Posts Tagged ‘christ the king’

To Be Remembered 11-24-19

This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is based on Luke 23:33-43. It is perhaps strange to consider a passage in which we hear of Jesus on the cross as the basis for his kingship in the kingdom of heaven, and yet that is precisely what we find.  Christ’s example reminds us that true power and authority is not found in strength or military might, but in weakness.

You can list to the audio of the sermon here:

Note that this was another extemporaneous sermon, so there is no text to follow along with.  Likewise, the audio is weak, so you’ll need to turn up your volume about the 1:26 mark.
(As I continue with this experimental style of preaching, I’ll be exploring alternate audio recording options to overcome this current situation.)

This I Know 11-25-18

In this sermon, based on John 18:33-37, I explore the odd encounter between Jesus and Pilate, as Pilate tries to wrap his head around Jesus. Its a mystery…and that’s okay.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of our Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Thursday afternoon, I was lounging around at my parent’s house, enjoying that low-key feeling post Thanksgiving-feast, when my brother grabbed me and hauled me downstairs into the basement to shoot a game or two of pool on our dad’s pool table.

We weren’t very far into our first game, when we noticed something strange happening. An odd tendency for a slow moving ball to begin curving towards the side pockets…and one of them in particular. We weren’t quite sure what was going on…only that this behavior was unexpected…but as confusing as it initially was to witness…we went into some investigation mode…and we came up with the following insight…

The temperature in my parent’s basement fluctuates pretty dramatically…and as it’s a wet basement, there are times when the air is quite damp and times when its quite dry.  We also realized that the pool table has been down there for several years now…and our final observation is that the table itself is wood, and not slate.  Perhaps you’ve already begun to realize what ultimately dawned on us…the table top has warped, creating slight downward angles towards the two side pockets…which itself results in a slow moving billiard ball curving in towards the pocket…which is great in every way, except if it happens to be the 8-ball…and so, once we figured this all out, we kept on playing, and simply adjusted our shots accordingly…in the end, this mystery was something we were able to figure out.

But thinking along those lines reminds me of an important bit of self-awareness that I have reached in my life…an awareness that there are some things I understand…some things I can figure out…and then there are things that will remain a mystery.

For example…I understand that anything that has mass will create a gravitational pull…however some things, like each of us for instance…is small enough that that gravitational pull our mass generates is so infinitely small, that it might as well be non-existent…but on the flip side…I also know that the earth is large enough and contains enough mass that it creates a gravitational force strong enough to keep us all firmly planted…and we don’t need to worry about floating off into space…I get all that…but what I don’t get, is how it works…that is, as they say…above my paygrade. (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same sort of sense seems to be on display in today’s gospel. Christ the King Sunday…the final Sunday of another church year…and we wrap things up by acknowledging the kingship…or the reign of Christ in the kingdom of Heaven.

Now this year…our scripture lesson features an odd little back and forth between Jesus and Pilate…a setting found in the larger story of his betrayal and arrest at the hands of the religious leaders…just before his torture and eventual execution on the cross…an event commonly understood as his trial before the Roman authority. (pause)

Out of the 4 gospels…I do have to say that I appreciate John’s take on this whole deal…because when compared with the other three, John really does a good job of revealing the sneakiness of this whole situation.  Jesus is arrested for blasphemy…for daring to claim that he is God…and yet, the religious big-wigs know that they can’t order his execution on these grounds…the Romans may have cut them a lot of religious leeway…and they did…but that leeway didn’t extend to the point of allowing them to pick up a bunch of rocks and stone someone to death for claiming to be a god.

And so, if they want Jesus dead…and its seems that they do…they’ve got to ship him off to the political authorities…Pilate.  Now at this point, Pilate’s already asked them what he did…and he doesn’t really get much of an answer beyond Jesus being called a criminal…and with that…he’s got to try and figure things out.

