The Pas Christ the King / Reign of Christ Sunday
20 November 2016
Psalm 46 pg 763
Holy God, our refuge and strength, you have redeemed your scattered children, gathering them from all the corners of the earth through your firstborn, Jesus the Christ, in whom all things are held together. Make us a just and righteous people, worthy by grace to inherit the kingdom of light and peace, where he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Of all of the people clustered around the foot of the cross, who are “at the place of the Skull”, only one man, today, recognized him as King, as the Messiah.
Only one man stripped away the fear, the suspicion, the mocking, the sneering derision, the doubt, and the uncomfortable laughter to see, hanging on the cross before us today, the Messiah, the Christ, the King.
Among the soldiers, the politicians, the temple authorities, the people of position who were threatened by the idea of Jesus as the Messiah, the common folk passing by, it was this one man, an outcast, who was able to looked and saw beyond the chafing of the chains and ropes, beyond the bruises and the lash marks to recognize the majesty, the divinity of the man nailed to the cross before us, today.
This man is the second criminal, one of the two men hanging on Jesus left and his right.
This is a man who has, literally, reached the end of his rope. There are no other options in his life, as he’s also hanging from a cross, doomed to die in the hot sun of the day. And he sees no benefit of playing the games taking place on all sides: games motivated by the fear, the doubt, and the behaviour not worthy of Israel’s leaders or Rome’s soldiers.
He says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23: 42)
He says to the other thief, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Lk 23:40-41)
Of all of the people clustered around this hilltop, today, only one sees the truth. It seems, perhaps only one wants to see the truth of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Only one sees Jesus majesty, sees God’s divinity. (I wonder if it’s because he, too, has ‘reserve seating’ for this event?)
Or perhaps it’s because, aside from the thief at Jesus side, everyone else is working from their own ideas, their own preconceptions of what characteristics, features or traits make up the messiah, the Christ, the king of heaven and earth?
Looking at the gospel text, for today, we see the word “if” used twice, and inferred a third time by those who aren’t happy with the idea of Jesus as the Messiah. We see the doubt or at least the desire for those around the foot of the cross to be able to doubt Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ destiny as the Son of God, as the Messiah, as the King of the Jews.
They say: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” (Lk 23:35b)
And “ If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” (Lk 23 37)
They even say: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23:39b)
There are many ways we are able to cast doubt upon the beliefs, actions, and intentions of those around us, those in the world. It is so easy to cast aspersions and doubts in the lives of those over whom we are able to exert any degree of influence. The bullying taunts, jeers, and insults, all inspired by fear that we see on Golgotha today is just one example.
We see people in positons of authority, today, using their positions to erode the love, faith, and belief of others in Jesus.
Interesting, isn’t it? Over two thousand years ago we find Jesus is the subject of bullies! He is subject, literally, to those who have opposed his approach to God’s people, who cannot see the value of love, over the value of strictly enforced law.
The soldiers, the criminals, and those of the temple hierarchy, those who feel threatened by Jesus’ love and compassion for those on the fringes of society has caused them to lash out irrationally. And they would rather denigrate a dying man on the cross than believe that God’s plan to love the whole world is, not only, actually coming to pass through this same dying man on the cross, but also that this vision includes those who don’t exclude those on the margins of society, today.
Even today, we find this ability to undercut, the devalue, to derail others who are doing, pretty much anything, that we don’t agree with, or is contrary to the way we view the world around us in full swing. This even extends to how we feel about and toward those who don’t look like or sound like us.
There are multitudes of reports, incidents between those who bully and those who are bullied, event to the point that we have written laws in an attempt to outlaw bullying behaviour in society, today.
But even attempting to bring awareness or legislation against the act of bullying in society at large doesn’t slow down the bullies, or even provide reassurance to the victims, and their families.
Rather we find that we are still standing at the place of the cross. We are still standing in the presence of God’s love as God wishes us to love all around us, regardless of appearance, race, creed, or anything else we can envision.
