Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sermon: Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up

Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD

(Photo by Don Taylor of Littleton, Colorado;

On Christ the King Sunday I will sit down on the carpeted chancel steps with the children from the congregation during the children’s sermon and show them typical images of kings.  I will ask them what makes a king a king.  They will point out what they see in the pictures:  crowns, thrones, scepters, soldiers, ornate castles, and loyal subjects.  I will ask them whether kings are found in high places or low places, and they will most likely say “high places.” 

Then I will ask them what makes Jesus a king.  Most likely they will hesitate at first, because this is not an easy question to answer.  I predict that one of them will pipe up with what all kids learn are the three best answers a kid can give in a children’s sermon:  “God,” “He died for us,” and “love.”  Not bad answers.  And I will show them pictures with sharp contrasts with the first set of images:  a crown of thorns, Jesus washing feet, Jesus riding on a donkey, Jesus healing a child, Jesus dying on a cross.  Hopefully they will come to understand that when we speak about “Christ the King,” we are talking about something very different than what the world understands about power, leadership, authority and strength.  We are talking about the Servant King who traded in all the trappings and temptations of temporal, mortal power for the qualities of human relationship that engender trust, sacredness, and precious regard for “the least of these.”  I will end by asking them whether Jesus the king is found in high places or low places.  Their answers will speak to the transcendence/immanence tension Christians have struggled with for two millennia.  And so I will say “Yes!  Both!”

But if I had more time with these children, I would take them outside and walk them around the church and ask them to point out all the living things they see.  When they point to the birds and flowers, I will remind them Jesus counted them as Sunday School teachers to have us learn important lessons about what it means to be satisfied with just enough.  When they point to the trees, I will remind them that Jesus had many times of prayer with God among the trees, who were like his prayer partners.

I would ask them if the sky is a living thing, and would probably receive mixed answers.  But then I would remind them that God’s very breath moved over the face of the earth and into our bodies, that every living thing depends on clean air, and that Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to the wind.

If one of the children would precociously point to the dirt and say that there are all kinds of invisible things in the soil that make it alive, I would affirm this heartily.  I would remind them of the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:40:  “ . . . for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth,” (NRSV).  The Greek phrase here is en kardia ge, literally “in the heart of the earth.”  And “heart” in this passage does not just mean in the center of the earth.  Jesus is saying that he is going to that place within the earth that is the seat of physical life, just like a human heart.  This is extremely important for our concept of the created world.  Jesus is acknowledging that Earth is a living entity, for one thing.  And that Earth has a center of spiritual, intellectual and physical life. 

On this Christ the King Sunday, I would want to tell the children (and all the grown-ups within earshot) that Jesus is saying that he will not rule over earth, but allow himself to be taken in by it.  His crucifixion and resurrection, therefore, is not just for the salvation of human beings, but for the very Earth itself.  This is the Cosmic Christ who locates himself not just in the heights of the heavens, but in the depths of the soil that birthed him, took him in after his death, and rebirthed him on Easter morning. 

Finally, I would ask them:  if Jesus is the Servant King, and Christians model their servant leadership on who Jesus is, what he did, and what his kingship means for all Creation, then how can we be servant leaders for Creation?  My hope would be that their answers would indicate the truth of Isaiah 11:6:  “And a little child shall lead them.”


  1. Leah, this is lovely. I have been sitting here for the past several days trying to decide exactly what to say to our children about Christ the King Sunday. I didn't just want to focus on the usual scepter and crown. I wanted to give them something more that would help them show Christ the King in their lives. It's hard to do, when you only get five minutes. Thanks for helping me get a little bit more focus and realize, it's okay to think a bit differently.

  2. So glad this was helpful to you! There are other suggestions for children's sermons on this blog (just do a search for "children"). You can also find ideas for helping children connect with God's Creation in my new book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit.


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