Are you the king of the Jews? (pause) Now logic probably tells us the same thing that Pilate was thinking…this is a pretty simple question…yes or no answer.  If he says yes…that he is the Jewish king…well that means he’s in the midst of a political uprising…and crucifixion is the answer…if he says no…well then this whole deal is pointless.

But it seems like Jesus never gives a straight answer does he?  Are you king?  Why do you ask, are you curious or did someone say something?  And then we go back and forth…several questions countered with more questions…until Pilate seems to arrive at the conclusion “So you are the king.”  Only to get an equally confusing answer “You have called me king.” (pause)

I can only think that Jesus is revealing something important here…that whatever it is that God is up to through the Christ event…through the life and the death and the resurrection of the one who is the living Word of God made flesh…the one who existed with God and is God…the light which shines in the darkness…whatever God is up to in bringing about this whole kingdom of heaven which has already come near to us and at the same time is not yet fully realized…whatever it is…we just can’t grasp can we?

Pilate was a political dude…that’s what he knew…that’s what he understood…and so he was trying to apply this knowledge…this understanding on Jesus and whatever it was he was up to.  The religious leaders…his own people…they’re cranky with him…so clearly something is going on right?  And Pilate tries to put in terms that he can comprehend and deal with.

God bless him, he’s trying isn’t he? But clearly…he’s failing.  Just like my inability to understand what makes gravity…the kingdom of heaven, whatever that means…well that’s above Pilate’s pay grade isn’t it?  Honestly its above everyone’s pay grade…because God is just so much bigger than we can wrap our heads around…and that’s okay.

But if that’s the case…and we’re gonna leave things ambiguous and I guess we can say unanswered…then what do we do with this passage?  And as I ponder on that question I’m drawn to the very last thing that Jesus says today. 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.

I thought about this idea of truth…and it’s a concept that’s scattered all over John’s gospel…but perhaps no more importantly then when Jesus himself declares “I AM…the way…and the truth…and the life.”

Jesus himself is the truth…and he reveals so much about this life…a new way to live…a new way to be in the world…a new way to live in harmony with God and with our neighbors…not a perfect life, for Jesus knows that none of us are capable of that…but rather a life where confession and repentance and forgiveness is also a possibility. A life in which we live as if the kingdom is already here…because…it is…Jesus told us that.

And maybe, just maybe as we live our lives in a way that reflects the reality of this kingdom of heaven…and whatever that will ultimately look like…maybe that’s how we participate in God’s ongoing action of bringing that kingdom into existence.

And we do this because this is what Jesus has told us to do. He has shown us a new way…he has illuminated a new way for us…and through the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit which Jesus has sent upon us all…he continues to reveal more and more and more about what life in the kingdom looks like.

And one of the commands that he has given us also serves as signs for us…and that is the sacraments. When we receive the bread and the wine, we are reminded that his body and blood were broken and shed for all people to make forgiveness possible…and in the waters of baptism, we are washed both literally and figuratively as we hear the promise of God’s claim upon each of us.

That’s the amazing thing about this whole deal…its always about what God has said about you…the action is accomplished by God through Christ…and while we respond to it…our salvation…our acceptance…our invitation to the party is never dependent upon us…something that I think is revealed when we consider that age old parable of the prodigal son.  The father goes searching for both brothers…and brings them in…doing so with an assurance that you’re already at the party.

Isn’t the joyful thing we realize through the gospel…that whatever it is that this kingdom looks like…that whatever this heavenly party is…we’re already at the party…and God’s ongoing action within this world seems to be aimed at reminded us of that.

But that doesn’t really fit into our rigid, rule laden reality does it?  And those who so strictly adhere to “the rules,” well they have a really hard time accepting this reality of Christ don’t they? And so they try and put Jesus in a box…that’s what Pilate was up to…and I can’t help but think that’s what the religious leaders were ultimately up to as well.

But the good news remains…that God will not be limited to a box…and God’s love and grace for each one of us will not be limited either.  The gospel tells us, we’re already welcome…we’re already accepted…we’re already at the party…some of us just haven’t realized it yet.

And that right there…that’s why God invites us to join in this ongoing work of reconciling the world…to be the hands and feet, carrying this good news…that you’re already at the party…not because of anything that we do…that’s not the way…He is the way…and his way reveals the truth…and this truth to hold onto is not who you are or what you have done…its who’s you are through what he has done. Amen.

Its Not About Death But Life 11-20-16

In this sermon for Christ the King Sunday, taken from Luke 23:33-43, I explore the crucifixion of Jesus. This is an odd place to look for our king, yet we realize that the ultimate display of his power is the acceptable of weakness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Have you ever had a time when you happened to be standing in just the right spot in a restaurant or a store…and from where you were standing you could see the back side of the counter? (pause) Admittedly, I’ve always been fascinated by little things like this…to see the things that most people aren’t supposed to see…in short…to see behind the scenes, or from the opposite perspective.

I was thinking about this very notion last Friday as I walked into the Presbyterian church up in Shelby in order to lead a funeral. I spent a moment just scoping things out, getting familiar with the layout, including the backside of the pulpit…and in my head it was just one of those moments in a restaurant, seeing what most people don’t see.

Now its worth noting that this was the 6 funeral I’ve led in the past couple of months…and if this rather regular schedule has done anything, its given me something of sense of routine…and while every single funeral is, of course, different…there are things that I can pretty count on happening.

One is actually the way I chose to open pretty much every funeral sermon…by acknowledging the hard reality of the day, and by commenting on how those who gather look to one another for support, recognizing in one instant we can offer support to another, and in the next the pain of the day catches us and we in turn need to be supported. (pause)
And that builds on the next thing that I expect to see…I’ve got a pretty unique perspective, either from a chair or standing in the pulpit…and I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the emotion catch people…sadness and pain…evidenced by tears and often gasps or sobs…but what isn’t routine, and what often surprises me, is who that individual actually is…the person who is overcome by painful emotion.

The first experience I have with something of this nature actually occurred in a completely different setting…my older brother’s wedding. I remember it is a similar fashion though, because as his best man I was standing right up next to him facing out towards the congregation, and so the perspective of my observation was pretty similar to how it is now as the pastor…Now about midway through the service, my late grandfather was overcome by emotion and he broke down crying. I honestly don’t know what prompted it…but it happened…and that moment seared itself into my memory.

Now my grandfather died just a couple of years later…and due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to get to his memorial service…and a couple more years went by…and finally I traveled to Arizona to visit my grandma, and one of the things we did was go see Grandpa’s grave…and I had a very unexpected reaction…I looked at his gravestone, and I lost it…the pain and sorrow that I’d been feeling for more than 5 years at that point came rushing out…and I learned in that moment, just as I have seen in many different situations as pastor…pain, sorrow, emotion, weakness, whatever you want to call….it demands our attention…it demands to be felt. (pause)
Now this notion of weakness…and pain…this is where we jump into our gospel today.  Today is Christ the King Sunday…and strangely enough…as we have already heard, our gospel features the crucifixion of Jesus…a strange place to think about a king right? In the midst of torture and weakness?

Downstairs in the confirmation class we’ve been talking about the history of Israel…and in recent weeks we explored the establishment of the monarchy through their first three kings, Saul then David then Solomon…and how each of those these men managed to expand the kingdom, bringing more territory under their control…and we talked about just what that meant at the time…that as king, you could control as much area as you were strong enough to defend…and so the tougher you were, the more you had…but we’ve also seen the flip side…and that as soon as someone bigger and stronger comes in…you are out of luck…and if you happened to be the king of the conquered nation, chances are you’d end up dead…maybe even crucified at certain points in history. (pause)
And so, how strange is it to hear about the crucifixion of Jesus on the day when we celebrate him being king. Admittedly, it seems like total nonsense…like a total reversal of all logic…and yet that’s exactly where we find him.

Jesus is nailed to the cross…and he suffers…and throughout the entire time…he is continually mocked…and interestingly enough that mockery carries a theme…three different groups of people, all with a very similar message.

First the leaders…He saved others, let him save himself. (pause) But he doesn’t.  (pause) Then the soldiers start in…If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. (pause) But he doesn’t. (pause) And then finally, one of the fellow condemned…one of the guys hanging right next to him…suffering the same fate…this guy throws it at him too, along with a little personal venom…Are you not the messiah? Save yourself…and us. (pause)

In addition, his opponent keep dredging up the past…he has saved others…he has performed miracles…he has even brought the dead back to life…SURELY he is able to save himself….so why…won’t…he…prove it.

I think in the end, that’s what they’re all looking for. They don’t really believe the claims that Jesus is the Messiah, nor do they understand what it means…and so as far as they can tell, if he can’t save himself from the cross…then all that stuff they’ve heard is nothing more than rumors…there’s no truth to it at all…and perhaps as they mock him….they are thinking to themselves “he’s going to be dead soon…and all this, will be over.” (pause)

But that, right there, that raises a pretty important point today…when our passage end, Jesus is still alive…we don’t hear about his death today, even if we know that it happens shortly after this…when we leave off, Jesus is alive…and so as we consider Christ as King, our entire context…the entire story given to us to try and understand this idea involves Jesus ALIVE on the cross. (pause)

Christ the King is found in the midst of ultimate weakness…in the midst of pain…in the midst of sorrow and suffering…and this is a very Lutheran idea…we don’t look for our king in the same way that the world looks…we find true strength in the midst of that weakness…when we acknowledge the truth of it…when we acknowledge that it exists…and that we are equally broken. (pause)

This is the important and yet subtle truth of the gospel…and the cross…its not about death, but life. (pause) The gospel doesn’t work simply because Jesus died on the cross…but rather because Jesus lived on the cross…Jesus suffered on the cross…Jesus endured the cross in the midst of ultimate weakness…and all the while, HE…DIDN’T…HAVE TO.

If you are the Messiah, save yourself…and he could have. At any time, Jesus could have come down off that cross, healed his wounds, and passed through the people, ensuring his own safety…but Jesus wasn’t up there for himself…and his example opens our eyes to the truth…

Jesus was mocked for not saving himself…and in doing so we realize that we are not able to save ourselves…and so, just as the people stood by watching…we stand by as well, watching the one who lived on the cross…who lived in the pain…because we recognize that in our brokenness, pain and sorrow demands our attention…we cannot deny it, because it is our reality.

But the glory of the gospel, is that while we were sinners Christ died for us…we don’t have to clean all our junk out before it becomes true…its already true…its already done…Christ has already lived the pain of the cross…that penalty, that wage of sin, whatever you want to call it…has already been experienced for us. (pause) And by Jesus living on the cross, we are saved from it.

Here’s the thing…all too often we think of Christianity…or faith, or religion as the idea that I’m switching away from doing all the bad stuff to now only doing the good stuff…this isn’t some social club where we’ve got a list of moral attributes that we have to achieve…rather, living by faith is recognizing that Christ did all that in order to save us from that which causes our pain and suffering in the first place…broken relationship and the mental anguish that it causes us.

We are broken people, living a broken life, in a broken reality…one that is so broken that the good relationship…the good interaction that happened between God and Humanity way back in the garden can no longer occur…and yet in the midst of this, God does something about it.

That’s what the cross is all about…its God’s way of showing us “There is nothing I will not do to prove to you how much I love you, and to show you that I claim you as my own, even if the world refuses to acknowledge you.” (pause)
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is unique, as we hear about the one I’ve come to call the “good criminal.”  At the mocking of the other man, he cries out “Do you not fear God, since we are under the same sentence? We deserve what we receive but not him.”  With this first statement, the good criminal acknowledges the truth of his existence, that he is rightly condemned…sorta sounds like confession right? (pause) But then after that, he recognizes the Lordship of Jesus…Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me.

