Christ the King Nov 24 2019



Audio  Christ the King Nov 24 2019
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Christ the King Sunday, the ultimate paradox. Christ the King, whose throne is the cross. What we see is not what we get. This particular paradox is difficult for me. Kingship as we have learned throughout history has been much more about tyranny than about justice and mercy and charity.

You may have gathered that my favorite reading material is science fiction and fantasy, with some historical fiction thrown in. There are two books in which I have learned most about the kingship of the cross. In The Horse and His Boy, book 5 in the Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis, King Lune says to his son Prince Cor, “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land to laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

And the other book is a trilogy of stories called collectively The Song of Albion, by Stephen R Lawhead. This is an epic story about a young man who enters into an alternate world, a world of kings and queens, of quests and wars, an alternate world that is quite related to our own world, what happens in one affects the other. Our main character enters this alternate world through one of the thin places of Celtic mythology. Upon entering, he begins to live a new life with new hopes and dreams. Eventually it becomes clear that he is to be the king of this land. He becomes a king who understands his kingship as constituted by the people, he is only king as much as they are his people. He leads his army into the battles, he gives up his coat, his food, for those of his land that need it. Eventually he comes to the time when he must ultimately sacrifice his life for his people, it brings him great sadness, but he does so out of mercy and compassion.

Is there a king that is recorded in the history books like these kings? Most often, history books are about the winners, not the kings who gave their lives for their people. Those kings would be regarded as weak, noneffective, and are quickly forgotten.

Christ the King, whose throne is the cross. Jesus, the shepherd through whom we know God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created. In Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Jesus God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the cross.

One of the criminals who was hanged there with Jesus said to him “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” And it is as if Jesus thought to himself, “I am King of the Jews, but I can’t save myself because I am saving you.” Here is the paradox. This is kingship as presented by God through Jesus. It runs absolutely counter to Messiah as it had been conceived in those times, Messiah as those who waited were prepared for.

Jesus, born in a barn, proclaimed as a King, as Mary’s song proclaims, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

We use Kingly language, like sovereign Lord; we use Kingly images, like Christ who sits on a throne, and yet we also tell the story of the baby born in a stable, to parents who had nothing, who grew to be a man who was thrown out of the temple and whose throne is a cross.

Jesus announced the kingdom of God was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. The world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus is about mercy and compassion. The rulers of this world may be about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation.

I think this paradox of Jesus as King, and Jesus as the one who eats with tax collectors and women, whose closest friends were of bunch of smelly fishermen, is the most difficult image for me to reconcile. I am much more comfortable with the Jesus who wears Birkenstocks and jeans and a tee shirt, than Jesus who wears a crown and a robe. Kings spent all of their time building up riches of gold, silver, and jewels, but Jesus owned nothing at all. Kings surround themselves with servants; Jesus chose to be a servant. But, today, we are asked to hold both images in tension, Christ the king, whose throne is a cross, and in so doing we see a fuller picture.

Worldly kingship implies power; power over others, authority over people. But Jesus did not exercise this sort of power and authority. Jesus’ power and authority are shared, not possessed. Jesus’ power is not over people, but with and through people. Kingdom is the inbreaking of a new order, an order that doesn’t just drive out the old order, but that reorders all relationships. The criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus recognized this power and authority, the power and authority to love absolutely, the power and authority to forgive. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus, the one who comes to show us the way to God, Jesus, the one who is King of all creation, is at the very same time the one who lived life just like you and me, who loved his friends and family, who suffered and died, just like you and me. For what good is a God who sits back and watches, what good is a God who rules from afar, what good is a God that holds power over people. Jesus is the one who loves, the criminal who hangs next to him, the mother who cries below him, the friends who betray him.

Kingship for Jesus is giving himself totally and absolutely for the love of his people. It is this love that you and I must respond to. It is this love that is transforming love. It is this love that reconciles and redeems. It is this love that causes us to love ourselves, it is this love that causes us to love one another, it is this love that gives us hope. Jesus’ love changes us.

We are changed through the realization that each one of us is loved completely and absolutely, just like that person on the cross next to Jesus, not for what we’ve done or not done, but for who we are. What kind of change happens in us for us to declare, Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom? It is the kind of change that causes each one of us to know that none of us is in this life alone, and none of us gets out of this life alive. It’s the kind of change that causes us to know that perfection is not the way, but love and forgiveness are. It is the kind of change that causes us to serve, like Jesus serves, the person next to us. Whether that person is next to us in our pew here in church, or that person is next to us in line at the grocery store, or that person is the one with whom you disagree most vehemently.

We are changed through the realization that when we fall short of the kind of love Jesus demonstrates for us, and we will fall short, that is part of being human, we are forgiven. Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Forgiveness not just once, but time and time again. Not even just until we get it right, because it’s not about getting it right. It’s about responding to Jesus love with love, and when we don’t, we ask for forgiveness. It’s about responding with love to the encounters along our paths, and when we don’t, we ask for forgiveness.

We begin our Advent journey next week. We begin our preparations for the coming of Christ into our hearts, and into our lives, for all time and all places. We begin our waiting in hope at this place of the cross, and this place of paradox, at this place where kingdom comes, and where love and forgiveness prevail. We begin at the place of remembering, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. We begin at the place of forgiveness, today you will be with me in Paradise. We begin at the place of grace, for you are absolutely and abundantly loved. Thanks be to God.

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