Sermon: Christ the King RCL C

Rebecca thought it was time for her family to expand their social circle. So she and her husband David invited a bunch of different people for dinner. But early on, things weren’t looking so good.

Ralph, an insurance salesman, monopolized the conversation with a lengthy account of recent litigation he was involved with. Since two other guests were lawyers, Rebecca was becoming increasingly uneasy.

“In the end, Ralph concluded, “you know who got all the money.”

Rebecca and David cringed.

“The lawyers!” Ralph shouted.

There was embarrassed silence at the table. Rebecca’s heart was pounding until the wife of one lawyer said, “Oh, I so love a story with a happy ending.”

Every year on Christmas Day, we read Isaiah 9:2-7. Verses six and seven are:

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.”

These are words that were written 700 years before the birth of Christ. For those 700 years, the people were waiting and watching for this king to come. Several individuals rose in prominence that some believed were this long-awaited king, but in the end, they were disappointed. There was no happy ending, but then a spark of hope. A message came to a young woman.

From Luke, chapter one: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” It is the opening of the scene of the Annunciation. Using the words that Isaiah had spoken 700 years prior, Gabriel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The child grew, and many began to follow him and believe he was the long-awaited king. In John’s Gospel, we are told that there was one incident—although it likely happened more than once—where the people gathered around Jesus to take him by force and make him king (cf. John 6:15), but he avoided them. And then there was the day he arrived in Jerusalem. The people were waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks so that the donkey Jesus rode upon would have them to walk upon. The waving of palm branches was a sign of royalty, and the laying down of cloaks symbolized the peoples’ submission to a king, who they obviously believed was Jesus, because, in addition to those symbols, they shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” A happy ending in the making that turned sour quickly.

“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.”

I know. Too much reading this morning, but Cardinal Schönborn says it best: “It sounds like mockery when at the end of his Gospel Luke the Evangelist has to recount what became of all the great hopes from this Savior of his people. His throne has turned into the Cross, that place of torture; for company, he has two robbers, one to the right and one to the left of him. The homage he receives is the mockery of those who have set this ‘throne’ up for him, and as the ultimate in nastiness, a notice over the head of the man who is dying in such torment states the reason for his crucifixion: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’” (Jesus, the Divine Physician: Reflections on the Gospel During the Year of Luke, p.158)

After all those years of waiting and hoping for the promised king yet, when he arrived… they put him to death. We know the rest of the story, but if we put ourselves in the place of those who witnessed the crucifixion, then this was certainly not a happy ending to the story. Instead, it was the worse possible ending. And not only did they put him to death, but in the end, they all failed to understand who he was.

When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” he wasn’t simply asking the Father to pity them. In an unemotional way, Jesus was saying, “They truly don’t understand.” They failed to comprehend. And it wasn’t just the religious leaders or the Romans who failed to understand. It was also his followers, even the disciples. 

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples about all that would happen, but the Scriptures say, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” After his resurrection, Jesus meets the two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus. They say, “Oh, we had so much hope in this Jesus. He was going to redeem Israel”—essentially, “He was going to be our king.” And what did Jesus say to them? “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” “Father, forgive them… they just don’t know.” But there was one. One person who finally understood.

“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.’ 

No one, from the greatest to the least, understood who Jesus was except for a single condemned man who, knowing he was dying, saw in the face and person of Jesus, his Eternal King. In seeing him, he asked only to be remembered. He didn’t want to have lived his life—flawed though it was—and be forgotten. He just wanted Jesus, one person, to remember that he had lived, and by simply asking, he was not only remembered but given access to Paradise, the eternal kingdom of our God. Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, and we begin the story again. We’ve spent this year primarily hearing about Jesus from Luke’s perspective. Next year it will be Matthew’s. 

In our travel through Luke, with all that we’ve read and heard, there are a great many lessons. Enough theology to fill libraries. John said at the end of his Gospel, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” That is true. We can make the Gospel deep and even difficult to understand, but if we were to ask Luke, “What were the most important things you told us?” He might remind us of the prayer of the tax collector, who, standing in the Temple, would not look up to Heaven and, while beating his breast, prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And I think he would also remind us of the words of the thief that we heard today, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” For it is not the depth of our understanding or any works—small or great—that allow us entry into the Eternal Kingdom. No. Instead, it is our willingness to come before Jesus—before God—and acknowledge our need for His mercy and then to see in the face and person of the crucified king, the Eternal King. The moment we pray and submit ourselves to Christ Jesus’ reign over our lives is the moment the angels sing, and Jesus speaks: “Behold, I make all things new,” and the gates of the Kingdom of God are opened to us.

