it! Go for it! God bless you on your way!

And. Think even closer to home than that. When you are in a position of leadership and power, notice how you use that. Notice how you engage with your peers, your classmates, your coworkers, your roommates, your partners, your neighbors. Notice how you engage with people who work in the service industry; notice how you engage with children; notice how you engage with people you are supervising, organizing, teaching, or otherwise leading. Who do you take your cues from? Kings of this earth, or Christ the King?

When you look for role models in leadership, notice who you admire. Are they dominating and domineering? Or are they servants?

In our Christian life, as we follow the teachings of Jesus, we are going run into a lot of things that don’t match what we hear from other sources. We are going to feel backwards, sometimes. We are going to feel countercultural, sometimes. We are going to feel like the only ones who see a problem with what’s happening, sometimes. We live in a world full of people who see no problem with stepping on others to get more for themselves. We confess that we have sometimes gone along with that way of living, and even benefited from the exploitation of others.

But as we close this church year, and look toward the season of Advent, we are reminded that there is another way. Jesus the Christ, King of the Universe, will come into the world as a tiny and vulnerable baby. The child of refugees, fleeing one oppressive regime for another. From the absolute humblest of beginnings, God will enter into our world to show us what true power and true glory look like. Stay tuned.

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