A Good King Leads by Example

MP3 Audio:  WS330310_Dn-Joseph_Christ-the-King-2013.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, October 27, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Gospel Reading:  John 18:33-37

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

I want you to imagine a great medieval battle like you might see on Lord of the Rings. Or perhaps you’re thinking of the Braveheart movie, where you have nobles and knights and peasants and every class coming to fight, one against another.

Now, on the one side, you have the King arrayed in the most glorious apparel (cf. Psalm 92:1 – LXX). He has his armor, he has his glistening shield, he rides a steed, and the steed itself is bearing armor. He has the most magnificent sword in the land, and you can see the King glistening in the sunlight as he leads his army into battle.

The other nation has the King sitting back miles behind the lines. He sends emissaries to tell the people how he wants to battle to go. And then they ride back and say, “Well, here’s how things went today.” They ride back the next day and say, “Well, here’s how things went the next day.” And so he sends stuff back and sends notes, and they take the notes out to the commanders, in other words, very much like our modern states run things: you got the president in the White House directing the expendables to go kill each other off on the battlefields of some foreign country.

So the King of one nation leads his army into battle. The King of the other nation sits all the way behind all the forces, just directing them, telling them what they need to go do.

Which King warms your heart?
Which King do you find most glorious?
Which King would you find it the easiest to follow,
the one who leads, or the one who pushes?

You see, there are a lot of different kings. There are a lot of different ways that kings rule. You have some kings that lead valiantly, they don’t ask anybody to do anything that they themselves are not doing. You have other kings that are very interested in the events, but they push from behind. They want somebody else to bear the loss, somebody else to bear the casualty. But they themselves are gonna make sure they are as protected and shielded as possible from any harm. And then you have other kings that, sure, they have their position, they have their royalty, they have their power, but they just don’t care. They are just really not that interested in what’s going on. They just want to eat, drink, and be merry. And if people fight, or if they don’t fight, “Meh. It doesn’t affect me. I just want to sit in my castle and have a good time.”

If you look at when David got into trouble with Bathsheba and ended up having her husband killed, trying to cover up his sin, the passage starts out “at the time of year when the kings went to war, when the kings went to battle . . . .” David was sitting back home is castle. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Now, if everyone had been at peace and there was no need for battle, that’s one thing. But we read that the armies of Israel were off fighting, they were out protecting their people. But David was not leading them. He was sitting back home. If he had been where he was supposed to be, leading his nation, leading his armies, he never would have seen Bathsheba. He never would have fallen into that particular sin. He never would have brought about the death of her husband, or the death of his own son, in the process.

But think about a younger David. He was more of a king as a young boy than he was at that time he fell with Bathsheba, because as a young boy, what did he do? He led. The first Philistine to fall in the battle was Goliath, when little David stood forth and believed that he was more powerful–on the side of God–than this huge giant was on the side of false gods. And he felled the giant. He decapitated him. And then, following David’s lead, all the armies of Israel came and they routed the Philistines. That’s what a real king looks like.

And early in David’s reign as king, you actually see this. In fact, even before he’s actually been coronated, the previous king–Saul–is still in power, and what does everybody sing and chant? “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” David was leading. When his armies had to be up there to fight, he was there with them. He was fighting with them, he was leading the way.

Why does this appeal to us?

Well, first of all, there is no hypocrisy. If he says, “This cause is so critical that it is worth risking your life for,” while he himself is risking his own life, not just yours . . . if he says, “This is so crucial that this is worth shedding blood over,” he’s not just asking you to do it, he’s out there with his sword also.

You say, “Well, either King has called me into danger. Either King has called me to lay down my life.” Yes, but only one of those two kings is willing to lay down his own life. And that makes it just a little easier to swallow what he has called us to do.

It matters a lot what type of king we believe Jesus to be. The name of our church is Christ the King Orthodox Church, so today is our feast day, on Christ the King Sunday. But how do we think about Christ? What sort of a king do we recognize Him as?

Some people believe that God is just this harsh taskmaster sitting up in heaven, with all of these rules, in the safety of His throne-room in heaven, far away from any of our suffering, far away from any of our pain. He lifts up His scepter, and with a sneer He looks at those scrawny little humans down on earth and says,

“Let me see if I can make them scurry like ants. I’m going to put these harsh burdens on them here, and these hard rules on them here, and they are going to destroy each other, and they are going to have all kinds of suffering. And I’m just going to watch from up here and look at them like little ants. And I’ve got my magnifying glass here; I’m just going to burn each one of them.”

