The following is a sermon I preached two Sundays ago, on Christ the King Sunday. It is the Sunday when the Church celebrates and anticipates the fullness of Christ’s reign as our King.
Christ the King Sunday followed shortly after the U.S. Elections, and I do share my own personal reaction to the election in this sermon – not to prescribe this same reaction for you or the members of my congregation, but because in order to proclaim the good news that God was making known to me in Scripture (John 11), I did need to share where I was personally that week.
I am so grateful for a church community that allowed me to take the risk of being vulnerable that Sunday, and for the many conversations that this has opened up. May God increase our love.
Sharing this sermon on this venue may open myself up to being misunderstood. I accept that cost. But in case it helps, I’d like to address some things head on:
- My sentiments regarding the election are meant to speak for me and me alone. Please do not interpret my emotions and thoughts as my intent to speak for any group of people. I know that many people of color, many Asian Americans, and many women feel differently than me.
- My sentiments are not meant to be prescriptive.
- Feel free to skip down to the part where I start talking about the Scripture passage, John 11, if reading about my personal response to the election is too upsetting for you. Because regardless of our differences, I do believe God has good news for all of us in this passage.
[Listen to recording here]
Christ the King Sunday: A Sermon from Life on the Vine Church
America and My Friend Kate
Some of you have asked how I am doing in the aftermath of last week’s election. I want you to know that even if I have not responded to you, or if I responded but didn’t seem to respond very openly…that I appreciate your care for me. I hope that you can understand that it’s been hard. And I haven’t really known how to talk about it. And sometimes, for a person of color, there are a lot of things to navigate when you’re experiencing a lot of turmoil about race-related things and yet situated in a largely white context, and I don’t want to be untruthful, but I also don’t want to say how I’m feeling “the wrong way.”
Don’t get me wrong: for the most part, my day-to-day life has been business as usual. As many of us have been reading and watching reports of hate incidents this past week, I personally have not experienced anything different than what I normally do.
But I have been shaken.
The best way I can think of to describe how this has felt to me is to actually share a story with you from many years ago. When I was in high school.
I was a freshman in high school. For the most part, I had my circle of friends from middle school who I typically stuck with. But recently, I had been partnered up in class with another girl named Kate. Because we had to work on a class project together, we had gone over to one another’s houses a few times. And then after we had finished the project, we continued being friends.
Kate and I were from different crowds. I was in show choir and high school musicals. Kate wore black eyeliner and had posters taped to her wall of bands I had never heard of before. We sat on her floor one afternoon after school, and she told me about the divorce her parents were going through, and about how her older sister was mean and didn’t care about her. I listened. I commiserated, having two older sisters of my own. But mostly, I sat beside her quietly as the tears fell from her eyes.
Despite our different circles, Kate and I were becoming good friends. And I was glad about this.
One morning, before school had started, I walked past the lockers and saw Kate standing in a circle of her friends. These were all kids I didn’t really know…they were part of her crowd. And as I passed by, Kate smiled and waved me over to stand next to her. So I joined the circle, standing quietly, looking around as Kate chatted with another person. Eventually, I noticed that one of the boys in the circle was staring at me. And when he noticed that he had gotten my attention, he began to launch all sorts of ugly words at me.
Go back to your country, you stupid chink.
Nobody wants you here.
You don’t belong here, ching-chong.
He said other things – things that don’t need to be repeated. And when he was done, he stood there and just smiled.
Things that were not new to me, although these sorts of words stung and infuriated every time I had heard them growing up. But most of the time, these sorts of things were yelled at me when I was alone, or with members of my family, or other Asian friends.
This was the first time it happened in front of a friend who was white. A friend who, I assumed, could stand up for me and say, “Hey, that’s not okay! Stop it!”
Instead, my new friend Kate…laughed it off. When I repeated the hateful statements he had made to me, she simply walked over to him, began giggling, and quickly started talking about some other topic.
This was the end of my friendship with Kate. I walked away from that circle, and I don’t really remember having much more interaction with her after that.
As a grown-up, I have a lot of understanding – even forgiveness – for 14 year old Kate. She had no idea how hurtful that was for me. She had no idea that her actions that morning…her ability to overlook the damaging and ugly words that her friend had thrown at me…communicated to me that I meant very, very little to her.
What Kate didn’t know, but what I felt on a very personal and deep level, was that her willingness to shrug off the words of hate that had been directed at me in order to keep her social standing with this high school boy demonstrated to me that I meant much less to her than she meant to me.
