A King Who Suffers

This sermon was first preached to Faith Lutheran Church and to Gustavus Adolphus College on Sunday, November 22, 2020 for Reign of Christ Sunday.

Relevant lectionary readings here.

Photo by Scarlet Ellis on Unsplash

It is the year 1925.

The trauma of World War One – the war to end all wars – is still in recent memory, ending only seven years earlier, decimating the European landscape. Over 9 million combatants and 13 million civilians are dead. The related pandemic, the so-called Spanish Flu, caused millions more deaths worldwide.

The Nazi party begins to gain power. The precursors to the Hitler Youth organization are formed. A failed coup makes Hitler even more popular and the masses even more sympathetic to the Nazi genocidal cause. Mein Kampf is published.

The Roman Catholic pope at the time, Pope Pius the 11th, watches the rise of nationalism and fascism in Europe, and declares a new Feast Day.

Christ the King.

Unlike many of our more ancient liturgical holidays, the Feast of Christ the King – also known as Reign of Christ Sunday – is a relatively recent addition. And although we like to look at history as if it is over, as if it is totally in the past, genocidal fascism is something that is very much present, today.

White nationalism is not something far away and long ago. It is here. And now.

It is here on the southern border where undocumented immigrants are having wombs ripped from their bodies without their consent.

It here, in the United States, where Nina Pop, Tatiana Hall, Mia Green, and at least 44 other transpeople – most of them transgender women of color – were murdered in this year alone.

It is here, this year, where the occupant of the White House retweets chants of “White Power” while the blood Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others cry out from our streets.

It is here, in my city of Chicago, where we spend $5 million dollars PER DAY to fund the police, empowering the tell-tale sign of fascism – the police state. Where people choke on tear gas and run from rubber bullets shot from armored vehicles by people whose badges say, “to serve and protect.”

It is here, where billionaires got over $630 BILLION dollars richer during a global pandemic that disproportionately affected Black and Brown and Native people. It is here where we offered grandma up as a sacrifice to appease the blood-thirsty gods of Wall Street.

It is here, in the richest country in the world, that resources were so scarce at certain points that people who are disabled or fat were declared to be less worthy of saving.

It is here that we leveraged the pandemic as genocidal biological warfare as our prisons and jails became COVID-19 hotspots, where social distancing was impossible, visits were denied, and the state doled out cruel and unusual death penalties via the Corona virus for those they considered to be disposable. For the “least of these”.

It is here in this country, the United States, where a tyrant continues to attempt to hold on to power, instinctively using the fascist playbook to try to steal an election, while millions of Americans pay homage to him, genuflecting before his crumbling gold lamé throne.

It is only because of God’s grace through the tireless efforts by Black, Brown, and Native community organizers that this tyrant will be removed from power (even if he refuses to believe it yet).

But the removal of this fascist from office does not mean the defeat of fascism. White supremacy and corporate greed run rampant in all political parties. These characteristics may have been more obvious in Trump’s leadership, but they have been baked into the very office of the presidency from the inception of this nation. His removal is one step towards liberation, but there is much to be desired in his successor, and much work left to do.

This is a perfect time for a Christian holiday that explicitly fights fascism.

Today we read from the Gospel of Matthew. It is Jesus’ final discourse before he is arrested, beaten by the cops, railroaded in court, and then killed by the state in cooperation with the religious aristocracy. In previous chapters, Jesus has just spent time warning his followers that his death is coming and that they too will face persecution. And they did. Nearly all of the disciples were martyred. Many more followers of Christ were tortured and imprisoned and suffered gruesome deaths.

So, although this apocalyptic parable is incredibly stark, it is actually Good News for its original hearers. Good News to the oppressed often sounds like Very Bad News to oppressors. In the reading from Ezekiel God says that God will seek out the lost and injured sheep. But the strong sheep? They will be destroyed. Ezekiel says, “The will be fed with justice.”

To those who declare supremacy, equality signals a loss of their death grip on power which… doesn’t sound at all like Good News. I imagine that for the billionaires who profited by exploiting the misery of the masses this year, hearing that the rich will be cast down and the poor lifted up doesn’t sound like Good News. To those who use violence to repress freedom and call it, “Law and Order,” liberation doesn’t sound like Good News.

