Appearances to the Contrary

Sermon for Reign of Christ/Christ the King C,  Nov. 24, 2013, on Col. 1:11-20 & Luke 23:33-43

Colossians 1:11-20

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you 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.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.25.50 PM

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43

When 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. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And 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!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Appearances to the ContraryScreen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.12.23 PM

It has been often observed that people who are dying often seem to have a goal, whether conscious or not, (who’s to say?) to survive until the next holiday or until the new year.  And often they do.  Which means that holidays and the anniversary of the death of a loved one come together.  It makes it emotionally complicated for the surviving family members.

We experienced a similar complication for several years, as Michelle’s mother’s birthday fell on 9/11.

I’m sorry to say that the church itself is responsible for some emotional complication of the calendar too.  Here we are, about to celebrate Thanksgiving, our American harvest festival, as we come to the end of the church year, celebrating the reign of Christ as King.

The Gospel text we go to that proclaims Christ as king seems to throw us into Holy Week with Jesus on the cross which bears the inscription, “King of the Jews.”  Seven days later, a whole new church year begins, and we start the season of Advent, looking forward to the birth of baby Jesus.

And, to top it off, this is our Stewardship Dedication Sunday!

The Right Time to Celebrate/Assert

But as complicated as it is, I’m here to say that we need this Sunday at this moment now more than ever.   Today, at this very moment, we could do nothing better than to celebrate Christ as King.

To celebrate is to assert.  We are here today to assert in the strongest possible terms, that appearances to the contrary, Christ is King.  We are blessed to be citizens of Christ’s Kingdom.

But this complication is deeper than the calendar.  For people of faith, we are constantly living in the tension created by the reality we see all around us, on the one hand, and the assertion, the faith that Christ is King, reigning now, on the other.

How does it feel in your life?  Complicated, I know.  Some of you are going through difficult times.  Some are struggling with chronic medical conditions, some with lasting grief.  Some have quite complicated and painful family relationships.  Some have money problems, or at least are living in fear and uncertainty about the economic future.

All of us here have a deep concern for the life and health of our own church.  Stewardship season and the church budgeting process only highlight the difficulty we are facing.

We live with these concrete painful realities, and yet draw our sense of hope from knowing that appearances to the contrary, we are people of faith that Christ is King.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.19.10 PM

Our Alternative Coronation Story

Our texts today are just right for us, and the timing is perfect for the situation we all find ourselves in these days.

We do not live in a monarchy, but we have seen films that show coronations.  They are elegant affairs, full of pomp and circumstance, dignity and solemnity.  Rich fabrics and textures; gold and jewels.

Our story of Christ as King that we read from the gospel today could not be more opposite.  Ours is the story of a convicted criminal on a Roman cross, suffering a humiliating, agonizing death.  Nothing about it is regal, dignified or pretty.

And this is precisely our hope.  That God’s kingdom is not about power and control.  It is not about status and wealth, it is about God, coming to humanity as a human, living among us, experiencing life as we know it, in all its complications and pain, and even dying death as we all will do.

It is an admittedly hard-to-understand story.  Kings are supposed to win, not suffer and die.  A Messiah is supposed to ride to his enthronement ceremony on white war horse after winning the battle, not bleed to death between criminals on a cross.

That’s why one of them mocked him, saying,Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.35.09 PM

“Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But saving us is exactly what he was doing there.

Father” he said, “forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

We were in darkness; how could we know what we were doing that day?

This is what the epistle text celebrates on Christ the King Sunday: an end to the darkness:

“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13)

The darkness of these days is great indeed, and so we are here to assert that we are no longer in the dark.  We are guided by lights that shine from the King who went to his death forgiving us, redeeming us from the tragedy of the human condition, the  nihilism that comes from the belief that evil has the last word, that this is all  there is, and that we are alone.

Our Assertions

What do we assert on Christ the King Sunday?  That appearances to the contrary, the God who came to earth to be one of us to the point of death, also rose to reign as king.  This is His kingdom.  In the face of appearances to the contrary, we assert his reign.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.25.50 PM

So what do we assert in practical terms, in Christ’s Kingdom?

In the face of the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington, we assert that we give allegiance to a higher power than the American political system.  Christ is King for us; our ultimate and primary allegiance is to him.

In the face of an exponentially growing gap between haves and have-nots in our society, we assert that this kingdom is for all people on an equal basis; no exceptions.  No amount of Citizens United PAC money can corrupt the policies of this kingdom.  No gerrymandered districts keep him from getting elected.  No ideology keeps him from considering the needs of the common good of real human beings.

In a values climate that makes the market into a god that supposedly gets the last word, we assert that Christ is King over Wall Street, K-Street, and every Main Street in America.  The market may not care if you are poor, or unemployed, or disabled or sick, or simply unable to find adequate employment, and the market may not notice if you cannot pay your mortgage nor care what the Title Loan Sharks are doing to drive you into permanent poverty, but the Kingdom of which Christ is King cares, and so do all of those who name Christ as King.

In a world were the only environmental question that matters seems to be, “Is there money to be made from it?” – from “fracking” to putting pipelines across vital watersheds, like they want to do near the drinking water supply in Mobile, we assert that money is not the only or ultimate value in Christ’s Kingdom.

In a world that values financial gain so highly that millions of people are in slavery right now, and many more are working poor, we assert the precious value of every  human life.

Naming the darkness

I am so thankful that we are not in the dark about ultimate meaning.  Why are we here on this earth?  What is the meaning of our lives?  What is our purpose?  The lights are on for us.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.28.19 PM

It is a great darkness to believe that life is about acquiring and possessing.

It is a sad darkness to think that life is about oneself or ones family exclusively.

It is a tragic darkness to think that life is ultimately competition for honor and recognition.

We are not in the dark about the fact that no amount of wealth, power or prestige means anything at all in the long run.

God put us here to love and be loved.  Our purpose is to know God, to know God’s love and total embrace of us, despite our sinfulness, and from that point of grace and forgiveness that our King pronounced on the cross, and from the joy that  that brings, to reach out in love as much as we can.

Whether our lives are long or short, we are not here for ourselves nor are we here by ourselves.  We are in God’s world, God’s good flesh and blood, rocks and stones, air and water world, and in the kingdom of God, where Christ is King.

We have a King who knows our hearts, knows our struggles, understands our fears and has experienced pain.  In fact our King is our shepherd who walks with us through every painful and fearful moment, never abandoning us to the darkness all around.

Perfect TimingScreen Shot 2013-11-22 at 9.31.26 PM

This is why this is a perfect Sunday to dedicate our Stewardship responses for the coming year.  We assert that God who calls us to be faithful with the stewardship of our blessings will be faithful in return.  We assert that God in fact blesses generosity, whether the politicians, pundits, or economists know that or not.

We assert that God will provide for the needs of this church, and will bless everyone of those of us to are faithful.  This congregation, founded on the faithfulness of those who came before us will come through these days because we have not lost faith in the God who has redeemed us.

We will walk into even the dark moments and places of this world, as citizens of the Kingdom of Light in which we know redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and we will bear that light into the darkness all around us, in ministries of justice and compassion, as the grateful citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

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