November 22, 2015

What's in a Title

Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”[1]
On a day in which we celebrate Christ the King, it seems most appropriate to ask: What’s in a name, or rather, what’s in a title? We call Jesus by many titles: Christ. Messiah. Savior. Lord. Friend. Teacher. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Nathaniel calls him “King of Israel,” even though Jesus seems rather unimpressed by this declaration. Titles, like boarders, are a very human creation. Yet we continue to put these attributes on Jesus.
The observance of “Christ the King Sunday” is a very modern development, especially for a nearly 2,000 year old faith. Pope Pious XI, in 1925, made the last Sunday of October a feast “in celebration of the all-embracing authority of Christ, which shall lead all humankind to seek the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” The feast was moved to the Sunday before Advent 1 in 1970 and is now observed by numerous Protestant traditions such as ours.[2]
“Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anoint” or “Anointed.” When used with Jesus or prophesies about him, it was understood as “one anointed by God.”

King George II of England, whose gift of a silver communion set is still in use at Christ Church.

And King…. Well… we know of countries that have kings (or queens). Maybe some of us have even lived in those countries where the monarch’s likeness is on the currency. But here in the U.S. of A, well, many of our forbears fought hard to free us from a king, a king whose father made a very generous gift to this very parish. Shortly after George Washington was elected in April 1789, the Congress of the United States was tossing around titles like “Chief Magistrate” and “His Highness” and (my personal favorite) “Protector of the Liberties of the People of the United States of America.” They even tossed around the idea of King, even though he was elected for a finite period. But the House of Representatives didn’t want George Washington or any of his successors to let the power of the position go to their head.
So the House proposed a title of their own. “President.” You see, in 1789, it was about the most humble, meager, limited title they could think of. It meant someone who presided over a meeting, an overseer. Think about a jury fore-person. The Senate thought this was ridiculous. They wanted the person in that office to have the respect of other world leaders. Our infant nation would be mocked for having a head of state with the title of “President.” But in order to make peace and move forward, the Senate let the House have their way, though they registered their discontent with House. Over the next 230+ years, nearly 150 other countries followed in our footsteps and titled their head of state “President.” In the end, the Senate won because the titled has garnered the respect they wanted it to garner.[3]
I tell you that story because it illustrates an important point: Reality changes words. Words rarely change reality. The world in 1925, especially Eurpoe, was hardly at peace, even though the Great War had been over for 7 years. In January 1925, the Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini, put an end to free elections and became dictator. In 1925, Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf. Pious XI knew that faithful Christians needed something larger to look at than the leaders of their day. Pious knew that Jesus had the chance to claim leadership and power on Earth and turned it down. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said to Pilate. Like so many, Pilate didn’t know who or what was in front of him. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus continued. “What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Jesus before Pilate
The reality of Jesus’ mission, ministry, and teachings changed what it means to have a king, and be a part of a kingdom.
The truth is that we are still struggling to understand what the Kingdom of God looks like. We struggle to see Jesus, the King of that Kingdom, in our midst.
The truth is that we don’t really know what to do with a King. It doesn’t fit very well with the American narrative of Liberty and Freedom. Most of us are fine to declare Jesus as Lord and Savior, but when it comes to unfettered, unwaivering following of him to a point where we might be uncomfortable, well, that’s another story. Sometimes we are called out of that comfort zone and are resustant to go. Other times, we find we have been out of that zone for a while and we want to go back where it is safe and easy.
Yet, if we are to be subjects of Christ the King and follow and trust him, sometimes (many times!) we will be called out of our comfort zone because Jesus calls us to be IN the world but not OF the world. And part of being IN but not OF the world means tuning out the fear mongering that comes from those who get air time.
If we are willing to call Christ our King, then we are declaring ourselves part of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that knows no boundries, no nationalities, no language, and no skin color. A kingdom whose currency is love and whose motto is “God Loves you. No exceptions.”
We have choices to make:
n  To live as if the Kingdom of God is now and not in the future.
n  To live with compassion, not merely for self-preservation.
n  To live by faith and not by fear.

If we live a life with Christ as our king, the reality of the Kingdom of God will change the world.

[1] Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2
[2] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005
[3] http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_forsyth_what_s_a_snollygoster_a_short_lesson_in_political_speak

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