In the church calendar, today is known as Christ the King, or Reign of Christ, Sunday. It marks the end of one church year, and the beginning of the next. How could we not talk of Kings, and Thrones, and what rules us, on Christ the King Sunday? Cable TV dramas are not generally a refuge for saints – and this one is no exception. I was going to show you a clip, but it was a little hard to find one safe to show in the sanctuary. The program is based on an epic fantasy spread across six books (and counting). It has its fair share of foul language, revealing dress, violence and blood and beheadings. In other words, this is not a series to be watching with your young children.
The premise of Game of Thrones is this: Centuries ago, one king conquered seven kingdoms, and his family ruled for centuries until a rebellion by feudal lords ended the dynasty. The leader of this rebellion became the new King. Years later, he dies of a wound taken in a hunting accident, and a new power struggle begins. His best friend and right-hand man – know as the “Hand of the King” asks too many pointed questions about the King’s heir, and finds himself accused of treason. (Those of you who are familiar with the series will know that I am guilty of gross oversimplification…forgive me) Things don’t end well – for his dedication to the realm and to finding out the truth, he loses his head. The kingdom fractures. For a time, nearly everyone is declaring himself a ruler: the dead King’s son, the dead Hand’s son, the King’s younger brother, the King’s elder brother, the dead Hand’s foster son’s iron-willed father…in the way of epic plotlines and dysfunctional families everywhere.
And these are just the players we know about! Everybody gets in on the action. At one point, a group is holed up for the night behind the gates of an abandoned town, when some soldiers ride up and bellow, “Open up in the name of the King!” The retort from inside the barricades is brief: “Which one?”
Like the characters in this series, we are constantly part of the Game of Thrones, whether we see it, or not. To which king do you owe your allegiance? For which ruler do you open the gates? To which ruler do you bend the knee? Today, of course, you can’t figure out which ruler someone follows by looking at what banners they carry, what device is on their shield, or whose Great Hall they feast in. Most of us don’t go through a ritual of offering our sword to someone and swearing fealty.
Maybe you already know who, or what rules you. But if you don’t, here are a few ways to figure it out:
- How do you commit your time? Consider, for a moment, what is the most frequent entry into your calendar. Pull out your smartphone or your pocket calendar if you need to, while I’m talking. Maybe you’ll find your ruler lurking within. How do you actually spend your time? Maybe your work schedule rules you, or the sports schedule or your overwhelming load of homework. When you have to choose between two conflicting activities, what wins? That one might just be the ruler you have chosen. There’s another place you can look to see what rules you. Take a peek – as scary as it is in this gift-giving season -- at your checkbook register or your credit card statement. Pull out your checkbook, if you need to, as we talk.
- How do you commit your financial resources? On what categories do you spend most of your money? Housing? Home decorating? Travel? Debt service? Groceries? Charity? Your smartphone bill? Eating out, theater or sports tickets, club memberships, hobby equipment? So, what rules your schedule, or your pocketbook, or, a third category…just in case you haven’t settled on one yet:
- What captures your attention? On what do you spend your emotional, psychological, spiritual energy? What do you obsess over when you can’t sleep at night, or think about when you lose your focus at work, or muse on when you’re stuck in traffic on the beltline? When you snuck away from family gatherings this weekend, what was it for – surreptitious glances at your phone for work emails or text messages? Taking a turn at Words with Friends?
We’ve heard of a ruler like that: One whose kingdom is not of this world. One who came to testify to the truth. One who lifts up the lowly, seeks the lost, embraces the outcast. One who honors you a title better than any this world could bestow: Beloved child of God. And an inheritance beyond all we could earn or merit: a home in the heart and household of God. We who have been baptized, we who seek to follow the prophet of Nazareth, we who believe that God came to live among us as one of us – and in ways that confound logic, overcomes even the power of death: we know who wins the Game of Thrones. We know who conquers the false rulers, who offers freedom from tyranny and despair and division and madness.
We call him, Lord. We know – at least a little bit – what his realm is supposed to look like. And we swear ourselves to it on a regular basis. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The words are all over scripture and Christian tradition, and sometimes they come without thinking, because they are familiar to us. We proclaim them week after week, day after day. We offer our allegiance to the carpenter, teacher, healer, son of Man, son of God, ruling over an upside-down Kingdom.
He tells us that his kingdom is not of this world. He shows us that the way is not easy. He asks us to set aside all other rulers -- Kings, Queens, habits, addictions, conveniences – for the sake of the Realm of God. On this last Sunday of the Christian year, when we celebrate the end and the beginning, when we celebrate the Sovereignty of God, we hear:
“Open up, you ancient gates, open up you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in!”
To what King do you owe your allegiance? For which ruler will you open the gates?
The Sovereign One is drawing near: “Open up, in the name of the King!”
A sermon for Christ the King, or Reign of Christ, Sunday
Text: John 18:33-38