A Sermon for 20 November 2016 – Christ the King Sunday
A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 23:1-6. Listen for God’s word to us.
“’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: ‘It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings,’ says the Lord. 3’Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,’ says the Lord. 5’The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
The next reading is the classic text for this Sunday. A soaring statement about Christ, the King, who reigns. Listen for God’s word to us in a reading from Colossians 1:11-20.
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
While most Americas this week are starting to think about turkey, our first reading for today takes us instead to sheep. Scattered flocks. Bumped and bruised and neglected sheep. Lost sheep that have been abandoned by the shepherds who were supposed to lovingly tend them. It never has sat well with God for the sheep of God’s pasture to be mistreated – to be left to wander aimlessly because, for whatever reason, good shepherds stop leading well the sheep. “The days are surely coming,” says the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah, “When it will no longer be so!” (Jer. 23:5 paraphrase). God’s sheep need a loving shepherd. Leaders who will stick with them to take them where God needs for them to go.
At long last, we have the brilliant message of Colossians. After it all took place, those words were written. A hymn to the most amazing one: the one who has rescued and transferred the sheep to a most blessed place. The one who rules over all things – not just the sheep. The one in whom everything that is God fully dwells so that all the sheep can live secure. Tended. Safely in everlasting peace! . . . Today is Christ the King Sunday and it is a beautiful day to hail Christ the sovereign of all! The one who reigns forever and ever and ever as Lord – first in everything; for through him, heaven and earth come together for peace to remain in all forever. It’s the end of the liturgical year today. We celebrate the cycle all the way through his birth, baptism, ministry, sacrifice, triumphant resurrection, and abiding Spirit at work forevermore. Today we pledge our allegiance to the one at the center of our faith: Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, and alive through all eternity! Today he deserves all the pomp and circumstance – the rousing coronation chords of a hymn like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!” and the fervent call for all to gather to praise as in “Come, Christians, join to Sing.” Before this service is over, we’ll sing in “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and recite words of faith that keep our eyes on the kingdom that is God’s. . . . But first, another reading for this day. A gospel text assigned for the day when we gather to give a cheer to Christ our King! Listen.
“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”” (Luke 23:33-43, NRSV)
It’s a truly odd way to end a year – what with a day called Christ, the King and a reading that leaves him literally, and us figuratively, hanging on a cross. Behold our King: bloodied and dying before our eyes. . . . We Christians are a paradoxical lot – gazing upon a man gasping for his final breath – spitting out words like “forgive” while everyone around scoffs to say: “He saved so many others. If he’s the mighty chosen one, let him save himself!” . . . The King of the Jews – and all Creation. The King we claim even over us? . . . What does it mean for us to celebrate a day when we keep before us a king who is dying on a cross?
Kings aren’t supposed to die. Not like this. They are to be strong. Brave. Protective of all their subjects. How many kings had his people known? The Pharaohs of Egypt – they certainly were impressive kings. Their own King David, after the fiasco of King Saul. While David is remembered as an amazing King for Israel, uniting the lands and ruling from Jerusalem; he made some significant mishaps too. He had another man killed so that he could take his wife as his own without a guilty conscience – a violation of commandment #10 and 6 and 7 and depending on how you look at it number 5 and 8 too. His own family would be a mess from there on and while he one day would come to see the horror of his ways to beg for mercy before God, King David’s actions set in motion the demise of his heirs. O, God’s people knew of kings. The king of Assyria who would take over Israel to the north leaving Judah surrounded on all sides until at last arose the king of Babylon. Then of Persia. Then Alexander of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Then the Caesars of the Great Roman Empire. God’s people had had their fill of kings. One after another invading their land, taking them over, plundering their homes and business and highest holy place, the Temple. Those are the kinds of kings left famous in history. Mighty military men who commanded others to do as they said, or else. Who took what they wanted, or else. Who impressed with excess, or else.
One commentator writes of the gospel text assigned for this day when we hail another King: “These last moments of Jesus’ life seem to be in contrast to what is valued as great in our world. The world presented to us in newspapers or on television is not poor, but is a world of glamour. In this world, the ideal is to be rich and beautiful and influential. . . . This passage of the Bible takes us by the hand and gives us the surprising news: Christ is highest, and. . . (he) does not help himself, but he helps others who need his help. Still more: he does not meet evil with evil, but repays evil with good” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, Eberhard Busch, pp. 332, 334). Yes. Here is Christ, our King. Humbly dying before our eyes.
What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? This one who spent his days doing the very same things it’s recorded that he did on the cross. He went about his land bumping into people who needed help. Be it food or physical healing or the healing of full inclusion in his circle. Whoever he met, he invited into his way. He showed abundance and mercy and peace. He didn’t mysteriously fix every problem of their lives – Rome still ruled. Instead, he transformed their lives by showing them the more excellent way to be. He spoke the truth of God that was in him. He challenged those who cared more about their rules than their people. He welcomed the least and the lost and said God welcomed them too. Christ, the King. Our King – poured out his life that others truly might live too. He showed us how to dwell now in the kingdom belonging to him: God’s kingdom where love is the rule of the day. Compassion and kindness and hope: the most powerful weapons ready for his use. . . . What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? We know. It means we live likewise. Feeding and healing and welcoming strangers in. We exercise mercy and pursue peace and let ourselves be changed from the inside out by compassion and kindness and hope. We keep as the golden rule the charge to love – even when others scoff and mock and deride. We forgive, as we are forgiven by our mightily merciful King. What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? It means everything – each day, to live the way of his rule. . . . All hail, our King! Crown him with glorious crowns! Christ, the dying and rising King!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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