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God’s Kingdom: Practicing Peace

A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on November 25, 2012.

Christ the King Sunday

John 18:33-37

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12 (13-18); Revelation 1:4b-8

The conversation between Jesus and Pilate is no small thing. It may be one of the most intriguing conversations in the Bible because it’s truth speaking to power, and power subsequently quizzing truth to the nature and authority of its claims. But to fully understand and appreciate its meaning, we should view it from the perspective gained by listening to John’s end-of-time vision experienced in a dream state while in exile on the Isle of Patmos. With Jesus’ claims about his authority in our ears, we can read John’s apocalyptic vision and imagine what he was talking about.
From the first chapter of John’s vision in the book of Revelation come these words:  John to the seven churches in Asia:  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.[1]

The one who is and was and is to come was John’s answer to the harsh realities of his time. It is his answer to the lesser claims of kings and rulers. John’s vision was a word of hope about all in our time that is set against the reign of God.

Christ the King Sunday is a day in which the people of faith are invited to the throne room for a glimpse where Christ is exalted and worshiped. It’s the day we come full circle in the church year and end a journey that began with the first Sunday in Advent.

On this day we think of the entire Christian year, of our faith, of creation, of history, of the God who is all in all, and of the Christ who will rule over all. We think of the coming end of time and we submit to Christ as our sovereign, believing with Paul that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”[2]

On this Sunday we imagine worshipers in a massive Gothic cathedral with trumpeters in the balconies and bright banners hanging from the rafters, with attendants in festive costumes lining the walls while a royal entourage surrounds a great throne. Stretch your imagination and put this vision in our own sanctuary with an elegant throne for this occasion. In our worship we invite all God’s children to worship the Lord Jesus Christ enthroned where He is destined to sit.

John’s vision helps us imagine him surrounded by the apostles robed in white for extra effect. In our imagination we see this as a day when mere mortals have an audience with the Lord of life. What would you say to him? Better yet, what would he say to you?

I

In the days before the exile, the ancient Jews gathered once a year in the temple to crown Yahweh as God to symbolize God’s rule over all the people. It was worship directed vertically, just as the smoke of the incense ascended to the highest reaches of the vaulted ceiling, accompanied by the smell of burning sacrifices and the music echoing in the rafters. All of this was meant to symbolize the deepest intentions of the prayerful faithful.

How do we re-create that vivid experience of worship that heightened awareness of God’s presence? How do we communicate the image and the feeling of these sacred words from John’s revelation that proclaim Christ king? There’s no clearer image of the kingship of Christ than in John’s powerful images of vindication and triumph. In this passage, essentially a prayer, John envisions the power of a Jesus who “is coming with the clouds.” The prayer is both tender and terrifying. Jesus stands at the beginning and end of all time and in between all times.

Yet perhaps the heightened sense of God’s presence is best found outside the sanctuary, where Jesus is king not in places of power, but in places where people try to serve him. Perhaps we will see him most vividly not among those who choose violence as a solution, but among those who practice peace-filled solutions.

Jesus is king not only where people seek advantage, but where people seek to be helpful; not where people seek security, but in a working and breathing community.

This is good news! If Jesus is king not just once a year and on a throne but throughout all of time and in every place, then we don’t have to be king or seek another king. We no longer have to judge one another. We don’t have to control what other people think or feel or force them to fit our expectations. When that happens, the kingdom of God is here and now, here in our hearts, here among us – and out there wherever we extend Christ’s reign.

II

But we struggle with the idea that we serve another kingdom if we’re to be faithful followers of Jesus. When Jesus insisted his kingdom was “not of this world,” he didn’t mean it was merely spiritual nor relegated to a future age just over the horizon of time or even that he was speaking of heaven where all things are eventually made right. He was speaking of a reign that runs counter to most of what we experience in life no matter what your political persuasions. Jesus was talking about the push-pull we feel whenever we attempt to make Christ king in our hearts and lives. It’s that tension we feel whenever we realize the kingdoms of this world are empty of meaning and limited by sin.

Daniel Clendenin says, “In its simplest terms, the kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied is what life would be like, here and now, if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. Imagine if God ruled the nations, and not (the world’s leaders as we know them). Every aspect of personal and communal life would experience a radical reversal. The political, economic, and social subversions would be almost endless – peacemaking instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation … mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed … embrace rather than exclusion, etc. The ancient Hebrews had a marvelous word for this kind of life: Shalom, or human well-being.”[3]

III

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking all this is a pie-in-the-sky way of believing not grounded in reality. That’s okay. If we took up this way of thinking, things would have to change. We might have to give up some important piece of our lives in ways that we simply can’t or won’t do. It’s too much for many believers who continue to live in the world that Christ came to change.

I hear you because the only way I can name your weakness is to identify mine. But it’s the way of Christ, we must admit. If I changed and you changed, it would make a difference. If you and I changed and we convinced others to change, what could happen? It would be nothing short of the kind of revolution Jesus came to start.

Call it a conspiracy if you must. But whatever you do, don’t discount the idea out of your own self-involved cynicism. Don’t water down the notion as undoable – push yourself to think of just how doable it really is. Give God’s kingdom a chance to flourish in your corner of the world. The power of Christ the King Sunday is the power to imagine a different world!

Maybe then the subversive prayer of Jesus can be prayed by all of us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Maybe, just maybe, that’s why Jesus stood before the government’s man and let him talk till he found the justification he needed to fend off the political accusations of weakness the Jews used to make him do what they wanted.

This is good news! If Jesus is king not just once a year and on a throne but throughout all of time and in every place, then we don’t have to be king or seek another king. We no longer have to judge one another. We don’t have to control what other people think or feel or force them to fit our expectations.

When that happens, the kingdom of God is here and now, here in our hearts, here among us – and out there wherever we extend Christ’s reign.

[1] Revelation 1:4b-8

[2] Philippians 2:10-11

[3] Clendenin, ibid. http://www.journeywithjesus.net/index.shtml#LectionaryEssay