Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King
Malachi 3:13-18
Psalm 95:1-7a or Psalm 46
Colossians 1:13-20
Luke 23:27-43

He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.

What is happiness? What does it meant to be happy? Malachi tells us that we call the proud happy. The NIV translation says, “We call the arrogant blessed.” The Message says, “Those who take their life into their own hands are the lucky ones.” This definition of happiness is very self-centered, as if happiness or blessedness is found in personal success.

There was once an article in a magazine about happiness. It gave an historical timeline of happiness. First they quoted Aristotle, who in 350 B.C. said, “Happiness is the best, most noble, and most pleasant thing in the world.” In 1776, the writers of our Declaration of Independence wrote that all men have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Laughing gas was invented in 1799. Books about parenting in the early 1900s focused on children’s happiness. The term “Happy Hour” came into use by sailors in the 1920s. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was copyrighted in 1935. The laugh track for radio and television was invented in the 1950s. The term “happy pill” for tranquillizers was coined in the 1950s. The idea of national happiness and happiness in international relations came into style in recent years.

In 2010, Matt Salzberg said, “My vision of success is based on the impact I can have, much more than the pursuit of money or prestige.” Perhaps Matt was the first one in that timeline to get it right.

The article gave several suggestions of ways to finding happiness. First, they recommended valuing your relationships. In a University of Illinois study researchers discovered that “The highest levels of happiness are found with the most stable, longest, and most contented relationships.” Second, those who are happy express themselves. According to a Wake Forest University study, participants were tracked over a two week period and they found that they were happier when they were more outgoing and less happy when reserved or withdrawn.

A third way was found in a study done by the editors of that discovered people were happier when they used their money to buy things for others. They gave cash to strangers, from $5 to $20. Half the group was told to spend the money on themselves and the other half to spend it on someone else. Those who bought something for someone else were much happier. Fourth they suggested that it is best to focus on the positive. They recommend keeping a journal and writing down three good things that happen each day. Those who did this found themselves to be much happier. Finally, the article suggested drinking water. Apparently, dehydration can cause mood swings.

I think it is true that happiness comes when we do not put the focus on ourselves, but turn our actions and thoughts to others. Those who take their lives into their own hands are not the lucky ones. Early in the chapter from Malachi, God says, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” They didn’t understand. God told them that they were focused on the wrong things. They were more interested in themselves and their own happiness. Instead of sharing their blessings with others, they were keeping it for themselves.

Vance Havner was an evangelist in North Carolina whose wife died of an unusual disease. All his hopes and dreams of living a long, happy life with her passed away when she did, and he found no consolation. He missed her touch and her voice so much that he was constantly tempted to ask “Why, God?” In his book, “Playing Marbles with Diamonds” he wrote, “You need never ask ‘Why?’ because Calvary covers it all. When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in Him fulfillment what we now believe in faith - that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry ‘My God, why?’ Instead, ‘alas’ will become ‘Alleluia,’ all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.”

It is hard for us to ignore asking “Why” when the world seems to be turning upside down. The wicked prosper and believers are persecuted. Sickness, pain and death still reign and we often mourn the loss of those we love. The question “Why” has been a stumbling block for many, the straw that breaks the faith of those who do not trust in the Lord. All too often we hear the words, “I can’t believe in a God that would allow suffering…” We get caught up in our desire to understand the purpose for our lives and everything that happens that we lose sight of God.

The movie “The Bells of St. Mary’s” starred Bing Crosby as a lovable, independent priest namedFather O’Malley. He is sent to a failing catholic school run by nuns including Sister Beatrice who was played by Ingrid Bergman. Father O’Malley and Sister Beatrice disagree about how things should be done. She was upset that he had come to disrupt their school and he was just trying to find a way to save it. He had this way of making things happen behind the scenes that seemed to be miraculous. He managed to manipulate the circumstances in a way that caused a rich man to donate a new building to the school. Sister Beatrice thought the prayers of her sisters and the gracious way they approached him did the trick.

There was a student at St. Mary’s named Patricia who did not feel like she belongs. She had difficulty doing the work and keeping up with the other students. Father O’Malley knew that she just needed a little push, a bit of encouragement, and a chance to shine. He visited her one evening and found her trying very hard to write an essay. The topic was “the Five Senses.” Though she knew the five senses, she did not know what to say about them. Father O’Malley gave her some ideas which she is able to take and put into a wonderful essay.

