Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 8th, 2017 by Joel Watts

Christ the King Sunday, 20 Nov 16 (Ravenswood, WV, Sermon)

I know this is late… If you want to hear it, click here to download it from Dropbox.

Every day is a day to preach the Gospel of the Jesus Christ. The Gospel, however, is not something you do — it is something that is proclaimed. In fact, the Gospel — meaning good news — is a victory shout given by a returning army when they had conquered their foes. The king, you see, would send this victory shout back to the capitol and it would tell the people that a feast was about to occur. Our Gospel, then, is the proclamation of the victory of our Great King over the powers of sin and darkness. The kingdom it is proclaimed to is the Church.

In 1977, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest who is in charge of renewal ministries spoke this prophecy:

Mourn and weep, for the body of my Son is broken. Mourn and weep, for the body of my Son is broken. “Come before me with sackcloth and ashes, come before me with tears and mourning, for the body of my Son is broken.

I would have made you one new man, but the body of my Son is broken. I would have made you a light on a mountaintop, a city glorious and splendorous that all the world would have seen, but the body of my Son is broken.

The light is dim. My people are scattered. The body of my Son is broken. Turn from the sins of your fathers.

Walk in the ways of my Son. Return to the plan of your Father, return to the purpose of your God. The body of my Son is broken.

The body of the Son is broken. We see that in Christianity, we see that in our denomination, and we see that among Christians who worship at the same house.

We have set this Sunday aside to proclaim Jesus Christ our king.

Our King! Our Great King.

But what sort of King has a kingdom so badly fractured? Perhaps he is no real king at all. Perhaps this Jesus whose birth we intend to celebrate in a few weeks, whose death redeemed us, and whose resurrection saves us is not a good king at all. Perhaps he is merely a figurehead of a bygone era. Indeed, in today’s world, “kings” are little more than ornaments on democracy’s breast. Our leaders are those we choose to rule over us, or the ones with the most guns. Kings? As Americans we can honestly say, “who needs them!?”

Yes, Scripture tells us God has given us to the Kingdom of his Son (Colossians .13), but do we even really believe Scripture anymore? In that same passage, we are told that in Jesus is the sum total of what it means to be God — the Godly essence. Here, the very one who can only be called God the Son is the exact image of the Cosmic King, God the Father. So what?

Why “so what?” … because in that same passage, St. Paul tells us that Jesus is the head of the body called the Church.

So What.

So what that he is the beginning, the firstborn of all creation, the delight of the Father, the savior of the world, the messiah, and the resurrected one.

So what.

What bothers me about this passage is that now because of all of this, St. Paul wants us to believe that Jesus must have first place in everything.

Everything.

We are commanded that exactly because Jesus is the Son of God that He alone must be king — because in him alone can reconciliation take place.

Yes, the body of the Son is broken because Jesus no longer has first place in everything.

In our lives.

In our country, our denomination, our faith.

What have we made king instead of Jesus?

The irony cannot be lost on us that so soon after Election Day in the United States, the Church Universal celebrates the Feast Day of Christ the King. Think about it. How many of us have replaced Jesus with the Government? The State? A political party? A politician? A Church leader? How many of us when we say no king but Jesus really mean “No king but Jesus unless our party or our person is in power? Then, we are lose, we save Jesus for another day. We got this.”

The body of Jesus is broken because have placed our faith in something else.

In Psalm 46, verse 10, the Psalmist shouts against the forces of human anxiety to say, “Let it be.” Maybe your translation says, “Stop fighting” or “Cease Striving.” The meaning is all the same. God is tired of us fighting battles that He has already fought.

Let it be, by God. We have broken the body of the Son and wrecked the kingdom because we have replaced Jesus with our own fight.

That’s right, fight. We like to fight. We like to debate. We like to struggle. That’s who we are — and that’s exactly who we are called not to be. When we replace Jesus with anything — even with a false Jesus, we take away the only King who is fighting for us. We have removed our refuge and our shield. Yes, as Martin Luther would say, a might fortress is our God, but we look at that fortress and say “it’s not enough. I got this!”

So guess what? We have to fight. We pick up our swords and turn them against the enemy.

As the line says, we have met the enemy and the enemy is us. Friends, more often than not, we aren’t fighting a great enemy on the outside, but one on the inside. St Paul says that we aren’t wrestling with flesh and blood, but against the prince of the air — against Satan. And guess where Satan likes to get?

Right next to you.

