A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost
November 24, 2013
David H. Knight, Priest Associate
In the Name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Sunday brings the Liturgical Church year to a close. We observe this last Sunday of the year as Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday will begin a new year when Advent comes once again. For the last twelve months we have been on a journey exploring the life and ministry of Jesus. In these last months in particular we have dealt with the teachings of Jesus. As today brings the year to a conclusion we proclaim once again that what we believe is that Jesus Christ is Lord and sovereign over all things. His sovereignty as King, however, is unlike any other sovereignty known by all humanity and is best described in the words of F. Bland Tucker who has written some of the greatest hymn texts of our tradition:
“Thou cam’est to us in lowliness of thought;
by thee the outcast and the poor were sought;
and by thy death was God’s salvation wrought.
Let this mind be in us which was in thee,
who wast a servant that we might be free,
humbling thyself to death on Calvary.”
(Hymn 477 stanzas 3 and 4)
In sharp contrast, the prophet Jeremiah issues a cry of outrage against those who have abused power in some way or another. On this Christ the King Sunday we take time not only to reflect upon the Church’s role in being faithful to this One we call Christ the King, but also to be deeply thankful for what an incredible gift God has given to us in Christ whose kingship is unlike that of any other. From the words of Jeremiah, we discern the prophet’s expectations for what this king should be and those expectations would be found on the person of Jesus himself. It would be a king who would reach out to and be present with all sorts and conditions of people. This king would resemble what Micah’s model for a king would be, that is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians we have just heard this morning come these words of assurance—assurance of what this king would be for us. Paul writes:
“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 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God…”
And then there is the account in Luke’s gospel, usually read during Holy Week in which we hear of the last moments of Jesus’ life. As in what Jeremiah has foretold, what we see in Jesus in these last moments is in such sharp contrast to what by our worldly standards is viewed as having power. In the world in which you and I live, the ideal is to be rich and beautiful and influential. In these last moments of Jesus’ life, however, he experiences precisely the opposite. He is ridiculed. As they hurled epithets at Jesus as he hung on the cross, they snarled at him saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Then come Jesus’ last words to another human being before his death. They are words to the thief hanging beside him, the one who seems to be among the few who now recognize Jesus for who he really is, the one you recall who says to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Those last words uttered by Jesus to another human being before his death and resurrection are words that are so consistent with the ministry of his short life on this earth. During that short ministry Jesus had taught about what the kingdom of God would be like. He had preached about setting free people who were held captive. He had so confounded what the elders and priests and politicians stood for that they condemned him to death. His ministry had been controversial. His ministry was world changing, so much so. In fact, that those in power had to do away with him. He was, as in the words of the hymn we just sang, one who was a servant that we might be free, humbling himself on Calvary.
Let us once again reflect on his very last words to another human being, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” These words are meant for you and me as well. They are profoundly reassuring and compassionate and they are consistent with the one who ministered so faithfully and so justly in his short ministry. We recall how Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like that of a shepherd who cares so deeply for those in his care, like that of a shepherd who when one of his sheep is lost goes and searches for that sheep until he finds that sheep. The paradise about which Jesus speaks is for all of us. Jesus’ compassion is for all people including those whom the world rejects. Marcus Borg, an American New Testament scholar, theologian and author, in his book The God We Never Knew, has written, “The teaching of Jesus becomes the wisdom of God, the compassion of Jesus becomes the compassion of God, the social vision of Jesus becomes the dream of God.” That bears repeating: The teaching of Jesus becomes the wisdom of God, the compassion of Jesus becomes the compassion of God, and the social vision of Jesus becomes the dream of God.
And so we come to this Sunday we call Christ the King Sunday. Sunday after Sunday, year after year we come to this place and we proclaim Jesus as Lord, Lord of our lives and Lord of the Church. Our hymns and music such as the Alleluia Chorus from Handel’s Messiah that we hear on Easter proclaim our belief as well. It is a good thing for us on this Sunday to remember what his sovereignty over our lives means for us, for it is a gift from God. It is also appropriate for us to reflect upon how we respond as we think of the vision that Jesus had for the world. How does the Church witness and minister to what Eleanor spoke of in her sermon last week as the messiness in the Church and in the world? How do our convictions and our actions compel us to witness to the Church’s call for action when it comes to matters of justice rather than simply play it safe and try to paper over the messiness in congregations and in the Church. Jesus himself never shied away from the messiness himself but tried to address it head on should we following his example when called to do so.
It is also a comforting thing on this Sunday to hear once again Jesus’ words that were spoken not only to the thief on the cross beside him on that last day, but also to you and me and to a world as well that needs to hear such assurance, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” There are times for all of us when we are held captive by any number of forces. There are times for all of us when we feel poor in spirit. There are times for all of us when hope is illusive. There are times for all of us when we live in fear of what might happen, yet this Christ the King comes to us and seeks us out and never, ever abandons us. He comes to us as a servant to set us free. He comes to us to make us strong once again, as St. Paul says, with all the strength that comes from his glorious power so that you and I can be prepared to endure anything and everything with patience.
What for you this day, this Sunday on which we celebrate Christ the King, might be some of the fears that might beset you? Could it be the failing health of a loved one, concern over a son or daughter, a difficult circumstance in your life that will soon require some kind of decision? Facing the holidays which for many is a bittersweet time of year? Or, perhaps you have experienced a loss of some kind that has turned your life upside down. You know, most of us get up each morning and face the day doing the best we can to cope with and manage life’s opportunities and its challenges. Some days are better than others yet we manage pretty well. But then come those difficult times, days when the gone wrong department takes over and we are overwhelmed. It is this One we know as and call the King of kings, and Lord of lords who comes to us and who never abandons us in the midst of all that life brings. It is the One who comes to us so that we might once again live a life free from fear. Think for a moment once again of what St. Paul says to the Church gathered in Rome when he writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Paul goes on, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Jesus in whom we believe and whose name we celebrate Christ the King Sunday today. In the face of all these things and in the face of so much more, may you and I go forth from this place today once again reminded of the One, and restored by the One who comes to you to give you hope and once again, a glimpse of life without fear and,
“Let this mind be in us which was in thee,
who wast a servant that we might be free,
humbling thyself to death on Calvary.
Wherefore, by God’s eternal purpose, thou
art high exalted o’er all creatures now,
and given the Name to which all knees shall bow._____ Alleluia!” Amen.
Hymn 477 stanzas 3 and 4