Bishop Greg’s sermon preached on Nov. 21, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Nov 21, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Last Sunday after Pentecost:
The Reign of Christ

Nov. 21, 2021

This Sunday is entitled Year B, Proper 29, The Last Sunday after Pentecost, which in and of itself does not sound all that interesting, appealing, or exciting. But this Sunday is also known as Christ the King Sunday, which certainly spruces it up a bit! Now, I would be the first to admit, that in our modern hearing that is a weird combination, Christ the King.
King’s aren’t universally loved and revered in this world, so that title can be troubling.

This Sunday really exists to point out what Jesus says in this line of questioning from Pilate we get in the Gospel of John today.

This is often translated as, Christ’s Kingdom is a place beyond this world. Too often, I think we read this passage, hold this encounter in our minds, as if Jesus is saying, my kingdom, my place, my heaven, my realm is somewhere else, in another place. But I want to challenge that, both in this translation, and looking at the ancient languages.

Jesus is saying the Kingdom he refers to is not OF this world, however he is not saying it is not in this world. I believe he is saying it does exist here, but it has not been chosen by most, and so he does not fit into Pilate’s world, nor his idea of how the world works.

It is very much akin to GK Chesterton’s famous quip, “It’s not that Christianity is all that bad, it’s just that no one has ever tried it yet.” That gets much closer to what Jesus is saying here. This world doesn’t know or recognize how it will work because, in Chesterton’s words, no one has ever tried it yet.

Christ the King Sunday is actually a relatively new development in the church calendar. It was initiated by Pope Pius the 11th in 1925. That Pope initiated this Sunday as a response to the aftermath of World War 1 and even more to the growing secularism and nationalism at the time.

The Pope was worried immensely that Christians were becoming domesticated into secular life and thus the faith was becoming domesticated too, in other words, just yet another club or association one was part of. It was waning a bit in changing lives, producing a better world, which is the idea of the Kingdom Jesus speaks of. I don’t know about you, but That time, where this day, Christ the King came from, sounds kind of familiar to me.

So, when Jesus says to Pilate, my kingdom is not of this world, we usually jump to the conclusion that he means it exists on another plane, in heaven, or paradise or some other realm. But, I am positing today that Jesus was simply saying, it is here, right now, but the world has to choose it, and most of the time the world doesn’t. Humans have to choose it, and quite often they don’t. That distinction is important I feel.

So, in a way, Pilate and Jesus are having the same debate that I often find myself in, and perhaps Katherine does from time to time, or any pastor of any denomination and even some of you, who, when you happen to speak out on what you might call a Gospel imperative as you see it, but one that goes radically against the world’s narrative, we will hear separation of church and state, or perhaps if they don’t go there, you will hear, the church should not get political, and of course, politics and political are always in the eye of the beholder. Many would say the Church, for good or ill, invented politics. Maybe not, but it sure has some of its own, I can attest to that.

I want to say firmly to you all today I believe in the separation of church and state, however, I would also state that I believe most people who espouse it, or get behind it in these moments, often do not understand its meaning, or origin, or import.

Some will disagree, but I sum it up this way, the separation of Church and State was meant to be very clear that one should never become the other. In other words, we are against a religious state. That was so clear for the founding parents of this country, who were escaping a state church. They wanted no part of it.

But, they never meant, when they came up with this philosophy and concept, that neither would ever address the other, or that neither would ever challenge the other. In fact, the strongest proponents of this notion, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, when President, talked about religion, issued official days of prayer, etc, more than just about anyone.

I believe this is a misunderstanding that has caused a lot of confusion and a lot of silence when silence is not what is required.

I remember, when I did my internship in seminary, at All Saints, Pasadena California, a great church, one steeped in social activism and outreach. In their history they were adamant in securing the property right across the street from the City Hall. George Regas, Rector when I did my internship, always said, our forbears selected this spot, greatly wanted this spot, so that we could be close, and keep an eye on politics, and we know, equally, from where they are, they can keep an eye on us. He would point over to it, that is the state, that is government, it has its things to do, and we, here, are the Church, and we have our things to do. However, one should always watch the other, and each should speak across this road, and often.

That is how I understand the concept. The idea that the Gospel imperative, our call from the Gospel, might in fact run head on into a political or governmental movement or action, is not, by this concept, meant to be mute, or silent.

This doctrine does not require shut mouths or even as some would suggest disinterest. I hear often when this boundary is under suspicion, you should mind your own business.

Well, it would be easier if that line could be drawn so succinctly and so definitively, but I do not, in any way think that realistic. The fact is, to me, the state can, indeed, do Gospel work, wittingly or unwittingly. It may not do it based on the actual Gospel, or a call from their faith, but because humans of faith make up the state, of course, that will be part of it.

Honestly I have known many atheists that are some of the finest people, kindest people, and most generous people. I knew one in Texas and I would always tell him, you are quite often a better Christian as an atheist than many who claim it.

Likewise, those in the church cannot help but carry their faith into their political and civil discourse. The boundaries are not clearly marked when it comes to how each of these affect our lives and affect our decisions. We, as humans, can’t simply turn off faith, or vice versa, turn off citizenship. We carry them, work at them, inhabit them, together.
But, I do so agree that one should never become the other.

This all brings me to today, we will celebrate the sacrament of confirmation and reception. We will all renew our baptismal vows, together. These vows are a radical statement I believe, that call us to a radical life and which describe the very Kingdom Jesus is telling Pilate of today.

The world might subscribe to very different values and morals, but, when we take the vows we take today, we are saying that we have a primary allegiance to this kingdom, God’s Kingdom, God’s wish and dream for the world and for each of God’s children. This is why I often say, to the consternation of some, that the American flag and the cross, are not the same to me, they are not equal, they are not one and the same. I believe one has to be primary in your life and when we take the vows we take today, that is what we are saying. We are pledging allegiance, primary allegiance to God, and to God’s Kingdom. Please hear me, I am so thankful, so fortunate, to be able to live as a citizen in a country that offers freedom for me to practice that religion and to hold and practice the beliefs I just espoused. It is not perfect, but it is far better than most I have seen. I do have a an allegiance and a loyalty to it, but it is not my primary one.

Here is my challenge to you today, that as we renew these vows together, we seriously consider which kingdom we hold as primary, which King we pledge our allegiance to?

That is exactly what Pope Pius was thinking, and hoping for, when he put this on our calendars and it is worth taking up as a question, every year, and perhaps more often.

Christianity is not a faith you simply assent to, it is, ultimately something you practice, a way of life, a way of being within the world, but not of the world. That was what Jesus was trying to tell Pilate. He could have put it just like Chesterton did because they were saying the same thing, in a much different way.

It’s not that Christianity is all that bad, its just that no one has ever tried it yet. I might not go quite that far, but I do think it is a notion worth thinking about. Better yet, personally, I am trying to change my semantics from I am a Christian, to I practice Christianity.

So, I might say to you, to us today, let’s all make it first in our lives, and don’t just take on the name, let’s actually give it a try!

My beloved I have said these words to you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

© 2021 The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.