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Last Sunday after Pentecost:Christ the King, November 24, 2013

Remember many years ago when Mount St. Helen’s exploded in a cloud of ash and lava? The hot, flowing molten material killed everything in its path. There was total devastation. But one day a plant grew in that most unlikely place, and then another and another.Mt.St. Helen’s was coming alive again.

The same destruction occurs during the wild fires that ravage the west every year. Homes are destroyed, forests are incinerated, animals flee and plants are burned. But every year we see life slowly begin to return to places that look like they will never support life again.

Today we celebrate Christ the King. The Son of God who holds the world together, according to Colossians. But the gospel text is not about Jesus’ resurrection or his ascension or his giving of the Holy Spirit. It is about his crucifixion. The scene onCalvaryis about the most unlikely place for a king, especially the Lord of Life, to be. It is outside the city walls, when a king’s rightful place is inside the city walls. It is a wasteland of horror and brutality. It is a symbol of hopelessness; it is a world of endings, not beginnings. Kings were not crucified.

The kings of that time, as the kings of any time, had power. They were rich, through inheritance or raising taxes. They could give life and order death. Caesar was treated as a god. Kings had military might. They drafted men into their armies and fought to defeat and subjugate other peoples to defuse any threats to their own reign. Kings had subjects, people who were supposed to obey them in all things temporal and often spiritual. They were to do what the king said, when the king said it, regardless of their own feelings about the matter or face punishment. Kings had territory. They had been given the land by their predecessor or won the land in battle. The land was very important because it gave space to grow food and held the natural resources that the king used to trade for needed goods with other kingdoms.

Jesus didn’t have any of these things. He had no power. He was hanging on a cross near death, condemned by the authorities. He had no riches. Even his clothes had been taken away (Lance Pape), and people were casting lots to see who would get them. He certainly had no military might. No company of soldiers was coming to save him from his fate. He had no subjects. Even the disciples had deserted him. Needless to say, he had no territory. He had always been a wandering preacher.

But in spite of all this, he was still a king of life in the middle of this horrible death scene. He was just a different kind of king. Jesus was an obedient king. He was often in prayer with his Abba, seeking God’s will, even when the result of doing God’s will was his death. He was vulnerable. He put up no argument against the authorities when he was arrested and tried. He did nothing to prevent his torture and humiliation. Jesus was a forgiving king. First he forgave the people who took part in his execution, from Judas to Pilate to the Roman soldiers, because they did not know what they were doing. Then he forgave the second criminal, who repented from his own cross. And Jesus was a compassionate king, feeling great love for everyone in the scene – watchers, mockers and believers alike.

Most of all Jesus was a king whose major characteristic was his self-sacrificing love. He tells the disciples earlier that he came as a servant. He remained a servant to the end. Jesus could have saved himself from death as the Messiah was supposed to do, but he did not. He could not save others if he saved himself. That was what all the mocking was about. No one’s conception of the Davidic messiah had anything like violent death associated with it. Instead the king was supposed to bring peace and independence toIsrael, the victor in the battle against the oppressor.

No one saw Jesus as the Messiah – no one except the second criminal. When the first criminal mockingly dares Jesus to save not only himself, but the other two as well, the second criminal rebukes him, saying that they deserved the sentence but Jesus was innocent. Then he says an interesting thing, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. He does not ask to be saved, just to be remembered. He believes that somehow Jesus will return, even though he had no idea how because he knew they were dying. It is unlikely that he knew much about a heavenly kingdom, when the Jewish ideas about the Messiah were all about earthly power. But he had no doubt that Jesus would be vindicated and somehow Jesus would rule. He had an idea that somehow, Jesus would have the power to re-member, to put together again, those that had died. Jesus promises him a place in paradise with him when Jesus comes in his glory. And hope begins to flower in that most unlikely place. Some of Jesus’ last words were of forgiveness and hope, even as he was bleeding out and suffocating.

Our place in the scene could be with the watchers, wondering about Jesus and his death, wondering who he is for us. Is he human? Is he God? Is he both? What is Jesus to us, this man who is proclaimed king in mocking scorn. We may be seekers or doubters in this method God has chosen to provide salvation. We may feel remorse about our part in Jesus’ death – not our physical part, but the sins we have committed that have made it necessary for Jesus to die. We may feel hopeless that we can be saved. We may wonder about the salvation of others. Does Jesus love the mockers, the scornful? Does Jesus love today’s dictators, warmongers, child molesters – even Hitler? Does Jesus’ forgiveness extend that far?

As Christians who have the benefit of knowing about the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God, we are also in the position of the second criminal. We have hope. We are repentant sinners and know that Jesus has saved us through his blood shed on the cross. We know that we will not only be remembered in the kingdom; we will be part of the kingdom, transferred into it through Jesus because we are saved from the powers of darkness that surround us. We know that Jesus will come again, even though his kingdom seems to be very slow in appearing. We know that he is the head of the body, the church, and that the church works on his behalf through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help bring in the kingdom. It is perfectly alright that we may be confused about exactly how the resurrection happened or exactly how God’s kingdom will come. The second criminal only had a small glimpse and he was blessed.

If Christ is King in our lives, there are implications for our attitudes and actions. We are to exhibit the characteristics he exhibited in his life and death. We are to be obedient to God above all else. We may not like everything we hear from God, but we know that God’s will is for our good. We are to be forgiving to everyone, even ones who hurt us. We are to be compassionate, loving those less fortunate than we are in whatever way, and we are to let ourselves be vulnerable, dependent on God to sustain us in our lives. We are also to be strong, Paul says, in the strength of Christ’s power – strong to love, strong to serve, strong to stand up for justice and peace, strong to endure the mistreatment we may receive for being a follower of Christ in an earthly kingdom. And we are to give thanks to God because we have been delivered from sin and death to an inheritance with the saints in light.

Christ is King in his life, in his glory, and most paradoxically in his crucifixion. When we enthrone Christ in our lives, we change addresses, from this world to God’s world. We change our reliance, from power and security to love and dependence on God. When we do this, we are made strong in the power of God to witness to Christ’s kingship when God calls us to do so. Christ is the living king of our lives, and in that truth is our hope.

AMEN.

     - The Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited:
Lance Pape, New Proclamation, p. 241