Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christ the King

Before I attended seminary, I worked at the career center at UM for a short time. It was the kind of office anyone might want to spend some time in after college – the staff cared about their jobs, cared about the students, and enjoyed one another. This was especially evident in the way career-humor would be shared around the office. I remember a particular article that made the circulations between desks and email boxes – it was the report of a mock study showing that the number of girls who wished to be princesses when they grew up was shrinking. It claimed that our democratic political system, with its lack of princesses, meant that little girls weren’t really sure what princesses actually did all day. Interviews with imaginary princesses such as Butterlilly and Twinklerose bemoaned the lack of understanding of the royal life of ease and beauty among today’s children. As a result, little girls were forsaking this once prosperous and popular career for vocations they could understand, such as teachers, veterinarians and astronauts.

Silliness and satire aside, however, that article gets at a particular conundrum for theology today – that is, most of us in this country, both children and adults, have very little idea about what kings and queens really do. There has not been a king with power in these United States for 230 years, and we wrote a declaration and fought a war to bring an end to that power. Even outside America, many kings and queens are no longer powerful monarchs, but figureheads whose families make more headlines in gossip tabloids than major newspapers.
In a world where “kings” have such little impact on our daily lives, how are we as Christians to understand a feast called Christ the King?

This morning, let me suggest that our inexperience with earthly kingly power is exactly what we need, because the kingdom of Christ will not look like any reign or regime this world has seen before.

The title of King is only one attempt to understand what the power of God is like. Look again at today’s Gospel, and the encounter between Pilate and Jesus. Jesus does not say “I am king,” but “you say that I am a king.” We have heard other claims about who Jesus is: Elijah or John the Baptist, a drunkard who eats with sinners, a prophet. All of these are attempts of the human imagination to understand the power of Jesus. But there in the Roman headquarters, Jesus explained exactly what his power was. He goes on to say, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” As a powerful man in a powerful and oppressive empire, Pilate knew the importance of those words. He would have known that truth is power, and not the kind of power one can lose in a battle or an election. Truth is the kind of power that proclaims good news to the poor and opens the eyes of the blind and gives them hope. Truth sets people free.

And that is what it means for us to claim Christ as King – it sets us free to imagine the world as the location of the future reign of Jesus Christ.
When we celebrate the feast day of Christ the King, we celebrate the truth that God created the world and all that is in it. We claim the hope that one day, people of all nations and tribes and races will be one people, freed from poverty, famine, disaster and war, free to seek truth and understanding

But as we know so well – faith without works is dead. So the feast of Christ the King calls us to do more than have visions of the reign of God. It calls us to stake our lives on the truth of that vision, and do our best to build glimpses of the kingdom here and now. And so, it is this Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, that our national church has chosen to reflect upon the Millennium Development Goals as part of our mission priorities. The Millennium Development Goals – or MDGs, as they are sometimes called – are part of a declaration written in the year 2000 by leaders of 189 countries. These world leaders pledged to fight the extreme poverty that slowly kills millions of people around the world each day. They adopted the eight goals, each of these which is then developed into more specific tasks and indicators to measure progress. The eight goals are:
* Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
* Achieve universal primary education.
* Promote gender equality and empower women.
* Reduce child mortality.
* Improve maternal health
* Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
* Ensure environmental sustainability.
* Develop a global partnership for development.

The United Nations, legislators, international aid organizations, even celebrities have signed on to continue this campaign – along with churches and international faith-based organizations. Why would churches all over the world sign on to the Millennium Development Goals, a project of a distinctly secular organization? Perhaps because our churches envision the reign of Christ as a time and place where the secular and the sacred are no longer separate categories because God’s love will touch all things. Or perhaps it is because theologians are no longer the most highly educated group of people, and it is good for us to partner with experts in all areas of our common life.

But mostly, I believe it is because the MDGS, and the work they require of us – are a spiritual discipline. The tasks and goals laid before us – eradicating extreme poverty, achieving primary education, reducing infant mortality and combating diseases that affect millions of people – these goals keep our eyes focused on what the Christ’s reign will be like. It is hard work, that calls us to see the reality of the world around us, and then speak of that truth to those with power. But working together with people of all nations and tribes and languages to see that “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more” moves our vision beyond current reality, and gives us a glimpse of the kingdom where “God will wipe away every tear.” This work stretches our imaginations and strengthens our hope. It is how we how we celebrate our allegiance to Christ the King and claim the greeting of all Christian disciples: “Look, the kingdom of God has indeed come near.”

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