This is the best way I can explain what it has felt like for me, as a second-generation Asian-American woman, in this past week. It feels like America is my friend, Kate. And I am saying to her, “I cared about you, but you evidently do not care anything for me.”
It feels deeply personal. And I am hurt.
It has brought many griefs that I thought I had left behind in my past into the present. These pains I thought I had left behind have become very fresh to me again.
As I have been listening to my friends of color in this past week, I am hearing the same thing.
We are grieving.
We are hurt.
This is a painful reminder that we are not seen as full humans.
I know many of you are grieving too. Many of us are grieving the division we see in the church. And elections aside, there are many other things we may be mourning today.
A broken relationship.
We come to the last Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday. And we cannot check our grief at the door. We must enter with it. And when we do, I believe we can receive this good news: Christ the King weeps with us.
The King Who Weeps
The sisters – Mary and Martha – sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.” When Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”
This sickness will not end in death.
The story begins with us, as readers, knowing that Jesus knows something the others do not.
He knows, when Martha comes out to greet him, that he is about to raise her brother to life. He knows, when Mary runs and falls at his feet weeping, that this story will not end in death.
Jesus knows that He is the Resurrection and the life, and that this truth is not just for the future, but for today. In other words, Jesus knows he is King!
One might expect Jesus, with this knowledge, to say something like:
Mary…God is in control.
Mary…these tears don’t make sense. Death is part of the old world that is passing away and I’m here to do something new. If your theology was right, you wouldn’t be crying.
Mary…what good are these tears? These tears are a waste of time when we could be doing something useful.
And yet, Jesus does not correct, analyze, or minimize.
NT Wright says, “Jesus bursting into tears is one of the most remarkable moments in this whole gospel story. There can be no doubt of its historical truth. Nobody in the early church, venerating Jesus and celebrating his own victory over death, would have invented such a thing.”
Knowing that he has the power to raise Lazarus from the dead –
Knowing that he fully intends to do so in just a short while –
Weeps with Mary.
Why would Jesus do this?
First, Jesus weeps because he is willing to enter into Mary’s pain. He weeps to be with her.
But more than this:
I believe Jesus weeps because as the King who is making all things right, he alone understands just how wrong things are.
The One who is seated on the throne, who out of his love for the world is making all things new, is precisely the one who is able to lead us in grief that things are not yet as they should be.
A Bandaid for My Grief
Christ is King.
Jesus is Lord.
God is in control.
Amen, and amen, and amen! I affirm this good news wholeheartedly.
But can we also be honest and confess that what should be good news is sometimes proclaimed like it is bad news?
The truth that Christ is King is sometimes preached like the gospel of avoidance. It is a band-aid gospel.
I have an 8 year old and a 5 year old – two boys. We go through bandaids very quickly in my house. Pretty much on a daily basis, we have anywhere from 1 to 5 instances of someone getting a “boo-boo” and needing a band-aid. The thing is – the bandaids often aren’t really doing anything, but we know they make our kids feel better. A bonk on the head occurs. Wailing ensues. And my husband and I know that if we put a bandaid on, it will make our crying child feel like something is being done. This is, in part, because we truly want to them to feel comforted. But in all honesty…this has also become a practice because we know the crying will just stop sooner.
A band-aid on a bonked forehead will give the illusion of comfort.
A band-aid over a nasty paper cut will at least hide the injury, and many of us know – out of sight, out of mind. It’s easier to not see it.
And sometimes….sometimes…the words “Christ is King” or “Jesus is Lord” have been used as a band-aid. A quick application to stop the tears. A hasty word to keep the pain and the injury out of sight.
But Jesus wept out of his love and solidarity with Mary. Because that is the kind of King he is.
The good news that “Christ is King” is proclaimed in some places as a protection of the status quo. It’s a free pass. You can keep going about your life, unburdened by any kind of suffering you might see, relieved of the pain of any injustice, because hey….God is in control.
But Jesus wept, his heart broken, because he knew things must change. The status quo could not remain.
We need to become acquainted with the King Jesus who weeps with us.
Sadness and grief are hard. Sadness and grief challenge us because they force us to feel out of control, and that is difficult for people who have had the privilege of feeling in control of their lives. Analyzing a situation feels better. Prescribing what should have happened instead feels better. Explaining to everyone how one ought to be thinking and feeling, rather than just hearing what people are thinking and feeling…feels better.
