It’s (Not) Good to be the King! (Christ the King Sunday)
Sermons on YouTube…
Many of you may be familiar with Mel Brooks movies, but if you’re not, they’re all spoofs and satires, in which Mel Brooks, the director, always makes an appearance as one of the actors.
And as I was getting ready for the Holy Land Trip a couple of months ago, I was remembering a couple of good lines from some Mel Brooks movies that seemed appropriate to the trip (and probably annoying people to whom I was quoting those lines!) including, “We’re off on the road to Judea”…!
But one of the great lines that Mel Brooks wrote for himself is during “History of the World, Part 1″, in which he plays one of the French King Louis’. Surrounded by opulence and power and everything else we consider decadent, Mel Brooks turns to the camera and says, “It’s good to be the king!”…
“It’s good to be the king!” And that’s usually the way it seems to most of us. Possibly because we don’t know any kings or royalty personally, we usually imagine that kings are people who enjoy unlimited:
- Power.. (they can do anything they want; and if you can’t why bothering being the king…?)
- Wealth… (they never run out of money, or ideas on which to spend the money…)
- Popularity… (or at least, people at least have to pretend to like and respect them…)
Yet, if you’ve studied even a little bit of history, it quickly becomes apparent that for most kings, it wasn’t like that, at least not all of the time. In fact, although many kings did indeed enjoy power and wealth, it’s also the case that kings were very often:
- the target of assassinations and plots… (and sometimes with good reason; Herod the Great knew he was despised and was constantly worried that people were out to get him…)
- despised… (often because of the way they exercised great power and demanded obedience…)
- ran out of money… (which often added to people despising them and plotting against them…)
So in reality, it usually wasn’t so good to be the king! That certainly was often the case for the kings in Israel and Judah. Very often, the kings (even the good ones) had a hard time. And while some were wealthy and powerful, they still had a tough job not only because of the peoples’ expectations, but because of God’s expectations. For in the beginning, there were no kings in Israel. In fact, God advised against it…
But when God did agree to allow kings, it was with the condition that the king would be:
- accountable to God – the king had to be about the business of God’s vision for the people, not his own agenda…
- an example to the people – the rules applied double to him…!
- willing to sacrifice himself for the people – the king shared in the people’s fate, and was responsible for defending them from their enemies…
Now of course, the Old Testament tells us about lots of kings who DIDN’T do this. The phrase, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” is perhaps one of the most common descriptions of kings in the Old Testament. But nevertheless, these were the things God expected of kings. And so it was often manifestly NOT good to be the king.
And certainly, it wasn’t great for Jesus when he was called a king. In fact, the title “king” is rarely applied to Jesus, except in his trial and crucifixion… (being called a “king” was one of those things for which you could be crucified)…
Yet, even then, Jesus doesn’t
reject the title out of hand. A few verses before today’s reading, Pilate asks
Jesus if he is a king. Jesus replies by saying, “You say so”, which is an odd
response but not a rejection of the title.
It’s just that the title “king” means something different to Jesus, because it means something different to God.
And in the end, Jesus isn’t the kind of king we usually imagine. But he is the kind of king God has always wanted.
For from the throne of the cross, Jesus reigns as a king who:
- actually does God’s will – even in his dying, Jesus is going about the work of saving people like the penitent criminal (Jesus is focused on what God wants instead of what he wants…)
- is an example of God’s patience and mercy – “Father, forgive them”, instead of “Father, zap them for this!”…
- is finally willing to sacrifice himself for his people – Jesus bears the guilt of our own sin, anger and selfishness, rather than making us pay him, as most kings do when the cost is high…
Jesus doesn’t reject the title of king, because in Jesus, God himself becomes the king who does what he’d asked his kings to do for centuries.
But that also raises the question of how we live as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. To proclaim Christ as king isn’t just about saying, “isn’t it great that Jesus loves us like a good king?” Instead, it’s also about hearing our call to be people who are committed, like Jesus our king, to:
- doing God’s will – even if we think we have limited time or resources …
- sharing God’s love and mercy – like Jesus, seeking good even for those who don’t like us…
- showing God’s love – by living, like Jesus, in a way that shows that real love isn’t a mushy feeling, but about sacrificing my own agenda and comfort for the sake of somebody else…
Those are really not things that happen very often in our world today. But as followers of Jesus our king, when we’re willing to live into the kingdom by doing as Jesus did, we open ourselves to being God’s instruments of good in a world that desperately needs some good news right now. When we’re willing to live into the kingdom by doing as Jesus did, we give the world a taste of a God who cares even for people who don’t care about God. And when we’re willing to live into the kingdom by doing as Jesus did, we show that God’s love isn’t a concept or a feeling, but a real and tangible reality in the lives of people who need it.