Sermon from the Last Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King
Sunday, November 25
John 18:33-37 (click for link)
Now I am asking all of you to use your imagination for a second, and fly back in your mind, to that scary, murky world of high school economics. Do you remember that class? Do you remember how dreadfully boring it was? Do you remember learning those terms like “supply and demand,” “trade off versus opportunity cost,” “risk management?”
Here’s the thing – you can relearn everything from your high school economics class from that great American holy day: Black Friday. Last Friday, on the day after Thanksgiving, thousands upon thousands of consumers lined up in front of their favorite stores to get the best deals. There was pushing and shoving, there was scrambling to get that new giant flat screen TV.
Now admittedly, I did not go out shopping on Black Friday. And I am not condemning you if you did. But let me offer a reflection on what Black Friday is all about.
Black Friday is all about us. The frenzied shopping, the discounts, deals, and promotions are all about the things we want. Camping out in front of Best Buy, scuffling in the Toys R Us parking lot, scanning the newspaper for the greatest deal on that new computer – it’s all about our desires. And Black Friday feeds into that. We are convinced that we or the person we are buying for are the most important people in the world and that our wants are chief. Now, again, I’m not condemning our economic system – this is simply how it all works. This is what makes our economy go around. We use our purchasing power to fulfill our desires. If we want it, then we do everything we can to get it.
The real danger is not what happens at K-Mart or Wal-Mart or Best Buy. The real danger is when this attitude finds its way into the church. We come into our church with the same expectation that we have on Black Friday. We come into the church with our desires, our wants, our dreams. And then we do like we do on Black Friday – we scuffle and claw and fight others in the church to ensure that we get what we want. We are trying to fulfill our own desires. We would use God as a tool like we use money on Black Friday to actualize our deepest cravings. Our prayers are filled with our own wish list, as our images of God and Santa Claus become eerily similar.
That attitude – of using the church and God to fulfill our desires – is a sin. And I think you all know me well enough by to know that I don’t use the word “sin” lightly or flippantly. When I say it – I mean it. If we walk into the doors of this church, believing that it’s all about the man in the mirror, then we’ve got a lot of learning to do. And today, Christ the King Sunday, is the perfect time to start.
Jesus Christ is King. His throne is the cross. His crown is made of thorns. And we are his subjects – sometimes rebellious, sometimes faithful. And as any good King, we believe that Christ holds court with his subjects. For us, we come into Christ’s courts when we pray. On Sundays, yes, around this table, but also in our homes, or cars. We come into the courts of our King in the shower, before a big meeting, while reading a book – whenever we are praying.
But so often we come into the courts of our King with a cup. And this cup belongs to us. And we want God to fill that cup with our desires and wants. Into that cup we pour big screen TV’s and great deals on shoes, sure. But we also pour our wishes for health, for security, for happiness into this cup. This cup that is filled with things we want. We come into our churches with our desires and wishes. And we want God to fill that cup for us; thinking that the church is just like Best Buy. That if we stand in line long enough, then God will give us whatever we want.
But Christ our King takes the cup from us. He looks at it. He looks at the things we want in life, he looks at our selfishness. And Jesus knows that none of our hopes, dreams, wishes, or desires will ever satisfy us. We are always left empty and begging for more. The cup is never filled. Because no amount of stuff will ever make us happy. Our wish list for things we want God to do for us will just keep getting longer.
And God sees how this sin has infected our churches. We come into the court of Christ our King hoping that he will fill our cup with what we want. But Jesus does no such thing. He smashes our cup! Jesus takes our cup and dashes it upon the ground.
And Jesus does the same for our churches. Whatever our petty divisions, whatever our singular wants are, they are dashed to pieces because the church is not an avenue for filling up on what you want.
The church is the place where Christ our King gives you a new cup. This holy place – this church, this altar – is where Jesus gives you new desires. And the wonderful thing about this new cup, is that Jesus promises to fill it. And that new cup will never go empty. No matter how much stuff and pride and selfishness you poured into that old cup of yours, you could never be satisfied. But with this new cup, given to us from Christ our King, there is satisfaction, and joy, and peace, and true fulfillment.
The new cup that Jesus gives us is the cup of truth. Standing before Pontius Pilate, in the last hours before his execution, Jesus speaks about the truth. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
In the Kingdom of God, there are no discounts, or deals, or promotional offers. It is not possible to buy your way in. And any attempts to fulfill your own desires before God will just leave you as empty as you were before. Our paltry quest of selfishness, our dreams and desires for the man in the mirror, are the height of sin. When we hang on to our own cups, and refuse to hand them over to God, we are rebelling against Christ our King.
Our cups, of course, are our hearts. If our hearts are set on ourselves, or on the things we want, then they will be black, ugly, and sinful. They will be hearts of stone. Our only hope is in Christ our King. We hand over these hearts of stone, which are too heavy for us to bear anyway. Humbly kneeling before the throne of Christ our King, Jesus takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh. Jesus gives us new desires, new dreams, new hopes. Our hearts are no longer stuck on ourselves, but are bent to the truth. These new hearts, they listen for the voice of God. They listen to the voice of truth.
I do not know if you went shopping on Black Friday. And I am neither condemning nor condoning. I am simply asking you to assess your two options. You can approach God with a Black Friday mindset or a Christ the King mindset. You can pray about all the things you want God to do for you, or can you pray “thy will be done.” In this church, you can say “I want what’s best for me.” Or you can listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of truth.
In your walk with Jesus, I have one prayer for you: I pray that God gives you a heart transplant, that Jesus takes your heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh. I pray that you are not the ruler of your life. I pray that Jesus Christ is your King. I pray that you listen for the truth.