This summer as I traveled in Norway, I wanted to capture the beauty around me. As I rode the train through the valley looking at huge mountains right beside me rising up out fjords with gorgeous waterfalls at every turn, it took my breath away. My cell phone camera snapped pictures again and again, trying in vain to capture the beauty. Not a photographer by nature, I wanted the whole picture – but my lens could only contain one small piece, one small perspective.
Today is “Christ the King” Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year before we lean into Advent. But for us who live in a country that deposed its king long ago, what perspective, what lens do we have to think about or even imagine Christ as “King”?
Teacher and theologian Delores Williams tells about Sunday mornings in her congregation in the south when the minister shouted out: "Who is Jesus?" The choir would respond in voices loud and strong: "King of kings and Lord Almighty" Again the preacher asked, “Who is Jesus?” This time a little woman, Miss Huff, in a voice so fragile and soft you could hardly hear, would sing her own answer, "Poor little Mary's boy.” The preacher asked again and again, "Who is Jesus?" Back and forth the choir would belt out “King of kings and Lord Almighty,” and Miss Huff would sing, “Poor little Mary's boy.” Delores explained, "It was the Black church doing theology."
Who is Jesus? "King of Kings" cannot be the answer without seeing "poor little Mary's boy" as a vulnerable God Incarnate, God with flesh on, who was crucified, bled and died for you.1
The images clash. One is big and powerful, the other small, poor and seemingly weak. But both tell the Biblical story. John’s Gospel begins with the mighty words, “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word Was GOD.” Luke’s Gospel begins with a baby born to a poor girl, Mary. The images do not align and yet we can’t even begin to answer the question “Who is Jesus?” without holding both images together.
Who is Jesus? Pilate wants to know. He specifically is interested in the claim that Jesus is the “king of the Jews” because he hears “King” as a political term and Pilate’s job is to suppress and kill anyone who has political aspirations. So Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate isn’t Jewish – but he knows that Jesus IS. As he says, “your own nation and chief priests handed you over to me.”
Unfortunately, in this lesson – and other parts of the Gospel of John --the term “the Jews” is used for the chief priests and their allies. This designation of “the Jews” has caused Christian pastors and church leaders to blame the death of Jesus upon Jewish people. This has been the cause or the excuse for anti-semitism. How soon we forget that “the Jews” are the Children of God, chosen by God to be God’s people!
Regarding the issue of being a “King,” listen to what Jesus – a Jew – says, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” He is being handed over to the religious authorities who then handed him over to Pilate, the political authority. Pilate is asking Jesus for his defense. But Jesus – King of Kings and Lord of Lords – does not call an army of a thousand angels to fight or call on his disciples to take up arms. Instead, Jesus, poor little Mary’s boy says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
The Truth takes on flesh in a little baby born to a poor young girl in a stable while angels sing GLORY. In the scope of creation and in looking at Jesus as both KING of KINGS and Poor little Mary’s boy - we have such a tiny viewfinder. It is impossible to take it all in. And yet… the lens that Jesus hands to us – his followers – is the one that he uses – the lens of love. Jesus looks at the world with the lens of love for God’s people. ALL of God’s people. Even when we act more like sinners than saints.
So how do we, as followers of Jesus, look at the world around us with the lens of love? It is not easy. But we can begin with prayer.
Last Sunday, as we lifted up in prayer the people of Paris who were grieving the loss of freedom and the injustice wrecked upon their lives from the terrorists, we also prayed for the people of Beirut and the people of Lebanon – who had also suffered losses from terrorists. And then we prayed for “the next place.” We did not have to wait long for “the next place.” One of the “next places” that terror struck was Mali. Terrorists stormed an upscale Radisson Blu hotel, and took over a hundred people hostage – only releasing those who could recite verses from the Koran.
It would be easy to point the finger at Islam. But just as the lens of bigotry and hate employed by the Nazis during WWII and the KKK here in the United States is the opposite of the lens of love that Jesus gives us as Christians, in the same way, the lens of hatred and violence displayed by the terrorists is not the lens of Islam. In Paris, faithful Muslims gathered to pray and to recite the verse from the Koran that states if you kill one innocent person, it is as if you are killing all of humanity. As Christians, we can pray with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
In addition to prayer, as followers of Jesus, we look to scripture to guide us.
Our Bible verse for this month is Micah 6:8: “O mortal, what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”
As we dwelt in this Word at council this past week, several council members lifted up the word “justice.” On a theoretical level, “doing justice” just sounds like the right thing to do. We can all agree – we want justice. But what is justice for Jamar Clark’s family? What is justice for the police officers who responded to a domestic abuse call? The call for justice soon becomes more complicated.
After Jamar was killed, Black Lives Matter and the NAACP led a peaceful protest. Most people were peaceful but not all. According to the NAACP, “The hard truth of the Minneapolis Black Lives Matter protests is that communities of color have no trust in their police force to give them justice.” Another said, "We want justice immediately."2
Everyone wants Justice. But justice – according to the rule of Law – takes time. And it can only mete out punishment and restitution. Legal justice does not restore life or hope.
One of my last stops in Norway was at the Vigeland sculpture garden. In 36 expressive, life size or larger sculptures, the artist, Gustav Vigland, captured human emotions and the relationships between fathers and sons, sisters, mentors and the most famous, one very angry little boy who looks about 4 years old. The story is told that Vigeland wanted to illustrate a child’s ire and so he gave a little boy an icecream cone – and then took it away. Imagine what that looks like. It’s quite expressive.3
But the sculpture is noteworthy for another reason as well. The angry boy has a golden hand. It wasn’t made that way - but so many people want to hold the little boy’s hand that the bronze has reacted to human touch – and has turned golden.
Jesus not only gives us the lens of love but also the ability to touch someone with love. Jesus’ lens of love allows us to reach out to those who are hurting – including our neighbors in Paris and Mali but also closer in North Minneapolis as well as your neighbors, your workplace, your household. It takes courage – and we need the gifts of prayer and scripture to guide us – but Jesus gave us the gift of love for our neighbor for a purpose. So love your neighbor – for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Christ the King Sunday
November 22, 2015
2 https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/hard-truth-minneapolis-black-lives-matter-protests-communities-color-have-no-trust. Article by By Jana Kooren, ACLU of Minnesota NOVEMBER 19, 2015 | 12:15 PM