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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christ the King 11/24/2019

Christ the King Sunday has become yet another victim of political correctness as, at least in some circles, gender has been removed and the day is now referred to as Reign of Christ Sunday. Now I will confess that I’m not as sensitive as I probably should be to the concerns of those who are bothered by the use of masculine images and terms, but in this case I think that whatever you call it, something of what this day is supposed to be about is lost if the image of Christ as King isn’t raised. If it’s necessary to provide some explanation of why the term king is used, well…I think providing such explanation is at least part of the reason why people like me stand up here and do what we do every week.

You perhaps remember, because I remind you every year, that Christ the King Sunday is a relative newcomer to the church calendar, having been around less than a hundred years. It started in the Catholic Church in 1925 with Pope Pius XI but it wasn’t long before other denominations picked up on it. The intent though, back in 1925, was to remind people that in the midst of all the things that called for their attention and allegiance, for a Christian, the primary allegiance is always to Christ.

For Pope Pius in 1925 I think communist ideology was seen as the big concern but Christ the King Sunday isn’t about any one concern. The specifics are ever changing, but ideologies and activities that compete for our attention and allegiance are always out there. A lot of the time, in fact probably most of the time, they’re good things, but they can come to take up too large a place in our life so that things get out of perspective. Because of that, whether it’s called Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, it’s useful to have a day on which a primary focus is try to look honestly at those things and at those allegiances that each of us has allowed to get out of perspective causing us to lose focus on Christ as our king.

It’s hard though. It’s easy to look at other people and identify the ways they have things out of perspective, much harder to look at ourselves. So I’m not going to make like the Apostle Paul and offer you a laundry list of things that I think people have allowed to take precedence over their relationship with Christ. I’ll worry about me and leave you to think about yourself. What each of us has to picture though, is entering the throne room of Christ the King to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid, and in his presence being made to recognize and honestly acknowledge where our allegiances really lie.

I don’t know about you, but I could only do that with great fear and trembling knowing that I would stand accused, except…on Christ the King Sunday the texts don’t give us images of an angry king who sits in judgment. In Christ we find a different kind of king and that too is something we want to think about.

Every year, the Christ the King gospel readings take us back either to Jesus’ crucifixion or to his trial before Pilate, both being times when Jesus is at his most vulnerable, certainly not a king in any of the ways that we usually think about kings as those ways most likely have to do with power. The gospel readings do help us to get at the different way that Christ is king, but what I’m drawn to today is the shepherd imagery in the first reading from Jeremiah.

Having used the semi-continuous Old Testament readings this year there has been a lot of Jeremiah, much of it words of warning about punishment and exile because of the unfaithfulness of the people. That tone continues in today’s verses except this time the warning isn’t directed at all the people; today the target is more specific being directed at the shepherds, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord, and of course Jeremiah and the Lord aren’t talking about actual shepherds and sheep. The shepherds in this text are the leaders, the kings and the sheep are those people who have been entrusted to their care but who they have failed to protect.

With this reading from Jeremiah then, we start this Christ the King Sunday with an image of bad kings but then bad kings are pretty much the norm in the Bible. Most frequently they are portrayed as fearful and paranoid even of their own people, frightened of and wanting to eliminate anyone perceived as a threat. Think of Pharaoh in the Old Testament and Herod in the New. In both testaments kings tend to be thin skinned, impulsive and vengeful. Even the best of the biblical kings, like David and Solomon are deeply flawed often ruling in self serving ways in order to remain in power. Things haven’t changed very much have they, in this age where the primary goal of many politicians seems to have more to do with staying in power than it does about serving the people?

Anyway, to the shepherds who have destroyed and scattered the sheep, the Lord says, “Woe to you. You have not attended to them, so I will attend to you,” not words that anyone wants to hear from the mouth of the Lord until that is, until one realizes that what is envisioned here is not the unleashing of the wrath of God. Instead, this “attending to” is a promise of new life from a new kind of shepherd, a new kind of king.

What we get here is God as the shepherd, the shepherd who will gather the remnant of the flock. In other words, when the shepherds have failed to be the leaders they have been called to be, the Lord will intervene and go about the work, not of punishing, but of gathering. It is this shepherd, this king in whom we are to place our trust, this king who we find revealed in Jesus.

On Christ the King Sunday, 2019, the word remnant gets my attention: “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” The dictionary defines remnant as “a small remaining quantity of something.” Other words that might come to mind are leftovers or scraps. At the time of Jeremiah, the remnant referred to was more about survivors, those who had survived and remained faithful during the exile.

For those of us who continue to be involved in the church, remnant feels like an increasingly appropriate metaphor. I don’t think we’re leftovers or scraps. I don’t really feel like we’re survivors either; but we are a small, or at least a smaller, remaining quantity of something, that something being active church members. Obviously that becomes a source of anxiety as we wonder where it’s all headed. But then…but then we hear about this other remnant from another time, a remnant who would be fruitful and multiply who would not fear or be dismayed. We hear the promise of new shepherds and of a righteous branch who will reign as king and rule wisely. That’s the king that we appear before on Christ the King Sunday and it’s a king who is not just in the business of gathering remnants, but in using them to make something new.

That’s the thing about remnants; in the right hands they can become something new. The iconic parquet floor in the old Boston Garden, the floor on which I watched the Celtics play hundreds of times, I even played on it once myself, that floor was made during World War II out of oak board remnants when there was a wood shortage. Those who made it weren’t going for style points; the parquet design was a result of them doing what they had to do with what they had and out of remnants came what was probably the most recognizable basketball court in the world.

Closer to home, our quilting ladies make use of remnants all the time in doing what they do. Scraps of fabric that might otherwise be thrown away are incorporated into quilts that will help to keep somebody, somewhere, warm. Again though, something new and useful is made from remnants.

At this point in the history of the church we might feel like a remnant, but that’s OK. On this Christ the King Sunday we remember that we are in the hands of a God who works with remnants. It’s true that we don’t know where things are headed but we can be confident that the God who gathered a remnant of the flock and did something new back in the time of Jeremiah, that God is still active.

We may be a remnant, but as we end one church year and begin another, in the hands of Christ the King, we can move forward in confidence and in hope knowing that out of a faithful remnant, something new will emerge.

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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“Whoever
welcomes
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welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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