Homily: Christ the King, Right Here and Right Now
Today we celebrate the end of the Church year. The church entitles it the Feast of Christ the King. Our readings compare Him to David the King, they tell us in the beautiful passagae from St Paul that with a gentle touch He rules over all. And then it portrays Him on the cross, the King of the Jews, and promising the Kingdom to the Good Thief.
The Kingdom of God, for all the hoopla, never seems to have become, except for the pageantry of the Church, which has both its proponents and detractors, never has seemed to be greater than the simple message of the Gospel. And that is one of the major reasons becoming part of the Church is such a ‘hard sell’. The Kingdom doesn’t promise you anything concrete, except Jesus as your Ruler and Lord.
We in this country seem to be obsessed with big things. In recent years people have made what could be described as pilgrimages to the Mall of America in Minnesota. Why? Is it because there is merchandise available there that can’t be found anywhere else? Is stuff cheaper there? No, but the Mall of America is the ‘biggest’ mall in the country; over 520 stores, employing over 12,000 people and attracting upwards of 42 million shoppers per year. This makes the Mall of America one of the most popular destinations in the country, receiving more visitors every year than Disney World, Graceland, and the Grand Canyon combined.
McDonalds and other fast food chains draw people in with the promise of being able to “Super Size” your meal. Seven-Eleven gives not just Slurpees but what they call “the Big Gulp,” one of the largest fountain drinks anywhere. Better yet, there is now a Super Big Gulp and most recently the Extreme Big Gulp served in a cup that looks like a NASA rocket booster and containing 54 ounces of soda and about 700 calories a cup.
SUVs keep getting bigger, and people assume (wrongly) that bigger means not just better but safer. Arnold Swartzenegger, the former governor of California, the state with the biggest pollution problem, drove a massive Hummer that got about 11 MPG and looked like an armored personnel carrier barreling down the highway. Meanwhile “bigger is better” is the slogan behind satellite networks as well. Buy the premium package with some satellite-TV networks and you can receive no less than 500 channels. Who cares if nothing is on any of those channels, you’ll never be bored again because it takes the entire evening just to surf through them all.
If you can put the prefix “mega-” in front of something, it is a good bet it will become hot. Megastore, Mega-plex, Megamall, Mega-channels, and yes, Mega-church – a nickname that identifies places that people assume they should check out because, if they’re that big, they must be successful and if they’re successful, they must be the best at whatever it is they do. This mentality infects our thinking so much that we end up feeling sorry for small businesses, for the tiny struggling church, for those who can afford only the modest-sized vehicle, the cracker box little house, the one-quarter carat diamond engagement ring.
And so, the focus of business, and also of churches, is growth. But you don’t grow things simply by hoping for the best. To grow the economy, to grow a business, to grow your ministry requires due diligence, savvy marketing, the investment of a lot of time and energy and capital. Success comes from hard work alone, failure from doing nothing. Or as one old adage has it, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.”
All of which makes Christianity a tough sell. At least that’s what the gospels tell us. If you gather together all of the parables of Jesus that had to do with the kingdom of God, generally speaking what you will discover are words to the effect that the kingdom, though the grandest, boldest, brightest reality of them all, will, nine times out of ten, look small.
The kingdom of God is over and again that small thing that all-but gets lost in the hubbub of the wider world. The kingdom isn’t advertised on some glitzy neon sign towering over Times Square but rather it’s the treasure buried in a field. It’s not an expensive jewel displayed under plate glass and bright lights at Saks Fifth Avenue but it is the pearl of great price that someone just happens to stumble upon in an unlikely place. The kingdom doesn’t call attention to itself like a marching band coming down the street with brass and drums blaring but is instead the yeast that disappears into the larger lump of dough, the tiniest of all seeds that vanishes almost the very moment it hits the soil.
The kingdom of God and the One who rules over it as the King of Kings really is the greatest thing ever. Jeremiah predicted it. We now live it. But as it was for the Israelites long ago, so for us: we sometimes feel underwhelmed unless we can have the Holy Spirit keep our spiritual vision sharp and clear.
Some while back I was in the school playground at recess and I witnessed something that we’ve all seen and even participated in at one time or another. In one corner four children between the ages of 6 and 8 were playing. And in the 45 seconds or so during which I could observe them, it was clear that one little girl was calling the shots. “OK, Billy, you stand over there and you have to watch for wild animals. Jill, you have to sit behind me and get me things when I need them. Eric, your job is to . . .” whatever. Again, we’ve seen this scene before. And we know what it means. In that little corner of that playground, this little girl was establishing her kingdom. And she was the kingdom’s Sovereign.
In his fine book ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, Dallas Willard claims that we all have our little kingdoms in life. A kingdom, Willard says, is any area of life where my will and my desires determine what happens and what does not happen. “A man’s house is his castle,” the old, rather sexist, adage says. And indeed, in our homes, at our places of work, we all have little spheres of influence, little patches of this earth where we make a kingdom for ourselves, where we try to arrange things so that what we say, what we think, what we believe determines the shape of life.
The kingdom of God is wherever we acknowledge God’s desires and God’s dreams for creation, and it is where we let God’s will and God’s intentions rule. The kingdom of God is where the shape of life is allowed to mirror God’s design for life.
You see, the Kingdom is real and it is real now. We can see it, right now, today. The kingdom is present wherever people pray the way Jesus taught us to pray. The kingdom is present wherever people allow Jesus to nurture their behaviors and lifestyles in ways that we would call the fruit of the Spirit. The kingdom is present wherever people pour water over the heads of babies or take bread and wine to their lips all simply because Jesus told us that this is the way we are to act in remembrance of Him. And by doing so, we accept the marvelous Kingdom of Peace and of Love that He tells us His reign can bring.
The kingdom is present wherever a believer somewhere refuses to go along with some scheme because they believe it is destructive or untruthful and because going along with it would make them less open to the Spirit of Jesus. Whenever and wherever a woman says no to abortion, whenever and wherever a college student refuses to participate in some binge-drinking party, whenever and wherever someone refuses to cut corners on their taxes, whenever and wherever a kindly old woman brings light into a neighbor’s darkness by speaking a word of peace, whenever and wherever a man sits down to tutor a homeless child, whenever and wherever a person says, “I will no longer accept war as the instrument of choice to solve human differences and to end human hatred, whenever and wherever a congressman stands up for right despite the pressures of his party to simply vote the party line, and whenever and wherever all such things are done because all these people believe there is a cosmic Lord named Jesus, then — there – right there and right here and right now–the kingdom of God is present because the effective will of Jesus is calling the shots.
When the Son of God came to this earth, he announced the arrival of the kingdom. It’s not pie-in-the-sky and far off in the future. It is now.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Thanks be to God, He has remembered each one of us as we are called to be his kingdom. Right now.