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November, 22 2015

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (B)

Deacon Dave Shea, DMin

What is your image of a king? Just for a moment, close your eyes and paint a picture in your minds of a king. What does he look like? (Pause) In all likelihood, your king is wearing some sort of crown – something ornate and beautiful, made of gold and adorned with precious stones. He’s probably wearing some magnificent robe that flows to the floor and wears some large and ornate rings on his fingers. And he holds a scepter in his hand and he’s perched above everyone on a throne.

Whatever your image of a king, chances are you you’re not very impressed with them. We Americans rejected kings a long time ago. Oh, we’re still fascinated by the British Royal Family and we may gawk at the trappings of royalty, their incredible wealth and unimaginable lifestyles. We struggle to even imagine what it would be like to live in Buckingham Palace with all of its 775 rooms and 1,200 employees. But we just don’t resonate with royalty and kingship.

David Kalakaua (Kay la kie ah) was born in 1836 in Honolulu to the high chief Kahana and the high chiefess Analea. Right after his birth, he was adopted by a chiefess—that was the Hawaiian custom. He was educated at the prestigious Chiefs’ Children’s School where he became fluent in English. He studied law when he was only 16 and held various government positions. At the age of 23 he became a major on the King’s staff and he served in the Department of the Interior and was even appointed Postmaster.

When King Kamehameha died, David was 36 and he ran for the position. He got clobbered, but ran again just two years later. He defeated a popular queen and the citizens of Hawaii celebrated his victory by rioting in the streets. He called in American and British warships to quell the uprising and so began his reign as king.

He traveled around the world and dined with presidents and other leaders and negotiated trade deals and Hawaii prospered. David had a reputation as a lavish spender and he spent a fortune building the luxurious Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu. He did lots of lavish entertaining and became known as the “Merrie Monarch.”

King David Kalakaua (Kay la kie ah) reigned until he was 51 when American-born opponents forced him, under the threat of arms, to sign a new constitution. He was left as little more than a figurehead and died just four years later undergoing medical treatment in San Francisco.

Some ascend to the throne as a birthright. Others hope to become king and try to do all the right things to position themselves to pursue kingship. But however they get to the throne, so many of them have short reigns and others are deposed, exiled or assassinated.

Jesus of Nazareth’s reign had been foretold for thousands of years. Prophets spoke of him and generations waited and prayed for him. His birth in a small town was a non-event. The first to hear about him were nomadic shepherds squatting on a nearby hillside. As a mere infant, soldiers hunted him down to kill him. When his parents brought him to the Temple, according to Jewish custom, a sword was plunged into his mother’s heart when she was told that this son of hers would die on the gallows; that his life hung by a mere thin thread. He grew up in a little backwater town in the middle of nowhere and nothing was heard of him for decades.

At the age of 30, he first appeared in public. He preached about the Kingdom of God and he performed incredible miracles, touching, and healing and lifting-up the lowliest and sickest of society. He talked about mercy and forgiveness and showed people how to live a different life. He drew throngs of people wherever he went and he threatened the status quo not with force or coercion or intimidation, but with gentleness, compassion and love. Some thought he was this long-awaited messianic king and they expected him to mount a revolution, but they had it all wrong.

When the religious authorities had had enough of him, they had Jesus apprehended. He was convicted of blasphemy, and was beaten, mocked, and jeered, and except for a few faithful followers, he was abandoned. He died a humiliating criminal’s death enthroned on a cross; insufferable, repugnant and powerless. A sign was hung over his head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” “And what was intended as the last best insult became . . . a triumphant proclamation.”

Christ the King! It forces us to rethink everything we ever thought about kings. When he stood before Pilate and was asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” there was nothing about him that suggested he was a king—no regal attire, no attendants, no army; “no political alliances; no treaties negotiated; no victories on the battlefield.” Just this soft-spoken, disheveled, broken man. And he talked about his kingdom; that it wasn’t of this world. And Pilate couldn’t begin to grasp what he meant. What kind of kingdom has no territorial boundaries but encompasses the universe itself; has no time in history, but is eternal; is ruled not by power, intimidation and fear, but by love, holiness and peace. This kingdom is a world different from the one we know, a world that is torn, wounded, and scarred; a world of violence and fear. Christ’s kingdom is a complete transformation and transfiguration of the reality of all human beings and the way we think and the way we behave. It’s a kingdom we all want to be a part of.

And while Jesus says it does not belong to this world it doesn’t mean it can’t be found here. We experience this kingdom when we accept Christ as king; when we accept his values in our personal and public behavior; “when we conform our lives to live the way he lived.” When we love others, especially the lowliest and neediest. When that love becomes the very meaning of our lives, not to be trivialized, not the words of poetry or greeting cards, not a mushy sentiment, but a love acted out in the very essence of what God showed us in Christ. It is that love we exercise in this life in his kingdom here on earth and the love we carry with us to his kingdom in heaven for eternity. 

So, why are we here today? Is it because we said, “yes” to citizenship in his kingdom? Is it to honor Christ, the King of the Universe? Is that why we kneel before him in prayer and sing in praise? Is it why we chant “Amen?” Today, as we process forward to the sanctuary and bow in reverence to the King’s presence in a tiny wafer, spend a few minutes, “examining our manner of living and our attitudes toward others.” And if there is a gap between what we profess and the reality we live, then it’s a perfect time to recommit our lives to Christ, the King of the Universe.


References & Resources:

Bergant, Dianne with Richard Fragomeni. Preaching the New Lectionary, Year B. Collegeville: The Liturgical                                                          Press, 1999.

Buetow, Harold A. All Things Made New. New York: Alba House, 1996.

Buetow, Harold A. God Still Speaks: Listen! New York: Alba House, 1995.

Buetow, Harold A. Ode to Joy. New York: Alba House, 1997.

Siciliano, Jude, OP. “First Impressions: Preaching Reflections on Liturgical Year B.” http://www.preacherexchange.com/ .

Wallace, James A. with Robert P. Waznak and Guerric DeBona. Lift Up Your Hearts, “B” Cycle. New York: Paulist Press, 2006.

I also want to thank certain of my seminary students for their contributions to this homily—Michael Mazzei and Deacon Jeffrey Smith for their inspiration, images and words.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Claire Ballinger, the Public Services Librarian in our seminary library for her research on kings as a vital contribution to this homily.

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