Sunday, November 25, 2007

This is the story of Christ the King

Christ gives us his assurance that he will remember us in his kingdom.

Sisters and Brothers, Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus, Christ the King.

We all have stories to tell…short, long, sometimes too long. Today’s story is one of love amidst pain.

We begin at the first Christ the King festival was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, because the people of the day had “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives” and “these had no place in public affairs or in politics.” The pope went on to claim “that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.” This critique of the situation of the world could have been written today, almost 80 years later. One has to wonder how believing people could have failed so miserably to make a change in the world. Have we really accepted Christ as our king? Or do we worship the sovereignty of material things…cars…power…big homes…clothing…retirement funds…bank accounts. Beware - no human system is forever. In fact, I hear that "the market will be what the market will be". Only Christ is sovereign. Under the love of Christ, every "ism" ultimately falls. Even materialism will one day kneel before Christ. The real irony of today is that this festival of Christ the King comes during the height of holiday consumerism. Black Friday….Cyber Monday….

Flashback to 2000 years ago… a little boy born in a wooden manger inside a wooden stable would become a carpenter from Nazareth and now, hang upon a wooden cross. This little boy would be given the honor of the title of "king"? After all Herod was recognized as the "true king" at the time – the Romans had to have "locals" in power positions to enforce their law and Herod was deemed an appropriate puppet king. Jesus does not claim the title "king" for himself. Even as he hung on the cross, this title was used to mock him. Many years after his resurrection early Christians bestowed the title to Jesus. What changed to make the people think of him as a King?

Early Christian teachers took on the task of showing how Jesus fulfilled the ancient faith prophecies of the Jewish people. It became incumbent upon them to place him in the center of Israel's religious traditions. The best way to do that is to connect him to the ideal king, David, through birthright. In our first story today, Jeremiah sets up a shepherd style of servant leadership. The character of shepherd king was thought to be passed on to the rightful heir. This style is based on the ancient concept of a king as both leader and servant when king and sacrifice were synonymous. Pre and early Christian kings were sacrificed by their subjects to assure the future, strength and health of their people. We may be lacking a bit in our imagery of what a "King" is today. Instead, today our stories tell of fairy tale monarchs who lived "once upon a time" and "will live happily ever after." But the king that God has given us is Jesus "who is the sacrifice, whose body and blood is food and drink to his people and whose death guarantees new life. To a world bedazzled by earthly kings God gave …the only True King…He gave Himself. Jeremiah's story then gives Jesus the title of King by the Grace of God, Shepherd of the People and Commander of Israel.

In today's' Gospel story, we hear that some soldiers and even a fellow criminal hanging next to Jesus sarcastically threw the title of King in Jesus' face. Surely if he were truly the chosen one, the King of the Jews, then he could save his mere mortal self. One man present saw through the limits of a royal title bestowed by earthly limitations…the criminal Dismas recognized the true kingdom of Jesus in his bare presence on the cross. This man, Dismas, faced certain death himself – he had no reason to lie…no reason to defend Jesus….but rebuked the others taunting Jesus and requested "Jesus Remember Me when you come into your kingdom". Sincere words that touched the true king of Jesus hanging next to him to reply "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." At that moment, Jesus shows that he is truly a king…sharing his kingdom and offering assurance to a common criminal. This is Christ the King reigning from the common cross of crucifixion, not a majestic gold laden throne safe within the confines of a castle.

In the letter to the Colossians, St. Paul writes a hymn to Christ, the image of God and the head of the church. St. Paul offers additional titles for Jesus – God's beloved son, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Why the additional titles? How do these help us understand that Jesus is Christ the King? As God's beloved son, our king has direct access to God with out any bureaucracy. Imagery in the ancient world conveyed the significance and locale of that particular god's rule. So if Jesus was the image of the invisible God, wherever Jesus was would determine the locale of God's rule. And, as we all know, the firstborn of any family is the future promise of good for the family. So as firstborn of creation, Jesus set the hope for many good things to follow.

The final way of determining Christ as our king is in the way the titles relating to God also establish a relationship with us. The Risen Christ is the head of the church – as such, he is personally connected to us, the members of the church…the body of Christ. The church as the body of Christ, becomes the living presence of Christ in this world. Just like Baby Ava today, each of us put on Christ in the waters of baptism and we live that identity - listening for God's Word and receiving Christ in the bread and wine. We become witnesses, a way of making Christ present in this world- a testimony of his real presence in this 21st century life. As such we bring the love of Christ into our offices, our apartment buildings, our neighborhoods, our schools, all of our associations and relationships.