She began the essay with the title, “The Six Senses.” Of course, Sister Beatrice was taken aback at first because the assignment was the five senses. Patricia continued, “The Six Senses: To see, to hear, to taste, to smell, to feel... to be.” She went on to say, “to be (or not to be) is the final sense, the common sense and the most important of them all.” It isn’t enough to just be aware of the senses we have. We should experience the things of this world with our whole being. Take a rose, for instance. How many of us barely even notice the roses along our path? Perhaps it is cliché to say, “Take time to smell the roses” but there is truth in that saying. God created that rose, just as He created each of us. We are part of the creation that God both made and loves. We are connected by the same creative powers that were present with Him at the beginning; that rose bush is part of what God has created and it is part of the world in which we live.

Scientifically, there is a reality that all things are connected. We experience the world with our senses: seeing the flowers, hearing the birds, smelling the bread baking in the oven, tasting that turkey and feeling the touch of a friend. It all seems separated by space and time. Yet everything in God’s world is made up of the same thing: atoms. Atoms are made up of parts. Those parts are connected by an indescribable force. A rose may seem like a solid thing, but it is made up of atoms and the parts of atoms that are swimming together in space. In his letter to Colossae Paul wrote, “He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” When the scientists discovered this indescribable force holding the parts of an atom together, they called it “The Colossians Force.”

It is easy to lose sight of a God that seems invisible, but Jesus Christ is the image of that which we cannot see. He is the Word made flesh, the God of creation dwelling with us. He was there when God laid down the foundations of the earth and it was through Him all things were made. In Christ we see that God did not make the world and disappear, but that He has been with us always, planning even in the beginning the redemption that was to come. Everything is His, and through Him we are re-created and reconciled to God our Father in heaven, part of the body of Christ and blessed with eternal life in Him.

The worst part is that we don’t take the time to appreciate and enjoy everything that God has given us in creation. We forget the great and wonderful things God has done that can’t be seen with our senses. If we don’t enjoy the roses, birds, bread, turkey or friends and attribute them to the One who brought them forth, how can we really ever grasp God’s mercy and grace found in His redemption - the re-creation - of His world? How can we every truly be? How can we ever really find happiness if we focus only on our selves?

The world thinks it is ridiculous that we find ourselves and our happiness in the story of Jesus Christ. After all, He died a spectacularly horrible death. How could He possible give us what we need for a full and happy life? The story itself is terrible, sad, even disturbing. We look to the cross and find peace, but they are disgusted by it. They are offended by the idea that we would put so much importance to an object of ancient torture. After all, the cross was used to punish and execute criminals. I have been asked, in reference to the cross I wear around my neck, whether I would wear an electric chair. It is impossible not to see the beauty in the crosses I have collected and wear, but there is an underlying sadness about it. The cross was used to kill people. It was used to kill Jesus. It was not a thing of beauty in His day. As a matter of fact, it was ugly and horrifying. It was little more than two pieces of wood and a few nails, most likely already covered in the blood of previous victims. The death experienced on the cross was slow and painful, terrifying and disgusting. The death was not only physical, but also emotional and spiritual. It was humiliating to hang on the cross as the witnesses threw insults and accusations.

Why would we want to remember this? Why would we want to hang this symbol on our wall or wear it around our neck? Why is this cross so important? Why would we choose to remember this moment of Christ’s life, His death on a day set aside for Christ the King? In the Gospel passage from Luke we are reminded of the sign placed above Jesus’ head on the cross, the sign that calls Him “The King of the Jews.” Yet, this sign was an insult, it was meant to call to the attention of the gawkers Jesus’ foolishness. How could a king end up hanging nearly naked by a few nails on a cross?

We celebrate a different kind of king. Jesus Christ did not have a typical coronation. The kings and queens of the world celebrate their elevation to monarch with grand parties and ostentatious ceremonies. For some monarchs, the coronation ceremony is so important that they take a year or more to organize. Some have acted as monarch for months and even years before they officially took the crown to their heads. New gowns, new jewels, new furnishings were created. Dignitaries were invited and accommodations were prepared. Some even built new palaces, churches or banqueting halls before hosting the party of their lives. It was such an important moment of their lives that they wanted everything to be new, beautiful and perfect. It was all about self.