This man sees the king in the midst of the pain…he sees the true display of Christ’s power in the midst of the weakness…and that power is on full display as Jesus answers. You ask me to remember you, I’m going one giant step farther…for today you’ll be with me in paradise. (pause)
Now paradise is an interesting word. We usually think of it as heaven…or eternal life…but remember that paradise is the word that was given to the garden, when Humanity was able to walk and talk with God directly…and so perhaps through all this, we see that the cross of Christ is not about death, but life…the good life with God that Jesus has made possible…and not just out there in some unknown future, but the hope we find in this truth…allows us to live in the joy of the kingdom today. (pause)

Jesus wasn’t dead when this story stopped today…because the kingdom isn’t about death, its about life…and the glory of God…the power of Christ…the Lordship of Jesus is something that we discover in the midst of our brokenness and pain, because it demands to be felt.  It commands our attention and pulls us away from any false notion of strength that we posses, and turns our attention to the one who was powerful enough…NOT to act…He was strong enough to NOT…save himself…because in his weakness, he was too busy saving us. Amen.

Working Title 11-22-15

This sermon for Christ the King Sunday is taken from John 18:33-37.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve been preaching for a fair amount of time. My first time preaching was my senior year of college, shortly before graduation, so that’s going all the way back to early 2001. After that, there was a hiatus, but then I started preaching on occasion about 5 years later. Gradually it picked up and by 2008 I was preaching with a fair bit of regularity.

Now at that time, when I was preaching, it was typically at one of two places…either a small country church where I provided monthly pulpit supply…or at our old congregation in the Okoboji area. Now here’s the thing, at least at the Okoboji church…each and every time I was slated to preach, I would get hounded by the secretary to give her the title of my sermon so she could print it in the bulletin…and she liked to have the bulletins done early in the week.

Many of you have heard me talk about my writing process, and if so, you’re likely familiar with the fact that I very rarely write my sermon before Friday…so asking me for a title on Tuesday or Wednesday isn’t going to get you very far.

There were many times when I would get the message that she was looking for my sermon title and I would just tell her “Working Title.” (pause) I won’t lie…it always made me chuckle to see the irritated look on her face when she realized that I wasn’t going to give her anything substantial…and after a while she stopped asking me for it…side note…you’ll notice that there’s never a sermon title listed in our bulletins here either.

This is all for a simple reason…I can’t give a sermon a title before I know what I’m going to say…and many times, I can’t even name it then…many times it has to wait until I’ve already written it before I can assign a title…and so there are many weeks when I sit down at the computer…and at the top of the blank page I simply write out… “working title.”

I did that very thing this past Friday…and I stared at “Working Title” for quite a while before actually beginning to write anything…but the more I stared at it…the more I got to thinking that this time around…Working Title…is pretty much the perfect name to assign to this one. (pause)

Christ the King Sunday…the final week of the church year…the final week of the season of Pentecost…We started off 26 weeks ago and over the course of the past 6 or so months we have followed the ongoing theme of the life of the church, starting with the small group of disciples, moving through the past 2000 years, then looking ahead to the end times when Christ will sit on the throne of the new heaven and the new earth…and all of this existence as we know it will be different. (pause)

Now interestingly enough, today marks my third “Christ the King” Sunday here at Underwood, and with the way the lectionary works, this will cover the final base of the different gospel texts that we cover. In year A we hear Jesus words about the future judgment, as people will be divided up like sheep separated from goats…and we are given a glimpse of Jesus sitting in role of judge. Year C features Jesus hanging on the cross interacting with one of the two criminals who asks Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom…and so Jesus is presented as the king who sacrifices himself in order to overcome the sins of all people.

Today, the end of year B, we have this passage out of John…as Jesus stands trial before Pilate…and as we see in the lesson…Pilate just can’t seem to make heads or tails out of Jesus. (pause). It’s a fairly long section of scripture, stretching from about the midpoint of chapter 18 to the midpoint of chapter 19, and throughout all of this time, Pilate tries and tries and tries to make a connection…particularly considering the charges against Jesus that have brought him to Pilate in the first place. (pause)

And the funny part of all this is that no one really seems to know just what it is that Jesus has supposedly done. He’s first put on trial with the religious council before the high priest…and they seem to settle on blasphemy…because Jesus calls himself I Am, the name of God…and for them, that’s punishable by death…but in all honesty, it seems like they just want to get him out of the way because of the way that Jesus continues to defy the status quo…the very system that serves to benefit them.

