Edmund, Christ, and Us

A sermon for Proper 29 Christ the King; Jeremiah 23:1-6, Canticle 16, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Today is a three for one; it is 27th Sunday after Pentecost, it is the Sunday we celebrate Christ the King, and it is also the Feast Day of Edmund King of East Anglia.



When facing far superior Danish armies, and against the advice of his advisors and his bishops, he refused an offer to be their figurehead King and renounce Christ. Though his army fought bravely, they were defeated, and Edmund was executed by a variety means.

His tomb became a traditional place of pilgrimage for England’s kings, who came to pray at the grave of a man who remained steadfast in the Christian faith and loyal to the integrity of the English people (Episcopal Church).

We do not have Kings or Queens as rulers. We do, however; elect Presidents to lead us. And I got to wondering what we might see if we put aside our political consternation, and backed up quite a bit. Here is what I saw:

Candidate one

  • is a man
  • white
  • has an established political perspective
  • is a billionaire
  • has distinctive personality characteristics
  • a particular leadership style
  • is a disrupter
  • is politically connected (my connections tell me you can’t be in big time real estate and not be politically connected)
  • does not have a lot of political or government leadership experience, and
  • whose character was challenged 

Candidate number two

  • is a woman
  • white
  • has an established political perspective
  • has distinctive personality characteristics
  • a particular leadership style
  • uses the existing system very well
  • is a millionaire
  • is politically connected
  • has a lot of political and government leadership experience and
  • whose character was challenged 

Both candidates have a regal air about them. Close your eyes and you can imagine them dressed as royalty from a crown, to purple clothing, to a scepter, and to heraldry. As different as these candidates are, from this perspective Clinton and Trump are interestingly similar especially when we compare them to Christ the King.

The title for this day Christ the King is curious. There is nothing in today’s Gospel that shows us Christ as king. In fact, he is executed as a common criminal. Last year, from the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say “my kingdom is not of this world – I was born to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-37). It is thoughtful, but not regal. Next year we will hear “the son of man comes in his glory” and the story goes on to say

the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison?’ … And the king will answer them just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).

I am not at all sure our images of Christ the King fit the scripture readings. And that has been a reality for a long time. The earliest portraits of Jesus show him dressed in the simple clothes of his day. Over time as the church grew in power and in importance portraits begin to show him in more grandiose regal clothing and setting, (Warren). If you Google “images of Christ the king” (https://goo.gl/P6F8kk )


everything that shows up is grand and glorious regal. IF you Google “earliest images of Christ the king” (https://goo.gl/9tcMZM ) scroll down a little bit to 6 of the Oldest Images of Our Lord Jesus Christ or Three of the Oldest Images of Jesus, and you can see how very different the portraits are. When we think of Christ the King, what images, what characteristics do you see?

I am not at all sure that today the question is about images of Christ the King. I really suspect the question is about ourselves, about our visions of leaders, who we will follow and what we expect. When we think of government as instituted by God for the care of God’s people what images of leaders do we see? When thinking about our elected leaders, from a school board to a representative to the governor or the president, what images do we see (Romans 13, Jeremiah 23:5)? Do we seek a leader who fights our battles for us (1 Samuel 8:20)? Or do we see a leader who

  • washed his disciples’ feet,
  • fed the hungry
  • took pity on those who suffered
  • ate with sinners,
  • forgave sins
  • spoke out against injustice
  • challenged the status quo
  • welcomed the social outcasts, and
  • took on the mantle of poverty and obscurity (Warren).

Do we seek a leader who

  • is crucified
  • forgives the very people who have secured his death
  • and while hanging on his cross, grants salvation to the criminal on the cross next to him
  • and who brings the condemned into paradise (Lewis)(Culpepper)?

Will we follow a leader whose followers are a ragtag group from the lowest classes? Will we follow a leader who is marginalized by the ruling classes (Warren)?

The reading from Jeremiah is about God’s promise to gather the scattered people of Israel and to raise up a new leader, who Christians believe is Jesus. But before that, we hear a judgment against the Kings of Israel who failed to tend to the flock. For Jeremiah kingship and justice are mutually interdependent. And justice is seen in how the weakest, the most vulnerable, the least resourced and capable are treated. This is the measure, the plumb line God gives Amos, and against which Israel fails to measure up (Kennedy). The way Israel’s kings are to be measured is through righteousness, justice, and safety of the people. Is their relationship with God truthful, is everyone treated equally, and are the least of God’s people taken care of?

