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.

Is This Your King?—A Sermon on the Reign of Christ

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.

It is good to see you. The return after Thanksgiving usually feels like we’ve been apart a while, but this time it’s particularly odd. I was away a few weeks ago, and then the fire and the smoke closed campus and kept us indoors and apart. It is always good to see you, but tonight, it is especially good to see you.

I have been thinking for the last several weeks now about the gift of community, and how precious it is to be able to gather. People all over California have lost their homes, workplaces, and places of worship in these fires. We are blessed to be gathered here tonight, and it’s important to acknowledge that fragility.

Before Thanksgiving, I traveled to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico with other pastors from around the southwest. We met people on both sides of the border whose lives are perched so precariously. Families with mixed documentation statuses, where some are US citizens and some are not, are so vulnerable.

As I listened to their stories, I thought about all of you, and whether you’re able to celebrate holidays with your families or not, for whatever reasons. I know that none of you have the same story, all of you come from different families and have different capacity to be with those families in the flesh. I pray for the reunification of your families in this life, as much as possible, and most certainly in the next.

On Sunday, US Customs and Border Patrol agents in San Ysidro, CA, fired tear gas across the border at families attempting to present for asylum. The “migrant caravan” you’ve perhaps heard about? Many of them have arrived in Tijuana and are hoping to make their way into California, soon.

My heart breaks for these people, who have survived horrific conditions with their children, decided to make the dangerous trek toward the mere hope of a safer future, and are met with violence. I am not sure, right now, what we’ll do about this, as a community. But I want to know what you want to do about it. How do you want to counteract that violence? Let’s wonder about that.

The celebration in the church this week is of “Christ the King” or the “Reign of Christ.” It’s the final week of the church year. Next week, when the season of Advent begins, we start again. 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 2018, no human being deserves our unwavering allegiance—no political leader, no church leader, no celebrity, no king.

The idea of Christ the King is to subvert the idea of kings. No king wields as much power as the God who created the universe. Powerful people should take a look at themselves, have some perspective. It can be all too easy for us, these days, with our incredible technological advancement and our global communications, to think that we are truly the masters of this planet and its inhabitants. Let me be clear—our actions on this earth can have ramifications on a global scale. But we are not all-powerful. We are not God.

When I first had to preach on “Christ the King” during seminary, I was angsty about it. I didn’t know the history of the feast, and I assumed that this was a day to celebrate Jesus as a king, and to glorify earthly kings as being Christlike in their kingliness. That sounds gross, and, fortunately, I was wrong. I did some googles, and found out the truth about this feast. Rather than ascribe Christ-like-ness to kings and rulers and dictators and autocrats and despots, Christ the King reminds us what true leadership looks like. 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.

Our scripture tonight from 2 Samuel tells us, straight up: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure” (2 Samuel 23:3-5).

Do any of you watch The Good Place? Okay, so, I just started watching season 1, because I am uncool and late to every party, but there is a totally excellent spoiler-free piece of the show that I find so, so, excellent. Eleanor goes into one of her neighborhood’s many fro-yo shops, and there are a bunch of new flavors. One of them, which she tries, is called “full phone battery,” and tasting it makes her feel relaxed and free. Another patron orders “folded laundry” which I presume tastes like accomplishment, comfort, and readiness. This is what I think we’re being invited to imagine in this Samuel text.

Imagine fro-yo, I suppose, that tastes like the light of morning, the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. What does that feel like? Peace, comfort, rest, tranquility, security, safety. These are the feelings we have when we remember that we are in the care of God. Good leadership, true kingship, does not make us afraid, or anxious, or hateful, or spiteful of others.

We have seen, in the world around us at present and in our history, the ease with which “good people” ignore the growing terribleness around us, because it feels too big to topple. We have to remember what we do have control over. What are our own little “kingdoms” made of?

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?

We do not have the immense power of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. But as children of God, as the baptized, as the priesthood of all believers, we are co-conspirators in the work of the gospel. We are able to recognize the kingship of Jesus over any earthly leader, and to hold every leader—our family members, our employers, our teachers, our pastors—accountable for how we speak about the powerful and the powerless, for how we act as power-brokers.

I hope that this feels freeing to you. You are free, as a child of God, from the compulsion to capitulate to earthly powers. You know the truth, and the truth has set you free. You know that true power and true glory is not of this world. You know that Christ is King. Any person who tries to convince you that they bear the real truth, that they wield the real power, that they have the real control, is wrong. You do not need to be seduced by empty earthly promises. You know that no leader can save the world, no matter how they boast. No matter how many people shout their support for that person in an arena.

As we transition into the Advent season next week, we’ll remember that a light shines in the darkness, and that the darkness has not overcome it. We’ll anticipate the birth of the Christ child and the return of Christ as King. Our world will get whipped into a capitalist frenzy in the coming weeks, and we will have the opportunity to speak into that void. Just like Christ the King is not about what the world might think it is about it, Christmas, too, is a subversion of power.

The season of Advent is a time for peace and quiet, for hopeful expectation, for joyful recognition of a changing world. We don’t get to spend as much of Advent together as I would design, but we’ll be here as long as you’re here, waiting patiently for the world to change.

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.

The Bests of My 2018

It Is Time Now For Prayer—A reflection for the Davis Interfaith Thanksgiving