St. Paul’s – Christ the King – November 20, 2022
If you’ve always been on a roll—your kids are always happy and healthy and cooperative and like your
company, your career ladder feels, has always been more like an up escalator, your romantic life is the stuff of steamy novels—then Christ the King Sunday might not resonate with you just now. Still, consider what we say in Scripture and this sermon.. Maybe file it away in your mind so you can come back to it when you’re not at the top of your game and all is not so right with your world.
I say this because there are times, at least for some of us, when we look at the world, at our lives, and wonder, What was God thinking? What is up with that?” Or more personally, So, God, would it have been too much trouble for you to give us a little break here?
Giving thanks for successful children, happy marriages, job promotions, beautiful sunsets, starry nights, and a three car garage is certainly a good practice. In all of these good things we catch a glimpse of God’s gaudy generosity and flawless taste. Being thankful sets our own soul aglow in a way that contrasts sharply with the darkness of the ungrateful heart.
But life is actually not all kittens, triumphs, and passionate kisses. What about the parent whose daughter is trapped in addiction or lives on the streets? What about the newly widowed woman facing her first Christmas alone, the down-sized sixty-year-old that no one wants to hire, or the veteran with PTSD that doesn’t respond to available treatment programs?
Some people are mired in depression, bearing chronic pain, struggling with shame, facing the choice between filling a prescription and feeding the kids, or looking at a home flattened by storms. Where is God in that? When life seems like not only a mess but wreckage, we can wonder if we’ve finally stumbled on godforsaken territory. We’ve moved outside of God’s zip code. Looking for God in times like this we will find out that God is faithful to us in ways that turn our whole notion of God and faith and the meaning of our own life on its head.
Before I explain what I mean, let me be clear about something.
Some well-meaning Christians will add to our burden by telling us that the key to handling dark stretches of life is to have faith. It’s as if God is watching how we handle crummy situations. God assesses how consistently and persistently we cling to our beliefs. If we waver, we fail the test. So not only am I dealing with an unmanageable mess, now I’m on my own and proving myself to God.
Thank these folks politely and move on. They may not have figured out that they are Burdensome Instructions instead of The Good News.
The bottom line of the Good News is not our faith in God. Lots of earnest people have assumed that it is, and they’ve distorted the Good News into a new commandment: cling with all your might to a set of beliefs so you can get through this life with a few blessings and maybe earn a sweet spot in the next life.
What makes the Good News news at all is that it reports what has already happened, what is already true, instead of what we have to do. And that news is good precisely because of what it says about God. God is unwaveringly faithful toward us.
Christians who observe a liturgical year call the last Sunday before Advent Christ the King Sunday. We take time to think about the reign of God in and through Jesus. We mull over what theologians mean by phrases like the sovereignty of God, what Jesus himself means when he talks about the Kingdom of God, and what we say in the Nicene Creed when we say that Jesus’s kingdom will have no end.
Let’s put all of this another way. On Christ the King Sunday, we ask, What is God really up to in the world we actually inhabit? The answer is: God is being faithful to us.
The Gospel reading assigned for today is a portion of Luke’s account of the Passion. Jesus is on the cross and utters this familiar phrase: Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)
Let’s really think this through.
For starters, the world is not the way God dreamt it would be. It needs forgiveness. Jesus isn’t suggesting that God should sweep things under the rug. But neither is Jesus merely asking God to write off a moral debt. In a way, he’s not asking the Father anything. He’s expressing precisely what the Father sent the Son to do.
God recognizes that life is more than messy. It’s beautiful and it’s shattered beyond human repair. It’s sweet and it’s bitter, nourishing and toxic. Our hearts are full to bursting. Our hearts lay in fragments on the ground.
We love and we hate, we build up and we demolish. We feast. Others famine. We shelter our cars in more luxurious surroundings than most people on our planet will ever call home.
In Jesus, God has said, I’ll take it just as I find. Whatever you give me, that’s what I’m going to work with. Our life. Our world. As it is. That’s what God is going to work with. That’s what God is working with.
But that’s not all. Do you remember hearing the word repent in those last words? I don’t. Jesus did not say, Forgive them because they’re sorry for what they’ve done They’re going to do better next time.
Nope. Jesus said, Forgive them. They’re clueless. They don’t even realize the damage they’ve done. The damage they’re still doing. They’re so clueless, half the time they think they’re making things better. They’re driving in the nails and they think they’re building a better tomorrow. They’re clueless. If you don’t help them, Father, they’re lost.
God takes the initiative. What God is doing is not a reaction to us. He is not rewarding us because we’ve been so good. God is restoring us because God is so good.
On the Cross Jesus stands right in the midst of agony and sorrow and humiliation and betrayal and death. God is determined. There is nothing God cannot, God will not, redeem. God does not take away our pain or grief or isolation. Instead, he inhabits them and turns them into the passageway to vitality, joy, and belonging.
Simply put, God’s reign means this. In Jesus, what happens to us, what others do to us or fail to do for us, and even what we freely decide to do is not the decisive thing in our lives.
What God has done will be decisive. Life’s meaning—how all things come together—is a result of what God has done and is doing in Jesus. The word who spoke us into being is the last word on what our eternal life is becoming.
God is standing in the midst of things with us. And when God reigns in our hearts and minds, when we believe that God is working on this world, we stand in the midst of things with others while they’re going through whatever life throws at them.
My prayer for the Church during these challenging times is that we will find ways to walk as Jesus walked — to spend ourselves for love of the Other. To listen, to protect, to endure, and to bless. To find strength in the love of both friends and strangers. And to rally fiercely and relentlessly to shield the vulnerable from terror and harm. The truth is, the Church has always proven itself in times of peril. Peril brings forth prophets. It lights holy fires. It teaches us the radical nature of love.
When your world is out of joint, when you are the victim of the violence and disorder of this world, it’s a comfort to know that the violence, disorder, and dislocation are not the last word. The one who was there at the beginning of creation will bring creation to completion. The cross and resurrection shows us that God is not stumped by our evil, sin, and rebellious disorder. There will be, by the grace of a suffering, rising God, peace.
Next time events in your world or in your life cause you to ask, Who is in charge? or Where is God, now? I want you to sing this hymn that Paul taught the church at Colossae to sing.
Read again from THE VOICE
12 Thank You, Father, as You have made us eligible to receive our portion of the inheritance given to all those set apart by the light. 13 You have rescued us from dark powers and brought us safely into the kingdom of Your Son, whom You love 14 and in whom we are redeemed and forgiven of our sins [through His blood].
15 He is the exact image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. 16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. 17 He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. 18 He is the head of this body, the church. He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first. 19 God was pleased that all His fullness should forever dwell in the Son 20 who, as predetermined by God, bled peace into the world by His death on the cross as God’s means of reconciling to Himself the whole creation—all things in heaven and all things on earth.
Let us pray:
we, your people, come together to praise you.
In you we have seen the fullness of God,
the whole truth about who God is and what God is up to.
We praise you that you came to us and told us the truth
and showed us the truth about God.
You did not leave us in the dark about who God is
and who we are created to be.
for not only being our friend, comforter, teacher, guide, and counselor. Thanks for your reign, your rule among us.
It is good to know, when all the world seems to be coming unglued,
that you are there, holding all things together,
steadily moving all things to your good intentions.
Lord Jesus, King Jesus,
ruler over all, we your people gather to adore you,
to listen for you, and, by your grace, to serve you.