But it is.

The disciples know from Jesus’ warnings that they could count themselves among those who will be hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. This parable puts the King in solidarity with their suffering, as one who suffers alongside them and who demands justice for the harm against them.

“Whatever you did to the least of my siblings. It is as if you did it to me.”

The good news for the disciples, and for all who suffer, is that Christ is with us in our pain. Christ does not rule as earthly leaders rule, Christ does not sit on a throne lording power over people while they suffer or getting rich at others’ expense. Our king’s throne? Is the rough wood of a cross. Our king? Wears a bloody crown of thorns. Our king suffers with us.

We are suffering right now. This pandemic has meant that many people have lost their jobs. Feeling hunger is not a metaphor. Trump’s gutting of the Clean Water Act and lead pipes in my city of Chicago or in Flint Michigan or in so many other communities means that more and more people are being poisoned by their drinking water. Being thirsty is very real. For the immigrant children separated from their families at our border, over 500 of whom are now unable to be tracked down and reunited with their loved ones, the desperation to feel welcome as a stranger, is real. Hospitals are again reaching capacity as cases of COVID-19 rise, and the sick are not able to receive visitors; peoples’ loved ones are dying alone in the ICU and the frontline healthcare workers who could not save them weep in supply closets. The longing for a visitor to the sick is real.

Our king is not like other kings. Our king suffers with us. Our king demands something better for us – not just spiritually, but for our real physical material lives. Our king has more in common with the Black trans women murdered this year than with anyone you would ever find on the ballot. Our king is gender bending and poor and radical and ready. Our king doesn’t sit upon a mountain of gold coins like some kind of Cosmic Scrooge McDuck. Our God redistributes wealth, shut downs predatory Pay Day Loans, and turns the stock market inside out. Our King doesn’t rely on racist punitary systems for justice. Our King throws open the prison doors and proclaims release to captives and restores what was lost. Our king doesn’t rule through toxic masculinity and violent repression but through the gentle, steady power of solidarity and self sacrifice.

And God’s kingdom is not defined by imaginary lines drawn arbitrarily across stolen land. There are no walls. God’s country has open hearts and open borders. The citizens of God’s kingdom are not defined by any particular race or color or language. It is made up of all people, freed people, full of unity without forced assimilation. There’s no documents for ICE to check to see if you belong. Citizens of the Kingdom of God are recognized by the way we treat one another.

“Whatever you did to the least of my siblings. It is as if you did it to me.”

There is no savior in this commonwealth except The Savior. No political party. No leader. No institution. Nothing.

May we refuse to bow, then, to any system or person demanding our uncritical obedience.

Christ is King. That means, no bosses, no masters, no idols deserve our allegiance. 

We pledge only to the sacrificial love and solidarity exemplified by Christ.


Opening Prayer:

God our Sovereign, your rule erases borders, casts out tyrants, and outlasts the reign of any despot or king. Destroy the idols of nationalism that divide us. Dismantle the treacherous systems of white supremacy, capitalism, and the cis-hetero patriarchy that bind us. Naturalize us as citizens of your nation in costly and courageous solidarity with the hungry, the thirsty, the undocumented, the impoverished, the imprisoned, and the sick. Embolden us to renounce allegiance to any power that would fail to recognize the face of Your Child in our Neighbor, in Jesus Christ, our President and slaughtered Lamb, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Discussion Questions
To what things do we pledge our allegiance? What lies have we bought and sold in exchange for false promises of security or superiority?

Elle points out that sometimes Good News for the oppressed can sound like Very Bad News to the oppressor. Name a story where that was true in your own life.

Elle’s sermon speaks of systems and institutions that will no longer exist when the Reign of God comes in all of its fullness. What other systems or institutions do you imagine will not exist? What kind of networks and relationships will exist in their place?


May the Sovereign Ruler free and empower us.

May the Lamb that was Slain crush the empires that oppress us

and tear down walls that divide us.

May the Subversive Spirit enliven the movement for liberation,

+ and may God grant our world peace.


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