But Jesus is the King who weeps with us. You will not know the fullness of the statement, “Christ is King,” until you can experience him as the King who doesn’t perch himself high above reality on a golden throne, but as the King who took on flesh, walked this earth, entered into our pain, and wept salty tears at the tomb of his friend.
We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters of color, and our family members in Christ all over the world, who have known this King Jesus for a long time.
I have sat and wept this past week with a few of them – with international seminary students, my friends who are Asian American, my colleagues who are African American.
We sat in silence, not needing to say a word.
Not needing to explain, or analyze, or dissect.
We mourned together, and we welcomed the presence of a King who weeps with us.
We must learn from them.
Their tears and their anguish do not imply a weak theology.
Their tears and their anguish may, in fact, imply a much stronger and truer understanding of who this King named Jesus is.
To proclaim Jesus is King is to receive him into your deepest sorrows and sadness, angers, and fears. To declare Jesus is King is to stand with the Messiah whose heart was moved and deeply troubled over death, and to hear him say “No, this is NOT the way things should be.” To receive Jesus as King is to follow him as he leads us in his tears, teaching us how to grieve.
And friends, when I understand and experience that I have a Jesus who mourns with me, I can mourn with you.
I don’t need to control your grief.
I don’t need to convince you to think or feel otherwise.
I don’t need to cover up your pain.
I am freed to be like Jesus.
To sit with you.
To say: I see your pain. You are not invisible to me.
As a church, we have a King who weeps with us, and we are sent into mission – but our first step of action is not to analyze or correct the brokenness. The first step of the church in a deeply broken world is not analysis or strategy, but lament.*
Lament enables us to say: things are not right, and I cannot fix them.
Things are not right, and I am not in control.
Things are not right, and I desperately need you, Lord.
Things are not right, Lord – and I cannot be a part of this brokenness anymore, so start with me.
Lament enables us to speak truth – truth about our brokenness.
Lament is what leads us into repentance.
The first step of the church that proclaims Jesus is King to a deeply broken world is to grieve.
Today, I am grieving.
As Jesus weeps with Mary, he finally asks: “Where have you laid him?” And she and the others who are there say to him, “Come and see.”
This phrase echoes from the early pages of John when we are invited to “come and see” in order to follow Jesus. But we see here in John 11 that our journey to “come and see” Jesus will also mean that we say to him, “Come and see”…come and see my suffering. Come and see my grief.
N.T. Wright says:
It is the simplest of invitations. And yet it goes to the heart of our Christian faith. “Come and see,” we say to Jesus, as we lead him, with all of our tears, to the place of our deepest sorrow and grief.
And so…today, I am grieving.
I am grieving the many ways I have been told through words and actions that I am not as valuable as a white person, and that I am not welcome here. I am grieving the ways I have accepted and internalized this message for far too long.
I am grieving that many of my friends are afraid as they consider what it will be like to live in this nation for the next four years…afraid for themselves, and for their children.
I am grieving that there seems to be an aching gap within Christ’s body. I am grieving the ways we just aren’t hearing each other. I am grieving that I have not felt heard.
And I believe that Jesus is the King who weeps with me.
The Words that Follow “Jesus is King.”
My friend Adam says it like this: Jesus is King, yes… but what are the next 10 words?
Christ is King…therefore I can grieve.
Christ is King…therefore I can invite him into my deepest places of grief and sorrow.
Christ is King…therefore I can listen to the pain of others.
Christ is King…therefore I can grieve and repent over any way I have been a part of this pain, asking for his help to change.
We grieve together – not in spite of the truth that Christ is King, but precisely because Christ is King.
A Prayer for Those Who Grieve and for Those Learning to Grieve
Jesus, because you are King…lead us in our tears.
Because you are King…give us courage to welcome you into our sadness.
Because you are King…help us to sit in silence with others’ pain.
Because you are King…begin the change that needs to happen in this world with us.
Because you are King…give us hope, in our grief, that a better day is coming. Because the One who is seated on the throne sees us, sees our tears, and he groans with us – this is not the way things ought to be!
Come, Lord Jesus.
*I think I may have plagiarized this sentence from “Reconciling All Things”, but I can’t find the exact citation! It’s a sentence that has stuck with me after reading the book, and I may not have quoted it verbatim but felt I should give the authors credit.