Sermon – November 25, 2001 – Christ the King Sunday

November 25, 2001

Christ the King Sunday

Luke 16:19-31

Well, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning last Saturday to view the meteor
shower, to no avail. The clouds interrupted our plans, didn’t they? I did
not see it, but I heard it was spectacular in the places it could be seen.
A celestial 4th of July . . . falling stars, burning brightly, across the
sky, bringing us the joy and pleasure of being awed and filled with wonder.
A scientist explains the meteor shower this way: they are parts of a
comet, part of the original of mass of the universe which was not formed
into planets or stars, but were rather set sojourning through the universe,
tossed and turned by the gravity of any body they passed. Pieces of that
comet broke off and fell into our atmosphere and burned up. That’s the
scientific explanation, and it falls a little short, doesn’t it? But
what’s so awesome to me is that it is beautiful evidence of a vast and
almost incomprehensible universe. From a believer’s perspective it is
confirmation of the vastness and hugeness and awesomeness and majesty of the
God who created the universe. Little glimpses of the wonder that is drawn
out of us when we look heavenward and see a falling star. . . when we look
into the vast, sparkling darkness of the nighttime sky. One more word on
that sky for perspective: If you were to look up into the sky and just
pick out one section the size of grain of sand, and then if you would view
that through a powerful telescope, behind that bit of sky the size of a
grain of sand, you would see fifteen hundred other galaxies, each containing
billions of stars. 1500 galaxies like our own Milky Way, which contains its
own billions of stars. That in a speck of sky the size of grain of sand.
Now imagine that in 360 degrees and it takes your breath away. And for
believers that is an encounter with awesomeness and majesty.

In the Renwick Arts and Crafts Gallery in Washington, D.C. there is a
painting on the second floor, which is one of my favorites. Every time I go
to Washington, I set aside some time to stop and gaze at this painting.
Let me try to describe it for you. It is a large oil painting of an angel
in pastel colors. Her head is turned away and her wings are folded inward,
arresting her upward flight. And shining on this angel is a tremendous,
bright light which almost washes her out. Carved into the bottom of the
frame are the words, “Even and angel might find the coming into the
Presence, into the great white light, too overpowering and clutch her wings
to arrest her upward flight, turning away her face with closed eyes.” This
painting is an expression of the awesomeness, the majesty, the
unapproachable glory of the Lord. So much so that even the angels arrest
their flight and turn away because it too much glory for them

This is the God Moses encountered in the third chapter of Exodus which
reads, “Moses hid his face for he was afraid he would die.” A majestic
image of God of such great power that to look upon him is too great a risk
for prophet or angel. This is the God the psalmist encountered when he
said, when I behold your majesty, how is it that you would care about little
old me?

The God often portrayed in the Old Testament is this God of majesty, who
fights for his people, who intervenes for them with a mighty hand and an
outstretched arm; whose enemies cower before him in fear, and whose anger
withers the strongest heart. Psalm 46 that we read today portrays this
powerful and majestic God.

This is an awesome God of the universe from whom prophets hide their face
and from whom angels turn and arrest their upward flight. . . . . . . a
God, who without the person of Jesus Christ, might be too much for us, too
big, too far away, to full of mystery. . . who, without Christ, might be too
much for us. But God stoops to the world for the purpose of loving his
children, for tending his sheep, for nurturing his creation, for the purpose
of giving the understanding that there is a relationship–initiated by God,
sustained by compassionate love–between this awesome God and these little
people, you and me. And it is through the person of Jesus Christ who we
celebrate today as king, enthroned with God, ruling from the cross. . . it
is through this humble person who took on our humanity so that we might live
in the outrageous circumstance of the creator of the universe loving us
little people. God stoops down and it is an awesome act of love, can’t be
anything else. So that we might understand.

The beautiful surprise of God’s goodness is that the awesome and majestic
God of the universe, creator of all things and judge over all things,
identifies with the lowly and the suffering and the simple folk who stare up
at the heavens in awe and wonder.

Some of you today may be suffering, feeling lowly, feeling bound and
imprisoned, even convicted and crucified. But the words of Christ today
are that God identifies with you, Christ comes to us at the very point of
our suffering, our imprisonment, our hunger and thirst, our brokenness.
Just as he came to the thief on the cross, he comes to us in the midst of
conviction for our sin, comes to us with words of promise, “Today, you will
be with me in Paradise. Today you will understand what it means that I
have come to restore and reclaim and rebuild this relationship of love
between the awesome God of the universe and his creation.” This is a
promise only a king could make. And these words shout from us from the
king that this is the very point where I is seeking to be near you. This
is a God who understands our fear and shame and brought us this Christ to
say everything you need to know about me, behold in him, this one crucified
and raised triumphantly. Through him you break through the majesty and
wonder and know that the universe turns on this cross, this throne of love.
Everything you need to know about me, see in the one who identifies with the
lowly and the sick and the outcast, one who loves us to death, shares our
humanity, calls us his friend. And from his throne promises us that we
would be with him in paradise. Isn’t it amazing, isn’t it awesome, isn’t it
majestic, that God would stoop to share in our sometimes difficult and
pathetic lives, just so we would know that he loves us and wants to be with
us?

This has always been God’s intention. We’ve often struggled to penetrate
the mystery, but listen to the words of Jeremiah again, “I will raise up
shepherds for them and they will not fear any longer or be dismayed, nor
shall any be missing.” God claims us and counts us. Paul says it in
Colossians when he said, what you need to know about God, look at Christ:
“for in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and 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.” God seeks our
peace. And in Luke, Jesus first seeks God’s forgiveness for his
tormentors, and then hearing the confession of the condemned man and his
prayer, makes this promise to him . . “today you will be with me in
Paradise. Out of the awesome majesty and mystery of God shines this
beautiful light of love revealing love itself, Jesus Christ.

Grace abounds in all reaches of this vast universe and in the dark recesses
of our hearts. The beautiful surprise is that the majestic face of God
which causes prophets to hide in fear and angels to turn away and arrest
their upward flight, has been revealed to us in the gentle, suffering face
of our Lord Jesus, who calls us friend, calls us to obedience, promises
fellowship with him in Paradise.

Clouds cannot obscure his glory, death cannot challenge his kingly reign,
and nothing, not even our own brokenness and shame can temper his love for
you or me. And that is a gift and wonder greater than all the stars in the
sky.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus