King of kings and Lord of lords. Did you note the powerful juxtaposition? On the Sunday we celebrate the kingship of Jesus, we find him in the Gospel impaled on a cross, the preferred instrument of capital punishment of the Roman government. Jesus is murdered by the state on trumped up charges. What was his crime? Extending God’s shalom, God’s dream of justice and peace for all people, to the poor and outcast of the world. He dared to heal on the Sabbath day. He hung out with people who were considered worthless and beyond God’s embrace. He refused to judge. He broke down barriers and walls that tended to demonize the other. So the political and religious establishments conspired to have him killed.
What was so threatening to those in authority that Jesus had to be dealt with in this way? For those who relied on power, manipulation and the creation of a climate of fear in order to keep people in control, Jesus’ way of self-emptying, his willingness, on the cross, to be seen as powerless, turns everything upside down. His way challenges all systems of domination and rather subversively calls us to resist oppression in all its forms by serving a God who works from the underside of every system of power.
To those of you who are coming forward today to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop and to proclaim publicly that you will follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, who is he? Even more, what does it require of us as we walk this planet?
You and I are living in a world that is so rapidly changing around us that we can barely keep up. More new information has been produced in the last thirty years than in the previous 5,000. A weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England. The words of Psalm 46 metaphorically describe our situation well: “…though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” Yet, the Psalmist then promises, “the Lord of hosts is with us.”
We know this because it is to this shifting, shaking, beautiful yet sometimes scary world that God has sent Jesus, who Colossians calls, “the image of the invisible God” and “firstborn of all creation…for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” If this is true than it is in Jesus we discover the nature of God. Refusing to use his power to respond to hate with hate, violence with violence, Jesus allows himself to be humiliated on the cross of shame. In the face of mocking taunts that if he is so great and chosen by God why doesn’t he save himself, we discover the very character of God when Jesus, hanging there as a common criminal, responds stunningly only with a word of forgiveness, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
What kind of a King is this? He insisted that all are beloved daughters and sons of God. On that cross he was promoting a vision of God’s Reign that recognizes that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. It is why today we will once again say bold and wild things like, “we will respect the dignity of every human being,” and will “work for justice and peace among all people.” All of you coming forward are renewing that promise with the rest of us to live ever more deeply into such a vision given to us by Jesus.
There is a story of folks in church on a Sunday much like today. A commotion occurs in the back and the ushers come down the aisle to the priest and point. Folks begin to turn around to see what is going on and see a dark middle-eastern looking man gesturing. The priest clears his throat and says, “It seems Jesus has chosen our church as the place where the last judgment is to begin. We are to line up single file beginning with the oldest and go to meet him in the chapel. There is only one question for each of us, but it is THE QUESTION. Please line up.”
Well, you can imagine the buzz of speculation on what the question would be. People went right to the questions that trivialize the Gospel: church attendance, saying one’s prayers every day, being on the vestry, whether or not one tithed total or taxable income. Finally, the oldest parishioner came out of the chapel, dabbed her soft tears and smiled. “He asked me, ‘What have you done for the least of my people?’”
If we are going to be taken seriously as a Church, as a people of faith, it is this Jesus whom we must proclaim and seek to follow. Jesus points us to a God who sets people free to live life and serve one another from a place of self-offering love. The Jesus we see on the cross summons us to something powerful and life-changing and life-affirming.
The way in which we show the world that we trust Jesus utterly, that he is King of kings and Lord of lords, is to love as he loves, especially the least and marginalized. We all fall woefully short, yet we place our faith in the one who first loved us and even from the place of his shame proclaims a word of loving forgiveness. That is why it is so bold to say, “Thy Kingdom come.” He affirms the infinite worth of all creation and every person in it. It is there, in the vulnerable and suffering King, that we put our trust.