I stand here this morning under the watchful gaze of the triumphant, enthroned Christ the King window in this Cathedral Church asking: is Jesus our leader?
Today the church marks the Feast of the Reign of Christ. This particular feast was instituted by Pope Pius the 6th in 1925 to counter the growing secularism of a post-WW1 Europe and cultures in which God was left out or may not even exist at all.
Is Jesus -- the Shepherd-King -- really the one we consider as our leader and do we truly understand that God Reigns over the universe.
Many of us would have heard that it is impolite to bring up politics in polite company.
I am not going to be polite - I am going to preach the Good News.
As Christian folks who follow the ways of a brown Jew who lived at the margins, under the oppressive rule of Empire, under the sword and uniform of discrimination and injustice, it is not possible to separate our faith from politics.
Following Jesus has political repercussions. We must turn to the margins of the margin -- to the underside of history -- to the bleeding periphery.
The Gospel parable we hear proclaimed today is often used to remind followers of the Way to serve, advocate, seek justice. It affirms that merely following isn’t enough -- that we must be actively engaged in the doing. Shepherd-King imagery is woven through all our readings -- the Shepherd-King who is not like any other earthly ruler, who is exalted as the Christ, the anointed, who is to found amongst the least of these -- the poor, outcast, marginalized, silenced, erased -- whose ultimate earthly end is bound in Empire’s police and military brutality of the cross only to rise from the dead -- giving Empire the finger if you will. Our Shepherd-King is a different monarch -- a different leader -- who continues to be present in our world - with the poor, the immigrants, the sick, the imprisoned.
Over the past month, I have been reading and reflecting on the book Activist Theology by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza. Much of their work has influenced today’s sermon.
“When I think about this ancient practice of Christianity,” writes Henderson-Espinoza, “I think about a brown Palestinian Jew who questioned all the beliefs of the reigning time, questions the empire, and then casts a vision for a new future. It was one of revolutionary love that did not capitulate to the stance of empire or embody the optics of empire. This Jewish teacher we call Jesus brought together some misfits and began to practice a common life grounded in love and compassion” (92)
We are those misfits who find ourselves living in the “tyranny of the now” (67) and who must seek ways to bring about the Reign of Christ here on earth as it is in heaven.
We must seek collective liberation from the oppressive systems of the world we have created, a liberation in which all are free, and which Christ rules and not the princes and principalities of this world.
“‘Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ These words help us imagine that the way we are on earth is supposed to curate what liberation theologians call the ‘reign of God’” (67)
We are fed in this Cathedral Church with the words of prophets, apostles, and of Jesus, as well as on the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we can head out of this building, out of wherever we are watching the livestream, and engage in the world God loves and bring about the Reign of Christ.
We misfits have work to do!
“I think the ways of Jesus help create conditions for that loving world to materialize, but only when we awaken to the inhumanity of injustice and to the multisystem oppressions” that are at work in our world (68).
“Following the Way is invested in actualizing change through and by creative social practices that have at the heart revolutionary love for those who have felt the greatest impact of empire” (72).
Jesus was arrested by Empire. By men in police and military uniform wielding swords.
Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, queer, non-binary, trans folk, immigrants, the poor are arrested by Empire. By folks in uniform wielding guns. With knees pressing down on their necks
I -- CANT -- BREATHE
A phrase that equally could have been heard from the crosses that surrounded ancient Jerusalem.
Jesus questioned the political systems around him. He sided with those who were oppressed.
If we are to bring about Christ’s reign that we are called to bring about, we too must side with the least of these.
This is not about creating space at the table and saying that once we are all at the table that all have equal access; that we have diversity, inclusivity, and justice. It’s about taking the table apart and envisioning a new table -- a new world - the Reign of Christ world -- the Kindom of God kinda world.
The use of the titles Reign of Christ, Christ the King, the Kindom of God, or the Kindom of Heaven is a subversive reversal of a colonial idea to make room for something new -- it’s about dismantling the table and then reconfiguring it completely -- perhaps giving it away as fire-wood for folks who are cold and on the streets.
I fundamentally believe as a Christian that my freedom is tied up with the freedom of my siblings here on Earth. If my siblings are suffering, oppressed, traumatized, then so am I.
If we are to bring thy Kindom to earth as it is in heaven then we must realize that my collective freedom to be fully alive is bound up to every other human.
And it extends from humanity. Our freedom, our ability to be fully human is tied up with all creation.
When one suffers, we all suffer.
As a white, cis, man with a good amount of privilege, I must take responsibility and get out of the way so others can lead and have their voices heard. It's about recognizing that I should no longer work to be at the table, on stage, in front of the cameras. It's time for folks like me to step aside. That is an act of justice-seeking to bring about the Reign of Christ. That is Christ-centered action that truly puts the least of these first.
This is why the message of Jesus, a brown Palestinian Jew under the control of Empire is political.
When Christians take to the streets and call upon the systems of oppression to defund police and say that military and police uniforms have no place here -- when Christians cry out for food equality and equal access to basic human necessities -- when Christians step aside so that those who have been shouting to be heard can actually be heard -- when Christians march, stand, drum, shout in solidarity with Indigenous, Black, People of Colour -- we do so in the name of Jesus who himself stood at the margins and was crucified for it.
So who is our leader? Who are we following this day?
To be Christian means to be political. It means to be an activist - on the streets, in the boardrooms, around the dinner table, over Zoom -- even in times when health officials tell us to stay home.
Send an email. Write a letter. Get on the phone. Tweet. Vote.
Speak truth to power.
I -- CANT -- BREATH → these words have no place in a world in which Christ, the Shepherd-King, reigns.
Follow the misfits of our tradition - saints, apostles, Jesus himself - and call for justice, the liberation of the oppressed -- to bring about the Reign of Christ!
Who is our leader?
Are we following our leader?