A Gentle and Humble King

Passage: Matthew 11:28-30
Date: November 26, 2017
Preacher: Rev. Chris Murphy
Guest Preacher:

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Will you pray with me? Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for being a gentle and humble king, a king that we willingly choose to follow because you are good and loving and worthy of our worship. In the name of Christ, AMEN.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is a day in our church calendar where we remember as Christians that we follow Christ, who is Lord over all the world. This celebration was introduced to our church calendar in 1925. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in that year for the universal church in response to the growing secularism of Europe. At that time in world history, many dictators were rising up and challenging the authority of the Church. This day sought to remind nations that the Church must have freedom outside of state control, that leaders should humble themselves before Christ, and that Christians should invite Christ to reign in their hearts, minds, wills, and bodies. (Quas Primas, 33.)

In our global society today, I wonder if Christ the King Sunday is needed more than ever. We need a king that contrasts with some of our political leaders that appear to be driven more by ego, pride, and power than by gentleness and humility.

I still remember my first exposure to the idea of royalty. My first, real-life encounter with kings and queens, princes and princesses came in 1981, when I was ten years old. During November of that year, my family traveled to the British Isles as part of a Whitworth College study tour. My dad’s job at the time was Whitworth’s professor for European history, so he was able to lead a group of college students through England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. As members of his family, my mom, sister, and I got to tag along and experience the British Isles first hand. I remember being amazed by Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace where the queen of England lived. Earlier in 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana married, so England was excited about their new royal couple. I loved the rich history and the beautiful palaces and cathedrals of that country. I have to admit I also remember having a slight crush on Princess Diana.

As an aside, one of my favorite parts of our trip included having a special Thanksgiving celebration at the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland. This community focuses on peace and reconciliation and particularly on building bridges of understanding between Catholics and Protestants. The community hosted our group and made us a special North American-style Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, they did not have any pumpkins, so they made the pumpkin pie out of carrots. It actually tasted similar to pumpkin pie, just a little crunchier.

It has been many years since my first visit to the British Isles, but I continue to join our popular culture in being intrigued by royalty. I sometimes watch the latest television shows that give us insight into the historical lives of kings and queens. Maybe you have heard of the show Reign (R E I G N), which explores the life of Mary Queen of Scots, or a few years ago, there was the show The Tudors that looked at Henry the VIII. More recently, we have the television series The Crown that explores the early days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The most popular television show currently, Game of Thrones, is about a fictional kingdom, but the fantasy world is full of the violence and political tension that we see in our current political climate. Our current society might not have fire-breathing dragons like Game of Thrones, but we do have weapons of warfare that create fear.

As a father of two girls, I must also remind us that there are plenty of Disney movies and shows for children that explore royalty. Who can forget recent popular movies like Pocahontas, Mulan, Tangled, Brave, or Frozen. Our family will likely not forget these movies, since we have watched them fifty times. Remember the days before Netflix and Amazon, when you watched movies once or twice? Never again.

In the midst of the powerful images of royalty or political leadership from our current world or those from popular culture, I want us to explore the uniqueness of Christ the King. How is Jesus different than what we might normally think of when we think of royalty?

Before we explore this topic more, I want to mention that I am aware that for some Christians, the image of Jesus Christ as King supports a prevailing view of God as male and patriarchal. There may be a desire to let go of these royal images attributed to God and to choose images that are less violent or traditionally masculine in nature. Maybe Jesus as King feels too archaic a term for our modern ears. Let me say that I do very much think our images for God are often too male and frankly are also too white. Christian spirituality and theology thankfully provide for us wonderful ways to imagine God as female, such as God as mother.Viewing God as mother or as the feminine personification of wisdom is quite Biblical and a good way to imagine God as female, but today I want to stay with the male image of God as Christ the King, largely because we need to remember that Jesus Christ represents a more nurturing image of God and of male leadership in general. One day I promise to preach a full sermon that explores female images of God, but that will be for another day.

In our Scripture passage, Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30) If you are like me, you are feeling weary and burdened by the state of our world. You are tired of cancer and other sicknesses. You are struggling to find hope when every week you hear of another mass shooting that takes the lives of innocent people in schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, malls, and concerts. Some days you probably prefer to put the covers over your head and continue sleeping. Thankfully Jesus wishes to offer us rest, but he offers a type of rest that will ultimately rejuvenate us so that we can eventually get out of bed and be part of the movement to bring hope and love to our world.

