King of Kings — Transforming the World Through Love

King of Kings and Lord of Lords, echoes the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah. But what does that mean applied to Jesus? “So you are a king?” asked Pilate sarcastically.

“You say I am a king,” responded Jesus, ironically.

What does it mean to call Jesus of all people a king – maybe even an anti-king. Jesus wanted to free people from the oppression of Kings. That is why the early church adopted the slogan Jesus is Lord, in opposition to the Roman Empire that proclaimed that Caesar was Lord. So what does it mean to call Jesus, the peasant Messiah, the liberator of the poor and the meek, King of kings and Lord of lords?

One of our difficulties in trying to answer our question is there are probably as many different images of Jesus as we have people in this sanctuary? Often we treat the gospels like a blank slate and read into the character of Jesus what we want to see, rather than what Jesus said and did. We want Jesus to look like us. We want the comforting Jesus to bless us just as we are, rather than challenging us to grow and change, and follow him. We don’t want the Jesus who warns the rich and well fed, they have to take of the poor before they can enter the Kingdom of God. We don’t want the Jesus who tells the conventionally nice people that the lowlifes, the prostitutes and the druggies will enter the Kingdom before them. We don’t like that Jesus. And some folks are uncomfortable with the Jesus who hangs out with the Occupy Wall Street crowd – Occupy the Temple – Occupy the Forum — King of kings and Lord of lords?

The followers of Jesus began as a counter cultural movement following God’s Messiah to oppose the oppression, the brutality, the enforced impoverishment of the masses of the Roman Empire. But as the Jesus movement morphed into the Church, the figure of Christ was re-interpreted to be made more compatible with the needs and goals of the Empire.

Rather than a revolutionary social movement seeking justice for the poor and downtrodden, the Church focused upon the saving power of Christ for the afterlife. Jesus died for our sins as the heavenly lamb of God so we might go to heaven. Never mind changing things on earth, just keep your eye on the pie in the sky and you will be rewarded in the sweet by and by. By the time of Constantine the Church had become a tame toothless Tiger, performing tricks for its Imperial master. The Bishops had become a paid hierarchy leading the cheering section for the Emperor.

To be fair the church performed some important acts of charity and eventually ended the gladiatorial contests, and made some efforts to civilize the Empire and introduce compassion as a virtue. But for the most part the Church performed charity but never challenged the social structures of oppression that made their charity necessary. And then with the Middle Ages and the Crusades and the Inquisition the Church itself became the aggressor, the oppressor, and the persecutor – King of kings and Lord of lords?

I want to affirm the healing power of Jesus. The gospels are absolutely clear in addition to preaching the Kingdom of God Jesus healed people. He also commissioned his followers to heal people. There is healing power in prayer, and I believe Christine Kamback’s course in Reiki affirms the healing power in the laying on of hands. I am sad that in the “modern church” we have lost so much of the healing power of faith. I support modern medicine. I keep my doctor’s appointments. I try to follow my physician’s advice, and I take my medicine. And I believe the healing power of Jesus is still present in the community faith, when we pray with and for each other.

 

I also believe faith can empower people in the face of death. We all have to die, but how we die, whether in hope or despair is an important testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How we choose to die can have tremendous healing for our own lives, the lives of our loved ones and the community of faith that gathers as a witness to the meaning of the legacy of our lives in Christ. Remember two weeks ago we talked about our legacy of faith? That is part of how we die. And faith in the love of Jesus can give meaning and power to our deaths. We will talk about that some next week on Remembrance Sunday.

But what do we mean, when we give Jesus of all people the titles King of kings and Lord of lords. This coming Thursday evening Melvin Kilgore will begin leading a study of Robin Meyers book Saving Jesus from the Church. Meyers a United Church of Christ pastor in Oklahoma City, claims that the Church has tried to use those titles to tame Jesus – to make Jesus the otherworldly King of Heaven, rather than the rabble rousing rabbi leading the poor and dispossessed to challenge the social and economic structures that were impoverishing them.

 

Clearly Jesus was leading a non-violent movement – if the Roman soldier strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Although, turning the other cheek was also an act of defiance. If the Roman solider was striking you on the right cheek, and he was using his right hand, he was back handing you, the gesture of disdain from a social superior to a social inferior. If you offer the Roman soldier your left cheek, he has to strike you with the palm of his hand, the gesture of challenge between social equals.

If we examine Jesus’ teaching closely he was inspiring non-violent resistance to injustice. If the Roman soldier commands you to carry his pack one mile, your legal obligation under Roman law, then prove to him that you are free by carrying his pack two miles. He was also teaching his oppressed fellow peasants that if they would share with one another, and care for one another and love one another, there would be enough. The miracle of the feeding of the multitude was about the miracle of sharing. If everyone takes enough for their need, rather than trying to satisfy their greed, there will be enough. If we will just live simply so that others may live, we can enter the Kingdom of God here and now.

Jesus was trying to open the eyes of his people to see that they did not have to wait for a military messiah to throw the Romans out of their country. That would be nice, but if they would share and care for each other now, they could create a new social order. Also, he kept trying to tell his people, they needed to stop creating little hierarchies of holiness. I’m better than you, because I keep the law, and you are just a social outcaste, an unclean scum bag. Jesus was telling his people, if we will stop separating one another by race, class, belief, religious practice, if we will stop trying to build ourselves up, so we can look down upon others, we can transcend our circumstances and enter the Kingdom of God now! We can create a community of faith, so the Kingdom of God will be in the midst of us. The Kingdom of God is about transforming the world through love. We don’t have to wait for heaven. We just need to start loving now. Transform our world through love.

Of course loving difficult people is hard. But that is food for a different sermon. It will be enough this morning, if we can say yes to the call to follow Jesus to start loving now. It will be enough this morning if we can say yes to sharing with others and caring for others. It will be enough this morning if we can give up our little hierarchies of holiness in order to stop separating ourselves by race, class, sex, sexual orientation, belief. It will be enough this morning, if we will say yes to Jesus to start transforming our world through love.

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