Thanksgiving, Apocalypse, and Commitment

A sermon for Proper 29, Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46

Good morning, on this last day of a Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you have enjoyed the festivities. This morning we have a very crowded docket: we have Thanksgiving, we have Christ the King, and this morning we are looking ahead to next week’s Commitment Sunday. So, let’s start with the oldest of all these traditions.

We have been celebrating Thanksgiving since 1789 after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington. It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of

Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens, (Wikipedia)”

I wonder, how much attention do we give to divine generosity today?

A priest Face-Book friend was asking “How many churches held a service on Thanksgiving Day?” Almost everyplace I have been held a Community Thanksgiving Service of some sort or another. I don’t think I have ever presided at a Thanksgiving Day service in my 23 years as a priest. I fear the visions of Black Friday, either avoiding or engaging, or afternoon football, or getting to the next function, have overcome any religious notion of Thanksgiving. Truth is it is I wonder how long Thanksgiving will be celebrated, other than a sale on Turkey? There is so very little in the stores about Thanksgiving these days, the merchandising goes from Halloween to Christmas. Another truth is that we should never give up Thanksgiving, because no matter the state of our lives, or the state of our community, or the state of our the nation, or the world, we should be thankful, for our Father, as always, is still here, and always will be, even if we are walking in a shadow.

There is another Thanksgiving experience to ponder. I do not know how long I have been aware of it; however, for a long time, Thanksgiving has been a time of extraordinary efforts to reach out to the least of these, in our communities and in God’s Kingdom. Growing up in Atlanta the Ga. – Ga. Tech freshman squads play an annual charity game under the theme Strong legs run, that weak legs may walk. In West Virginia, a member of the church started a simple thanksgiving meal program, that continues to grow t this day. In Blytheville the Thanksgiving program that formerly feed 800 people a hot meal, has had a change in leadership, due to a work promotion, and this year delivered 1,200 bags of food designed to feed a child for the entire week school was closed this year. I am beginning to see these commitments as an expression of Thanksgiving. And I am thankful to live in a community that celebrates Thanksgiving together, and in acts of generosity that mirrors our Father’s benevolence.

And yes, the celebration of Christ the King is not as old as the celebration of Thanksgiving. The First World War was over; however, nationalism and secularism were rising. Pope Pius XI, called for the celebration of Christ the King to encourage Christians whose faith might be flagging (Ashley). The first thing we should note is that the King that Pius envisions does not look anything like the powerful wraiths of The Lord of the Rings. For that matter Pius’ vision does not look anything like the heroic Aragorn, King of Gondor either. A close examination of the readings from Ezekiel and Matthew reveals impassioned attention on justice and relationship (Epperly; Harrelson). They are overtly political and hold us accountable for the state of the most vulnerable people in our society (Epperly).

Ezekiel’s attention is on Israel’s political leadership. The imagery of Kings as shepherds and the people as the flocks they are to tend is common in the ancient middle east (Keener and Walton; Charles L. Aaron). Unfortunately, at least Israel’s kings are not very good at their tasks, and often do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. Their disastrous self-interest has led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Aaron Jr.). They did what all the other kings did, looked after the desires of the rich and powerful and ignored the needs of the marginalized (Hoezee, Ezekiel; Gaventa and Petersen) In fact, in verse 10, just before our reading this morning, the failed shepherd Kings are accused of eating the sheep that they are responsible for tending (Gaventa and Petersen). The shepherd Kings’ brutality, and self-interest scattered the flock, denying them food, and a safe fold. Therefore, God commands Ezekiel to proclaim that God has rejected them as shepherds over the divine flock, and God will: seek them, rescue them, feed them, lead them to good pasture, bind the injured, strengthen the weak, and feed them with justice. God will do this with one shepherd, a prince from the House of David.

