Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

“To follow where he leads”

Message preached November 25, 2012
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon John 18:33-37

Order of Worship

listen to this in mp3 format

Ready for a bit of trivial pursuit? Name something significant that happened on December 11th , 1925....  On this day, Pope Pius XI proclaimed a new holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, the “Feast of Christ the King.”

“So...,” you might now be thinking, “what does this have to do with us?” After all, we don’t look to Rome for guidance, nor do we owe allegiance to the bishop there (the Pope). Our heritage flows from those who rebelled against that kind of authority. Our Brethren roots grew not just out of the “Reformation” of the church, begun nearly 500 years ago. No, we are offshoots of what is sometimes called the “Radical Reformation,” a Christian movement which teaches a different kind of authority and power. We believe that it is not invested in bishops or in kings, in some religious or political hierarchy. Instead, as we see it, true authority and power is entrusted by God into the hands of the everyday servants of the true King Jesus, into the community of believers gathered around his Word.

Back in 1925, Pope Pius XI had various motives in getting his worldwide flock to turn their attention from the nations in which they lived and focus upon the reign of Christ, giving their allegiance to the real leader, the true King of all - Jesus.  That wasn’t a bad move, especially in the context of that time period between two world wars, and the increasing secularization of society. Of course, if Christ is King, and the Pope is his representative - we know where this is going. It’s an earthly power struggle. And Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world...” (John 18:36)

Over the years this Holy Day, the “Feast of Christ the King,” has made its way into the wider church, even into traditions such as ours which do not see one particular day as necessarily any holier than the next. The date has even been shifted from what Pope Pius XI proclaimed. Originally it was set on the last Sunday of October, perhaps a not-so-subtle dig at Protestants and their celebrated anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31st, 1517, thus starting the Protestant Reformation.

Of course, the battles between Catholics and Protestants have cooled down a bit since 1925. “Christ the King” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday in the “Christian” calendar now followed by many churches is today celebrated toward the end of November. It marks the end of each church year. Next Sunday is not only the beginning of the season of Advent, a period of repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ, it is also the beginning of a brand-new church year.

Now, as I have said before, I/we don’t slavishly follow this “Christian” calendar and observe all these holy days. I do find some guidance in the suggestions of scripture readings for every Sunday that goes with this calendar. It helps me to preach not just on my favorite Bible texts, but rather nudges me to touch more of the width and breadth, the height and depth of the Word of God. Still, I don’t always follow these suggestions from this “church” year.

Sometimes, for instance, “Christ the King” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday falls on the same day that we in this country traditionally celebrate “Thanksgiving Sunday.” Do we, then, choose one over the other, or blend them together? Most of you probably don’t care one way or the other. You just come to worship God, no matter what Sunday it is, to fill up your spirit’s tanks for another week, and to connect with other believers. Does it really matter that we celebrate “Christ the King Sunday?” No.

However, it does matter whether or not we focus our attention upon and give our allegiance to Christ every Sunday, even every day. It’s sort of like Thanksgiving. In celebrating “Thanksgiving” this past week, does that mean we’re only “thankful” once a year? Not at all. It’s helpful to have a special day, though, especially if we allow it to be more than a “stuff-your-face, watch football, be nice to your family no matter how hard it may sometimes be” day. “Thanksgiving” turns us, if we are open to being turned, toward the source of every blessing. “Now thank we all our God...” Likewise, to celebrate the “Reign of Christ” on this last Sunday of the “church” year doesn’t mean we don’t seek to make Jesus our sovereign leader the other 364 days of our year. Not at all.

Of course, what does it mean for Christ Jesus to be “King” of our lives? That may have been an easier question to understand back in the days of the “tall man” John Naas (recall the Children’s story this morning?), who refused to serve as a guard to the King of Prussia because he was already serving as a soldier of King Jesus. Two centuries later, when Pope Pius XI first proclaimed this day, there were still a few Kings out there. However, the era of Royal Monarchs was almost at an end. For us, today in this country, the “kings” are a basketball team from Sacramento, or just a bit of nostalgia.

