We tell the story of Jesus as we move through the Christian year. Today is the last Sunday of this liturgical year.
We call it “Christ the King” Sunday. Both of our scripture readings have reference to or an image of Jesus as King.
Jeremiah prophesies that a king in the style of David will come someday. At Jesus’s crucifixion, a sign above his head read “King of the Jews.”
I will say a little more about that in a moment.
The Christian year is composed of six seasons
beginning with Advent, which will be next week.
The seasons reenact the life of Jesus from his birth in Advent and Christmas, through his teaching and healing work in Epiphany, his death and resurrection in Lent and Easter, and the growth of the Christian church, even to its’ work in the world today in the season after Pentecost.
You might say it’s a way to keep time with the work of God in mind.
Just as in your life certain days stand out from others, so it is with the big Christian story.
The Christian year came about over the years.
People celebrated his birth year after year,
and they observed his suffering, death and resurrection year after year.
They remembered the beginning of the church.
As the seasons came to be each had something to celebrate. Each season can be part of our spiritual formation.
But for many people throughout history
holidays were a diversion in the struggles of life.
Holidays were like markers on the road of time,
especially before time and day were at our fingertips.
One writer suggested they are life’s rhythm makers.
We move from expectation to realization,
from searching within to reaching out, from contemplation to action, to use Richard Rohr’s words.
Repeating the stories of our faith keeps the tradition alive. And in telling them we nourish the roots of our faith.
We kind of draw together our lives and affirm our common humanity when we share them.
When the take the Christian year and its journey seriously, it give insight into our own personal journeys.>
So, here we are encountering “Christ the King” Sunday once again.
What does it have for us?
Jeremiah tells the people that the Lord will raise up a king from the line of David - a king who will bring justice and righteousness in the land. Judah and Israel will be safe.
And from the gospel, at the crucifixion an inscription above Jesus’ head that says “King of the Jews.”
So, to consider what is here for us today, let’s move from these images in scripture, and think about how he is king for us - what it might mean now.
In ancient times where this took place, the king, Caesar, was considered the “son of God.”
So there was precedent for God and King
to be one and the same.
King was a name that indicated the final and central authority.
And yet, he was not the kind of king the Jews wanted. He was not the Messiah, the anointed one, for whom they waited.
Jeremiah’s prophecy was either wrong or not yet.
And the sign above his head as he died was a mocking sign.
And, for us to think about Jesus as king, is to use the language of that time and place.
Even so, there was a power to the person and the events that has never been repeated in human history.
Jesus stimulated an expansion of awareness
2,000 years ago that will see no end. No individual has had more influence on human events than Jesus of Nazareth.
So, we want to translate (reconnect may be a better word) with an earlier meaning about his place within our hearts all these years later.
The question now might be worded better
if we ask, “What is to call ourselves Christian?”
That is the more important question to me now.
What is at the heart of being Christian?
Marcus Borg said something about this.
I want to share some of his thoughts
and some of my own.
Christians often talk about believing.
The language of believing has been part of being Christian since the first century.
But, believing what?
Believing back in those early years - and this is what you want to take home with you today - meant something different than it does now.
Believing back in those early years meant something like the English word beloving.
To believe in God, or to believe in Jesus, was to belove God, to belove Jesus.
Belove meant to commit one’s self to a relationship of attentiveness and faithfulness.
Fidelity and commitment are the ancient meanings of faith and believing.
This understanding is reflected in the two most frequently heard Christian creeds ->
the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
You see, we look at them through the mindset
of the Enlightenment and the age of reason forward - the age when the scientific method influenced even the church - not as the words were used in ancient times.
Both these creeds begin with the Latin word credo, which is usually translated into English as “I believe.”
But the Latin roots of credo mean, “I give my heart to.”
Both creeds have a list of central convictions.
But saying the creed does not mean, “I believe the following affirmations to be literally true.”
Rather, it means, “I give my heart to God.”
And who is that - the creator of heaven and earth, of all that is. I give my heart to Jesus.
I give my heart to God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.
St. Ambrose, in the 300’s, said that the creed is
our heart's meditation and the treasure of our soul.
It was not about a literal historic happening.
During the 1500’s and 1600’s, the time in history
we call the Reformation and the Enlightenment,
believing became important in another way.
People began to think real answers had to come
from rational thinking, more like scientific thinking.
This led to the idea that believing or not believing
was about historical accuracy.
It was “yes/no” or “black/white,” very dualistic.
You needed to believe the right things.
That made for being Christian for a long time.
But, there was a problem with that.
Believing the right things does not necessarily
lead to a changed or inspired, or enlightened life.
You can have strongly held beliefs, and still be fearful, self-preoccupied, and terribly narcissistic.
You can have strongly held beliefs, and still be angry, judgmental, mean, and violent.
Christian history and the history of other religions
give us many examples of this.
Think about it. Believing has little transformative power.
So, you see where we are going with this.
Being Christian is not about “right beliefs.”
It’s about a change of heart.
It’s about something inside that shapes your vision - how you see the world around your, and one another.
It’s about how something inside us shapes our vision - and our loyalties and our values.
So, what does lie at the center of being Christian:
The first might be “a yearning for God.”
Augustine, over 1,600 years ago wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their home in God.
This statement does not reflect belief as much as it does be-loving.
It expresses yearning and passion.
At the center of being Christian is a yearning for God.
The second thing at the center of being Christian is “a passion for Jesus.”
Jesus is the decisive revelation of God for Christians. Jesus discloses the character and passion of God in human life.
The Jews find the decisive revelation of God in the Torah, Muslims in the Koran. We find it in Jesus – in a person, more so than a book.
A third thing that seems to be at the center of being Christian is compassion.
Compassion is central to a life centered in God
and known in Jesus.
Jesus said, “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36)
Compassion and love in the Bible mean the same thing.
But, compassion is related to the womb, God is womb-like, willing your well-being, and the well-being of creation, sometimes becoming fierce when your well-being, and the well-being of creation is threatened.
Compassion is not just a feeling. It is also an action.
A fourth thing at the center of being Christian is
a passion for the transformation of the world -
participating in God’s passion for a world
where justice happens, where peace can flourish -
participating in God’s dream is of these things.
We are not talking punitive justice or criminal justice but fair distribution of God’s earth.
Everyone needs the material necessities of life,
not simply through charity, but as part of the social system.
For the earth belongs to God (Psalm 24).
It is about economics.
Compassion is always social.
A Christian is captivated by these passions, writes Borg.
It’s not about beliefs.
You can believe God created the earth in seven days. You can believe God sent his son to die
on the cross for our sins - and not give a damn about other humans beings, and animals, and plants, and the earth itself - or even your own ability to grow in love as you live your life.
No, it is a commitment to the compassion of God
and a willingness to live our lives in service to it.
When we think of Christ as King on this final Sunday
of the Christian year,
it’s not about “believing”
but “beloving” as the ancients did.
“Our hearts our restless
until they find their home in God.”
That is the thing to take home today.
This is where my heart goes this “Christ the King Sunday.”
This is why I bring it to you today.