Through Ezekiel God is speaking to three sets of people. First, the leaders of the people, who are in their position by heredity, or by appointment, or election or otherwise. The message is clear: “Tend to the people, all of them, or you are fired.” Secondly, to the people: “Do not despair, your worldly condition is not the consequence of, or punishment for sin you might have committed. Finally, to us. As the people of God, we are God’s stewards’ protecting everything and everyone entrusted to our care, and who belong to God, and who are the image of God. Ezekiel refers to charity events and feed the hungry special events. He also speaks to the disparity of everyday life; no one should be hungry, no one should lack medical care, no one should be denied education, no one should be refused a safe home. As God’s shepherds we are called to use all the kinds of resources we have, from personal work, and money, to social and political capital to tend the flock. And we do so because God loves them, just as God loves us.

Matthew’s apocalyptic vision is a bit more complex. We are all familiar with the righteous sheep at his right hand asking:

And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? (Matthew 25:38-39)

 And we may recall the accursed goats destined for eternal fire at his left hand asking:

Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ (Matthew 25:44)

What we might have missed is that both the sheep and the goats don’t realize that the hungry, the marginalized, the poor, the naked, the stranger, and the prisoner are Jesus. We might wonder why Jesus didn’t tell them? Does he tell us, who he is when we meet him? But when we meet him, we should know who he is, because every living person, everyone who ever was, and is, or will be is made in the image of God, and that is enough (Hoezee, Matthew).

None of this is new, Proverbs we are taught

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,
but those who are kind to the needy honor him (Proverbs 14:31)

Way back in Isaiah we hear:

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:7-9) (Olive Tree).

In this eschatological, end of time, proclamation Jesus says

  • nothing about confessing faith in him,
  • nothing about grace,
  • nothing about justification,
  • nothing about forgiving sins.

Jesus’ single focus is caring for God’s people, all – of God’s people (Darr).

Like Ezekiel, Jesus is speaking to the dispossessed, the rejected, and the outsiders, reassuring them that the time will come when their fortunes will be reversed. Like Ezekiel, Jesus is speaking to the leaders and people telling them “The marginalized are your responsibility.” Unlike Ezekiel there is an element here that is unique to the early persecuted church, who Matthew wants to reassure (Darr). Finally, like Ezekiel, we are the objects of Jesus’ parable. We need to quit worrying about calculating the end of days, because it is not yours to know. Between now and then, when ever that might be, we are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit those in prison. (Matthew 25:35-36) Then you will be blessed and inherit the life prepared for you since the beginning (Darr).

All this, all of this informs the choice we are asked to commit to next Sunday. It has a financial component to it, as it does ask us to prayerfully discern and commit to how we will financially support St. Stephen’s continuing service to Christ’s Ministry. This ministry includes sharing the story of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, especially how that story is a part of our lives. That ministry also includes tending sheep,

  • those who are prone to wonder,
    • or who otherwise get lost,
  • those deemed unworthy,
    • the otherwise undeserving,
  • the hungry,
  • the thirsty,
  • the stranger,
  • the naked,
  • the sick and
  • those in any sort of prison.

We know Jesus is the prince, of the house of David, who is tending the sheep, who is tending to all God’s people. We know we will inherit Jesus resurrection, which also means we inherit Jesus’ earthly ministry. I encourage you, in this coming week, to prayerfully discern and commit to how you will continue to by word, by action and by financial participation proclaim

  • the Good News of God in Christ;
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbors as yourself;
  • and strive for justice and peace for all people, and respect the dignity of all of God’s people. (The Episcopal Church).

Amen


References

Aaron Jr., Charles L. Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. 26 11 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ashley, Danáe M. “Love in Translation, Christ the King Sunday.” 26 11 2017. Sermons that Work.

Darr, Katheryn Pfisterer. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Ezekiel. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. VII vols. OliveTree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 11 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Matthew 25:31-46. 26 11 2017.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Wikipedia. Thanksgiving. n.d. 24 11 2017. <(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(United_States)&gt;.

 

 

Edmund, Christ, and Us

A sermon for Proper 29 Christ the King; Jeremiah 23:1-6, Canticle 16, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Today is a three for one; it is 27th Sunday after Pentecost, it is the Sunday we celebrate Christ the King, and it is also the Feast Day of Edmund King of East Anglia.

edmund_east_anglia_statue

 

When facing far superior Danish armies, and against the advice of his advisors and his bishops, he refused an offer to be their figurehead King and renounce Christ. Though his army fought bravely, they were defeated, and Edmund was executed by a variety means.

His tomb became a traditional place of pilgrimage for England’s kings, who came to pray at the grave of a man who remained steadfast in the Christian faith and loyal to the integrity of the English people (Episcopal Church).

We do not have Kings or Queens as rulers. We do, however; elect Presidents to lead us. And I got to wondering what we might see if we put aside our political consternation, and backed up quite a bit. Here is what I saw:

Candidate one

  • is a man
  • white
  • has an established political perspective
  • is a billionaire
  • has distinctive personality characteristics
  • a particular leadership style
  • is a disrupter
  • is politically connected (my connections tell me you can’t be in big time real estate and not be politically connected)
  • does not have a lot of political or government leadership experience, and
  • whose character was challenged 

Candidate number two

  • is a woman
  • white
  • has an established political perspective
  • has distinctive personality characteristics
  • a particular leadership style
  • uses the existing system very well
  • is a millionaire
  • is politically connected
  • has a lot of political and government leadership experience and
  • whose character was challenged 

Both candidates have a regal air about them. Close your eyes and you can imagine them dressed as royalty from a crown, to purple clothing, to a scepter, and to heraldry. As different as these candidates are, from this perspective Clinton and Trump are interestingly similar especially when we compare them to Christ the King.

The title for this day Christ the King is curious. There is nothing in today’s Gospel that shows us Christ as king. In fact, he is executed as a common criminal. Last year, from the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say “my kingdom is not of this world – I was born to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-37). It is thoughtful, but not regal. Next year we will hear “the son of man comes in his glory” and the story goes on to say

the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison?’ … And the king will answer them just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).

I am not at all sure our images of Christ the King fit the scripture readings. And that has been a reality for a long time. The earliest portraits of Jesus show him dressed in the simple clothes of his day. Over time as the church grew in power and in importance portraits begin to show him in more grandiose regal clothing and setting, (Warren). If you Google “images of Christ the king” (https://goo.gl/P6F8kk )

screencapture-google-search-1479683532934

everything that shows up is grand and glorious regal. IF you Google “earliest images of Christ the king” (https://goo.gl/9tcMZM ) scroll down a little bit to 6 of the Oldest Images of Our Lord Jesus Christ or Three of the Oldest Images of Jesus, and you can see how very different the portraits are. When we think of Christ the King, what images, what characteristics do you see?

I am not at all sure that today the question is about images of Christ the King. I really suspect the question is about ourselves, about our visions of leaders, who we will follow and what we expect. When we think of government as instituted by God for the care of God’s people what images of leaders do we see? When thinking about our elected leaders, from a school board to a representative to the governor or the president, what images do we see (Romans 13, Jeremiah 23:5)? Do we seek a leader who fights our battles for us (1 Samuel 8:20)? Or do we see a leader who

  • washed his disciples’ feet,
  • fed the hungry
  • took pity on those who suffered
  • ate with sinners,
  • forgave sins
  • spoke out against injustice
  • challenged the status quo
  • welcomed the social outcasts, and
  • took on the mantle of poverty and obscurity (Warren).

Do we seek a leader who

  • is crucified
  • forgives the very people who have secured his death
  • and while hanging on his cross, grants salvation to the criminal on the cross next to him
  • and who brings the condemned into paradise (Lewis)(Culpepper)?

Will we follow a leader whose followers are a ragtag group from the lowest classes? Will we follow a leader who is marginalized by the ruling classes (Warren)?

