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Sermon Text: Control or Kingship? Or, Mr. Bobhead 2020. November 20, 2016

November 21, 2016

This sermon was preached at Bach Cantata Vespers, Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL, on Christ the King Sunday.

“Control or Kingship? Or, Mr. Bobhead 2020”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Two Tuesdays ago was Election Day here at Grace. While we adults went to our various polling places, the students at Grace School cast their own votes in a mock election for President of the United States. As a parent, I was curious. After school, I asked our seven-year-old daughter, “Who did you vote for?” Proudly, she announced that she voted for Hillary Clinton. I posed the same question to our four-year-old son. His response? “Umm, that Johnson guy.” I was puzzled by the fact that he went the third-party route, but it dawned on me that a Libertarian platform might be especially attractive to a rambunctious boy who isn’t always crazy about being told what to do. Our youngest child is not yet of school age, but I asked him how he would have cast his vote. Torsten’s candidate of choice? His imaginary friend, Mr. Bobhead. I’m not familiar with Mr. Bobhead’s positions on the issues; perhaps our three-year-old son simply felt that an imaginary candidate was preferable to the actual options. But, of course, neither Secretary Clinton nor Governor Johnson nor Mr. Bobhead will be our next president; that honor goes to Donald Trump. This result elicited joy and celebration from some quarters, while many others responded by giving voice not only to their dismay, but also to their fears.
  1. What, then, is the Church to say during this time of transition and change in our government? Certainly, there have been answers formulated and offered. Some have spoken of God’s hand being at work here, bringing Mr. Trump to power through divine will and favor. Others, disappointed, have sought to remind us, simply, that “God is in control,” meaning, I suppose, that even though their candidate of choice did not win, God’s hand retains control. Frankly, I find both responses inadequate at best. God did not elect Donald Trump; we did that. But what about saying, “God is in control”? To be sure, I appreciate the impulse. God, after all, is God – and we are not. But there is faulty theology at work here, too. God has given the stewardship and care of creation over, in many ways, to us. As my old theology professor Gerhard Forde used to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Idolatry is making the mistake of thinking that it’s our job to do God’s work, while imagining that God is going to do the work that has been entrusted to us.” God, you see, is both in control and, at the same time, not in control, for God has called, chosen, and commanded us to maintain stewardship in this, the left-hand kingdom of this world.
  1. Johann Sebastian Bach had the opportunity to reflect on such things early in 1708, preparing a cantata, this cantata, on the occasion of the installation of a new town council in Muhlhausen. The primary scriptural text that shapes this cantata is Psalm 74, which, interestingly, does not extol the power of kings or earthly councils, but instead centers itself as plea to and praise of God, our king from old who is working salvation in the earth. God is my king. Gott ist mein konig. And that is a very different sort of statement, of confession, than saying that God is in control.
  1. God is king. This confessional impulse of the psalmist has been given new shape, new meaning, in the reign of Jesus Christ, celebrated on this Christ the King Sunday. The appointed gospel for this morning reminded us of the way in which Jesus is King. He, Jesus, is the One who held all power, who could claim equality with God, who yet willingly underwent humiliation and pain, who endured scoffing and mockery at the hands of the agents of empire, who let himself be put to death on a cross rather than replacing one oppressive regime with another that would surely become equally oppressive. It is precisely here, here on the bloody tree of Golgotha, that Jesus claims the kingship of this world, here that we see the rule and reign of Christ enacted. The cross was not accidental, not a shame to be overcome. The cross itself is the throne of God, the moment in which we finally behold the God with whom we have to reckon, the moment when the eye of faith beholds the way in which God in Christ as King will reckon with us. In his crucifixion, Jesus ushers in not a military revolt against political enemies but a declaration of love and grace for all humanity by enacting and declaring God’s victory against sin, death, and the devil. The theologian N.T. Wright writes, “Without the cross, the satanic rule remains in place. That is why the cross is, for all four gospels the ultimate messianic task, the last battle. The evangelists do not suppose that the cross is a defeat, with the resurrection as the surprising overtime victory. The point of the resurrection is that it is the immediate result of the fact that the victory has already been won. Sin has been dealt with. The ‘accuser’ has nothing more to say. The creator can now launch his new creation.”
  1. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God has launched the new creation. Through the power of the Spirit, the reality of God’s future, the graceful rule of God’s Kingdom, breaks into our present moment now. God, in Christ who was killed and who was raised, has overcome the powers of this world not through might, but by entering into human experience at precisely its lowest moment, our lowest moment: suffering, shame, and death. In the cross, Jesus overcomes sin and death from below; or, as the theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie says, Jesus has “undercome” these forces that would otherwise be our undoing. Our undoing has been undone. Realizing this, we discover the most amazing truth of all: We are free. Jesus Christ has reclaimed sovereignty for God, and this sovereignty does not shackle us into a new bondage but gifts us with a new freedom: freedom not to cower before a divine dictator but to willingly serve our King with glad and joyful hearts. To say that God is in control is to say that there is nothing for us to do. To confess, with hearts and lips, that God is King and that Jesus is Lord is to understand that we have been set free and, having been set free, we now have work to do as we strive to live out our baptismal identities for the sake of the world. Jesus has written the end of the story, enacted for us a Kingdom that cannot be wrenched or wrested from our hands. For the sake of this Kingdom, God has work for us to do, holy callings that give new shape to our existence.
  1. And what is this work, this call with which God has graced us? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers us a glimpse. We are called to live with eyes open, letting the light of God push out the darkness. We are reminded that, if Christ is King, we are subjects with a Lord and Master, and this Master is neither wealth nor power nor self. We are shown the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, clothed in grandeur and fed in abundance by God’s graceful will. We are freed from worry and called to live as children and servants of the Kingdom of God that is breaking into this world even today. Today. We are given today and freed to give all of our tomorrows into God’s hands. Today is enough for today. Today is the day into which we are called; called to love God and to love neighbor, called to work for justice and peace for all people, called to look beyond present circumstances, to behold and proclaim that the crucified Jesus is the Christ who reigns, Alpha and Omega, all in all, throughout eternity and right now.
  1. As servants of the Master, subjects of Christ the King, we are free. No matter who is king or president, no matter whether we voted for them or not. We are free, in fact called, to pray for them, as Paul reminded Timothy, in the hope that all people, all people, might lead lives that are quiet and peaceable, godly and dignified. But as we pray we also remember that no earthly ruler is our savior, for “there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.”
  1. There is work to do, for God in saving us has also gifted us and called us. Our baptismal vocation is no different than it was two Tuesdays ago, and no different than it will be two Tuesdays from now. We are the people of God, the Body of Christ, called to let our light so shine that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven as we proclaim, anticipate, and eagerly await the rule and reign of Jesus that will one day bring about a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever; so, too, does God’s call to us remain the same, no matter who takes power in Muhlhausen or Washington or anywhere else. And who knows? Maybe Mr. Bobhead will mount a surprising campaign in 2020. Even so, God will still be King. Jesus Christ will still be Lord. Our tomorrows belong to him and we have more than enough to do today to the glory of his name. Christ is your King. You are free; you are servants. Look to the cross and see the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom, the forgiveness of sin, the victory over evil, the triumph over death. Look to the cross, praising and serving the King of kings. Praise him. With holy, humble service and with faithful, fervent fanfare. Amen.

From → Sermons

One Comment
  1. LaNell Mahler Koenig permalink

    Your sermon was right on. I’m glad you printed it here because I have re-read it and had another chance to digest it. I especially resonated with paragraph two and your reference to some comments made about the election can go into the “poor theology” category. Thank you for preaching sound, solid and strong theology.

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