Living the Creed: Jesus is Lord

by Taylor Poindexter, Seminarian

“My kingdom is not from this world.” Christ the King Sunday was proposed by Pope Pius after World War One. He saw that nationalism was at its height, and he saw people all over the world who were willing to die for ideologies such as communism, fascism, and political democracy. It was the year Mussolini came into power, and the year when a huge KKK rally happened in DC. Pope Pius instituted a call back to alignment with Christ for the Catholic Church. He called for all Christians to recognize their creator, and to keep God’s commandments, and to not ignore God in their public lives. Anglicans, Lutherans and others followed suit as they recognized that Christians were placing all of their eggs in the baskets of governmental and economic systems. For 90 years now the feast has been celebrated, calling Christians to remember where their allegiances lie, to remember that Jesus is Lord, and that Christians are citizens of an alternative kingdom.

“Jesus is Lord” is the first creedal statement in the Christian tradition. This is an affront to an individualistic, self-focused way of life. My primary King, Lord, leader, is Jesus. If Jesus is Lord then I am not, and neither is my reputation, my accomplishments, or my ideologies. Being a Jesus-follower makes for a life that seeks a kingdom beyond those passing away on earth. Following Jesus is following a saving God, rather than all the worldly things that may promise to save us from the powers of death, but cannot deliver.

Pontius Pilate doesn’t seem to know what to do with Jesus. Jesus seems to have made his fellow Jews mad, but Pilate can’t do anything about an inter-religious spat. Pilate asks “are you the king of the Jews?” That’s the only question that can get Jesus into big trouble, crucifixion trouble. Jesus claiming kingship affronts the empire that Pilate represents. The only problem worth Pilate’s time is the one that Jesus answers with “You say that I am.” He interrogates Jesus and Jesus says “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” This truth to which Jesus refers is that he is God incarnate and that the kingdom he represents is out of this world, will not bend to the empire, will not bow to another ideology or king. The truth is that Jesus rules, the risen Christ rules, and that through baptism we are made citizens in that kingdom, committing to die and rise with him. We don’t know whether or not Pilate knew who he was dealing with, if he felt his nerves rising within him because he knew who Jesus might have been. But we can tell that Jesus was leading through questioning, even as he was being questioned. This truth, Jesus is Lord, means Pilate, and Caesar, are not.

If you decide to follow Jesus in this alternative kingdom, how do you know what God wants you to do? I asked a dear friend and mentor that question, she is the Episcopal Chaplain to JMU’s students, and she gave me advice that has stuck with me. She said, ask yourself, “Will this action help me to love God’s people more?” This theological question shapes how you think and act when you practice using it. “Does this help me love God’s people more?”

How do you follow Jesus? How do you choose to claim your citizenship in the kingdom of God, rather than in the kingdom of the world? Being a citizen of God’s kingdom sometimes means living by different norms. I was raised by caring, loving parents who instilled in me a big value for efficiency. I owe them an incredible debt for a lot of things, but even just that efficiency has been of great service to me! My Mom is very efficient, she’s the original multi-tasker. She worked from home so I got to watch her juggle different demands with grace. My Dad is a semi-retired economist, so I know a thing or two having to do with maximum efficiency from our dinner time conversation. As a result, I am a horrible grocery store companion-I can’t fathom buying anything that either isn’t in bulk, or that I can’t use for multiple dishes. I never go up the stairs empty handed-why not use my legs efficiently, and I tend not to waste too much time. And there’s that economic principle wherein it is most economical for people to do things that they are good at. It’s the principle that justifies outsourcing-an administrator hires a web designer to design a website. It makes most sense to make products where their raw components are readily available. Contractors complete projects for which they’re trained, rather than one office reinventing the wheel every time. These principles are deeply engrained in me, and they make sense. We need certain standards in any page economy or government. But sometimes, the norms of this kingdom just butt up against following Jesus into his kingdom. Sometimes the most efficient way, or the most economical way just doesn’t align with the norms of Christ’s kingdom. On campus, for instance, I work with the 5 demonstration gardens there, which we have developed to show church leaders how to engage their communities through work with gardening, food, sustainability, and justice. One of the biggest projects is the wheat we plant to harvest for the flour for our communion bread. I spend a lot of hours shoveling leaf compost, spreading chicken manure, hand sowing wheat seeds, and praying in a muddy field. Wheat is of course much more commonly produced in the heartland. And it’s a dollar in the grocery store! So why does the daughter of an extremely efficient pair of people spend time on these tasks? These tasks that I’m really not burly enough for, these tasks that take time away from other work on campus? Because it helps me to love God’s people more. When I invite my community to share in the planting, harvesting, milling and baking of our communion bread, I follow Jesus. When we learn together, pray together, share stories together, when we stoop together in solidarity with those who always work with their hands, we follow Jesus. It helps me love God’s people more. The rules of this earthly kingdom-efficiency, profit, don’t govern the kingdom in which Jesus reigns. The almighty doesn’t seem to operate on modern east-coast American metrics. The good habits of our age don’t necessarily pave the way to follow Christ.

Pope Pius’ idea continues to call us back into alignment with Christ the King. When we are members of Christ’s kingdom, we are invited to act in different ways. Yes, efficiency is important sometimes. But there are other practices that help you love God’s people more, that matter. Just as you vote, take out your trash and pay taxes, there is another set of expectations for citizens of God’s kingdom. Following the commandments, including the one about Sabbath, help to conform you to the culture of the kingdom of Christ. Sabbath was offered to those Israelites returning home after being held as slaves in Egypt, as God offered them one day a week where they only belong to God, and aren’t beholden to worldly powers. We are also offered that day, or hour, or afternoon, to pray, to unplug, to listen for God, to love God’s people, to leave room for those heart to heart conversations. Finding that inner and outer rest is so important, to honor your created body and to leave room for God to shape you, and to know God more closely. Taking Sabbath seriously is one way that we take part in God’s kingdom in transformational ways. Aligning ourselves as followers of Christ, embracing our place as citizens leaves room for God to work in us and through us.

And I wonder, when we seek to love God’s people more, how our rhetoric will be shaped, how our choices will be shaped, when it comes to the big questions of our age. How do we love God’s people more when they are refugees from a war-torn Syria, how do we love God’s people more when fear is an innate part of the culture of this world? Take heart and do not be afraid, for Christ’s kingdom invites you into live-saving, life-giving relationships. As members of Christ’s kingdom, Christ gives us the revelation we need to know, that Christ’s saving kingdom is the one to which we want to belong. Pilate wasn’t sure what this other king was about, but we have a little more information, and this King is the one I want to follow. The one I want to align myself with through prayer, Sabbath, listening, abiding and the action that flows from this citizenship in the kingdom.

So this saving Christ, this saving promise, this saving king, deserves our worship. And thus we turn to the altar, where Christ invites us to the feast set for his kingdom. It’s not about efficiency or fear other norms that rule our lives. It’s about God. It’s about the kingdom where we are already citizens, even as we fumble with our norms between these two worlds. Let us seek the things that help us to love God’s people more, let us act as the citizens of the kingdom God invites us to, let us live into the creed, Jesus is Lord.