A friend of mine was once being interviewed by a political party because he was thinking about standing for parliament. It was all going well, until they asked him a question about party loyalty. Would he always put the party first? Would he put it above his own personal convictions? He began to say ‘yes’ and then realised that there might be circumstances when he would have to put something else before party or politics or even self – because his first loyalty is to Jesus Christ. The highest authority for him is the God who was made known and is made known in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to say that Jesus is Lord.
Justin Welby had a similar kind of conversation very recently. He found himself saying that for him ‘the kingdom of God outweighs everything else’. Someone described as a very senior politician, talking about the Government’s British Values drive, said to the Archbishop ‘are you seriously going to tell me that I don’t call someone an extremist if they say that their faith is more important than the rule of law?’ Justin Welby took a deep breath and told the politician that his faith is indeed more important even than the rule of law. He explained: “We do not believe as Christians that the rule of law outweighs everything else, we believe that the Kingdom of God outweighs everything else.”
This is what this Sunday is about … coming clean with ourselves and with the world around us about where our true and ultimate loyalty lies. As Christian people we are, generally speaking, law abiding, loving, loyal, faithful, seeking the common good, active in society, good citizens. But there are moments, there are moments, when we discover where our ultimate loyalty lies – and we know whose servants we really are.
In the world of ancient Rome, in the world of the Roman Empire, Christians from the very beginning came to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’. And they said this for a particular reason – because they knew they must say that Caesar wasn’t their Lord and King, wasn’t the one to whom they would give their lives. Jesus is Lord. Christ is King.
The feast of Christ the King – the feast that we are marking today- is quite a recent one as feasts of this kind go. It’s the very last Sunday of the liturigcal year – before we come round to the beginning of it all again in Advent. And it was designated Christ the King Sunday by Pope Pius XI in 1925. You might think that a recent, and Catholic, feast might best be ignored by Christians like us, cast aside as just another high church attempt to make Jesus somehow more grand. But Pope Pius knew what he was doing. He was known, in the last part of his Papacy, for speaking out against the rise of fascism across Europe, about a rise in violence and fear. He was deeply troubled by the political currents of his time and the way that people were idolising human leaders. He wanted, above all, to remind Christians, that our allegiance, our true King, is always Christ himself. It is Jesus who is Lord, it is Christ who is King. We have no other Fuhrer, no other Duce.. Pope Pius wanted to remind Christians in his own day of what the earliest Christians had professed and lived, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
This past couple of weeks we have seen people protesting in the US about the election of Donald Trump. Some of them have waved the banner ‘Not my President’. ‘Not my President’. And whether you prefer Trump, Clinton or Obama, there is something about this slogan that every Christian should always say. Of course we should get stuck into political struggles with everyone else and do the best we can with the world we live in, but there should always be somehow a part of us that says ultimately, ultimately, we have no President, no King, no Lord… except Jesus Christ himself.
And this is no joke. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a joke. The Romans who crucified him, and the thieves who died with him, thought it was a joke. They thought that everyone should laugh to see this Jesus with his thorny crown, and his naked body, and the battered wooden plank over his head saying ‘King of the Jews’. ‘Remember me’, said the one on the next door cross, ‘when you come into your Kingdom!’. You can imagine how they laughed at someone who looked nothing like a King at all.
Jesus is our King, but he is not like other kings. He does not win his way with violence, or status or earthly power. He does not come with wealth and glamour and jewels. He makes his throne by sitting with the poorest and lowliest of people. His Kingdom is with the hungry and the suffering, with criminals and slaves. He turns even kingship upside down and invites us to follow him into a kingdom that upskittles the kingdoms of this world. He makes us citizens of a kingdom where sins are forgiven, where bruises are healed and soothed, where doors are unlocked and freedom comes.
There are times in my life when I see suddenly how much Jesus Christ shapes my life. He is my King – no other. I have signed up for his kingdom and it has my ultimate and total allegiance. Christ is King. And so I must follow him and find him where he is even now, among the poor, the homeless, the frightened, the rootless and the victimised, the lonely and the dying. To anyone else I say, ‘Not my president, not my King, not my Caesar.’ Jesus is Lord. Christ is King.