Jeremiah 23:1-6, Canticle 4 or 16, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
Today we celebrate Christ the King! It’s perhaps a bit strange to hear Luke’s Gospel version of Jesus’, the same said King, crucifixion. But, perhaps not. After all, all kings die, and lots of kings die violently. 50 years ago Friday our “king” was brutally taken when John F Kennedy was assassinated. If you are my age and older, I expect you know exactly where you were when you heard about JFK’s death. I was getting on the school bus, one of my classmates told me President Kennedy was killed. I called him a liar. Fifty years ago our president our king, was assassinated, since then many things have changed, but much is still the same.
Two Thousand years ago the King of kings the Lord of lords was crucified, and everything changed. But I don’t really think we get it. We don’t get it because we have never lived in an absolute monarchy, where one person was absolute control over everything, absolute control over you! Oh yes, in tragic moments, like the violent death of a political leader, we form an impulsive emotional bond, but we never envision ourselves as bound to any leader; after-all there is always the next election cycle. Because of this we miss out on how viscerally different Jesus’ language of the Kingdom of God is. In truth, because of our bias to read scriptures piously we miss a lot of what Jesus does that is different from expectations. Not counting his twelve year old stunt at the Temple, when he stays behind to chat with religious leaders, during his three year romp through Judah Jesus is always doing the unexpected, like stopping to help whoever needs help; in at least one instance he is one his way to heal one person and stops to heal another. And all the healing, all the demons he casts outall the arguments are about revealing, to those who will see and hear, the Kingdom of God. And he is not talking about a Kingdom in some secure unknown far out location, nope, God’s Kingdom is right here right now.
To be honest, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up to bad for not getting that God’s Kingdom is not like: Rome, Greece, Persia, Assyria, Egypt, or any other Kingdom the Jews know about. Almost no one then did. God’s Kingdom is not about food to feed the urban masses, not about safe trade routes, not about armies necessary to secure all that, not about power. That’s what everyone expects; listen to the taunts while he is dying on the cross. No, God’s Kingdom is all about all that stuff in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: it’s on earth, not in some celestial haven, it’s about daily bread, about daily life, it’s about forgiving and being forgiven it’s about God’s glory, which from the Hebrew root that means weight, and from the Greek root that mean show, both imply presence, so it’s about God’s presence, it’s about following God, not the latest imposter.
Perhaps the clearest revelation, of this difference, is the stark contrast between the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. The first, cries out to Jesus to save himself, so you can save me!! His hope is exactly what everyone expects a messiah, a savior, a long awaited hero, to do: vanquish the enemy, and save us, well actually put us in the positions of power, wealth and influence. The other criminal admits his guilt, says that Jesus is innocent, and asks Jesus to remember him, when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus tells him: …today you will be with me in paradise. It’s the only place in the Gospel ‘paradise’ is used. A little etymology, word study, reveals its root is from the Hebrew meaning orchard, which put me back to the preceding phrase, … today you will be with me… The promise is the criminal will be with Jesus, today!
If we work backwards from here through today’s story from Luke’s Gospel: We read of the soldiers mocking Jesus; they nail a sign above his head King of the Jews; it turns out to be true. The Jewish leaders mock Jesus they taunt him to save himself, and then to save others; after three days, it turns out to be a transforming truth. And just before this Jesus is doing what Jesus always does, interceding with God for others, no matter their action, even when they are crucifying him, no matter their ignorance.
Knitting all this together we glean God’s Kingdom is not about splendor, it’s about being with Jesus, being with God; it is not the weight of gold, it’s the weight of divine presence; it is not about power, it’s about other’s lives; it is not even about proclaiming what will be, it’s about being a sign of what is.
In just a minute we will celebrate Little Ray’s baptism. As we do so, let’s remember this story, not forgetting Jesus dying, while placing the priority on Jesus continuing to reveal God’s weight, God’s presence, as together we: teach, break bread, share prayers resist evil, by not doing what we shouldn’t and by doing what we should; as together we: speak and be the Good News, seek and serve Christ in others even as they make a mess of their lives and ours; and as we respect the dignity of everyone, including ourselves.
Fifty years ago Friday JFK was assassinated; to be honest I had forgotten the date, but when reminded of it, I knew exactly where I was and my response. Two thousand years ago, Jesus was crucified; I never forget the date, and I always know where I am, where you are, in the presence of God. It’s a story worth knowing. It’s a story worth living. It’s a story worth sharing.
Scott Hoezee cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
Next Sunday is November 24, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
This Week‘s Article: The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 23:33-43
Walter Harrison Jr, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003