Sermon – November 24, 2019 – Christ the King

Grace and peace to you, this day and every day, from God our Father, Christ our King, and from the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Once upon a time, many many years ago, the fast food restaurant Wendy’s had an all-you-can-eat salad bar. I haven’t seen an all-you-can-eat anything in a fast food place, let alone a salad bar, for quite some time, but I remember Wendy’s used to have them. I remember how I liked constructing my own salad, with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, ranch dressing, and a sprinkling of sunflower kernels. But what I remember most about Wendy’s, was an attempt I made at dessert. In addition to the usual salad ingredients, they also had some fruits and pudding. I remember being young and stunned that pudding could come in a quantity larger than one of those snack-pack sizes. So I filled one of their chili bowls up with a mix of chocolate pudding and what appeared to be the adjacent container of vanilla pudding. I sat down at the table with my family, grabbed the nearest spoon I could find, took a heaping gulp, and realized that this was not going to be anything like I expected. Pause.You see, what I had unceremoniously mixed together in my childish glee, was a combination of rich chocolate pudding and bleu cheese salad dressing. Pause.It was not what I expected.

This weekend, we celebrate Christ the King. This is the weekend when we pause to honor, thank, and praise Jesus Christ our Lord, who came to seek, serve, and save the lost. It is a time when we reflect on the wonder and mystery of our Messiah whose love and redemption is not what we expected or deserved. Our readings this evening/morning speak of a God who longs to gather His people together in a loving community where God will be all things to all people. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of a jealous God who is so committed to the relationship with His people, that God can no longer tolerate the misdealings of shepherds, or kings, who have divided and scattered the children of Israel. God desires to restore and shelter those who have been driven apart by circumstances both within and beyond their control. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes of how God the Father has rescued us from darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son; in whom all things in heaven and earth were created. When we hear of God’s serious commitment to reclaim and restore creation, it is easy to imagine Christ the King as if He were some sort of superhero marching out of the big screen. Enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth, God has become fully human and fully divine. But in our Gospel reading tonight/today, we hear of the holy moments when Jesus’ messianic identity becomes clearest. On the Cross, God in Christ Jesus is doing something utterly beyond what we expected. Christ is doing the dirty work that secures Him the right and salutary title of King.

Lots of different things come to mind when we think of the title of King; from the history of the British monarchy, to Elvis Presley (the king of Rock and Roll), to the many and various Kings in our modern world. Maybe we think of the strength of a command, snapping all the King’s subjects to attention. Maybe we think of strength, or power, or wealth. Maybe we think of impenetrable borders (physical or societal) that seek to firmly assert the sort of people and property that are included in one’s kingdom, or conversely excluded from it. Pause.

Because we love to tell the story, …  of Jesus and His conquering of death and the grave in order to redeem us, …. Because of that, it is difficult to center our focus on the crucifixion itself, to connect our understanding of King-ship with suffering. One of my seminary professors tells the story of how, in one of her congregations, there was a little girl who loved Jesus. In this church’s sanctuary, they didn’t have the bare cross like we do. They had a crucifix, where the body of Christ remains hanging on the cross as a testament to God’s commitment to our salvation. And this little girl who loved Jesus, didn’t quite know what to make of that. So in a quiet moment in the service, she stands up and shouts, “Jump Jesus! Jump!” Pause.

It’s hard to pause the narrative of God’s salvation story and witness the suffering and shame of our Lord. But that’s where Jesus is in our text today. He is crucified and is on the cross. This is not a pretty affair. Christ is suspended in the air by nails in his hands and his feet. He’s bleeding, having difficulty breathing, and suffering literally excruciating pain. He is surrounded by followers who are witnessing something they did not expect. They are witnessing the execution of the person they hoped was to end the captivity under the Roman occupation, to remove the yolk of injustice, and to restore the nation of Israel. He is also surrounded by those who loathe His very existence, who hate Him, who mock Him.“He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” They’ve stripped Him of His clothing, offered Him sour wine, and scorned Him repeatedly. Crucifixion, for Rome, is a method of execution that simultaneously functions also as public shaming; announcing to anyone who witnesses its atrocity that ‘this is what will happen if you cross the kingdom of Rome.’

The theologian Gilberto Ruiz says that, “In their calls for Jesus to demonstrate his power to save, the leaders, the soldiers, and the criminal address him with titles that from their perspective add to the ridicule but represent valid affirmations of Jesus’ identity … ‘Messiah of God,’ ‘chosen one,’ and ‘King of the Jews.’ They ironically pronounce Christian truths about Jesus without realizing it, unable to see that Jesus’ identity as “Messiah,” “chosen one,” and “King” is inextricably linked to his crucifixion.”

But for me, the thing that is the most compelling about this reading, is not the degree of suffering involved. It isn’t the terrible irony of the shaming insults of onlookers. It is the consistency of Christ’s identity that is communicated in our text.Jesus only speaks twice in this Gospel text but in these two places, He is forgiving His enemies and His executioners, and He is proclaiming the welcoming gate of heaven to those with contrite hearts. Reading through the lens of Jeremiah’s words this evening/morning, we might expect Christ to call down the wrath of heaven, to “attend to them for their evil doings.”But while He is suffering death and shame, precisely when you would expect Him to do otherwise, Christ continues to give love, forgiveness, and mercy to those we would consider unworthy of inclusion in His Kingdom. The scopeof the flock that is shepherded by our Lord mercifully contains sheep, you and I wouldn’t even think about caring for or attending to. God in Christ is indeed tending, but He’s not doing so in the manner that we would expect, that we would usually associate with kingdoms.

What Jesus has demonstrated throughout His ministry and continues to demonstrate on cross, is that He is one thousand percentcommitted to freeing you, and to freeing me, and to freeing all people from suffering, and sin, and sickness, and even death itself. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed says, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. At great cost He has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Not with silver or gold, but with His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. (Pause) All this He has done that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.”Christ’s atonement on the cross for our wrongdoing, is the cornerstone of a Kingdom that does not operate like we would expect. Its economy and language is made up of forgiveness, life, faithfulness, love, healing, and hope. Grounded in the resurrection, His Kingdom is so revolutionary, so unexpected, that it even involves you and me in its foundation and proclamation. That’s right, the wonder and mystery of Christ’s Kingdom is so profound that even the lives of faith that you and I live, struggle with, and celebrate, are the building blocks and support structures for how others understand and identify what it means to live in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus’ ministry has continually been characterized by His faithfulness to all people, especially those on the outside, those disregarded by others; those abused, those ignored, and those insulted. He welcomed the outcast; feeding, healing, and helping those who needed it most. Because of the Cross, we can proclaim such a profound faithfulness, mercy, and love. And because of Christ’s resurrection, we can rejoice as people living in a Kingdom where Christ has already begun putting things right. But the funny thing about the infectious nature of Christ’s Kingdom of love, mercy, and hope, is that it has already started to take root even before the cross.

In our Gospel text today, Jesus is not only surrounded by scoffers, scorners, and thieves. Luke says “the people stood by watching”and the other Gospels attest to the presence of the disciples and His mother. His family, friends, and the Jewish community show up. They show up. Pause. I think a good percentage of discipleship, of life in Christ’s Kingdom, is showing up on behalf of the other. … Showing up to be a witness to their grief. Showing up to listen. Showing up to repent when we have wronged, to forgive when we have been hurt. Showing up to challenge and support. Showing up to invite and welcome others to the table of Christ the King. Showing up to watch as Christ is here to welcome and forgive you and me. Showing up to taste and see that the Lord is Good, and much much better than chocolate pudding and bleu cheese dressing.

 

Thanks Be To God. Amen.