And so they haul him off to Pilate, claiming that he is leading an uprising against Rome…that he is claiming to be the true king of Israel. (pause) And so, after quite a bit of arguing Pilate asks Jesus flat out…more than once…Are you the king of the Jews? And he certainly doesn’t get the answer that he’s looking for.

Rather than answering Pilate’s question with a simple yes or no…Jesus engages him in conversation…and while Jesus does make some statements about his kingdom…the kingdom of heaven…he never says one way or another if he is, in fact, a king.

And so when Pilate asks him the second time “So you are a king?” Jesus makes a pretty important statement… “YOU say…that I am king.” (pause) And with that statement…I think we need to stop and think about just what it is that Pilate is really trying to do. (pause)

Now Pilate says flat out…I’m not a Jew…I don’t understand this stuff that everyone is arguing about…and so, as he tries to make head’s or tails about the controversy surrounding Jesus…it seems like Pilate is simply trying to place Jesus into a category that he can understand.

Keep in mind who Pilate is…he’s a Roman governor. Fairly high up in the whole Roman government system…and as such he gets government…he’s familiar with it…he knows how to deal with other people in that realm…and so by identifying Jesus as a king…Pilate would know what to do…and that’s really the issue here…Pilate has no idea what to do with Jesus. But if Jesus admits to being the so-called “king of the Jews” well then I guess there would have been some truth to what everyone is saying about him…I guess he is trying to rise up against Rome…he is leading a revolt…and as such…we crucify him…plain and simple…open and shut. (pause)

But here’s the important thing…Jesus…he’s not going to accept a title…because he’s not going to accept the limitations placed upon a role that humanity has created and defined. We hear king…and we know what means…the leader of a nation…sovereign…holding power over those that they lead…as long as they continue to follow that is.

But Jesus…God…reigning over the kingdom of heaven, which exists both right now as well as becoming something new out there in the unknown future…what we need to realize in the here and now is that we cannot define that…we cannot label it…we cannot limit Jesus’ lordship with any sort of title or definition that exists here in our reality.

We can try…but it will always pale in comparison. Is Jesus a king? Yes…but he’s so much more than that. Is Jesus a servant? Yes….but he’s so much more than that. (pause) No matter what image we try to use in order to help us better understand God…the truth of the matter is that it goes so far beyond what we are capable of…capable of understanding…and capable of replicating. (pause) The take away…about this whole Christ the King thing is that whatever we picture…whatever we assign…its way bigger…its way better…and its WAY beyond us. (pause)

Now as I think about that…and I wonder just what the kingdom of Jesus will be like one day…I’m reminded of just how far we are from the mark in today’s world…something that Jesus points out to Pilate… “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” (pause) Think about that statement…Jesus is revealing a pretty major thing here. If the kingdom of Heaven were of our world today, in the face of violence, Jesus’ followers would respond with more violence…but the kingdom of heaven…and the one who sits on that throne…are NOT like that. (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that in the past week…in light of terrorist attacks in various places around the world…and the anger I feel towards those who hate enough to set a bomb or pull a trigger…when news broke that France had retaliated and started bombing ISIS targets, my first response was “Good.” But then my wife, who is much smarter than I am, looked at me and asked “Really?”

And I thought about that…and I realized that my gut reaction was to repay hate with hate…violence with violence…and to jump off a theme here in John’s gospel…to repay darkness with darkness…but you know what…that can never work.