The reading from Jeremiah is about God’s promise to gather the scattered people of Israel and to raise up a new leader, who Christians believe is Jesus. But before that, we hear a judgment against the Kings of Israel who failed to tend to the flock. For Jeremiah kingship and justice are mutually interdependent. And justice is seen in how the weakest, the most vulnerable, the least resourced and capable are treated. This is the measure, the plumb line God gives Amos, and against which Israel fails to measure up (Kennedy). The way Israel’s kings are to be measured is through righteousness, justice, and safety of the people. Is their relationship with God truthful, is everyone treated equally, and are the least of God’s people taken care of?

We are a democracy, we elect our leaders, and so we have to break down this measurement and tweak it just a bit. It is not how our elected leaders are righteous, just or take care of the people. It is how “WE the People …” are righteous, just and take care of each other, both individually and as a community; locally, as a county, as a state as a nation, and as people of the world. And yes, it is a daunting, overwhelming thought. So we can understand why the ancient Hebrews want someone else to take care of all this for them. They knew as we know that the real battles a community faces are not from the outside threats, but from the inside threats of how we treat and mistreat, each other. And yes, it does mean that we will have to be bolder in what we say, challenging each other and holding each other accountable for words and actions, and we will have to be braver in our actions; not only in standing up to injustice but in acting to feed the hungry, sharing a drink with the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting those in prison (Lewis).

This is a daunting, overwhelming thought. Maybe ~ maybe. Just this morning, in our opening collect we prayed: “whose will it is to restore all things.” God is with us. It is easy to think of God/Jesus/Spirit on a cosmic scale. It really sort of keeps them at a safe distance. But, God/Jesus/Spirit are intimate, available to everybody, to each one of us at any moment. “There are no God Free Zones” (Epperly).

 So, this morning as we bring one church year to a close, as we celebrate Christ as our leader of all leaders we are thankful that Jesus’ reign seeks to serve us (Lose). We also realize that this year, and years to come it not so much the leaders we choose, as it is our own relationships with God, the way we assure justice for all, and provide for all God’s people that will be measured against the plumb line. And perhaps, perhaps this is why Paul prays that

[We may] be made strong with all the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power, and … be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:11-12).

Amen.


References

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Episcopal Church. Lesser Feast and Fast. New York: Church Hymnal Corp., 1988.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Kennedy, James. M. New Interpreter’s Bible Jeremiah. Vol. 4. Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Lewis, Karoline. Who and What is Your King? 20 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Christ the King C: What Kind of King Do You Want? 20 11 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “What kind of King?” 20 11 2016. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Warren, Timothy G. “Christ the King – Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost(C).” 20 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

 

The reign of Chris the King is not there, but here; not then but now.

A sermon for Christ the King

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46

If you children are old enough you might remember Fraggle Rock, one of Jim Henson’s many creations. My kids loved it. One of their favorites, and one of mine, is a short little book titled If I Were King of the Universe (Abelson) it tells the tale, of Junior Gorg, whose mom and dad are the Queen and King of the Universe. However, since they are the only Gorgs, Junior gets to all the chores; he polishes the armor, fetches the crowned jewels, stands guard, serves as jester, unless of course he is washing windows and sweeping floors. But is favorite chore is gardening, and chasing the Fraggles who steal the radishes.

Of course Junior dreams of being King, and how the Fraggles would work for him; how he’d eat breakfast in bed, or tickle his toes in the sun, and stay up late. But in the end, he realizes how much he likes doing his chores especially chasing Fraggles. So he’ll just keep on being Junior Gorg, “After all, being Prince of the Universe isn’t all that bad!”

I expect all of us dream of being King or Queen of the Universe, or some such auspicious status. To be honest if I woke up one morning and discovered I was King of the Universe I’d follow Junior’s advice, especially if today’s bible readings were a part of the coronation.

