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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christ the King 11/25/2018

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. A few years ago I mentioned that insofar as it is the last Sunday of the church year, Christ the King Sunday seems like a day in search of a ritual that would set it apart and add more meaning to it. Endings do often have rituals that help to define things whether it’s graduations, funerals, retirement parties, things like that, but the church year doesn’t get any kind of send off; it just kind of ends. We’ll start the new church year next Sunday with a ritual, the lighting of the Advent wreath, but the old year just ends with barely even a whimper or a thud, it just ends. At the end of the sermon I did a few years ago I asked for suggestions of what we might do to change that…I’m still waiting.

So we still don’t have a ritual, but today, we do have a reading that I think is more appropriate than any reading we’ve ever had on Christ the King Sunday. When we’ve used the semi-continuous Old Testament readings in the past, I didn’t know there was one for this Sunday; I thought they ended the week before Christ the King. But no; there is a reading and it’s what’s known as David’s last words. Even without a ritual, hearing someone’s last words seems quite appropriate for the last Sunday of the church year!

On Christ the King Sunday it is also appropriate that those last words come from King David because in the imagination and memory of Israel he is the king above all others, a major figure in their remembered history. In addition to David’s status as Israel’s most beloved king, there is also the David/Jesus connection, with the Messiah understood to be part of the house and lineage of David and with Jesus frequently referred to as the Son of David.

Today’s verses actually serve as the closing bookend to the entire David narrative that really started with the song and praise of Hannah back in chapter 2 of First Samuel, verses that were used as last week’s psalm. Hannah’s song spoke of the power of the Lord’s anointed king and foreshadowed the anointing of David. Today’s text is introduced as “the oracle of David, the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel.” The logic of the lectionary isn’t always easy to figure out but last week and today it’s pretty clear. When a calendar year ends you look back and recall the events of the year and as this church year ends we look back and remember that David has been a central figure in our Old Testament readings for the past six months. We look back, but we also look forward to the promised Son of David, the long awaited ideal king who we know to be Jesus whose coming then and in the future, we anticipate during Advent. As was the case with last week’s readings, today’s readings begin to bring Advent into clearer focus.

You perhaps also remember that Christ the King Sunday is a relatively recent addition to the church calendar. It was introduced about 100 years ago as a reminder that among the many people, institutions, ideologies, powers and principalities that want our allegiance, as Christians our primary allegiance is to Christ who is king above all others. The final poetic words of David then are appropriate and are worth paying attention to as they describe the ideal king as well as the relationship of God to that king. The immediate context has to do with David but the words also apply to his descendents including Jesus who is Christ the King.

The bookended words of Hannah and David make three primary claims about kingship. First of all, kingship is established by God and is dependent on God’s choosing; in other words becoming king is not the result of human effort and achievement but instead comes out of God’s desire to do something new. Thinking about David we remember that he was and unlikely king, the shepherd boy, the youngest son of Jesse’s many sons, Jesse himself being of no particular significance. Equally insignificant was Bethlehem, the town of David and yet it was from there that David was anointed and became Israel’s most beloved king, victorious in many battles, uniting the kingdom and establishing Jerusalem as its capital. Again though, all this was not done by David’s own strength; it was because the Lord had exalted and anointed him, an act of God’s grace.

What that means is that for the people of Israel, the king was not seen as divine which was the case in other nations. For Israel, only God himself was divine and sovereign. The earthly king, even David ruled only by the grace and favor of God and was therefore answerable to God. It was a caution to those in power but also a caution to all people concerning the sovereignty of God, a reminder that their primary allegiance was to their God not to the king or the nation or even the religious establishment as important as those things might be. It’s a reminder similar to the one we get on Christ the King Sunday.

So…recognizing the sovereignty of God comes first when discussing the king. The second statement about kingship has to do with ruling justly and a beautifully poetic image is used to illustrate the significance of such rule. The one who rules justly is said to be “like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” For us it’s a refreshing image of spring in the midst of what has been a wintery November. In a place like Israel where rain and water are a precious resource, it is a welcome image of rain in the night and then morning sun that brings forth grass and grain and fruit from the earth. In both cases it is a gift of God and a source of joy and so is a good and just king or president whose rule isn’t about creating fear among his people but who rules in the fear of the Lord. Rain and sunshine and a just ruler are all about the promise of abundant and joyful life for all people.

That’s the second point; the final point made in these last words of David is about the relationship between God and the king. It’s about the everlasting covenant made by God with David: “He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.” They’re words that refer back to chapter 7 of Second Samuel when the Lord promised that, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” Similar words were also part of the psalm for today. We know that David was a deeply flawed character, sometimes a model of faithfulness but also capable of abusing his power and failing to be that morning sun that brings forth abundant life after the rain. But the covenant doesn’t depend on the faithfulness of David, only on the faithfulness of the Lord whose steadfast love is established forever; more words of grace.

Those are the final words of King David and they contain both responsibility and grace, law and gospel as we say in Lutheran circles. There is the expectation that God’s sovereignty is to be honored, his law is to be obeyed; but there’s also the promise of the unconditional covenant. It is an appropriate place to end the church year in that it serves as a reminder of who we are as people dependent on the grace and faithfulness of God, grace which is a free gift, but one that comes with responsibility. Reflecting back on the story of David though, we’re also reminded that even trusting in the grace and faithfulness of God and trusting that God is sovereign, life can still get complicated.

It wasn’t a straight line from David to Jesus as the promised Messiah. In the meantime the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, burned the Temple and took the last Davidic king into exile. The covenant seemed undone but the faithful, trusting that God was faithful and that the covenant was eternal continued to look to the future; they continued to wait in expectant hope for the promised Messiah. As Christians, we find that promise fulfilled in Jesus, the anointed one, the servant king who embodied the grace and favor of God for all people.

Our lives are not a straight line from blessing to blessing either. For any of us, life gets complicated, God can seem absent and the covenant can seem undone. On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus as the Messiah, on Easter we proclaim that He is Risen, today we proclaim that Christ is king, but sometimes the evidence can be in short supply. In faith though, we too trust in the faithfulness of God, we trust in the already but not yet of Jesus’ kingdom and we celebrate the moments that are like the sun rising on a cloudless morning gleaming from the rain on a grassy land, the moments when we know that Christ is king and the promises are eternal.

We end the year reminded again of God’s grace as revealed in and through Jesus which is exactly as it should be. When we celebrate Holy Communion in a few minutes we’ll physically participate in that grace. Maybe that tells us that this ritual that we use every week is enough, that it is the best ritual we have to mark the end of the church year.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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