Christ the King / Lectionary 34

Prayer of the Day
O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Jeremiah 23:1-6  Coming of the shepherd and righteous Branch who will execute justice
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20  Hymn to Christ, firstborn of all creation; peace through his blood
Luke 23:33-43  Jesus is crucified between two thieves: you will be with me in Paradise

Sermon
One of the most exhausting things about times like these, times when visions for the future are cloudy at best, fearful at worst, when hopes and dreams are strained or squashed, when there are questions about safety and security, when patience and understanding for the other are challenged, times like these when it is a real struggle to keep hearts and minds open, as if all that isn’t exhausting enough, the getting through the daily grind in that tempestuous atmosphere, then there is the added layer of exhaustion brought on by how significant and profound everything starts to become.  Everything said or seen or heard or felt takes on added meanings.  Everything becomes a symbol.  Every event paints a parable packed with profoundness.  Jokes and witty comments (whether spoken or posted) take on new meaning, deeper meaning, haunting meaning.  Stories from the past shine light on events of today, or in some cases, cast darker shadows with their familiarity.  Annual happenings that we thought we were complacently accustomed, sting with newness and keener insightfulness.

I certainly felt that at our annual Kristallnacht Remembrance event last Sunday evening.  As we brought to mind a horrific night in a distant time and place that was filled with racial hatred, religious persecution, scapegoating, and silence.  And it was that last one, the silence, that weighted heaviest on my heart with renewed and more haunting meaning to the point of exhaustion in the context of our here and now.  In the readings and the remembrances of that shameful period in which Jews and so many others were persecuted and killed, what stood out as most shameful was the silence of so many who stood by and watched and said or did nothing.  Our yearly promise of “never again” committed us to considering the role that some might be called to play in the times ahead.  It’s exhausting, and, if you are like me, you would rather be thinking about the upcoming holidays rather than the upcoming struggles.

And then we come to today.  Christ the King Sunday.  And while kings are foreign and forbidden entities to us living in the former rebellious, now democratically-ruled colonies, we certainly do understand the idea of leader, of public office holder, of decision-maker for the populous, of care-taker of the common good.  All of which has been considered way too much of late and been re-considered of recent, and, if you are like me, it’s exhausting; such that anything that continues to invite us in to these ponderings is probably best avoided.  And yet, the connectors, and the symbols, and the parallels continue to come and so here we are, asked to think on Christ our king.  Maybe the longing for Christ to be our king is a little stronger this year, when set up against all our earthly options.  Perhaps that longing is deep to the point of exhausting, even.

But then there is good old Jeremiah to remind those who are exhausted in their longing for good earthly leaders that they are not alone on the timeline of human history.  And to those exhausted by the famine of good leaders, we see that poor leaders abound across the millennia.  (Keep in mind, when he speaks of shepherds he is using the ancient metaphor of king as shepherd of the people.)  And God, speaking through the prophet, expresses the number one criticism of the kings of the time as their scattering of the flock.  They had failed to unify.  They had failed to provide for all.  They had failed to build security for all.  In the years leading up to Jeremiah’s time, the prophets had warned the kings and the ruling class about their treatment of the poor and the oppressed.  Wealth was not being shared.  Income inequality, we call it.  The chasm between rich and poor was growing wider and wider.  In spite of all the warnings from Amos and Hosea and Micah, the powerful amassed greater power, neglect for those in need became institutionalized.  Lands were seized, families sold into slavery, justice was denied and compassion and mercy were rare to non-existent.  How exhausted those prophets must have been with what must have felt like preaching to plugged minds and closed hearts.  But preach they did.  Preaching hope in the promise that God would provide leaders who show wisdom, who bring justice and righteousness.

And perhaps we are made more exhausted as we hear these ancient promises and are reminded that they continue to go unfulfilled.  The list of failed leaders throughout history is much, much longer than the list of ones who came close to being successful, but certainly no one really measuring up to the perfection of Jeremiah’s portrait.

And yet, cutting through our exhaustion of disappointment and despair, maybe cutting through with a keenness this day that is sharpened and more profound due to the context of the time, we gather at the throne of the one who is our true king, the one who is the ideal that Jeremiah promises, the one that God sends to bring us the kingdom that knows no end, that promises and provides grace, mercy, and peace to all, the one we name Jesus Christ the King.  He is the one who is king, ruler, leader, provider, shepherd, like no other leader the world could know.  We are further comforted by today’s reading of Colossians that assures as that he is the image of the invisible God, and the fullness of God dwelt within him.

And yet, look where we find him on this day on which we proclaim him king – on the cross.  He is dying unjustly, mercilessly, grotesquely, at the hands of earthly powers that boast their strength and might and wisdom.  Jesus the Christ is the king who does not lord over, does not distance himself, does not neglect or separate the people.  He is the king who joins us, walks with us, feeds us, even dies for us and with us, so that we might know a justice the world will never offer and a righteousness the world could never offer.  And most importantly, as witnessed in that most blessed exchange with the thief to his right, this King Jesus the Christ will leave no one behind, will neglect no one.

We love to call this thief the “repentant thief” and say of him – “oh, he repented at the last minute and Jesus promised him salvation.”  Look again, there is no repentance.  There is an admission of guilt.  “We’re getting what we deserve.” He says to his fellow thief.  But he doesn’t really express penitence.  His regret seems to be more about that fact that they were caught and executed.  And then he looks at Jesus and doesn’t say, forgive us our sins.  Instead he says:  Remember me.  Perhaps we should refer to him as the demanding thief.  Whatever we call him, we can see him as blessed, for his demand has been brought before the most loving, righteous, compassionate, and merciful of kings.  And, in the midst of his exhaustion, despair, and darkness, the king says “yes” to the thief.  The king says “yes’ to us in baptism.  The king says “yes” to us every time we confess.  The king says “yes” to us when in death we come seeking, demanding even, life.

And so we are invited to say “yes” to this kingdom, to work so that the eternal kingdom of heaven might be known and experienced on this earth, so that all might know the justice and mercy and compassion that is so exhaustingly absent in earthly rulers and so perfect in Christ the king.  So that no one, repentant or demanding, might be left out, left behind, left wanting.

Bring your exhaustion and your despair to the throne of our king, demand from him hope and light, love and life, and hear him say:  “Today you are with me.  Every day you are with me.  Fear not, you are with me.  Forever, you are with me.”  Find rest bit from your exhaustion, find the peace that passes all understanding in the fact that Christ is king.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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