Ezekiel was written in the mid to late 500 BCE when Israel is living in captivity. (Ellingsen) At one level it reads like a divine rescue mission. (Epperly) On the other hand, Ezekiel lays bare the truth that “The disparity between the wealthy, poor, and middle class, destroys the nation, [and] undermines justice …” (Epperly) Margaret Odell points out that the biblical shepherd metaphor is always a political one. (Odell) She reminds us that the oldest recorded legal code Hammurabi’s and notes his belief that “he was appointed by the gods ‘to promote the welfare of the people, to cause justice to prevail’” (Odell) Ezekiel reminds us God’s kingdom is different than kingdoms of our making. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner)

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ apocalyptic tale of separating sheep and goats includes an uncomfortable judging story. I’m always uncomfortable of judgment stories, I like to believe I’m among the blessed sheep; but am ever so aware of my own goat-ness.

Like you I’ve helped to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and visited a prisoner or two. I’m also keenly aware of the times I could not, and the times I did not, help the divine image bearer right in front of me. But Kingdom life is not a balance the scales kind of thing. It’s James Liggett’s observation that sets me on edge. He notes that the goats do not know when they failed to help the Jesus in front of them, and we know that. What’s startling is that he points out that the sheep, the righteous ones invited into the Kingdom, did not know when they had helped the Jesus in front of them. (Liggett) They were just as oblivious to the presence of God, in the least of these, as those who walked on by. Like Ezekiel, Matthew also invites us to recognize the Kingdom of God is different. Moreover, we are also invited to take a peek, because of the Kingdom of God is, in part, already here. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner)

Truth be known, Matthew is doing more than inviting us to take a peek, he, as Jesus does, is inviting us to participate in Kingdom life right here, right now. Karoline Lewis writes “I absolutely … believe that God needs us for the kingdom to be more that it could be without us.”  (Lewis) In short, we are invited to make a difference, not only in helping those who are in need or oppressed but in eliminating the roots causes of injustice and unrighteous disparity. (Lewis) We won’t easily admit it, but there is such an opportunity blistering across the news media today.

If Jesus were to have told this parable today he would likely include a line that’s something like:

I was an illegal immigrant and you welcomed me;

and I was an illegal immigrant and you scorned, or took advantage of, or rebuked me.

But then again Jesus has already said it. Throughout Old Testament Law, beginning with the Tenth Commandment (Ex 20:10) the law applied to everyone in the household including the gēr or the alien, the foreigner.  (Strong’s) In so much that Ezekiel reminds us that the shepherd is all about politics; and that the oldest legal code we have is established for the welfare of the people and for justice to prevail; and that by Jesus’ parable when we welcome the stranger, the alien, we welcome Jesus; the answer to our immigration problem is a political one that provides biblical justice for all, and prevents the powerful from exploiting the vulnerable.

I invite you to join me in my daily prayer discipline and pray, by name, for all our elected officials.

A closing observation or two. It’s important to remember that though we’ve our part to play in the Kingdom’s presence, we cannot speed up nor impede its arrival. Secondly, judgment is not so much about punishment, as it is about bringing into the light the reality that’s already present; the one Paul tells the Ephesians about, the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Jesus, as hungry, or thirsty, as naked, ill, in prison, or  ~  as an alien in a strange land.

Junior Gorg got it half right, being King of the Universe is best left to the one so designated from first light. The other half, however; is that we can, by the power of the spirit of wisdom and revelation, bring divine justice to all, and glean a bit more of life in the Reign of Christ our King.


References

Abelson, Danny. If I Were King of the Universe. New York: Henry Holt Co., 1984.

Carey, Greg. “Working Preacher.” 23 11 2014. Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46.

Ellingsen, Mark. Christ the King (Proper 29), Cycle A. 23 11 2014. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fever, Kyle. Commentary on Ephesians 1:15-23. 23 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 2 11 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 23 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, Rev. James. Sermons that Work. 23 11 2014.

Odell, Margaret. Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. 23 11 2014.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.

A sermon for Christ the King

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