Still today, we stand at the foot of the cross, at Golgotha, the place of the Skull; and we are listening to the taunts, and the jeers of those who are afraid of the power and the love of God manifest in Jesus, today.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
Hanging on the cross, lashed and bleeding, today, we see Jesus at his most majestic, at his most regal. Today we see the Messiah, the Christ, the King who takes away the sins of the world. We see God’s love enacted so that we can see what Jesus means when he says “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23: 34)
Jesus isn’t just dying for the sins of those of us who believe; Jesus is dying for those who arrested him in the garden. Jesus is dying for those who brought false witness against him at the home of the chief priest, during the ‘trial’, in the middle of the night. Jesus is dying for those who turned him over to the Romans, for those who lashed him, for those who put a crown of thorns on his head, and a purple robe on him. He’s dying for taunted him and then displayed him to the people. (Lk 22:47-53, 22:63-23:25)
Jesus is dying for those who shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Lk 23:21), and for those who followed him from there to here, taunting, jeering, sneering, and offering crude suggestions of how they can be convinced that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God, the King of the Jews.
Jesus is dying for them, as well as for each one of us, two thousand years distant from that hilltop who have the temerity, the boldness to claim to be children of God, yet we cannot love ourselves enough to love our neighbour.
Today, we see Jesus, arms stretched, lash marks aching in the heat of the morning, dying on the cross for each one of us, for you, and for me, being derided by the bullies of society, and yet he says “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34a)
As much as we want to blame the bullies for what we see today, this is truly the fulfillment of God’s plan for each one of us. The bullies, thinking they’re centre stage to the actions of today, rather find themselves a ‘sideshow’ to what God is doing in loving the world, loving each of us with all of the power God can bring to this crucifixion.
The summary of the Law tells us to love God with our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
God’s law tells us to love, and yet we see the effect of bullying and how it has come to rule our world. We are commanded to love; to love God, to love our selves, and yet we cannot seem to achieve that one command, that one yearning to love as we are loved.
Moreover, that’s the crux, the cross, the deciding point in our lives. To love as we are loved, not by each other, not by ourselves, but by God. “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
No matter where we start, no matter where we think we are in the scales of success that the world has set in place, love is the true deciding factor of God’s love, of success, of happiness in the world around us, today.
We are loved by God to the point that Jesus death on the cross, today, is the way that we are saved, not for anything we’ve done, or anything we are capable of doing; and we are capable of doing great things for God.
At the same time, we are capable of being those clustered around the foot of the cross with nothing but manure in their mouths in their derision, their jeers, their impossible statements because God’s plan is redeem the world, not satisfy those who will only set the bar higher next time.
God loves us and wants to be a part of our lives, our heart, our minds, our souls, our strength, Jesus dies for each one of us, to take away our burden of sin, to allow our hearts to open and God’s love to grow in its place.
Each of us has a choice – are we going to continue to reinforce the bullying that has existed, that continues to exist in the world since Cain killed Abel, or are we going to step out on a limb, step out of that pattern, and love as we are loved by God?
This is where we are today. This is the choice that lies before us. This is the reason Jesus is on the cross, not just dying for you and for me, but forgiving those who put him there, those who cannot see the forest for the tress in their search for political and religious freedom, from external sources.
We need to love as we are loved by God, as God loves us, and yes, this is uncomfortable, even to the point of scary. It’s because we know that we are not worthy of God’s love because of the actions of our lives, of our past, even of five minutes ago. Yet, God loves us so much that God sent us Jesus to teach us how to love, and how to be loved; and God sacrificed Jesus so that we are able to have eternal life.
God didn’t ask if we are worthy of such a gift. God didn’t come to each of us, didn’t examine our lives, and judge if we are worthy of receiving God’s love and the gift of eternal life. Instead, God sent Jesus into the world so that the world could be saved through him. Not just Jim, Joe, or Barry as the only recipients of God’s saving grace, through Jesus, but you, me, including everyone clustered around the cross, is able to benefit from Jesus actions today.
Everyone is able to hear Jesus say, from the midst of his cross, arms outstretched, nails in his hands and feet, crown of thorns digging into his scalp “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34a)
So that we can hear him say, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43b)