We are a democracy, we elect our leaders, and so we have to break down this measurement and tweak it just a bit. It is not how our elected leaders are righteous, just or take care of the people. It is how “WE the People …” are righteous, just and take care of each other, both individually and as a community; locally, as a county, as a state as a nation, and as people of the world. And yes, it is a daunting, overwhelming thought. So we can understand why the ancient Hebrews want someone else to take care of all this for them. They knew as we know that the real battles a community faces are not from the outside threats, but from the inside threats of how we treat and mistreat, each other. And yes, it does mean that we will have to be bolder in what we say, challenging each other and holding each other accountable for words and actions, and we will have to be braver in our actions; not only in standing up to injustice but in acting to feed the hungry, sharing a drink with the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting those in prison (Lewis).

This is a daunting, overwhelming thought. Maybe ~ maybe. Just this morning, in our opening collect we prayed: “whose will it is to restore all things.” God is with us. It is easy to think of God/Jesus/Spirit on a cosmic scale. It really sort of keeps them at a safe distance. But, God/Jesus/Spirit are intimate, available to everybody, to each one of us at any moment. “There are no God Free Zones” (Epperly).

 So, this morning as we bring one church year to a close, as we celebrate Christ as our leader of all leaders we are thankful that Jesus’ reign seeks to serve us (Lose). We also realize that this year, and years to come it not so much the leaders we choose, as it is our own relationships with God, the way we assure justice for all, and provide for all God’s people that will be measured against the plumb line. And perhaps, perhaps this is why Paul prays that

[We may] be made strong with all the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power, and … be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:11-12).



Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Episcopal Church. Lesser Feast and Fast. New York: Church Hymnal Corp., 1988.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Kennedy, James. M. New Interpreter’s Bible Jeremiah. Vol. 4. Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Lewis, Karoline. Who and What is Your King? 20 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Christ the King C: What Kind of King Do You Want? 20 11 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “What kind of King?” 20 11 2016. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Warren, Timothy G. “Christ the King – Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost(C).” 20 11 2016. Sermons that Work.



Others’ sight

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting a member of the Army medical team, serving through Operation Healthy Delta, at our Rotary meeting. He was impressed with our facilities, the breadth and quality of our lunch options, the skills and talents of our members, our club assembly, and that we had a former District Governor as a member. Also, in our conversation to and from lunch (and other short chats) he expressed his delight (and surprise) with the hospitality, generosity, and appreciation of the people he has meet. He is also rather jealous of our more genteel pace of life. His impression stands in contrast to the way we tend to hear folks here talk about our selves (which is not necessarily as surprise). It reminds me of the value there is in listening to how others see us, so that we may better see ourselves.

Isaiah 1:10ff and Psalm 50 are intriguingly similar. Both blatantly expose the truth of Israel’s notorious behavior that exceedingly displeases God. Both acknowledge Israel follows ritual custom with respect to Temple sacrifices, and the truth that any effect they have on behavior stops at the walls of the Temple, that there is abundant evidence Israel is morally and ethically bankrupt. Isaiah declares all Israel’s worship is a burdensome abomination. Psalm 50 is the setting of a cosmic court in which all the cosmos will testify against Israel. We glibly leave these reading in sole relationship to Israel; and try to ignore the truth they reveal about ourselves, we do not like this other’s view, but deep in our souls we know its truth.

At the same time, both readings present another view of ourselves. Isaiah offers hope; our scarlet sins shall be like snow, our crimson unrighteousness shall become like wool. Psalm 50: 24 reads …those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God. The hope offered here reveals the other way Israel, we, are seen by God. We are worth offering hope to. We have the potential to change. We are beloved by God.

Both the others’ visions of systemic unrighteousness and the divine love inspired offer of hope are inexorably linked. We can not bear to acknowledge the truth of our behavior with the possibility of hope, and we can not see the need for hope with out acknowledging our unrighteousness. We need both visions.

Thanks to the soldiers serving the needs of people in the delta, and sharing a fuller vision of our selves. Thanks for prophetic voices bluntly speaking truth, thanks be to God for love inspired hope, revealing the divine sight of what is, and what is to be.