Christ the King 2015
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
November 22, 2015
In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and Mali, the rational world has been wrestling with the nature of the world in which we live.
Some have responded in anger, and have let fear dictate their words and actions.
These voices say that if we live in a world where terrorists can strike at any given time, then the most pressing need is to protect ourselves from those strikes, regardless of what compromises we must make as nations, societies, and individuals.
I have been appalled by the calls of several leaders in the United States to deny asylum to refugees who are fleeing the violence in the Levant and Syria, claiming that any of these refugees could be used by ISIS to wreak further havoc within the borders of the United States should they be allowed entrance.
Of course these leaders, at some level, imagine that this is the way to best protect their constituents from harm, even though the very people who have suffered longest under the terror and threat of terrorism from ISIS are those most adversely affected.
In a shallower sense, I imagine that such voices are more concerned with seeming “tough” on terrorism in order to garner more votes in a future election from a populace struggling to understand the issues and geopolitical shift that is underway.
Since September 11, 2001 the immanent threat of pain and sorrow perpetrated upon the many by a few ideologically driven members of a terrorist group willing to give their lives for the cause, has been a clear and present danger.
The tactic, suicide in order to commit murder, is nothing new.
Japanese pilots in World War II, known as kamikaze fighters, would sacrifice their lives in order to explode their aircraft upon US battleships in the Pacific.
What is different is that during that war, clear lines were drawn between the combatants…soldiers were state actors who defended their nations…Japan and the other Axis powers …from the Allied forces whom they fought.
But the terrorism that uses suicide bombing as a tactic these days is ultimately stateless…while the victims may be representatives, civilian or military, of a state, or a region (The West, The United States) or an idea (Capitalism, Democracy, Order), the perpetrators are not confined to one faith, or region, or one nation.
Even ISIS, which takes its name after the hopeful establishing of an Islamic state in Syria, could not exercise meaningful terror if its actions were merely the aggressions of a state or nation.
If this were the case, then retaliation would be easy and swift…just assemble the superior military forces of the nations attacked, and lay a carpet of bombs that would utterly devastate the region.
Political leaders in this environment have clear options, and though many would balk at the war and destruction that would ensue, on some level it could be understood.
But this is no longer the world in which we live.
We now live in a world where terrorism’s goal is primarily the dissemination of crippling fear, the elimination of hope, and the fracturing of relationships.
Recruiting for organizations like ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Shabaab, thrives when once detractors turn into supporters because the wild claims their leaders make about the “infidels” looks more true than false.
For ISIS, success in this war rests on The West beginning the holy war against Islam that they already claim is happening.
When the scared leaders of the West, reeling from terrorist attacks insinuate, or even vocalize that “Islam is the enemy and that these Muslims must be stopped” then ISIS licks its lips and prepares to welcome new members to its ranks
It must be said, ISIS could not be further from representing Islam than David Koresh’s Branch Davidians could be said to represent Christianity.
But scared people say and do fearful things.
The only way to respond in the face of such fear is to tell the truth.
The challenge rests in what constitutes the truth.
On this Sunday, the last in the liturgical year dubbed Christ the King Sunday, I find it paramount to say that the truth is what we have come to know and proclaim through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is a truth that was on trial when Jesus stood before Pilate and the Sanhedrin 2000 years ago, and it remains no less challenged and challenging in our day.
Pilate is content to classify Jesus as a state actor bent on undermining the Roman Empire he represents.
“Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” he asks.
But as we learn through hearing the stories of Jesus’ healing, teaching, and witness throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ kingdom is truly not of this world, nor does it conform to the borders of the nation or empire in which it began.
It is a kingdom that is founded on relationship: relationship with the God whom we are called to love with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might and relationship with each other…most strikingly with the outcast, the vulnerable, and the hopeless whom the nations, kingdoms, and empires of the world are all too willing to leave behind.
“My kingdom is not from this world” Jesus says, “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Jesus goes on to say that he came to testify to the truth, and though Pilate, Caiaphas, and even the disciples can’t fully grasp what that means, Jesus shows them the ground altering nature of Truth by going boldly to the cross…dying to self, to false ideas of kingship, and reordering forever the world’s understanding of true power in the process.
Jesus is abandoned there on the hard wood of the cross, and it appears that hopelessness has won and his alternative kingdom experiment has come to an end.
But then the stone is rolled away…the wounded one appears among the disciples alive, telling them to not be afraid, and the “not of this world” kingdom which he proclaimed is born as the mystical Body of Christ…the church…the fellowship of those who have heard his call and have responded to it by entering more deeply into relationship rather than running away from it in fear.
This is the kingdom which we have inherited brothers and sisters.
This is what we are called to follow, to champion, and to make real by the way we live our lives and by the decisions we make…especially in the face of fear.
If we dare proclaim Christ as King today, then we do so in the knowledge that his peculiar form of kingship will not allow us to say no to refugees fleeing the scourge of war.
Our allegiance will not allow us to denigrate or dismiss whole races and faiths because we are confused or frightened.
In fact, when we pray in earnest, for God’s kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are consciously jettisoning the old ways of being and opening ourselves to embracing a new life and an entirely new ethic.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But (Jesus tells us), love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven”(Matthew 5:43-48).
No one who has ever tried this in earnest could say that it is easy.
It is not.
But I know deep in my bones that it is the only way that leads to life.
And I suspect that you know this too…otherwise you would not be here today, seeking to make sense of this crazy world in which we live, and longing to be reminded of a hope that can vanquish the hopelessness that is being peddled in the public square these days.
What is truth?
What does Jesus’ kingdom look like?
It has to be more than just “not fear…not retaliation…and not [fill in the blank].”
Jesus was fond of speaking in parables, saying the kingdom of heaven is like the embrace of a father whose lost son has come home…like a mustard seed which is the smallest of all seeds but grows into a great shrub…like treasure hidden in a field.
So I will end this Christ the King sermon with an image of what I believe the kingdom of heaven is like, and ask you to keep alert and watchful for your own examples during this week and in this uncertain season in our world.
The kingdom of heaven is like a blindfolded Muslim man in Paris…who in the aftermath of deadly terrorist attacks blamed on Muslims, stands in the public square with a sign reading “I’m Muslim, but I’m told that I’m a terrorist. I trust you, do you trust me? If yes, hug me.” As onlooker after onlooker approach him and embrace him, the kingdom of God triumphs…hug after hug…tear after tear…over the forces of fear and evil.
Scale that out dear people of God…person to person…loving act after loving act…and no bomb, no attack, nor any fear or threat will ever be able to vanquish the kingdom of God, nor the King of Kings who animates it.
That is the truth.
Now go and live it.