There is an angst, the despair, and anxiety found in our society. I see it on the faces of those I speak with every day, of my classmates, of friends and loved ones. Nothing is calming us and it seems that things are only getting worse out there. People are getting nasty. All you have to do is to post something on Facebook that is remotely political and someone, soon enough, will hate you for it, finding a way to blame you for all that is wrong in the world.

Think about our state. We have lost job after job after job and now those who promised to make it all better again are suddenly telling us that it probably won’t get any better anytime soon, if ever.

The United Methodist Church is rending itself apart, with complaints and charges filed even now against Bishops. We must win. And in doing that, we will surely lose.

Simply, there is a spirit out there that demands hate, demands anger, and demands division. It is causing us anxiety, and the more so as we continue to lose our voice in society.

When anyone is faced with losing some power or control, an anxiety sets in. When something new — like a major change — happens, anxiety happens. When we are forced to be something, to do something, to meet new situations, anxiety naturally occurs.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m speaking in the theological sense about anxiety — that Sunday morning sense wherein we have lost sight of Jesus in our Christian life, so that we have replaced the hope Jesus gives with anxiety. It is this anxiety as a theologian (Moltmann) said that makes us “small and mean.” It is this anxiety that makes us afraid of being out of power, of new things, of loving our neighbor.

Friends, I give to you this proposition: that power and control we thought was ours was Jesus’s all along. What we feel “slipping” away is really us trying to take it from the Lord. We have turned the fight, then, against not you and me, or them, or the other, but we now fight against Jesus for power and control.

Yes, the body of the Son is broken and His kingdom lays in ruins. Why? Is it because the King is defective?

Is it because the laws of the kingdom are bad?

Because the people are weak?

No. Rather, the kingdom of Christ lays fractured because we are strong.

Yes, that’s right. We are strong. But God does not call us to be strong. Rather, we are called to be like Christ — weak, humble. In Philippians 2, Christ in all of his humility gave up His throne to put on the flesh of a slave to serve one purpose — to die for you and me. As St John says, Jesus has overcome the world so that we don’t have to. Yet, we are too strong a people to let someone else fight our battles for us.

Sometimes, we even find battles to fight.

The reason the body of Christ is broken is because we have broken it because when we removed Jesus as our King.

Brothers and sisters, if you want this to continue, then fight and fight with all of your might. Because it will be your might, and not the might of the word of God.

But.

But if you want to truly see the kingdom of God and to commune with Jesus Christ our only true king, then surrender. Surrender to God and stop fighting. Stop running. Stop meddling.

Friends, this is the feast day of the one great king of the universe — not of Israel, not of the Christian faith, but the entire universe. We are supposed to be his kingdom and we will be glorified therein — even if we are no longer a part of it.

If we continue with our Christian anxiety, our fights, our struggles, then we will continue to have no king. We will continue to have true Christian unity held at bay.

The body of the Son is broken. Will you help bring it together or will you get a piece of it for yourself?

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I want to leave you now with what it looks like to have Christ as King, to simply, let it be.

In January, I had the chance to spend 11 days in Cuba. We got to visit numerous churches and church plants, spend time with the pastors, seminary students, and the Cuban Methodist people. These people live in conditions worse than the worse parts of our state. Many must skip meals. They don’t get the medicine they need. Some have lost children because the medical system is not what you’ve been told it is. Food is in short supply. The government watches them always. I was able to preach there one Sunday, but I was warned that there would be someone from the Cuban government there watching. In the airport, someone was there watching to see if we said anything negative.

Imagine that, if you will. Being a Christian in a place that persecutes Christians. Imagine having to watch what you say, what you preach, and what you teach.

I did not find anxiety among the Christians in Cuba. Rather, the Cuban Methodist Church is growing and they are strong. Why? Because their hope is in Christ the King.

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We stand in an awesome moment, one of anxiety to be sure but one of hope. It is one of testing of the American Christian Church and of you and me. It is one that will either finally pull us together or wipe our memory out.

Yes, the light is dim and the people are scattered. But we stand not in angst or despair or anxiety. Those of us who are willing to stand today and declare that Jesus is King and we have no king but Jesus will dwell in hope and where there is hope there will be unity and where they is unity there will be peace, not because of our strength and our endeavors but because we have truly declared and settled it in our hearts, that Jesus Christ is king.

The 8th century hymn, Be Thou My Vision, ends with this verse:

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Amen.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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