Jesus’ coronation was much different. A week before He was lifted onto the cross, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem like a king. He rode a donkey and was surrounded by people singing thanksgiving to God for giving them a Messiah. In less than a week He was hanging on the cross, having disappointed everyone who had hung their hopes on Him. The followers turned because He was not leading them into battle against Rome. Even His closest friends betrayed, denied and abandoned Him. Yet, it was at the very moment that Jesus cried out one last time and gave up His spirit that He was crowned King. It was at that moment that He fully lived out the purpose of His life, bringing the entire burden of God’s justice on His flesh. He found His purpose in God’s will which earned Him the greatest crown of all.

We see many images of God throughout the Church year. You can find many different lists of “The Names of God”; there are too many to list here, but they include Abba, Creator, Redeemer, Friend, Master, Shepherd and Teacher. We see Him love and encourage and discipline. We see Him scold and rebuke. We see Him guide and teach. We see Him save and call us to live out our salvation.

We end the Church year with this image of Yahweh of Armies. Christ will come again. He won’t come on a donkey, as He did when He entered Jerusalem before His crucifixion. He will come on the clouds with thunder and lightning, with a double-edged sword. He will come to fight the final battle, to finally and completely destroy the last enemy. He will come as King! Christ the King is coming and He is coming to finish the work He began at the cross. Jesus Christ was crowned on that cross; it was His throne and because of His obedience to His Father on that first Good Friday, we can now wait expectantly for His coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus is the One who truly saves us. As the psalmist sings, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” We may struggle, but we can trust in God’s promises. He has established a King that will not fail us. He has appointed His Son to rule over our lives. Our circumstances may seem out of control. The world may seem like it is upside down. We may find ourselves in exile or beaten by our enemies, but we can rest in the knowledge that God is the driving force behind our lives. When our leaders fail, and when we are led astray, God has not forgotten His promises. He is faithful even when we cannot be. Be still and know. He is God and He is with us. And He has appointed the King who will not fail, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Though Satan does still roam on this earth and those who reject God seem to be blessed, we are to look past this life of flesh into the promises of God and know that He will make all things right. We may not see the purpose of our lives, and we will still ask “Why?” It is a human quality to desire understanding for the things that affect our lives. It is not necessarily wrong to ask; God may even answer. But it is wrong to demand from God an explanation or some action that will satisfy our desires. Even our Lord Jesus asked, “My God, why have you forsaken me” as He hung on the cross. Yet, Jesus did not demand anything from God. He trusted His Father. We are called to do the same, to keep our eyes on the One who is King.

Our lives are like a puzzle being put together piece by piece. We won’t see the whole picture until our life is complete and we stand at the throne of our Lord. Until then, there will be pieces of the puzzle that just do not seem to fit. “Why?” will remain a question in our minds as we wonder about the wickedness and suffering in this world, as we face our own pain and loss. Yet, we can rest in the promise of God that one day all things will be clear, and until that day everything will serve His purpose even if we do not understand. We can encourage one another and keep our eyes on Jesus. All else will pass away and we will rejoice in the Alleluias of praise to God.

As the Church year ends, we look to the End times. The warnings of Malachi as are vital for us to hear today as it was for the people in his day. Are we living self-centered lives, seeking happiness in all the wrong things? Or are we focused on the God will has made us His own people? Do we look to Jesus who was crowned our King when He obediently fulfilled God’s purpose by dying on the cross?

When we are faced with difficulties, God is with us. He is our refuge and our strength. We will struggle, but we can trust that God is our salvation. His hand moves mountains and His love melts hearts. He is our help in trouble. We can’t know for certain when the day will come. It is not for us to know. The very reason God has not told us the day or the hours is because he knows that we will try to save ourselves. We’ll try to hide from the inevitable. We’ll try to stand on our own strength. We will turn to leaders who promise things that they cannot fulfill. God is our only hope. We are called to dwell in His presence knowing that Christ the King may appear at any moment, even while we are actively involved in the ordinary work of the earthbound kingdom in which we live. We belong to Him and He will save us. He holds everything together.

Instead of serving God, the people in Malachi’s day served self. “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God;’ and ‘What profit is it that we have followed his instructions, and that we have walked mournfully before Yahweh of Armies?” They thought it was a waste of their time and resources to serve God. We might think that personal success will make us happy as we fill our lives with everything we could ever desire, but true happiness comes when we love God and live for Him in this world. This doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t find happiness in a great job or beautiful home, but let’s remember what matters most. Our happiness comes from living the life God is calling us to live, with Him in the forefront, doing His work in this world.

Back to Midweek Oasis Index Page