Homily, Listening to the Voice of Christ the King
Last Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29B),
Christ the King Sunday 2021
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ve finally made it. Here we are. Today is the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar before we start the story all over again next week, on the First Sunday of Advent, awaiting a child to be born. But here today, at the end of the story, we celebrate the Christ that has already been born, has already died, has already been raised from the dead, already ascended into heaven where he is now seated on a throne in glory. Today we celebrate the king who is over all creation. Today, we call Christ the King Sunday. And all of our Scripture readings this morning are about that heavenly kingdom.
And yet often in our lives it is not that kingdom which actually rules over us. There are many kingdoms which fight for our citizenship—many voices which fight for our attention. And we have to be careful about what and who we allow to rule over our lives.
In our gospel lesson for today we see this tension between competing kingdoms. On one side stands the kingdom of Rome, the kingdom represented here by Pilate who governed the land of Judea under the reign of Emperor Tiberius. It was the most powerful kingdom on the face of the planet up to that time, stretching its reach over Europe and into Asia, subjugating everyone in its path. It was a kingdom that preached peace to all who submitted to it, but crucified anyone that questioned it. And so we see this morning Pontius Pilate standing on behalf of that kingdom questioning Jesus.
Though the kingdom of Rome might be long gone today, I wonder if we can still recognize the kind of power it used in our own lives. In other words, are there things in our lives which subjugate us? Are there things in our lives which preach peace to us if we submit to them but crucify us if we go against them? I don’t mean literally, though there are many people in the world that do still face physical threats to their well-being by those who hold more power than they, some even in our community. But I mean on a more personal level. A more spiritual, emotional, psychological level. Are there things in our lives which rule us through subjugation? That drag us down? Perhaps things like broken relationships, or an addiction, or pride, or shame and negative self-talk? Are there harmful things which hold power of us? These, like Rome, are kingdoms in themselves. And often we submit ourselves to their brutal rule. So there we have the kingdom of Rome on one side.
And then on the other side stands the kingdom of Jesus, a kingdom subtle to the naked eye. A kingdom which Pilate completely overlooks so that Jesus has to explain to him, “my kingdom is not from here. It doesn’t work in the same way as your kingdom.” This kingdom also has a wide reach, in fact it permeates everything that exists, and yet it is not one which subjugates. It is not one which crucifies. Rather than holding power over its citizens as a threat, it empowers its citizens as a gift. Rather than oppressing anyone in its path, it liberates anyone it encounters. Rather than having a king who forces subjects to serve him, its king humbles himself to serve everyone. It’s a powerful kingdom, but in an entirely different way.
I wonder if we recognize that kind of power in our lives. When have we experienced moments of liberation and empowerment? When have we experienced moments of compassion and service? On a personal level when have we treated ourselves with humility and love rather than aggression and domination?
And so we have these two kingdoms. Each competing for our citizenship. Which will we allow to rule over our lives? Because, as Bob Dylan said, you’re gonna have to serve somebody. The question is “who?”.
I’d like to suggest the answer to that question is whosever voice we’re listening to. Whoever we give our attention to. That’s whose going to rule over our lives. That’s what determines which kingdom we belong to. Which voice within us are we listening to?
In our gospel passage this morning the Greek word for “voice”—“foné”—shows up two times. It shows up the first time in verb form as an action of Pilate, translated here as “summoned.” Pilate summoned Jesus to him and questioned him. In this context, the word carries connotations of power and position. Jesus is reduced to an object who is summoned into Pilate’s presence for whatever Pilate wishes. This is a voice which holds its power over others demanding subjugation.
The second time “foné” or “voice” shows up, is in the last verse when Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” It’s the same word, but here the word carries connotations of care. It’s the same phrase that Jesus uses in John 10 when he says “I am the Good Shepherd… [and the sheep] will listen to my voice.” This is a voice which holds its power below others, offering love and support.
And so we have these two voices, each representing their own kingdoms. And according to Jesus the ones who belong to his kingdom are those that listen to his voice. Those like the Samaritan woman who at the well found affirmation in Jesus’ voice, and like Mary and Martha who found comfort in Jesus’ words, and Lazarus who came out of the grave at his command. Like the disciples who found joy after the resurrection when he spoke to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus spoke to them, and they listened, and they became citizens of his kingdom of love.
And Jesus continues to speak to us today. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” he says.
There are many kingdoms summoning us. There are many voices demanding our allegiance. But there is only one kingdom that offers us life. And only one king that offers us love. And to be citizens of that kingdom, all we have to do is listen. All we have to do is listen to the king of love, to Christ the King. Amen.