Long Live the King

Scripture:  Colossians 1:9-20

Over the past couple of months the British monarchy has been in the news with the passing of Queen Elizabeth and succession to King Charles.   With his official coronation not scheduled to next year, there will likely continued to be focus on the monarchy.   No doubt all of this attention on a ritualized lifestyle, steeped in tradition, and marked by power and wealth has led some people to wonder what it would be like to be a ruling monarch.  Some people have ran with these small day dreams and tried to make them a reality.   All over the world there are small micro-nations that have been set up and most of them have self-stylized rulers with grand titles.  Now most of these micro-nations are tongue-in-cheek.  For instance, Grand Duke Travis “rules” over the Grand Duchy of Westartica which claims a portion of Antarctica as its territory.  Westartica has zero residents but claims 2,000 citizens.  In reality, Westartica is an organization that tries to call attention to the impacts of climate change on Antarctica, and found a novel way to present itself.  The Principality of Aigues-Mortes is another such example, in order to gain media attention and boost tourism, the town in France declared itself independent in 2010.  Their claim to sovereignty is based on a local legend and the current ruler is Prince Jean-Pierre IV.  The principality even issues its own currency, which is only valid in its territory and conveniently always exchanges at a 1:1 rate with the Euro.   France itself does not officially recognize the principality but they allow it to continue with a wink and a nod.

While most of these micro-nations have a similar bend there are a couple of them that are incredibly serious about its claim.  For instance the Principality of Seborga a small town of 297 people, believe they were never part of the unification of Italy and still claim their independence.  This constitutional monarchy is currently ruled by Princess Nina Menegatto. Despite claiming independence, Seborga has decided to follow Italian law.  Perhaps the most unique of these micro nations is Sealand.  This abandoned WWII sea fort was claimed by Paddy Roy Bates in 1967.  He declared it independent and declared himself Prince Roy.  While not recognized by any other country, Sealand finds itself in a unique area because when it was founded it was in International water and being abandoned no country had laid a claim to it.  At one point in the 1970s a group of German mercenaries actually tried to capture the platform, the invasion was repelled, and the mercenaries taken prisoners.  This led to an actual German ambassador coming to negotiate their release, giving Sealand an air of legitimacy that its current ruler Prince Michael still claims today.  More than some other micronations, Sealand is serious about its claims issuing its own currency, stamps, passports, and even entering sports teams in international competitions.    Some people, it seem, just can’t wait to be king.

From a faith perspective this is nothing new.  As followers of Jesus, Christians are to recognize the Lordship of Jesus over our lives.  Yet, we seem to forget that regularly.  Today in the life of the church is Christ the King Sunday.  In many Christian denominations across the world the focus of worship today is on the Lordship of Jesus Christ.   Unlike other special days in the church like Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday Pentecost, or All Saints Day this day of special focus is fairly recent addition to the church calendar.   Christ the King Sunday was not added to the church Calendar until 1925 by Pope Pius XI.   Even though the First World War was over, and the world was technically at peace, the pope observed that national tensions and identity worldwide still ran high.   He instituted a celebration of Christ as king, to serve as a global reminder that our first allegiance as Christians is to Christ, not to a flag.    Even though, the celebration of Christ the King started as a catholic initiative, protestant denominations like ours quickly adopted it and added it to the church calendar.   Christ the King Sunday was added and adopted because we need reminders that we are not supposed to be the ones who sit on the thrones of our lives.  This morning’s scripture to the Colossians was written for the same reason.  This morning’s scripture was written to be a reminder to the Colossians, and it can still remind us today just who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Colossians was written by the apostle Paul for a very specific purpose.  Some sort of heretical belief has taken hold in the community of faith and was causing a lot of discord.  The issue for us is that while Paul references this issue, he never actually states what the heresy he is writing against is.  There are some context clues and biblical scholars have their best guesses.  While we do not know exactly what the issue was, this morning’s scripture serves as Paul’s opening statement.  In order to refute the Colossian heresy Paul points focus on Jesus.   The apostle Paul seemed to excel at packing a lot of meaning into as few words as possible, and that is certainly true for this morning’s scripture.   In attempting to unpack what is written here, we can find three specific ways Paul points to the absolute sovereignty of Jesus.

First, Paul comes out swinging and points straight to the divinity of Jesus.  In verse 15 he wrote, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For in him all things were created.”  When Paul claims Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, he was not stating that Jesus was God’s first creation.  Rather he is making reference to the custom at the time where the firstborn is the one who was to most closely follow in the parent’s footsteps and continue the parent’s legacy.  Paul makes this clear by continuing that it is through Jesus all things were created.   Jesus is in the image of God, because Jesus is God.  Paul states Jesus claim to sovereignty is cosmological, the power of Christ is a power that holds the very universe together.

It is a bold claim to start with, and again it is one that we need to be reminded of because it is a claim that receives a lot of pushback.  Throughout Christian history there have been wayward beliefs that challenge the divinity of Christ, and those persist to this day.  Ligonier ministries does a regular state of theology survey, and their 2020 study found that 52% of Americans do not believe Jesus to be divine, but instead was just a good teacher.   More troubling 33% of people who identify as Evangelical also denied the divinity of Jesus.   I realize the divinity of Jesus is a bit of an ivory tower theological argument.  It is not one that is based much in our real world experience, but it is a belief that helps establish the sovereignty of Christ.   Jesus is king almost by default because as part of the Godhead, Jesus is creator of all things.  Jesus is King because it is through Jesus all things have been made.

Paul starts off with the grand, universe scale point for the sovereignty of Christ, but then he moves to a smaller scale in verse 18 where Paul writes: “[Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead so that in everything he might have supremacy.”   The church, all of those who follow Jesus, is to be the body of Christ.  If we are the body that means that Jesus is the head.  As this scripture sates, Jesus is the head because he lived a life like we live, he died the death we deserve, and we can follow in his path of resurrection to live a new life.   As his followers, Jesus is king because he follow his Way and we are to live by his teachings.   When it works correctly, then we are the body of Christ.  We are the hands of Jesus that reach out to those who need to be healed, we are the feet of Jesus that bring the good news to those who need to hear it, and we are the soft shoulder of Jesus that comforts the broken, the vulnerable, and the loss.   When we get it right, the body of Christ truly represent Jesus here on earth.

Unfortunately, we collectively struggle to get it right.  There is a well-known quote that is often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi and often misquoted.  It is incorrectly stated as “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians.”  The actual quote comes from a lesser known Indian philosopher named Bara Dada and write at a century ago he is recorded as saying, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.”  Unfortunately, this hundred year old critique still has a lot of validity for people today.   There are still too many people whose experience with Christians are not Christ-like.  Instead of receiving love they receive hate; instead of acceptance, condemnation; instead of grace and forgiveness, judgmental attitudes.  The body of Christ does not yet fully reflect or fully follow Jesus.   I think our communion liturgy puts it best when we pray for forgiveness:  We have failed to be an obedient church. . . we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy.”

The good news is even though we collectively come up short of following Jesus’ lead and obeying him as Lord, we can still be forgiven of even that.  This is Paul’s third movement of establishing the sovereignty of Christ.  He started on the universal level, moved to the corporate level, and now to the personal level in verses 19 and 20 of this morning’s scripture.  These two verses feel especially dense, but I think the New Living Translation does a good job at communicating it to our modern ears.  It renders these verses to read, “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Jesus’s sovereignty, his lordship is based on the great truth that he went to bat for each and everyone us.   While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  It is by his blood, we can be forgiven.  It is by his blood, we can be reconciled with God, and it is by his blood that we can find eternal life.  Stuck in sin, lost in selfishness, and blinded by pride we are unable to save ourselves, but it is Jesus who can save us, Jesus who can change us, and Jesus who can enable us to be our best selves.   Jesus is Lord, not just because Jesus is divine and not just because Jesus is the head of the church, Jesus is Lord because he deserves it.   No matter how much of a screw-up we might sometimes feel like, no matter how badly we drop the ball, and no matter how far short we fall of the good we know we should do- Jesus is there.  He does not abandon us, he does not fail us, and he does not give up on us.  On a personal level, Jesus is Lord because Jesus has shown us through his action that he is worth following completely.    No matter what we do we can be forgiven, we can be redeemed, and we can be accepted as a precious child of God only because of the blood of Christ.  That has to count for something.  The love of Christ is a love worth following.  It is a love worth submitting to.  It is a love that is worth bending the knee and saying “yes, Lord”

There are a lot of people who want to be king or queen.  Some take it to ridiculous extremes like declaring literal micro-nations they can be the sovereigns of.  Others instead try to build petty little kingdoms and control all that is around them.  All of us are likely guilty of trying to act like the ruler of our own lives.   As this scripture reminds us Jesus is king.  He is the sovereign over all of creation, he is the head of the church, and he if we accept him he can be the Lord of our lives.   This morning’s scripture declares the lordship of Jesus, and may we recognize that.  May we honor what Christ the King Sunday was created for and recognize that as Christians our first allegiance is to Jesus above all else.  May we declare that Jesus is the prince of peace, the King of kings, and the Lord of Lords.   May we recognize him as the risen king, who defeated death, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, and who will return to rule a kingdom without end.   May we worship his majesty as we proclaim.  Jesus is lord.  Jesus is king.  Long live the King!


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