That’s how some people look at God.

The King that is far behind the battle, protected from any of the bloodshed, protected from any of the danger, just sending us out to be slaughtered like sheep–if that’s who you believe your King to be, how impossible are you going to find it, to bring yourself emotionally to actually want to follow His commands, to actually want to do what He is asking you to do?

You might cower and shiver in your boots, thinking, “Well, I’m going to try to obey as much as I can, and do as much as He tells me to do that I can figure how to do,” out of fear. But you are not going to follow that kind of a God out of love. Your heart will not be warmed, like it would be by the King that steps out in his own armor and leads his own armies into battle.

If you believe that Jesus is a king like some of the Kings that we see today–There are some places in the world today where you will have a king or a queen, but it’s mainly just a title. Most of the people do whatever they want, things are decided by some sort of parliament or House of Representatives, the King or the Queen has no real power to do anything to hurt or help anybody, but people just give them honor. They say, “Ah, that’s the royal family. There is somebody we look up to. We look at them for fashion advice. We like to be around them because they are famous. They live in really nice mansions. They are celebrities.” But all the power of the monarchy has been emptied from them All they have left is just the name.

I believe there are a lot of Christians today who look at Jesus as that sort of a King. They don’t actually want Him to have the power to tell them what to do with their money.

“Oh, I’ll call him ‘King’ until he starts trying to tax me. The tithe, what’s that? Alms? Offerings? What, my money? Really? No, that’s somebody else, somebody super-wealthy, somebody other than me. Not me! You’re not getting in my pocketbook, God.”

They want to call Him “King”, but they don’t want Him to actually have the power to say what I’m going to do with my romantic life.

“You mean I can’t just sleep with whoever I want? You mean it’s just one man and one woman? You mean once I have married that one person, I have to stay with them the rest of my life? If we just don’t get along that well, divorce isn’t okay? Well, who are you to tell me what to do, Jesus?”

They don’t want to give Jesus the authority as King, to tell us, “Here is how you are supposed to raise your children.”

“Well, I think we ought to raise kids this way. . . .”

“Well, I think we ought to raise them this way. . . .”

Well, what does it say in Scripture? “When you rise up, when you lie down, when you go by the way, when you come home,” in other words, every waking minute, from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to sleep at night, you should be teaching your children the Faith, you should be teaching them the Scriptures, teaching them the prayers of the Church, not waiting for them to become adults and “decide on their own” that they are interested in the Faith, but literally filling their hearts and minds with the Faith from the time they are born.

::sigh:: That’s too much work. It’s hard for me to focus on worship. I just want to focus on worship. I don’t want to have these kids to mess with over here. Oh, but I sure will scowl at somebody if somebody else’s kids aren’t behaving the way I think they should.

But don’t, don’t, don’t pick on me! Don’t ask me to do anything. Don’t ask me to take care of my own kids, and teach my own kids. Don’t ask me to get somebody else’s kids and take them under my wing, and start teaching them and helping them through the service. No, don’t put any responsibilities on me at all.

I’ll call you ‘King’ by name, Jesus. I like the title, because when I call you ‘King’, it makes me sound like a good person.

But you don’t actually have any claim on my money, you don’t have any claim on my time, you don’t have any claim on how I interact with relationships with other people, you don’t have any claim on how I deal with children, you don’t have any claim on my entertainment time.

Basically, you’re powerless. You’re just a figurehead. I’ll call you ‘King’, but don’t you dare ask me to do anything that I don’t want to do!

A lot of Christians that go by the name “Christian”, that even go by the name “Orthodox Christian”, think that Jesus is that kind of a king. He is not. He is not a figurehead, and He is not the hindmost, the one that sits off back, a thousand miles behind the battle lines, pushing us to do things that He’s not willing to do Himself.

No, Jesus is the righteous King, the good King.

Those two apostles were wanting to sit at His right hand, and at His left hand, not realizing that the next people to sit at his right hand and left hand would be crucified, just like He was. When Jesus said, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with,” He was talking about the bitter dregs, the bottom of that cup of wine, that was His crucifixion–His passion–on Golgotha.

Jesus calls each one of us to lay down our lives.