“Oh, I so love a story with a happy ending.”

Let us pray: O Lord God, King of heaven and earth, may it please You to order and to hallow, to rule and to govern our hearts and our bodies, our thoughts, our words, and our works, according to Your law and in the doing of Your commandments, that we, being helped by You, may here and hereafter worthily be saved and delivered by You, O Savior of the world, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

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Sermon: Christ the King Sunday RCL B – “What have you done?”

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Boudreaux’s entire family was gathered and looking over his momma’s shoulder as she flipped through an old photo album. She eventually came across a picture of her holding baby Boudreaux in one hand and a coconut cream pie with a mile high meringue in the other.

“My pride and joy,” momma said, smiling.

Boudreaux almost got weepy until his momma said, “Won the blue ribbon at the state fair pie cook-off.”

I suppose when some folks remember us, we’ll always be in second place in their life—if not further back—to a blue ribbon pie or something less, but hopefully there will be a few that remember us a bit more fondly. But have you ever wondered what your younger self would remember and think of you today? One person who did was Elie Wiesel.

Elie died in 2016 at age eighty-seven, having as a boy survived the Nazi concentration camps. His parents and one of his sisters did not survive. He would emigrate to the United States and become a writer and professor, promoting human rights and was a great advocate for the Jewish people. In 2003, the Los Angeles Times declared him, “the most important Jew in America”. Earlier, in 1986 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. During his acceptance speech, he made the following remarks about those early days in Germany.

I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

I remember: he asked his father: “Can this be true?” This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?

And then he wondered what his younger self would ask. He said, And now the boy is turning to me: “Tell me,” he asks. “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?”

Although our own lives may not have been as hard and difficult as Elie’s, we can speak of the events of our lives in a similar way. I remember when difficult things happened in my life, but I also remember the good: from the day I was ordained a priest to the day I gave last rites to a four year old little girl. So many different events in between, good and bad. And I know that you all can tell of similar events. I also know, as with Elie, the young boy or girl within us turns to us and says, “Tell me. What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?”

As for Jesus, think of the things he could remember. I remember calling the first of the disciples and the beheading of John the Baptist. I remember the temptations in the wilderness and I remember the look on the people’s faces as they were fed with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. I remember how I was arrested in the garden and I remember the blind man seeing for the first time in his life. But for Jesus, it was not the little boy within him who asked, What have you done with your life. Instead, it was Pilate.

As we read in our Gospel: Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.” And then Pilate asks, “What have you done?” What have you done with your life that has brought you to this point?

How any of us answer those types of questions communicates our legacy. How we will be remembered by our friends and family.

Elie Wiesel, says that he answers the little boy in himself by telling him, “I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

As for myself, it depends on the day. On some days I tell my younger self that I have tried to make a difference. That I tried to follow God to the best of my abilities. That I tried to be true to my calling. Other days, the devil shouts me down.

As for Jesus, Pilate went onto say to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus, what have you done with your life that has brought you to this point? And Jesus answers, “I came into this world and I have testified to the truth. For I am the way and the truth and the life. I came into this world that God’s people might have life and have it abundantly.”

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday, The First Sunday of Advent, we begin the story again. Over the last twelve months, we have added another year to how we can answer the young child in us: what have you done with my future? What have you done with your life? For each of us, there will be moments that we are proud of and moments we regret, successes and failures, but each of us, through our faith in our One True King, can report to our younger selves that if nothing else, we have secured our eternal future in the Kingdom of our God. A Kingdom where our remembered lives are redeemed and our past sins are forgiven. A Kingdom where we are allowed entry, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done.

Today, I invite you to take a deep breath and to let it out slowly and begin again. As we learned a few weeks ago in our Wednesday night study: for the Christian person, each new day is the Genesis story being written anew. The first words of that history are, “In the beginning God created…” and today God is creating, re-creating you better than you were yesterday. This day is a new Genesis, so—now that I think about it—those questions our younger selves ask should’t be asked in the past tense: “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?” Those questions from our younger selves should be asked in the future tense: “What will you do with my future? What will you do with your life?”

Would you please turn to page 93 in your Book of Common Prayer. To close today, I would like for us to say together canticle 19, The Song of the Redeemed, would you please stand:

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, *

O King of all the ages.
Who can fail to do you homage, Lord
and sing the praises of your Name
for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you
because your just and holy works have been revealed.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

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