Love. Freedom. Kingdom. (Christ the King, Year B)

Christ the King Sunday (Lectionary 34)
Revelation 1:4b-8
November 22, 2009

Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come.  Amen.

Love.  Freedom.  Kingdom.
If I were to read those words with a dramatic voice,
    they almost sound like the tag-line for a summer blockbuster movie
    about a fictional kingdom in the late medieval era.
You know, one of those gazillion dollar epic dramas,
    with amazing scenery and elaborate costumes,
    extremely dramatic music and actors who all have British accents, and, of course,
        several drawn-out, bloody, and gory battle scenes.

The main character, a royal prince involved in the fighting effort,
    will fall in love with an unlikely but quite attractive woman,
    perhaps even rejecting his kingdom's traditions for marrying a princess,
    but … but they won't actually get married. 
The hero will die valiantly in the film's final battle,
    a battle that his kingdom wins but in which he loses his life.
His bride then rises up in love for her fallen prince, and she ascends to the throne,
    presiding over a new era of freedom for her Kingdom.
It's a movie that we've all seen before, in one form or another.
I can hear the dramatic movie trailer voice now:
    Love.  Freedom.  Kingdom.  See it Friday in theaters everywhere.

Well, it ain't a movie.  But it is a tag-line of sorts …
Love.  Freedom.  Kingdom.
These are three words that appear in our second reading today from the Book of Revelation,
    a book of the Bible that is actually a letter of hope to seven early Christian churches,
    a book that describes a vision given to John of Patmos by Jesus Christ himself.
Take a listen:
    "To him who loves us,
    and freed us from our sins by his blood,
    and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father,
    to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen."
Did you notice how these words about Jesus are framed?
These words attempt to tell who Jesus is by describing what Jesus does.
    "To him who loves us, freed us, made us to be a kingdom …
    to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen."
This is how John opens this letter of hope to seven early Christian churches,
    churches located in what is today western Turkey.
This letter was written around the year 100,
    some 60-70 years after the resurrection of Christ.
At this time the church was still a small, struggling movement,
    suffering social and political oppression
    at the hands of a Roman emperor who was himself revered as a god.
Indeed, for Christians who were persecuted by the state,
    these words of what God does for his people must have been heard as good news:
    they have a Lord who loves them and who has freed them,
        in stark contrast to the earthly lords who disdain and imprison them,
    a Lord who has made them to be a kingdom,
        distinct from the corrupt and oppressive kingdom of Rome.
Yes, these words bear good news indeed, news about a Lord of Love and Freedom,
    a Lord who establishes a new kind of Kingdom for his people.

Some 1500 years after John of Patmos wrote Revelation,
    Philip Melancthon, Martin Luther's right-hand-man in the Reformation effort,
    and probably the Reformation's most thoughtful theologian,
    wrote that "to know Christ is to know his benefits,"
    that is, to know Christ is to know what Christ does for us.
For Martin Luther and the Reformers,
    faith and the church was less about figuring out the details of divine mystery –
    that's why it's called a mystery, after all! –
    than it was about receiving the gifts and grace of God.
Luther was less concerned with the "how" of Holy Communion, for example,
    than he was with the promises that it bears.
Luther wrote that the most important part of the Holy Communion meal was the words,
    "given for you,"
    emphasizing that the gift of Christ's presence in the bread and wine is a pure gift.
Given for you.

For you. 
This notion that our God is a For-You God is not just a Reformation-era concept,
    but it is all over Scripture, and we see it in these first few verses of Revelation.
Love.  For you.
Freedom.  For you.
Kingdom.  For you.
Indeed, ours is a savior and a God who is entirely and completely for you, for us, for the world.
In one of the most popular verses in all the Bible we hear of God's love for the world:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,
    so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life."
Elsewhere in the Bible we read the simple truth: God is love.
In a world broken by sin,
    a world in which self-interest trumps shared interest,
        and love for neighbor is overshadowed by love for self,
    we hear this word of love break into our midst,
    a promise that the world's ways are not God's ways.
For God so loved the world, John 3:16 begins,
    that he gave.
Love.  Given for you.

And in this love of God, Jesus promises to us the special gift of freedom –
    freedom from sin, freedom from death,
    freedom from all those things that would tear us down and tear us apart.
Do we still sin?  Will we still die?  Will be still feel broken down and torn apart?
Absolutely.  Yet, in Christ we have received the promise of a new and different way of life,
    we have in him the in-breaking of a new Kingdom,
    a realm in which sin has no power and death has no sting,
    a promised future in which the dead are raised,
        the separated reconciled,
        the broken made whole.
And because of this, we can live a new life, a different life, here and now,
    a life rooted not in the stuff of this kingdom, but in the promise of the kingdom to come.

"Thy kingdom come," we pray.
Yes, we are made to be a kingdom, we are subjects and servants of God, Revelation says.
    We are not servants of the Roman emperor, or of any political system for that matter.
In today's world, I think the threats to faith and life are far less likely to come from the political class
    than they are from the culture itself,
    from the consumerism that is part and parcel of our American identity
        and which threatens to eat us alive.
But on the cross and in baptism, we are made to be a kingdom in which the rules are quite different …
    a kingdom in which the lowly are lifted up, the mighty are knocked off their thrones,
    a kingdom in which the hungry are filled with good things,
    the sick are healed,
    and poor are made rich,
    the dead are raised.
This is our kingdom, this is our way of life, this is our promise.
We are citizens of the kingdom of God.
Loved.  Freed.  Made into a Kingdom.

Next week we will begin a new church year with the first Sunday of Advent,
    and in that season we will hear about the birth of Jesus, who is
called Emmanuel,
    which means, God is with us.
But the beginning of the year isn't actually going to be very different than today,
    the end of the church year.
    for today we hear loud and clear that our Lord is "for us,"
    as we prepare to enter into a season of celebrating the God who is with us.
We will begin next week where we end this week… and how appropriate is that?
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," the beginning and the end, says the Lord.
Here we are at the end, looking at the beginning, seeing the same thing:
    A God who loves us, freed us, and made us to be a kingdom.
    Thanks be to God.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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