We Have a Problem With Authority: A Reflection on Christ The King Sunday

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, which, in terms of the Church calendar, is the culmination of the Easter season where Christ gave his life for the world on the cross and proved his victory over death in his resurrection, as well as the culmination of the day of Pentecost where Christ poured out his Spirit on the Church, equipping them to minister and share the good news of Easter with the whole world. This Sunday is a celebration of Christ as the world's one true and worthy king, who reigns in glory and is redeeming the world from sin and decay. This a celebration the Church is to live out in every aspect of their lives, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. I gave the sermon at my congregation, Epiphany Anglican Mission. What follows is an essay version of that sermon and the Scriptures quoted from the passages we read aloud together.

I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

… I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.                                   
+++From Ezekiel 34

There is something in our blood. Something we were born with. There are garments we have put on since our infancy that we have never taken off. There are glasses we have put on whose lenses through which we have been taught to understand the world.

The blood and garments and glasses all speak to us and tell us how to think, forever saying, “None shall rule over you. You are in charge of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. Live as you like. So long as you don’t hurt anyone, who are they to judge you.”
And we walk around with this in our heads. On repeat.

This is in our history. The blood and garments and glasses have all been passed down through the generations. There was once a time when we threw a king off our backs. We told him, “You shall not rule over us. You can be our peer, our equal, but not our master.” “Don’t tread on me,” we said. We are our own people and from that time we have been telling other peoples that they too should assert themselves, throw off their tyrant overlords, and truly become their own people. We have shown the world that we are individuals and we know how to express ourselves, that freedom is found in being your own person, in having no one to answer to, in making decisions for yourselves.

And yet for all the posturing for our “rights” and maintaining our way of life, we know something has never quite been right. Things were not right when we were being ruled over and things are not right even now as we are (supposedly) in charge of ourselves. 
Things are...just not right. 

Every time we seek out a leader to lead us, to inspire us, to change our course, be they a president, a pastor, a philosopher, or a parent, we are always shocked when they fail us, shocked when they fall or everything they promised falls apart or turns out to be a lie. Likewise, we continually find ourselves shocked whenever someone who has tried to succeed alone also fails, either imploding, thus destroying themselves or exploding, destroying others. 

Sometimes our leaders turn out to be absolute frauds or utterly corrupt criminals.
Sometimes they are unable to effect the changes we so hoped they would bring about and all that hope we put in them seems for naught.
Sometimes our leaders abuse us over the course of many years and even when they apologize it doesn't seem like enough.
Sometimes our leaders vacate their position right before we had the chance to fully bring them to justice, thus denying us the satisfaction of seeing them get their just due.

And sometimes, the leaders we thought were capable of accomplishing anything, who were impenetrable, and charismatic, strong beyond belief, turn out to be pathetically weak, confused, and fallible as we are.

The thing is, every moral failure should leave us incensed—for unless our hearts are utterly calloused how can we help but rise up against injustice or look upon those who have fallen with compassionate empathy that seeks their restoration. We are shocked each time because each time something within us cries out “The world should not be this way! It is not right!” And indeed it is not.

And what would you say if I told you we were not alone in this conviction? That there is one who has an even deeper call for justice, an even vaster capacity for compassion. What if humanity has not been abandoned to rule itself, either through oppressive tyranny or anarchic democracy? That there is one who made us who desires to both rule over us as the only just king and also dwell among us as a companion, one who truly knows our suffering? Is it possible there is another way?

There is only one way to know for sure and that is to throw off a tyrant of another kind, the tyrant of the self. To give oneself over to something else entirely and not succumbing to either of the polar yet twin idolatries of worshipping our mortal leaders or worshipping ourselves.

…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

                                                                                                              +++From Ephesians 1

You see, we have a problem with authority because we have a problem with authority.
We rebel because our leaders have not proved themselves worthy of following.  We deem ourselves leaders because we have not humbled ourselves enough to actually follow someone. Our problem with authority lies both in the corruption of our leaders’ hearts as well as in our own hearts. We humans either want to rebel against authority or become authorities ourselves and lord it over others. Rare is the leader who gives him or herself over to others, who serves without thought of their own good.

No, there is none righteous, no not one. There is none who seek God, no, not one. Neither the servant or the master.

And yet Christ the King comes to our world and proclaims: This is what it means to both rule and serve. This is what it means to execute justice and also show compassion. He judges, he rules, he commands, and he proclaims but it is right and it is gentle. He serves, he loves, he heals, he comforts, and he gives his life over for us but he does so as one with true authority. He shows his ultimate power by giving up his power. In laying down his life for all of us he proves he is the One True King.

No, there is none righteous, no not one. None except the One and this is a hard word for us to accept, for it means we must bow and allow ourselves to be ruled over. It means we have to trust that this new ruler is the one true Ruler.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
                                                                                                               +++From Matthew 25

And Christ himself makes it clear what kind of people we are to be if we are to claim him as our king. We too are to be the kind of people who give our power away. We are to look for the weak and hurting and sick among us and dwell with them and give them what they need to become whole again. And it is very clear why: for to show love for those the rest of the world has cast off is to love God himself. This is how true authority acts, how true leaders lead. It is a life of continually giving oneself for others. This is loving in the name of Christ our King.

Related Posts:
Reflections on the Death of Moses: Deuteronomy 24 and Psalm 90

I've been thinking of getting into politics: N.T. Wright's Understanding of the Kingdom of God 

Where is God When a Tornado Hits?

No comments: