Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool…To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
… Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Each of our texts and our hymns this morning are focused on the theme of God as king. Daniel speaks of God, the Ancient One, who rules the cosmos. The Psalm we read tells of God’s throne being established from before the foundation of the world. Revelation calls Jesus the ruler of the kings of the Earth. Revelation does not say that Christ overcame a kingdom, to take a kingdom for his own, not like a conqueror. But Christ has made us to be a kingdom. Something new has taken place in Christ.
It is the Gospel According to John shows that kingship and majesty being shown in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not what the Judeans expected in their Messiah; they wanted a military leader to overthrow the Roman occupation. Even Pontius Pilate seems to be expected a revolutionary in the person of Jesus but Jesus sets him straight and declares for all the world—then and now—to hear… “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting…”
Jesus declared his kingdom to be of the Heart and of the Spirit. St. Paul agrees by saying “We do not wrestle with flesh and blood but against spiritual forces.” And yet, Church History is riddled with Church and State trying to find a partnership. Ever since Constantine emblazoned the symbol of Christ—the chi-rho (⳩)—on the shields of his troops before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, Church and State have had an uneasy and unholy alliance.
Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan the very next year, in February AD 313. Then his grandson Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire with the Edict of Thessalonika in February 380. And the persecuted became the persecutors.
The Popes sent Crusaders to the Holy Land in 1095 and they kept going for 200 years, crying Deus Vult (“God wills it”). And they were slaughtered. Then they sacked Constantinople, a Christian city, in 1204. It was the largest Christian city in the world but they weren’t the “right kind” of Christian. That was the event that led to the Great Schism, the dividing of Christianity into Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox.
The same pope, Pope Innocent III in 1215 launched a Crusade against the Albigensians, a so-called heretical group who only wanted to follow the New Testament model of the Church. In 1495, a Dominican Friar named Girolamo Savonarola tired to create a theocracy in Florence, Italy, saying that Christ was king in Florence. The question follows, “Yes, but who speaks for Christ?” He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI in 1497 and burned at the stake the next year.
The Swiss Reformers didn’t do much better. Huldrych Zwingli tried to turn Zurich into a theocracy in 1525. He met with Martin Luther at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 and Luther did not like the guy. He led Swiss Reformation armies against the Catholics in Switzerland and died on the battlefield in 1531. The Catholic reformer Erasmus said, “This is the wonderful hand of God on high.” Luther agreed, saying, “They say that Zwingli recently died thus; if his error had prevailed, we would have perished, and our church with us. It was a judgment of God.”
What error? The combining of Church and State.
But John Calvin did the same thing in Geneva in the 1541. The Church of England was under the control of the sovereign, so the Pilgrims set out for Holland, then America in 1620. Even then, Cotton Mather and other Puritans wanted to create a theocracy in Massachusetts and other colonies.
The Enlightenment or Age of Reason began to see a shift away from that in the 1600s and 1700s. But Nationalist movements began to grow in Europe and America in the early 20th Century. The Church was being supplanted by secularism and the State. The Russian Orthodox Church was under the hand of the Russian Czar and they became an arm of the State after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Communist takeover of the Russian state a short time later.
It was in 1925 that Pope Pius XI initiated the celebration of Christ the King Sunday. It was important enough, he believed, that it should hold a permanent place in the Church’s liturgical calendar.
Luther minister Nadia Weber-Bolz tweeted this week: “Pope Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925 to counter what he regarded as the destructive forces of fascism and the totalitarian claims of Nazi ideologies. I know I am four days early but happy Antifa Sunday, everyone.”
Umm, no. While the Protocols of the Nazi ideology were published as early as 1920, Pope Pius XI was not concerned with that. He was troubled by the rise of nationalist movements in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. He was worried about the Church becoming the puppet of nationalist movements.
Benito Mussolini was an avowed atheist, but he wanted to become dictator, which would not be possible without powerful friends. His vehement hatred of anarchism, liberal democracy, and communism matched well with Pope Pius’ opinion. Many of his fascist followers were Catholic. Pius XI was in a good position to prevent the fascists from seizing power. Instead, he made a deal with the Fascists. Mussolini would restore the ancient privileges of the Catholic Church. On February 21, 1923, Cardinal Vannutelli said Mussolini "had been chosen to save the nation and restore her fortune." When fascists beat up and even killed Catholic Party members who opposed them, Pius XI said nothing. What Pius XI feared was not fascism, it was secularism. When Mussolini wanted control over education in Italy, Pius felt a slip of control to the secularists.
His successor, Pope Pius XII, would even make a deal with Hitler. The Church, even the Lutheran Church in Germany, was making a deal with the devil.
In the Barmen Declaration of 1934, theologian Karl Barth wrote, “The church should not be ruled by a leader ("Führer").” Later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would add, “There in only one Lord over the Church and that is Jesus Christ himself.”
What was begun as a move against secularism by Pope Pius XI was heightened to resistance against control by the State by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others. The Church is not called to lend its name and the Lordship of Christ to politics.
We keep thinking that God is on the side of the left or the right, liberals or conservatives, Republicans or Democrats. God is not. God is on our side and we must be on God’s side.
I think back to the movie The Longest Day about the D-Day invasion of June 1944. The scene shifts between an American general and a German general. Both of them say the same thing: Sometimes I wonder which side God is on.”
We foolishly think that God is on this side or that, supports this ideology or that. What we have failed to realize is that Christ is the King. It is the agenda of Christ that we must support. It is the ideology of Christ that demands our allegiance. Christ is our Lord and is not to be used by our earthly politics and ideologies.
I will follow Christ. Christ does not have to follow me.
God give us the Grace to recognize Christ as King and not as puppet or slogan or sponsor to our simple and short-sighted way of thinking.
In our season of Thanksgiving, be thankful for the Grace of a loving and kind and merciful sovereign. Better than any human ever could be.
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