Jesus wants to let us know that he is a king that is gentle and humble in heart and that his yoke is easy. The image of yoke in this passage comes from farming. A yoke was a piece of wood placed onto oxen to help them pull something. When Jesus says his yoke is easy, he is contrasting himself with some of the Pharisees of his time, who put burdens onto the people through rules and regulations that Jesus felt were contrary to the heart of God. Jesus wants his followers to understand that living under his kingdom rule or reign is not burdensome but freeing.

When you imagine Christ as King, do you imagine a God who is powerful but also judgmental and angry, or do you imagine a humble king who washes your feet or gives you a hug when you are tired and weary? Our images for God are so important.

Some of you know that I am currently working on my Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Direction through Fuller Seminary. As part of this program, I am studying about the kingdom of God or the reign of Christ in our world. Recently I started reading a book by James Bryan Smith called The Good and Beautiful Life. In this book, he explains that the kingdom of God is best understood as an interactive relationship with God. God is in relationship with the whole of the universe—the entire creation.

Usually when people talk about the kingdom of God, they reflect on the future kingdom when we will live for eternity with Christ in heaven, but I agree with Smith that the primary message of the kingdom of God is that we can have a personal relationship with Christ in the present time. To follow Christ the King is to enter a way of life where we enjoy deep intimacy and rest in Christ and through the love and grace of God we join with Christ in doing actions of love and justice in our world. The kingdom of God represents the here and now, not just the future. The kingdom of God is a life-giving love relationship with a God who is gentle and humble in heart and wishes to give you rest. Did you know that many scholars believe that the topic of the kingdom of God was Jesus’ primary message to his followers? In the gospels, there are close to 100 verses that address Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom, and the Apostle Paul spoke of the kingdom at least 14 times. One example of Jesus mentioning the kingdom is when he teaches his disciples to pray by saying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The world is certainly filled with grief and pain, but the world is also full of kindness, grace, and love. I still feel there is more good than evil in the world, more love than hate, more hope than despair. I owe this to God’s presence of love active in the world through the whole of creation and especially through the goodness of humanity. I believe human beings are at the core good. The light of Christ is in every person you see, and I believe all human beings are also fallen—imperfect people in need of grace.

I wonder where you see the presence of Christ the King in our world? Or, if you prefer, where do you see the kingdom of God? I see the living Christ in the love of my wife, Karen, and my daughters, Cate and Chiara, when they give me a hug after I get home from work. I see Christ the King in the compassion a nurse showed my mother in the hospital earlier this month after her successful surgery. I see Christ in the warmth of this congregation at memorial services where we remember loved ones who have passed away. I see the kingdom of God alive and active in Northeast Portland as neighbors greet each other on the streets or share the joy of conversation in our local restaurants. I see Christ when I notice one person who is homeless help another person who is homeless find shelter in a tent on the side of the freeway. I see the reign of Christ when a church seeks sanctuary for immigrants who are wrongly facing deportation. I see Christ’s presence in the movement of women and men who are choosing to speak out against sexual assault. I see the kingdom of God in the LGBTQIA community, as they educate everyone on the changing conversation about gender and what it means to be human and good. I see the kingdom of God active when people of different faiths, agnostics, atheists, people of different political parties, and people of all cultures and ethnicities choose to love one another without judgment.

Friends, the truth is even in the midst of a world in pain and in fear, Christ is alive and active in you, in me, and in so many others. We are invited to follow a gentle and humble king and to be activists for peace and love. Jesus says: “Come to me all who are weary, and you will find rest. Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” This is a message of hope and of grace for our hurried society that is often overwhelmed by the hardships we face.

I hope in this season of Thanksgiving and in our upcoming Advent season, we can embrace a gentle and humble king who chose to come as a gentle and vulnerable baby to a teenage couple. I hope we can glimpse a different image of God. Let us choose to follow Christ, not some of the leadership models in our world that are caught up in ego or judgment of others, but one who willingly gave up his life out of love. Let us join in the work of the kingdom, Christ’s present reign on earth.Hallelujah and AMEN.