Gospel: Luke 23:33-43 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In preparing for today’s message, I looked at the Gospel reading with Jesus on the cross and at first thought how out-of-season it feels to be reading what seems more a Good Friday text than one for the Sunday preceding the Thanksgiving holiday. The text is chosen for Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year before Advent begins next week.
Our confirmation class on Wednesdays is studying the Bible, and a couple weeks ago we were going over how Israel demanded a king, so that they could be like all the other countries that surrounded them rather than subject directly to God through the priests. Then, of course, some of the kings were absolutely awful, and others not so bad. A few were sort of good. However, Israel found itself eventually under the rule of other nations, with kings that had only a name, and no real power, so what does that mean? What does it mean that Jesus is finally sentenced to death, supposedly for claiming to be king in a country that had only a figurehead of King Herod who was himself under the thumb of a foreign power?
It is often said that this country’s militia was ordered in 1775 to lay down arms in the name of King George III, the sovereign of England, and the response was an adamant, “We recognize no sovereign but God, and no king but Jesus,” however, no accounts from the time period support that. In the past I’ve included that as part of the message on Christ the King Sunday, because it sounded good… but maybe it wasn’t real. Even if it was real, my guess is that it might have been less a statement of faith than one of rebellion. It’s a good excuse not to obey a persecutor, but do we obey Jesus?
That makes for quite an “OUCH!”, doesn’t it? If we use “Jesus is our king!” as an excuse to reject an earthly king, what does that mean? Does it mean we have to love people like criminals on the crosses next to Jesus? Does it mean we ought to accept people who are different somehow, and love them like Jesus loved that criminal?
When preparing for this day, I look for hymns that have words meaningful for the text. One of the suggested hymns is quite new, less than 20 years old. Very often I’ll see words that I’d like to use, but when I play the melody I reject it as too odd to do well as a congregation. This one uses something quite singable, an older melody, so we’re using it (mostly for the words!).
It almost feels like cheating, because the words of the hymn became the theme for my message. The author of the words, Delores Dufner, is a Sister in the Order of St. Benedict at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and has gifted the church with many hymns.
What does it mean to recognize Jesus as our King? He does not require a certain percentage of our income, taxing us with complicated forms, but offers us the opportunity to give in many ways to support his ministry in this community. We can give monetary gifts to and through the congregation. We can join in events like last week’s lefse-making. We can gather for worship, gifting others with our being here, sharing our voices, sharing God’s love. Jesus doesn’t rise above like an oligarch to exercise power with an iron fist, but sits with the rejected, welcoming those ignored by society, touching the infected, and loving the scorned. When Jesus rises above as king, it’s not to lord it over us, but to die, impaled on a symbol of shame.
Jesus is surely a different kind of king, who takes our shame upon himself, and carries it to the cross to put it to death, so that we may rise up each day to carry forth his love and mercy.
How do we do that? How we use power wisely, for the good of all creation, and not just for individual gratification?
That was the other criminal’s desire in today’s reading. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” he cried. Caring only for himself, really, and we are all often the same.
We care about ourselves first, and there is something to that, for we need to be healthy enough to reach out to others. Our problem is that we don’t always make it that far.
They say that no matter how much a person has, it’s pretty much a given that they will believe that it’s not enough, that they will want more, that they will believe they need more in order to be satisfied.
Jesus, as son of God, was God, but became one of us, entering this world as we do, through the normal human birthing process. He experienced the curiosity of a newborn infant, and a young child, growing and experiencing and learning uncountable new things. At his baptism he heard God’s voice claiming him for something more than all the others, and he walked a road of serving rather than one of being served. Surely, Jesus was a different kind of king.
And now, more than 2000 years after his entering into his own creation through that miraculous birth, nearly 2000 years after his death and resurrection, what does it mean to claim Jesus as king? Does it mean that we can love people that others who claim to be righteous loudly shun? Can we love those whose mouths have a different shape, or whose eyelids are more smooth? Can we love those addicted to substances or practices that captivate or smother? Can we love the IRS and the Welfare distributors? Can we love the recipients of government aid, and those who want nothing to government at all? Can we love those of different political parties, even while we disagree with their actions and their claims? Can we love those we’d rather not love?
Jesus did. Jesus does. Jesus loves us all, because Jesus IS a different kind of king. We CAN carry Jesus’ love for all people, because we have one who is a living example of it. We have a different kind of king in Jesus, one who loves us all, forgives us all, and leads us in life, and through life… always… in Jesus’ name. Amen