You think 10% of your income is too big of a demand? Hah. You haven’t even gotten the picture yet. He’s asking for all of it, a hundred percent. Sure, there is a percentage that Jesus expects every single one of us to give to the Church. Yes, Jesus is interested in money. Jesus talked about money more than He talked about heaven and hell, count the verses in Scripture, it’s important. No, the danger is not that we say, “Well, man, I guess I haven’t been giving as much to God as I should be.” No, the danger is that you give 10% or 20% or whatever, and then think you have done enough. That’s the danger! Jesus calls for everything. That means you don’t spend one penny, except as a steward of stuff that belongs to Jesus. You don’t buy one book, you don’t buy one game, you don’t buy one piece of food, you don’t spend one penny on rent, you don’t do one thing with one penny of your money unless you are 100% convinced that this is what Jesus wants you to do with it, that this is pleasing to Christ, that this is in service to His kingdom.

You think it’s a big demand on your time to come to Vespers once a week, and to come to Matins and liturgy on Sunday mornings, and daily to have morning and evening prayers at home by yourself or with your family? That’s just the beginning! You’re not even doing the minimum, if you get to the point that you’re doing that.

You see, we think, “Oh! Man, I pray twice a day. I go to church twice a week. Man, I’m better than everybody I know.” Well, you still are not even doing the minimum. No, the minimum is 100%. That means you don’t do anything for one minute, unless it is pleasing to Christ. You don’t spend half an hour of your time doing something, unless you believe this is in service to Christ and His kingdom. That’s what it means to be simple, that’s what it means to be single-minded, that’s what it means to live for no one and no thing except for Christ.

Now, do you still love your wife? Yes, but you love her because she belongs to Christ, and you love her as a Christian, and you love her as Christ calls you love her. In other words, you serve your wife because that’s what Christ requires, and you serve her in the way that He requires.

Do you still love your parents and your children? Yes, but not for their own sake, not one-on-one. No, you love them through Christ, you love them as Christ loves them, you love them because Christ has called you to love them.

100% of the things that you do, 100% of the time, you do for Christ. And anything that you do outside of that–even if it’s loving a child, giving money to a church, giving money to a missionary, donating time at a soup kitchen–if you are not doing that for Christ, then your labor is in vain. It says in Psalm 127 that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

Any work that you do–for any purpose–if it is not for Christ, you are wasting your effort, you are wasting your time, your efforts are in vain.

There are those that think it’s too much to ask, to attend all the services, to pray every day, to give at least 10% of their own income to the work of Christ and His kingdom, to give of their time on a daily basis to serve Christ and to do good things for Christ and His people.

I’m here to tell you, He is not just calling you for twice a week services, for twice a day prayers, and for 10%. He is calling for a hundred percent. And if Christ is our King, we can follow Him with warmed hearts and with trust, because that’s exactly what Christ gave, is a hundred percent.

He didn’t just stay up in heaven and direct us to do lots of things for Him. He didn’t just stay up in heaven and give all these rules for us to follow, so maybe a few of us would barely stumble into heaven. He came down, He humiliated Himself, He took on the form of a slave, He surrounded himself with lepers and whores and prostitutes and tax collectors–this is basically Las Vegas and the IRS–these are the kind of people that He is hanging out with. And He doesn’t stay away from them and say, “Okay, I’m down here to serve you, but ughh!” No, He embraces them! He takes these diseased, smelly, sinful people, and He wraps His arms around them, and loves them, and eats with them, and serves them, and ultimately goes to His own death.

He is naked, shamed, spit upon, bruised, bloody, beaten, and nailed like a common criminal to cross of wood, so that he could die as slowly as possible, with the most excruciating pain that Rome was able to devise. In fact, the word “excruciating” literally comes from the word “cross”. . . . The word “excruciating” is literally defined by the cross, and how horrible the pain was. If Christ calls you to suffer, if Christ calls you to give, if Christ calls you to serve, He is only asking you to do a fraction of what He Himself did first, by His own leadership.

He has a right to be King, not only because He has the power as God, but because He has led. He has blazed the trail. He has shown us the way. And when He calls us to do these things, to lay down our lives, He is not pushing us. He is pulling us. He is calling us to follow Him, and to do what He already has shown can be done.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one. Amen.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, October 27, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in Christ the King Sunday, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 18:33-37, Monarchy, The Orthodox Christian Family. Bookmark the permalink.

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