Christ reigns in and through each of us. As such, we are called to be Christ to others, to act with justice, to love tenderly, to serve one another. We are called to be hope for the hopeless, be light for the kingdom. We are called to seek reconciliation where there is alienation, healing where there is brokenness--brokenness in the church, brokenness in this nation, brokenness in this world. This is our mission. This is our story. Christ not only gives us assurance of the day when God will reign, but he calls on us to be reconciled to one another and work for peace. Christ commands that we confront whatever injustices we encounter, wherever we encounter them in this world, and resolve them peacefully. He is head of the church and becomes present in this world each time you and I make him sovereign in our own lives.

Last month we heard Reverend Barb Bolson of Night Ministries tell about the 2500 people they serve each year in Chicago… in the dark sometimes cold streets of Chicago. They have 60-100 volunteers who could have stayed home in their nice warm beds or in front of the fireplace and TV. Why is it that these volunteers chose to go and to be among the homeless? As Christ the King showed us on the cross, because love is stronger than pain; love is stronger than anxiety; and love overcomes fear.

This final Sunday of the liturgical year, we have the chance to choose to reconnect with Christ. Today is Christ the King Sunday. Today God says to you and me. “I love you. No matter what your situation, I will be with you in the midst of your pain. Today you will be with me in paradise.”

For as Christ reigned on the cross, he has given us his assurance through times of turmoil that he will remember us in his kingdom.

So, now you are wondering - what can you do today or this week to bring Christ’s reign into the life of another? To whom will you tell this Christ the King story?

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Sisters and Brothers, Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Is 1800 miles a long way?…Mommy, where is Florida?…Can we go back home? Why did that car honk its horn? Daddy, she took my book!

ARE WE THERE YET? Yes, long car trips traveling with children can often times be challenging…demanding much of our patience. The incessant questions…seemingly unimportant to us are of great import to the child's mind. Our focus, as the parent, is usually on the destination- the much more important questions to us are "Are we going the right direction and will we get there?"

Today we hear of the Sadducees – Sad, you see, because they believe there is no resurrection - who asked Jesus a question about this whole resurrection thing. They really want to know what the resurrection is and how to prepare themselves for it. But perhaps they were a little nervous about asking such a big question. Or maybe they thought in more detail and required small, detailed answers. So they created a trivial question concerning the status of a woman who marries a total of seven brothers who all predecease her. They seem to enjoy drawing the question out which implies that they were building themselves up in hopes of knocking Jesus down. Then, they ask, after she too dies, just whose wife will she be in this resurrected life? I don't know about you, but if I had the chance to ask Jesus about the resurrection, I don't think I would waste my time with such a trivial question as this! I'd want to know "Am I going the right direction (towards resurrection) and will I make it? But, apparently, the Sadducees were really enjoying themselves as they waited for Jesus to answer their question. Imagine their surprise and humiliation when Jesus countered their ridiculously pointless interrogation with love, depth, humility and grace.

How many times have we asked the trivial question when we had an opportunity to look deeper? I know I have done this. Sometimes, it's easier…sometimes it's not as risky as asking the bigger, more meaningful questions.

I remember my grandmother telling me "there are no stupid questions". The idea that it is all right to ask any question on my mind gave me a freedom to ask many trivial questions without risk. But if I knew there was a limit or restriction on my questions, I feel sure that I would have skipped the small detailed ones in lieu of one big question! Growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in the 60's, I felt like I lived in an isolated island in the world until television exposed me to another larger world. There were heavy questions regarding justice – both in nearby Chicago and in the world. The people shown on TV doing "bad things" like looting and hurting people were mostly people with darker skin. Through my parents and my pastor, I heard about the injustices of the times – violence, war, poverty, discrimination. I was troubled by the contradiction of the poor people surrounded by the opulence of the Vatican and St. Peters' Basilica as I watched the Easter mass. I didn't understand why people had to kill each other in a war much less travel around the world to do so. I felt certain that Jesus didn't want people to be acting this way. My parents and Pastor worked hard to teach me about justice – about treating everyone equally with love. But when it came time for my questions, most of them were about trivial things, and centered around my little world - like asking for the same toy that my friends had.

Besides my family, I was also blessed to have a community of faith and teachers who worked hard to demonstrate justice and equality. Pastor worked hard to bring the concept of justice to our little community. He taught me about people who look and sound different than us; he taught me to question why some people are treated preferentially; he taught me to respect others who believe differently than me; he taught me that there are bigger questions than just having an Easy Bake oven.

I also had a teacher in 7th grade who taught us of another world that existed outside Ft. Myers Florida. This world was not always as perfect as our world. Mr. Shuflata shared with us his stories of Russia, taught us how to speak Russian, showed us real pictures of people and places on the world map in his classroom. He taught us to question the stories of history that we heard – to ask about "the other side of the story". He had a passion for the founding fathers and the Constitution. He showed movies of FDR, Ghandi, Winston Churchill, and when he showed the movie about the atom bomb dropping on Hiroshima, he became quiet and sad. During the peacefulness of the post-Viet Nam 70's, he taught us that war never does any good. Even so, he was appreciative of those who served and gave their lives for our country. He was proud of being an American and living in such a great country where we have been given the opportunity, right and responsibility to question the important things. Things like the government…business…poverty……God.

