Today is the last Sunday of the church year and it is designated as the Feast of Christ the King, which many people find troubling, though I am not entirely sure why. My guess is that many clergy simply don’t like preaching about it because the idea of having a King is foreign to us, the language feels outdated, and it smacks of hierarchy and even patriarchy, but none of these are reasons to ignore the day or try to gloss over it. Instead, I think we need to dive in and embrace it as one of the top three days everyone should attend church, the other two being Christmas and Easter.
Would anyone like to guess when the Feast of Christ the King was created? I assumed it was created by the medieval church, you know when everyone had a king, but it wasn’t. It was created in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, to counteract the development of fascism in Italy. The Pope was concerned about Mussolini’s rhetoric that nothing should come before the state, so in response he created a church feast as an annual reminder that God should come before all other things. The Anglican tradition, that’s us, adopted it and the Episcopal Church included it in the 1979 prayer book. Of course, fascism is a thing of the past, so is it still necessary to have a celebration of Christ the King? In short, YES! Now let’s explore why.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God…all things have been created through him and for him.” Is that true? Has everything been created through and for him? In short, no it has not! It has not because if everything in creation came through and for God then there would be no poverty, no hunger, no war. There would not be a dominant economic system that purposely creates inequality and then blames the people who lose the game. There would be no racism, there would be no antisemitism, or terrorism, or genocide. There would not be a housing shortage because people would rather keep their property empty on the off chance that they might decide to go there for a week next year. People would not be dying because they can’t afford lifesaving care. Children would not be dying at school because of a piece of technology that has no other purpose than to kill. White nationalists would not be marching in the streets and women would be treated as the fully equal part of humanity that they are. All these things, and so many more exist, not because God created them, but because we try to play God; we think we know what’s best; we think we know how to fix the world; we think that we have the answers and that if we work hard enough everything will be fine; but it’s not true. It’s not true because our good intentions end where the next person begins and they do so because our good intentions are just that, ours. We may very well volunteer our time for a good cause because of our faith in God and our belief that we must do the right thing, but that is not the same as making God the center of our lives. If God is at the center then there will be no need for a motivation because we would not be in control, God would be in control; but how is that possible? How can we achieve a life where God is the center of our existence? In short, we can’t; at least not wholly in this lifetime, but there is hope. There is hope, that by the grace of God, we can move in the right direction and that is why we are here.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your mind and with all your soul, and Love your neighbor as yourself”, which come from the gospels of both Matthew and Mark. He also said, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you”, which comes from the gospel of John. The importance of these phrases is beyond measure because it is through love that God can reach the world, but how do we do this? We begin by orienting our lives towards Jesus. We must turn to his life as a guide for our own but doing so requires a radical change in thinking. It requires us to stop trying to fit Jesus into our version of the world. We tolerate many things that we know are wrong because we think that loving our neighbor requires us to do so. We think we are required to acquiesce to the wishes of other people, even when we know doing so will cause harm; frankly our culture has taught us to do everything but love ourselves. It has taught us to work ourselves to death, to devalue relaxation, and to believe that we can do everything on our own if we just work hard enough. We all know this is false, but yet we persist and we try to fit God and the teachings of Jesus into the system, instead of changing ourselves and the system to align with God. Loving ourselves is the last thing on our to-do list, of course we think we do it, we make time for ourselves, we take mental health days and spa days, but it doesn’t occur to us that if we truly loved ourselves those things would not be necessary.
Jesus loved radically. He cared for the people he met as well as the people he never knew not only by performing miracles, but by challenging the broken system. All the horrible things I mentioned earlier exist because of the societal infrastructure that we choose to live in. They exist because we refuse to change the system to fit the vision of God. Instead, we try to change God to fit into our system. Mussolini changed the system, but the system he created was not one based on God, which is why Pope Pius XI created the feast day of Christ the King, to remind us that God, the embodiment of Love that walked the earth, should be the center of all that we do; we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world, the Holy Spirit is literally in here right now, crying out for change; but not change on our terms, not a little tweak to the law so that we can feel better about people that are less fortunate than ourselves, but a sweeping, life giving, radical change that will see the end to poverty; the end of gun violence; the end of war; the end of petty politics; the end of an economic system that promotes the lie that everyone can “make it” if they just work hard enough. What I find ironic is that the feast day that was created to remind us of the importance of putting God at the center is in fact one of the things we want to reject because we don’t like the idea of living in a hierarchy, we don’t like the idea of anything ruling over us and that my friends is the problem. If we think that allowing Jesus to reign over our lives means that we will somehow lose control of ourselves, that we will cease to be individuals, then we are more concerned with maintaining our enlightened sense of individual freedom than we are with ending violence, and poverty, and hunger, and even death. God is not asking us to put a few dollars in the Salvation Army’s coin bucket, God is inviting us to help them construct an entirely different way of life based on mutual Love for all. Amen.