Genuflect, O my soul
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, October 25, 2020
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:1-11.”
WHAT A WORLD it is without a king! Even as Christians can we really say we live in a kingdom when every man is his own king, every woman queen to herself, every child the dauphin, and in our ‘kingdom’ we know neither courtesy nor honor? We’ve learned the fine art of the insult, of dressing others down, claiming great things of ourselves with only violence to prove it. Welcome to mob rule, Mad Max at Thunderdome, cities in anarchy, a world in which there is no king.
The idea of America was forged in the minds of a circle of men and women straining under the rule of a king enthroned thousands of miles across an ocean. That king wasn’t even English, but he ruled the English colonies as though by divine right. Colonists hadn’t even the rights of Englishmen, but were used to send the riches of these shores abroad.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry all had pews in a little church in Williamsburg where they worshiped the King of the Universe, Jesus Christ the rightful heir of King David. After service, they sat at coffee and plotted the overthrow of King George. An American Revolution was fought to enthrone only the true king of their lives over themselves and their fellow Americans and to oust an unworthy king. Their speeches and writings give ample witness that they knew, if the people of this new realm were not personally governed by the true king of heaven, they could never govern themselves.
We’ve lost that principle today and America has no king. Christians have lost it too. A universal love and admiration for the ancient Church once inspired the lives of clergy who led people to the Throne of Christ. From top down, the church of the last century failed to recognize the authority of God and His Church. Postmodernism has atomized members until everyone is a church to him or herself. This new Christian may gather with others to ‘worship’ in a style that pleases him or her best, or just go home and listen to KLOVE in the car. The Communion of Saints has become a myriad of filling stations for spiritual vehicles, with soft rock bands, PowerPoint, tank tops and flipflops and no crosses.
Genuflect, O my soul. I need to worship Someone. But Who?
God is Not my co-pilot. He refuses to be my divine helper. He will not sit waiting for my prayers that serve me alone. If He were these things, He would not be God, and no one would worship Him. The Collect for today addresses us to the Almighty God who has exalted His Son to be King over all worlds, and sent Him to make all things new. A true King establishes a kingdom. King David built a new Israel by leading his people to God, and against their enemies, making peace at their borders through God’s strength and living a life pleasing to Him. Solomon would bask in the shadow of his father, taking homage to himself, only to ultimately break the kingdom, for he didn’t keep Commandment #1: only one God. A king is more than his crown. A king makes all things new. A king establishes a safe realm for his subjects.
People remark at our genuflecting in this church, as almost nowhere else do Christians actually bow a knee anymore. Looks kind of superstitious, Romish even—but even Romans don’t do it anymore. When we enter or leave a pew, or pass before the altar we bow or touch a knee to the carpet. Why? It’s totally biblical. 750 years before Christ, Isaiah wrote in a prophecy for God: “there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Isaiah 45:21-23 St. Paul repeats it: “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:10-11 “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:11
While on earth, there were those who worshiped Jesus: the magi from the East, a leper who’d been healed, a ruler whose daughter was dying, His disciples in the boat when He calmed the storm, a Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed, a madman on a foreign shore, the man born blind whom Jesus healed, the women at Jesus’ tomb at His Resurrection, and all His Apostles as He rose to heaven.
Jesus came to establish a kingdom and He did it. Some did acknowledge Him as their King; others despised Him and mocked His kingdom. The accusation against Him that was nailed to His cross was that He was King of the Jews. If Jesus is king, why should we not genuflect? That’s the proper action any subject takes before His king, as a sign of fealty.
Or else, why shouldn’t we just rule our own lives, like they teach us to? Every man for himself, every woman just like men? Is that not the message today, and every day for a century or more? ‘I am the master of my fate, the source of my own destiny!’ Here’s a very strange irony. Ok: create in your mind a perfectly egalitarian world, where everyone is in charge of their own lives and there is no law. Law means external order and authority. None of that, fellow anarchists! Brothers in rebellion! No kings over us! Sounds like the French Revolution, right? Or the cultural revolution of the 60s? I lived through that. So, we’re all in charge, and everybody chooses what to do. Go on. Watch that movie for a while…
Since I did live in it, back in my Berkeley days, let me tell you how that goes. A guy moves into your place, saying he’s only going to stay for a couple of nights, then move on. He calls you Brother, so he’s okay. Now he’s been here for a month and he’s moved a girlfriend in too, and others, and a dog, and they’ve set up camp in your living room. They’ve eaten all your food. It smells funny and you’re missing some things. He’s asking for rides everywhere because he doesn’t drive—won’t buy gasoline because it pollutes the earth and supports corporations. Drugs come into the house and the sound of his music never stops.
You get the idea. The beautiful people, the Age of Aquarius: it all got ugly real fast. When people don’t respect your home, your person, your property, they just use you. Who are you going to call: the police? This is not a kingdom. There are no police. Remember? we defunded them.
You may now wish that rule and order and a common understanding between people be imposed from above ourselves. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong all ruled people efficiently. 100 million people brutally perished because they did rule in the last century. They all did it without God being king. We need a righteous king, not anarchy; and a king who is better than us, not dictators. The more freedom we want, the more we need a good king. Humans need constraint. Constraint itself then needs constraint, from a holy and better source than ourselves.
In 1977, six churches joined to make a new diocese, standing against the anarchy of our former allegiance. The name Christ the King felt appropriate. Today the Anglican Province of Christ the King, our national body, keeps faith with the King of the Universe. “Of His kingdom, there shall be no end,” says our shield, quoting the Angel Gabriel who declared it to Mary of Nazareth.
A kingdom without end should be recognized in the church, among Christians of today, but is it? With the lepers and fallen women, we dignify ourselves as we take a knee every now and then, before the throne of the only King who truly deserves the title. Yes, every human ruler disappoints us. Even King David failed, slept with his friend’s wife, killed him, failed his own sons, left dirty jobs for others to finish.
After all the world’s kings and emperors, presidents and prime ministers, queens and princesses have died and history has given them place and judgment: let Jesus reign, the only true and worthy king. May God indeed mercifully grant that the kindreds of the earth, wounded and dispersed by sin, come together under Christ’s gracious sovereignty.
A true king builds a kingdom, not for his own glory or his own sake, but for his subjects’ safety and welfare. Because the world is not safe, and people are not essentially good and respectful, laws and rules and order need to be established, and when we see it done right we rejoice. We all need authorities to protect and serve us, to keep our children safe from drug dealers and pedophiles, to settle our differences, to maintain our borders and to keep us from another 9/11. Anarchy and Antifa do nothing to provide these. Pirates won’t free you from despots or marauders.
Many are calling this election the most important of our lives. I can’t preach my voting preferences, but principles are involved that guide us to make our mark prayerfully, mapping out which path our nation takes, probably until our lives end. King Jesus attends our decision. We are not electing our God, only our government. But much is at stake.
We celebrate the Feast of Christ the King today, thankful to have such a king. He’s not only our future king, who will someday ride back on His white charger. He is king today of an invisible kingdom. It has no borders. It goes throughout the world, and even the stars are His. Submit to His will and feel the power gently applied, subtly leading your life. If you refuse His rule and rebel against the power behind this creation, you’ll see what life is like without a king. I have. I’ll have no part of that.
King Jesus is our king, true God and true man. It’s right that He should reign and rule our hearts and lives, today and always. Genuflect, O my soul, before Him. May my life kneel at His throne forever.