Year C is almost over. It ends next week with Christ the King Sunday.
Today’s gospel is an end-of-times reading, and many of us who read it will spend time contemplating the end of this world and entering the larger life. And that’s fine. In general we should all live our lives as Christians knowing we will die, that we could die at any time. In fact, knowing this, believing this, trusting in this, is what makes our Christian life meaningful. We follow Jesus, we work to bring his beloved kingdom here and we die in the confidence that we did our best as we prepare to see God face to face. We work towards the future, but not a future of a promotion at work, or another degree, or a retirement villa, but the ultimate future of our life after death.
When I read this lesson, I start going down the road of Jesus giving us signs of when the end times will begin. He’s descriptive about it. Wars, the temple destroyed, fighting among families. And it makes you think. Could our weak efforts to battle climate change be the beginning of the end? And there are an awful lot of wars going on right now. Whenever we had bad weather on Staten Island my mom would say “Oh Annie it’s the end of the world. I hope I’m ready”
But since Jesus told us in Matthew that not even he knows when God will signal the second coming, it’s silly and illogical, and arrogant and a waste of time really, for us to try and figure it out. Like Father Baker used to say, we’re in sales not management. And so I think it’s better for us to ask the question
How should we lead our lives even after we acknowledge we will one day die?
We should live our lives as fully as possible knowing it’s finite. We should fill it with prayer and acts of kindness and feeding the hungry. We should welcome the stranger. And we should be able to explain naturally and simply that we’re followers of Jesus and we makes decisions as he would.
We should love our families and enjoy vacations and be responsible at our jobs and enjoy learning. We should follow our interests and develop our talents. We should have fun, enjoy our friends, relax, but always with a sense of gratitude to God who made all this possible.
It's fine to think about end times, just don’t stay there. Go on and live your one wild and precious life.
If you don’t like my theological approach to this, here’s some biblical scholarship and historical analysis for you.
Luke wrote his gospel around the year 80 in the common era. We know from historical fact that the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE.
So Luke has already seen the temple leveled. He’s describing what he saw and how people felt about this occurrence. And biblical times were no strangers to war and all their cruelties. So that’s more reasons for us not to focus on Jesus as Nostradamus or a magic 8 ball. Maybe we should remember that Luke is concerned with social justice and he’s saying we shouldn’t be overly impressed by the beautiful stones of the temple, or fascinated by cathedrals or skyscrapers; we should think about what we don’t see.
We don’t see God; We don’t see the Holy Spirit; We don’t see love of neighbor. We don’t see hope or endurance.
But we can see the results, the effects.
We should take to heart Jesus promising us “but not a hair on your head will perish.” This is his final word. He’s not saying that we won’t experience hardship and suffering, but in the end, as faithful witnesses, we will remain. This gospel is a combination of joy and warning and concern. It’s the perfect reminder that Christianity is a lifestyle and it’s an adventure.
It has challenges, love, happiness, excitement, danger surprises. I think the big story here is that end times will come but it’s just one more adventure along the way. And we treat it as we treat all the adventures on our journey.. By doing what’s right, by loving justice and showing mercy. By trusting in God.
In my mind, this reading and next week’s gospel are linked. Much of what Jesus describes in this gospel happens to him, resulting in his death, but not ending there. And that’s what we have next week. we end the year with a simple reading of Jesus’ death. And yet we call that last Sunday Christ the King. And we are oh so right. Because Jesus is, was, and will be the one true king and the only king this world needs. Plato described a philosopher king as an ideal ruler. That world also had slaves and a disdain for women and the working class.
Kings in history pushed the concept of “the divine right of kings”: whoever was deemed king was chosen because that’s what God wanted and they didn’t have to explain themselves to their subjects.
Kings have taken power throughout history by fighting bloody wars, destroying property, murdering their rivals, and breaking the hearts of mothers who said good bye to their sons.
But Jesus did none of these things. He did the opposite. He took death upon himself to protect his subjects. He marginalized no one. Listening to women and children, two of the lowest groups of society, was a delight to him and a lesson taught. Jesus didn’t fight for his kingship, or negotiate for it, or buy it or make up a rule so he had to be declared king, he simply is the Master of the universe. He is the only king we need. The one true king and the Only King we should want.
Yet we foolishly worship so many other things: power, attention, approval, popularity, thinness, being the smartest.
Along with gay people and abortion, none of those things were talking points for Jesus.
I won’t be preaching next week, Canon Person will be here, and it’ll be good to hear a different voice spread the word. But I’m glad I got to give a bit of my pitch for Christ the King. Given how our country came about, it’s hard for us to relate to the idea of a king. And worship is not a word that comes to our lips easily. That’s ok. Save it all for God. AMEN.