Feast of Christ the King

11.30.15 | by The Rev. Joe Hermerding

    Sermon text from The Rev. Joe Hermeding, from Incarnation in Dallas, on the Final Sunday of the church year.

    Naval officer Frank Koch tells this story:

    Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

    Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

    “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

    The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

    The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’”

    Back came the signal from the blinking light of the other ship, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

    The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’”

    “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”

    By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’”

    Back came the blinking light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

    We changed course.[1]

    Today we are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. This is the final Sunday in the church year. Advent, which begins next Sunday, of course marks the beginning of the church year. So the last thing we do, the last note in the chord of the liturgical year, is to remind ourselves of Christ’s heavenly authority. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Crown Him with many crowns.   

    The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is a distinctly un-American feast. We don’t have Kings and Queens anymore, do we. As much as we like to hear that Princess Kate wore the crown jewels, we kissed the monarchy goodbye a long time ago. We have thrown off the shackles of oppressive civil and religious authority. It is fundamental to who we are as a nation. And we will be celebrating it, this very week with Thanksgiving. (As an aside, you know who the pilgrims wanted to get their religious liberty from, don’t you? The Church of England. And you know who we are? The Anglican Communion.)

    Anyway, I think there is a distinct challenge for us Americans to understand this feast, Christ the King. The concept of authority has always had a bad rap in these United States. And perhaps for good reason. We have all seen authority misused, in politics, in the military, in the home, in the church. And so we have for the most part become cynical toward authority—all authority. We have the assumption that if someone is exercising authority, they must be doing it for self-serving reasons. All authority ever does is make the weak, victims of the strong. All it ever does is impose one person’s beliefs upon someone else.

    We believe in democracy, we believe in equality; we believe in human rights—not authority. There’s a bumper sticker out there that says: question authority. I wonder if in their minds that includes the authority of bumper stickers...? You see, its a self-defeating argument.  

    Authority is a fact of life. We have been reading a lot out of Revelation these last few weeks and we can see that even in heaven there are all kinds of hierarchical distinctions, various degrees of authority.

    But lets look at a more obvious example of the necessity of authority: how about the classroom. We are not scandalized by someone presuming to teach math, as long as they know what they’re talking about, right? [it would be scandalous if I tried to teach you math, but I can hardly count above three…] We actually want authority from a teacher, don’t we? When little Johnny says, 2+2=5, we don’t want the teacher to say: “Well, just follow your heart, Johnny.” Or, “Your opinion is as valid as everyone else’s, Johnny.” No, we want the teacher to say: “Johnny, you’re a good human created in the image of God, but you are also wrong.” That’s authority.

    The reason this is so important is because if the Feast of Christ the King is to have any relevance, any significance for you and me, then we must come to a place where we accept His authority over our lives. You see, Jesus isn’t a crusader; He isn’t going to take the unreached regions of our lives by force. If we want to, we can let our own dictatorship, the dictatorship of the regime of self, stand up against Christ’s Kingdom, Christ’s power, Christ’s dominion, Christ’s authority. I can say: “I’m a captain. This is a battleship. YOU change course.”

    But then comes the surprising response from God. It is a gentle response. He speaks with the authority, not of a tyrant, but of a loving Father. And He says, “I am a lighthouse. My will for your life is beyond your wildest imagination. My little child, change course.”

    He knows it is scary for us, He knows we fear the unknown. And submission to Him will take us into uncharted waters.

    He knows we fear pain and suffering, and following Him may lead to temporal pain and suffering. But He is a lighthouse.

    One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess His authority. On that day, all battleships that have not changed course will run aground. But today, it is a choice. Today it is our choice. He is a lighthouse, and we can change course.”

    Do we trust Him, in our very hearts? Do we trust His plan for our lives, and for our careers, and for our children? Or do we work ourselves into a tornado of anxiety over these things, day after day? If Christ is King, we can let Him carry the stress of being captain; if He is King, our lungs which are so often stifled with anxiety and worry, can finally breathe, because we don’t need to carry this weight anymore. If He is King, we can sleep in peace; if He is King, we can find rest for our souls.

    The One, with every right to claim authority over our lives, leaves it to us to submit it. And we can scream, like the captain, about our rank and our importance. We can stress over our kingdoms as if it were up to us to be God, to be in control. Or we can Crown Him with many Crowns, even with the Crown of our lives.


    [1] Quoted in In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 153, from the U.S. Navel Institute Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch illustrates the importance of obeying the Laws of the Lighthouse.