Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christ the King
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early.

The promise of the Messiah was the only hope of the people in Israel during the days of the Roman occupation. They wanted the kingdom restored as it was when David was in power, so that they could be an independent nation. They wanted a king who would lead them, who would defeat their enemies. Only then might Israel be respected around the world and freed to be what God had intended them to be. They expected the Messiah to be a charismatic military leader whose power was obvious. They wanted another David.

They forgot that David was not the strong and powerful leader that any one would have expected. When Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint the new king, he was surprised to find it was not the oldest sons or the strongest sons that God chose. David was the last son, a shepherd boy. David was a servant in the tent of King Saul. He was slight of build, unable to even wear the armor of a king. He was humble of heart and sought the LORD in all things. This is why God was with David. All of his success as a king was credited to God. The Jews longed to see the promise fulfilled. When Jesus was born, they were looking for a Messiah who would save them.

In our Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah spoke of the promise. He lived during the reign of King Zedekiah whose name means “righteousness of Yahweh.” Unfortunately, Zedekiah did not live up to his name. In 2 Kings we see that Zedekiah did evil in the eyes of the LORD. He also rebelled against the king of Babylon and it was that nation which God used to bring the Jews to their knees. It was under Zedekiah that Judah was taken into exile by the Babylonians. This passage begins with a statement to the kings of Judah, “Woe to you who have hurt God’s people.”

The kings were considered shepherds because they were given the care of God’s people. The kings of Judah did not do the task well. Though there were a few kings who remembered God and who lived righteously, many turned from Him and lived according to the ways of the world, fulfilling their deepest wants and desires. They turned their backs on God and took the people with them. God warned the people in the days of Samuel that the kings would rule poorly. He warned them that they would be destructive and self-centered. Earthly kings would turn their hearts from their true King, but God allowed them to have the earthbound leaders. And they acted exactly as God warned that they would act. And in doing so, they jeopardized the entire nation. Zedekiah’s disobedience would mean exile for the people.

Jeremiah’s warning comes with hope, however. God will not abandon His people to the enemy or to the earthbound kings that can not save. He will gather a remnant and they will be fruitful. The unrighteous kings will be punished and new shepherds will feed them. Even moreso, we hear the promise of the Shepherd King – the Messiah. The new king’s name will be “Jehovah our righteousness.” This play on the name Zedekiah shows the difference between an earthly king that disappoints and the King which God has appointed to rule forever. Christ is the King.

Throughout history there have been kings of every different type, from wicked to weak to nothing more than a figurehead. As we look at the monarchy around the world today, we see a great deal of pomp and circumstance, wealth and affluence but little power and authority. The royalty of the world has little voice in the governments of their nations. They provide fodder for the paparazzi and dreams for little girls.

We certainly do not see the image of a king in today’s Gospel lesson. 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 passage 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 is an insult, it was meant to call to attention to Jesus’ foolishness. How could a king end up hanging nearly naked by a few nails on a wooden cross?

Some people are disgusted by the image of the cross. They are offended by the idea that we 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 we wear and collect 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. 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. How is this man hanging on the cross an image of a king?

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.

Jesus’ coronation was much different. Days before he was sentenced to death, 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. He fully lived out the purpose of His life in that moment, accepting the entire burden of God’s justice onto His flesh. One willful act of obedience ended with the bestowing of the greatest crown.

We do not see the image of a king in today’s Gospel message. Christ the King is more evident in the Easter Story. We prefer to see Him in His glory, the resurrected body that defeated death and the grave to rise as victor over His enemies. The picture of the cross shows little more than a defeated man who could not even save Himself. He was ridiculed, the sign over His head identifying Him as king of the Jews was little more than a joke.

Yet, we see a very different image of Christ in the letter to the congregation at Colossae. Paul writes, “For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” The peace will never come through the works of men, through the strength of a king, through the power of human ability. Peace comes through the cross, and it is the King that hangs on the cross that we worship this day.

What is most incredible is that the King we see on the cross, the human flesh that died for our sake, is the Logos of God that was with Him from the beginning. When the Jews missed seeing the Messiah that stood before them, they missed the Word made flesh who was before all things. Paul writes, “for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.”

How many of us rush through life without ever noticing the world in which we live? Perhaps it is cliché to say, “Take time to smell the roses” but there is truth in that saying. God created the 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. A rose bush is part of what God has created and it is part of the world in which we live. We have all participated at some way to the care of God’s creation. We’ve planted flowers, pruned trees, mowed the lawn. I’m not a very good gardener, but I manage to remember my flowers every once in a while when I water or prune or add nutrients to the soil. We are part of the creative process when we take care of God’s creation.

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. The tiniest speck visible on an ordinary microscope is made up of ten billion atoms. Atoms are made up of parts: the proton, the neutron and the electron. These things are invisible to the human eye, but they are the substance of all created matter. The parts are separate, but 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. Scientists, when they discovered this indescribable force holding the parts of an atom together called it “The Colossians Force” from verse 17 of our passage.

Christ is the image of that which we can not 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.

Jeremiah said that the shepherds abandoned the sheep. They were left to fend for themselves. Human kings have long abandoned their people, just as it had been forewarned. Earthly leaders are never able to be the kind of king we need. Earthly leaders disappoint. They can not promise to be around always. They can not save.

On this Sunday we celebrate the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we are made new, changed by His love and His mercy and His grace. God is our righteousness because no man can make us pure and holy. It is only by God’s power and might that we can truly live as we have been created to live. That is why our greatest sin is to turn to other rulers, to put earthbound kings above our God. As we look to their strength, we destroy our relationship with the only one who can save. Earthly kings are created beings, imperfect and bound to disappoint. Even those kings that were counted as righteous were failures in some way. Only God is perfect. Only God is faithful. Only God can provide the hope that will not disappoint. He might not look like a king hanging on the cross, but in the midst of our own troubles, He is there with us, ready to save.

The psalmist writes, “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early.” When we are faced with difficulties, God is with us. He is our refuge and our strength. Even the Temple was not strong enough to withstand the forces of Israel’s enemies, but God will always be strong enough. 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 can not 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 and earthbound world in which we live.

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