What does it mean for Christ Jesus to be “King,” to be “commander-in-chief” (so to speak) of our lives? We sometimes can’t even agree on what it means for someone to be President of our country, let alone decide who that person is. By the way, I’m glad our recent Presidential election didn’t hinge on some “hanging chad” in Florida, like in 2000. How many of us had ever even heard the word “chad” before that post-election fight? It was a new word to me at the time, not even in my old 7th edition of Webster’s collegiate dictionary. As we have since shifted almost totally to computer screen ballots in the last 12 years, “chad” is now an archaic word. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, “Chad” was/were (is it singular or plural?) the holes punched out of a computer card. In other words: trash, hopefully recycled. How interesting that our decision in 2000 for what is arguably the most powerful position in the world came down to a bunch of trash.

Let’s not talk “trash” when it comes to Jesus. Deciding what it means for Christ to be our “king,” our sovereign, our ruler, our authority, our leader, isn’t merely a matter of punching a hole in a card, is it? We must confess, however, that sometimes that’s nearly what it amounts to - just a bag of chad. We claim Jesus as our Lord of Lords, our Prince of Peace, our King of Love, our true shepherd, but we live however we darn well please - as if it isn’t so.

The story we just heard of the coerced “conversation” between Jesus and Pilate, leading up to the crucifixion, is one of the few times our Lord himself spoke of being a “king.” His parables included kings as characters, but rarely did he claim the title for himself. You may recall that when he was nailed to the cross, the Romans put a sign on the framework saying that this was the “King of the Jews.” It was an act of mocking both this dying man and those who had wanted him dead. It was hardly a statement of faith. And yet, strangely enough, in the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom, this proposition was true.

My kingdom doesn’t consist of what you see around you,” Jesus had earlier told Pilate. In other words, we need to see things differently if we wish to understand real sovereignty. Take that marvelous passage in the apostle Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi. In it, Jesus - at whose name every knee bows and every tongue confesses as Lord - is portrayed as releasing, letting go, divesting himself of his position and power as the Son of God. True Kingship is revealed as being servanthood. About this understanding of who Jesus was and is, Paul encouraged the Philippians then, and us now, to allow it to completely color our lives.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” he wrote.  (2:5)  From this passage the Brethren have derived our calling to “seek the mind of Christ.”

That’s an interesting proposition, but it’s more than a proposal for us to consider, an issue on a ballot that we can vote upon. It’s a person, someone who doesn’t just tell us the way to live in five easy steps, but who shows us the way, sometimes following a difficult, winding path; someone who, by his own admission, is the way. When we speak of Christ being our “King,” this is not just some theological or philosophical statement of truth to debate. It’s a person, someone who doesn’t just tell us the truth, but who lives it out. Someone who, by his own admission, embodies the truth.

“Christ the King” is not just a Sunday to celebrate the ending of a “church” year, it’s an everyday calling to re-orient our lives as servants of that King, a ruler who leads by a different kind of power. In our Love Feast, as Brethren, we have an enactment of how Jesus, our king, leads. In fact, when a brother-in-Christ kneels before me and washes my feet (as is our practice), this is not just the hands and face of a man, this is Jesus being embodied in my brother’s life - how Christ is reigning as King in this world. It is an awesome thing to then kneel before another brother and be as Christ to him.

As followers of Jesus, we live with a different understanding of “power.” Like our fore bearer, John Naas, “power” for us does not involve how tall or strong we am (or are not) physically. Some of the most powerful people I know would hardly be considered powerful by the standards of our society. Nor would they be considered the most attractive, or influential, or wise. They are just everyday folks who are simply seeking the mind of Christ, day in and day out. And, you know what? They make a bigger difference in this world than any Pope or President or King.

As we sing our final hymn, “Jesus shall reign,” # 319 in your hymnal, I invite you to ponder how Christ is Lord of all. Don’t think only in future tense, however, kicking the can down the road, as if it has nothing to do with here and now. As you sing, remember that he is unlike any leader this world places into a position of power. Christ Jesus is a servant king. Too often we Christians portray him otherwise, and then wonder why people wouldn’t want to join in the song.

As you lift up your voice, I encourage you to consider how he “shall reign” in your life today, in your corner of the world, not off in some other distant place. How will he be embodied in you this week? After all, it’s one thing to say “Christ is king,” or “Jesus is Lord.” It’s another thing to follow where he leads.   

©2012 Peter L. Haynes   (originally written, but not used, for Nov. 26, 2000)
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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