“Accept no substitutes”
(A note before we begin today: I want you to know that I wrote this sermon and preached it in 2010, six years ago. I wanted you to know this, and to know that there are no hidden messages herein about our recent Presidential election. I have chosen to preach it today, here, for this very reason. So here we go.)
For the past 25 weeks, since Pentecost on May 15, we have been traveling with Jesus, encountering those whom he encountered, and learning the lessons that he taught while he was on his way to Jerusalem. And now, just when Jesus is nearing his destination, our gospel lesson makes a major time jump and Jesus on the cross where he is being crucified.
What’s going on here? I had to do some research to find out, but here is what I discovered. Today is “Christ the King” Sunday, when we proclaim that Jesus is our Lord and King.
I expected to discover that Christ the King Sunday is an ancient tradition. After all, in today’s gospel there is Jesus, nailed to a cross, with an inscription above his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” But the title was more derogatory than divine. A dead “King of the Jews” could hardly be a threat to the Roman Empire, could he?
And yet, what the Jews hoped for, longed for, yearned for, was the Messiah, a leader who would liberate them from their oppressors. We hear the foundation of their hope in today’s Old Testament lesson from the prophet Jeremiah, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.”
The people of Jesus’ day knew this scripture, they knew that a ruler was coming; they just didn’t recognize Jesus as their longed-for king. <P> Perhaps they longed for a HERO more than they longed for a king.
We in America consider ourselves fortunate not to live under the rule of an earthly king. Perhaps we have forgotten, if we ever knew, that the role of a king—a king’s primary function—is to establish and maintain order. In Jesus’ day a king was first and foremost a divinely appointed warrior. A king ensures the safety of his people. Almost of equal importance, a king ensures justice. The long-awaited Messiah was a king with a cosmic dimension to his job description. The Messiah not only would ensure justice, he would drive EVIL out of the land. There would be no more tribulation: no more economic downturns, no more cancer, no more need for food pantries or affordable housing. Yes, surely the Messiah would be a hero as much as a king.
So here is Jesus—perceived as neither king nor hero—nailed to a cross, with the mocking inscription “This is the King of the Jews.” And to make matters worse, soldiers taunted Jesus while he was on the cross, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Remember Jesus being tempted in the desert? Well now he is being tempted on the cross. “Save yourself, come down, show that you know how to be our king!” The people of Jesus’ day longed for a hero-king, one who would save them from their oppressors. But WE don’t long for such a king TODAY, do we?
Turns out, Christ the King Sunday is not an ancient tradition. This observance was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, a mere two generations ago. Perhaps that is your generation; perhaps your parents’ generation, or your grandparents’. 1925 also was the year that the American Association for Advancement of Atheism formed in New York City. 1925 was the year in which Mussolini dissolved the parliament and became dictator of Italy. 1925 was the year in which Hitler resurrected the Nazi political party in Germany.
The Pope made clear that he was instituting Christ the King Sunday because there were “manifold evils in the world, and the majority of [people] had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives.” He added, “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of lasting peace among nations. [We] must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ…” The people of Pope Pius XI’s day longed for a hero-king, one who would save them from their oppressors, from Mussolini and Hitler. But WE don’t long for such a king TODAY, do we?
Just a few years after the church began celebrating Christ the King Sunday, two Jewish teenagers met in Cleveland, Ohio. They were working on their school newspaper. Jerry was a writer, an immigrant from Lithuania. Joe was an artist who had been born in Canada. Jerry later said, “When Joe and I first met it was like the right chemicals coming together.” In their first collaboration Joe and Jerry created a bald telepathic villain bent on dominating the entire world. The idea flopped. Perhaps the world of the 1930s didn’t need yet ANOTHER villain intent on dominating the world. So the teenagers resurrected their character. They made him a hero in the mythic tradition of Sampson and Hercules, one who would right the wrongs of their times by fighting for social justice and against tyranny. We know their creation as Superman, <P> who was of this world and yet not, <P> raised by people who were not his actual parents, <P> who bad people were always seeking to kill, <P> and whose goal was to rid the world of evil and usher in an era of justice. <P> Hmmmmm. This story sounds familiar somehow. We may not long for an actual king, but it seems that we do long for a powerful person who fights for the powerless—in short, we long for a hero to save us.
What’s the difference between a hero and a king? A hero is only around in an emergency, when evil obviously threatens. Do you remember the role of the people in Superman movies? They stand around, damaged and dazed when confronted with evil, and call to the heavens for someone to swoop down and save them. And after Superman puts things to right, he pats them on their heads and flies away until the NEXT time he is needed to fix things.
Such a hero, if only he were real, would be a lot more convenient than Christ the King, who desires a real relationship with us between his acts of grace. Superman certainly is a lot more believable than Jesus, <P> right? He’s a man of steel with x-ray vision and who can … You know THAT story, but Superman is fiction.
But do you know THIS STORY? Jesus is very real and his life has eternal consequences: “God so loved the world,”—the world that he created, the world that is very good, the world that we damaged by our sin—“that he gave [us] his only-begotten Son, [Jesus Christ, our King] that whosoever believes in him might have everlasting life.” And at the start of Jesus’ ministry he announced that the “kingdom of God” is drawing near. Then Jesus taught parable after parable about what the kingdom of God is like. He said that the kingdom of God is both near at hand and yet is far off, both now and in the future. Jesus died on the very cross that he is on in today’s gospel lesson, but his life doesn’t end there. We celebrate Christ the King today because God raised Christ Jesus from death and began a NEW TIME, a time in which the values of God’s kingdom rule: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, and the like.
Is the genuine Jesus King of your life? Accept no substitutes.
 S. Szikszai, “King,” in Keith R. Crim and others, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible : Supplementary Volume : An Illustrated Encyclopedia Identifying and Explaining all Proper Names and Significant Terms and Subjects in the Holy Scriptures, Including the Apocrypha, with Attention to Archaeological Discoveries and Researches into the Life and Faith of Ancient Times, Vol. K-Q (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976), 11-17.
 Peter Chave, 2003. “Christ the King.” Expository Times 115, no. 1: 24.
 Pius XI, Quas Primas 1, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html, accessed November 1, 2010.
 Quote from Roger Stern, Superman: Sunday Classics: 1939 – 1943 DC Comics/Kitchen Sink Press, Inc./Sterling Publishing; 2006; other biographical details from Kramer, Blair “Superman,” Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/superman.html, from the American Jewish History Society, accessed November 4, 2010.
 G. Goldsworthy, “Kingdom of God,” in T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Leicester, England ; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 617.