Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King November 20, 2011

          On December 11, 1925 Pope Pius 11th ordered the last Sunday in October be the feast of Christ the King. In October 3 years before Benito Mussolini’s Fascists had seized control of the Italian government. The Fascists were political gangsters, determined to maintain order at the expense of justice. In June, 1924, they kidnapped and murdered Giacomo Matteotti, an opposition member of the Italian parliament. Fascist ideology moved Adolf Hitler to try to overthrow the government of Bavaria in November, 1923 In prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) published in early 1925. In November, 1925 Hitler formed his private army the SS. Fascism promised social order opposed to Communist social revolution. Both Fascism and Communism were totalitarian ideologies, incompatible with Christian faith.

          Proclaiming a feast of Christ the King was a political act. The Christian world view that “Jesus is Lord.” Because Jesus is Lord the early church refused to burn incense to the Roman Emperor as a god and took the consequence of martyrdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor joined the plot to kill Hitler. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador opposed the civil war in that country and was machine-gunned at the altar. Ten years ago the Rev. Emmanuel Allah Ditta, priest of the Church of Pakistan at Bahawalpur in the Punjab, 14 parishioners and the Muslim guard were murdered when a gunman broke in at the end of the church service and opened fire with an automatic rifle. In Iran, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani sits today in prison because he refuses to return to Islam. He was converted to faith in Jesus Christ over 10 years ago and arrested when he sought official recognition of the 400 member church he serves. Iranian courts say, “Once a Muslim, always a Muslim;” Pastor Nadarkhani says, “Jesus is Lord.”

          We are blessed to live in a country whose government power comes from the will of the people, not the barrel of a gun. Our civil government controls the military force. The stars and stripes represent “one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty is not absolute; human justice at best only approximates God’s perfect justice. But Christ our King calls us to know God and in each situation seek to do his “service which is perfect freedom.”

          In August 1925, the same year Pius 11th proclaimed the feast of Christ the King in the face of European fascist and communist totalitarianism some 40,000 white sheeted unmasked members of the Ku Klux Klan marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. The Klan is seen as southern, but these American fascists came from the upper Midwest and other parts of the North. My father said that when he was a boy in Chester, PA, the Klan was strong in southern New Jersey – just across the Delaware River. The people of this land soon saw this Klan as gangsters and turned against them and the social system they espoused.

          We’ve made some progress toward what we proclaim in the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all,”  and we have a ways to go in ordering our common life for our common good. First Timothy chapter 2 commands us to pray “for kings and for all in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable lives.” Here “we the people” are the final authority. Prayer includes action, so it is a religious as well as a civic duty to vote.

          Our church historically supports the good work of government. The separate identity of the Church of England comes from popular and government opposition to what was seen as unjust and tyrannical rule from Rome. From the 16th to the 18th century the Church of England in America supported royal authority. Many of the early Patriots were Episcopalians, and the Episcopal Church reorganized after the Revolution supported public order and government.

          Our call is to engage in the life of the community, not to withdraw to attempt to create something better. We proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that Christ is King, and we try to show that Lordship and that Kingship in our own lives, in the lives of our families, our work places, and our common political life.

          We all will face the final judgment of God. Both Ezekiel and the Gospel reading bear witness to that judgment. That judgment is real; that judgment is final, and that judgment is finally just and true.

       We all stand condemned. We have not, as individuals, as church, as nation, adequately fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, nor visited the prisoners. We’ve all done something, but “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done,” and there is no health in us.

       But the good news of our salvation is that Jesus our Lord, Christ our King, was content to die for us to take away from us and from all who will claim his sacrifice the penalty of our judgment. By his resurrection he gives us day by day a new opportunity to love and serve him. On this Feast of Christ the King, a feast established in the conflict of Christian faith and totalitarian values, let us recommit ourselves to love and serve Jesus, our Lord and our King, this day and every day that is given to us. Amen.

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