On this last Sunday of the Christian year, we celebrate Christ the King.
Our Old Testament reading for this morning reminds us of King David, Israel’s great king. David was unusual in that he was a ruler after God’s own heart. But David was still a king in the normal sense of the word. David collected taxes and raised armies and did the other things that kings do. The people of David’s day could understand David’s kingship easily enough.
Our second reading, from Revelation, teaches us that Jesus, when he returns, will be a king sort of like David, if on a much bigger scale and with better special effects. One day Jesus will come with the clouds, and every eye will see him. On that day, Jesus will do the kinds of things that kings do. Jesus will judge. Jesus will rule. The only difference is that Jesus will do them perfectly.
But that day—the day when Jesus will rule as King of kings and Lord of lords—that day has not yet come.
When we think about Christ’s kingdom as we know it today, we notice pretty quickly that Christ’s kingdom must be totally different from any other kingdom that we have ever known.
We see in our gospel reading that Jesus’ kingdom is so different from “normal” kingdoms that Pilate could not make any sense of it. If the stakes were not so high, their conversation would be funny.
Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not from this world.” Pilate jumps on the one word he understands: “So you are a king?” Jesus replies that he was born and came into this world to testify to the truth. Our reading for today stops there, but John adds that Pilate asked Jesus one more question: “what is truth?” It was the last thing Plate ever said to Jesus.
Pilate was clearly puzzled and even a little unnerved by Jesus, who had the authority and the presence of a king in some ways, but obviously not in others.
And if we are honest, we too may find ourselves puzzled and a little unnerved by Jesus. We may find ourselves asking, what kind of king was Jesus? What kind of king lets himself be crucified?
We might ask ourselves, what kind of king is Jesus in our time? What does it mean to call Jesus king in a world where so many people suffer? Where is the evidence of Jesus’ kingdom today, when innocent people are slaughtered in a senseless terrorist attack in Paris?
When I read about those attacks, my first impulse was to wish that Jesus’ kingdom were a little more obvious. I wished Jesus were more like King David. I wished Jesus were the kind of king who rained fire on the bad guys.
But Jesus is not that kind of king, and Jesus’ kingdom is not that kind of kingdom.
In his parables, Jesus tells us what his kingdom is like. In one of them, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened” (Matt 13:33).
It is a striking image, partly because it is so ordinary, so undramatic. Jesus’ kingdom right now is not about power and glory. Jesus’ kingdom is within the world, working beneath the surface, bubbling away, almost invisible and yet somehow changing everything.
We look forward in faith and hope to the day when the loaf will be complete, when the yeast will have changed everything, when the kingdom will be fully visible.
But for now, Christ’s kingdom is in process. Christ’s kingdom is happening. But Christ’s kingdom is often hard to see. That was particularly true last week.
What was most visible last week was violence and terror. A week ago Friday, terrorists killed more than 130 people in Paris and wounded another 300. The French responded by bombing ISIS and by tracking down and killing the perpetrators. Some such show of retaliatory force was probably necessary.
But in the midst of the terror and the violence, even the justifiable violence, it is hard to see the yeast of God’s kingdom at work. And yet our task as Christians is to find that yeast, to look for God in the midst of the tragedy, to testify to the truth that God is king, that God is in fact at work in the world around us even if we have a hard time spotting God’s hand.
And if we look hard enough, we can see glimpses of God’s transforming power bringing good out of evil, life out of death.
Last week I saw two glimpses of the yeast of God’s kingdom.
One of the victims of the terrorist attacks in France was a young French woman. She left behind her husband and their small child.
In response, her grieving husband made a video in which he defied the terrorists and their supporters. The headline was a quotation from the video: “I will not give you the gift of hating you.” (The link is below.)
This man refuses to surrender to the terrorists by descending to their level of hatred and violence. I am sure that life for that French family is going to be challenging. But as far as I am concerned, the young man has already won an important victory over the forces of hatred and evil. That victory is surely a step towards healing and a powerful sign of God at work in our world.
The second story has actually been unfolding for several weeks now. It is the story of a family living in Austria. When an elderly German couple first became aware of the plight of the Syrian refugees trapped in Hungary, they drove down to Budapest, picked up a Syrian family, and took them home. Since that time, the elderly German Christian family and the young Syrian Muslim family have been living together. And somehow these two families, who are different in so many ways, have become one big family.
The future of the Syrian members of the family is uncertain. And, of course, there are literally millions more Syrian refugees, whose future has become even more uncertain in the wake of the Paris attacks. But for now the love that these people have come to share gives us a glimpse of God’s will for all people.
Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. In my house, we will do what we do every year: we will go around the table sharing our particular reasons for being thankful.
I have a lot of reasons to give thanks to God for the good things in my life. Many of those reasons involve Saint David’s, including the financial support represented by the pledges we will soon dedicate.
But this year, I plan to focus less on my personal blessings. This year I plan to focus my gratitude on the places where I can see God’s hand at work in the world around us. I will give thanks for the courage of a French family that refuses to hate, and the courage of a German family that reaches across divisions to love.
This year I give thanks for the yeast of God’s kingdom bubbling away beneath the surface of our lives, for the glimpses of God’s kingdom that we can celebrate now and that point us forward to the glorious day when Christ will truly rule over heaven and earth.
Today, on Christ the King Sunday, as we end one Christian year and prepare to begin another, I give thanks to Christ whose kingdom is not from this world, but whose kingdom is gradually transforming this world.