I understand Mr. Shuflata has since died. I'm not certain if he was a member of a church and I don't know what faith he practiced. I do know that his gift was the ability to open our eyes to the bigger questions of life. His passion for teaching justice and freedom and life will live on through his students. I can picture him sitting in heaven asking God the big questions. I hope that God is giving him some answers!

Do you have questions these days? Of what consequence are your questions? Are they impactful in your life? In the greater world? Do you risk asking the big questions? Or do you, like me, find yourself asking the easier, trivial questions with the less consequential answers?

We can be like the Sadducees…asking the irrelevant, trivial questions instead of challenging with the bigger question. Even in the presence of Jesus, they just can't accept the opportunity to ask the big question. Even in the presence of God's only Son, they take the easy way out. God sent his only Son as a sign of his love for us and sometimes, we don't ask him.

Perhaps they were too worried about the details instead of the end result. The little things in life become so pervasive that we don't have room in our hearts & minds to believe in the big things. If we focus on the small stuff, how do we change ourperspective and believe in everlasting life through Jesus Christ? The church sometimes has this problem of centering its energies around trivial questions. In fact, it is said that the worst church arguments have been over things such as the placement of the lectern in the sanctuary or the color of the narthex walls. It's almost embarrassing in retrospect, to think of the small situations that have garnered so much of our attention when there is so much more to do in this world.

For those of us who have had teachers like Mr. Shuflata along our journey, we have been able to look out the car window and see down the road past the exit signs. We have opened our eyes and seen the beauty and fear and trembling and hunger in the world. These teachers have given us direction to love our neighbors as ourselves and to experience the fullness of life through the Spirit when we love God with all our hearts and minds.

The German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one such teacher who played a key leadership role in the Confessing Church, which opposed the anti-semitic policies of Hitler. He was among those who called for wider church resistance to Hitler's treatment of the Jews and represented a major source of Christian opposition to the Nazi government in Germany. He asked the big questions:

What IS the cost of discipleship? What IS the cost of accepting God's grace? Grace is FREE but it don't come cheap.

Bonhoeffer then LIVED the answers to these questions. He taught younger German pastors even in the midst of evil, to pray for the sins of the country and the Confessing Church. He wrote these thoughts and questions while in prison and though he died a martyr's death, he certainly is alive in Christ.

Martin, the Bishop of Tours left his assignment in the army when he saw the presence of Christ in a beggar. He then asked the bigger questions and after release from imprisonment for deserting his military duties, he began to preach. He pursued the big questions as he brought Christianity to rural France….in his death, certainly he is alive in Christ.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's quest to ask and answer the big questions took him from a comfortable life of affluence and acceptance. He served as a prophetic challenge to churches that set the gospel aside as they embraced cultural acceptability and easy faith. His questions lead to a quiet life of cultural persecution as he helped to introduce Christianity to the modern era. To God, he is certainly still alive.

When Martin Luther King Jr was persecuted, threatened, jailed and spat upon, he kept asking the big hard questions of the kingdom of God among us. He asked these questions so that we might one day ask each other "What is the content of our character?" rather than judge each other by the color of our skins or the money in our wallets. Yes, he too died a martyr's death and yet, to God, he and his dream are still alive.

And others, too, asked the BIG questions…

Johann Sebastian Bach asked "What does God sound like?" Albert Schweitzer asked "What is the wideness of God's mercy?" Mother Teresa asked "Who does Christ look like in his distressing disquise?"

Each of these teachers asked the big questions and each of them LIVED their answers.

Who have been the teachers in your life? Who has asked you the big questions? Who has taught you to be open to the Spirit? To always ask and be inquisitive about the big things? Who has brought you to life through the possibilities?

Jesus has brought you to life, to ask the big questions, to keep asking and living your answers. As he told the Sadducees "Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

As we continue down the road on our journey, look past the trivial questions that weigh you down. Stay open to asking these big questions:

How can I be move alive in God? How can I help others to be more alive too?

What better way to live out our answers than to fill our days with the love and peace of God!

Are there questions worth spending all the days of your life answering? What questions will you ask? Keep your eyes on the destination…are you going the right direction? How will you get there?

And, how will you answer someone who asks "Are We There Yet?"

Sermon preached Sunday November 11, 207 at Holy Trinity Lutheran ChurchGlenview IL. Job 19:23-27; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20: 27-38