Christ the King Sunday 20 November 2016
(Jeremiah 23:1-6 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43)
“A Crucified King – so what?”
This past Monday and Tuesday I had the opportunity to be at meetings with our bishop. On Monday morning, I was with the deans of our Synod, and on Tuesday the bishop was at our meeting of the Lutheran pastors from our Gettysburg Conference.
On both days, Bishop Dunlop began his part of the meetings by asking us how we were doing following the election, how the congregations and pastors in our conference were doing.
On both days he recognized the pain that comes from division, especially division within families and congregations and our country since Election Day.
I have had the opportunity to talk with many of you since November 8, so I know that, as a congregation, our vote was divided in a similar manner as was the entire country.
I also know that Pastor Andrew was right on the mark in his sermon last weekend when he asked us to confront our fears with the desire to let go of them; also, that as Christians in Baptism we are united at a deeper, more profound level than political parties, political candidates, and political issues.
I know that, emotionally, most of us are far from finished with the election of less than two weeks ago. Thousands from facebook nation are taking time away from Facebook because of Facebook fatigue. Entire school districts (and some not too far from here) struggling to respond to increased incidents of bullying and discrimination. Voices have even gotten to a New York stage.
So as your pastor, as I realize this election has touched a deep spiritual dimension of so many people, and I would welcome the opportunity to talk with any of you who wish to share where you are nearly two weeks after this election.
So that is my lead-in, not unrelated, on one of those Sunday’s that can seem nearly impossible to preach in the North America context: Christ the King Sunday, also the last Sunday of the Church Year. What makes preaching today extra difficult is that most of us do not have a keen sense of royalty, especially for Kings. Many also have an unclear sense of the Church Year. Finally, to describe Jesus as “King” just serves to befuddle most of us and it threatens to miss the whole point of the Gospel because our understanding of “King” plays much more to a static sense of order rather than to a dynamic sense of God’s rule on earth.
First a word of context. It was in the post-World War I years, where there came an increased sense secularism, violence and racism throughout the world. It was in 1925, when the Pope, wanting to combat these “rising social sins” declared this Feast of Christ the King. Some mainline Christian churches adopted this festival day to lift up our allegiance to Jesus above nation, tribe and even biological family. This became a day to re-examine “to whose authority do we pledge our lives?”
So what does Christ the King say to us today? We go to the broken body of Jesus on the Cross, knowing that the Body of Christ in today’s world is just as broken–in communities, in congregations and in families fractured and torn apart in so many ways.
If we believe that Christian faith is not just allegiance to a different sovereign, but rather an entrance into an entire new realm, then we are called to a new responsibility in relation to others. Regardless of whether your person won or lost in any election, the Gospel value is to not give into the seduction of the idolatry of giving too much power to anyone in leadership; but rather, to enter into the brokenness with a new commitment to justice, especially to those being crucified around us. Transformation of hearts begins with love.
We all want values of good order and strength, especially in times when we are threatened. I want those values as much as any of you. And as good as such makes us feel, we values make us feel, we cannot think for a minute that the “might makes right” mentality is the Gospel! Most people do. We’ve rewritten the Gospel to make it a winners’ script. Bonheoffer calls it “cheap grace.” Luther challenges us with an understanding of “the suffering God.”
We still live our faith out of a “Cowboy mentality” where there are Good Guys and Bad Guys, and our goal to kill off all the Bad Guys. Here’s the real kicker: In this type of religion, we decide the winners and losers! Hear me: this is not Jesus! That is not the Gospel! This is not Christ the King on the cross!
Paul, writing to the Corinthians is so radical that we don’t know what to do with it, when he writes: “Jesus who knew no sin, became sin, so that in him we might become righteous” [2 Cor. 5:21]. Jesus absorbed evil. Jesus let evil wreck havoc on his body. Jesus became the problem. Jesus is never above it. He is never apart from it! Jesus is in solidarity with whatever problem, whatever evil, whatever sinfulness and brokenness we may encounter.
Jesus on the cross is not a winners’ script. Jesus didn’t come for us to circle the wagons so those in power can feel good. Jesus came to show us how to speak truth to power, how to speak truth in love, how to embrace all, forgive all, and redeem all because that is his deepest and truest nature. That’s the Gospel regardless of who is in the White House. As kids will say, “it is a losers’ script!” And it is by our world’s estimation. But that’s why today we lift up Transgender Remembrance Day; why we wanted to be a Reconciling In Christ Congregation; why we took the lead with the homeless initiative for Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S. and have people making breakfast, sleeping nightly; why we faithfully bring food for Ruth’s Harvest. Society singles out lots of groups of people and moves them to the “losers’ column.” Such singling out brings us awfully close to blasphemy, which becomes the challenge for today.
Jesus on the Cross is the embodiment of the Gospel truth that confronts the seductions of this world, shapes us and recreates us into loving and sacrificial people and churches! Disciples of such churches look like Jesus on the cross: they look like sacrificial love. Hear this as a Gospel invitation: I truly believe that the work of the church must become more sacrificial, grounded in the love that comes from this Jesus on the cross. Such sacrifice begins with our giving of our time, our talents and our treasure—generosity changes us from the inside out—in ways we cannot even imagine!
As Christians, we have a Baptism faith, not because we are weak, but because God is strong and God is love. We have a Baptism faith because the grace of God is sufficient for all, even for the people we do not like. We have a Baptism faith because God is our refuge and our strength. We have a Baptism faith because God’s saving grace will heal, restore, redeem, and forgive those whom God has created and whom God loves fiercely. God so loved the entire world that whosoever believes shall get all the grace that God has to give. Thank God that God gives the grace and we do not. Amen.
Christ the King Sunday 20 November 2016