As I thought more about it, I came across the words of Maya Angelou that “Hate has caused a lot of problems in this world. But it hasn’t solved one yet.” And so we ask the question of what then can defeat the darkness that we see in this world…and the words of another great leader shed some light. Martin Luther King Jr once said “Darkness can never drive out darkness…only light can do that. And hate can never drive out hate…only love can do that.” Wise words from a wise man…one who witnessed first-hand some of the worst darkness that one individual can commit against another…and a man who would soon be struck down by that very darkness.

Perhaps its fitting that today we discuss Christ as King…here in John’s gospel…because it is John’s gospel that tells us that Jesus is the Light…and that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…many of you have heard me discuss that very passage before…I do hold it in high regard…and interestingly enough…a slightly different translation seems quite fitting today. Rather than saying that the darkness has not OVERCOME the light…we can also say that the darkness has not UNDERSTOOD the light. (pause)

And that is precisely what we see in today’s passage. Pilate cannot understand Jesus…he cannot place him in a role or assign a title that will adequately encompass who or what he is and what it is that he is doing. Because God WILL NOT be contained. And the wonderful thing about all of this is that the light of Christ IS here in the darkness of this world…and no matter how hard it tries the darkness cannot and will not win. That is the promise of the gospel…the hope that we cling to in the midst of difficult news…of the difficult events that we witness and those that we experience within our lives…in the end the darkness WILL not win…and the love of God expressed in Christ Jesus is present…here and now…for each and every one of us…it always has been…and it always will be…but most importantly…right now…right here…in this very moment…the love of God is present…and it is far greater than anything we can describe…and God is at work in ways that we cannot begin to recognize, much less to understand…but one day we will…and so in the meantime don’t try to limit God by our understanding…just recognize and accept that Christ as King…well…for the moment, it’s a pretty decent working title. Amen.

Where Is The King? 11-23-14

This morning’s sermon for Christ the King Sunday comes from Matthew 25:31-46. In the sermon I explore where we find Christ, and more importantly where he finds us.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

If the church year followed the calendar, we’d be in the gap between Christmas and New Year’s…just about to put the finishing touches on another year, and spouting off our resolutions for the new one.

But the church year doesn’t follow the calendar, and because of that, we’re already on the verge of starting over. Next Sunday begins the new church year, and with it, the short season of Advent. (pause) Now the church calendar, with its many different liturgical seasons runs in a cyclic pattern doesn’t it…and rightly so. Just as the 4 seasons of the year bring their own expectations…cold blustery winters, rainy transitional spring, hot dry summer, and cool dusty fall…the church seasons have their own expectations.

Advent finds us eagerly awaiting the coming messiah…at Christmas we celebrate his entry into our reality as a helpless baby…Epiphany reveals his presence to the world…then comes Lent as things get darkest…right before the new dawn of Easter when death is defeated…and then comes Pentecost where we track the growth and direction of the church from its infancy with the disciples and a few other people up through the descriptions of the end times and the call to be watching out…because at some unknown point in the future, Christ is coming back around for the second time and his heavenly kingdom will be established.

If you’ve been paying attention for the past month or so…that’s exactly where we’ve been…hearing week after week about the apocalyptic nature of what is to come…that we will eventually reach that unknown point…and Christ is coming back…and as we hear at the beginning of today’s text…that he will be in all of his glory and he will sit on that glorious throne…a throne…which is exactly the place that we expect to find a king…and perhaps this is fitting today as we celebrate Christ the King…and with today’s text, we hear, once again…that we need to be prepared because eventually…judgment is coming. (pause)

And today, I find myself wondering if any of you are as sick and tired of hearing about the end times as I am…if you are a little fed up with the repeated call to BE PREPARED…or to BE WATCHFUL…or in today’s case…if you’re tired of being told how you should be acting in preparation. (pause) Are you there too? Or is it just me?

I dunno, maybe its just seasonal burn out…perhaps I’ve just grown weary of the same topic time after time…week after week…but at times I find myself incredibly weary of trying to account every second for that unknown day in the future when Jesus will be sitting on the throne. (pause)

Now, before you all take a couple of steps back…perhaps trying to distance yourself from me just in case I’m suddenly struck down with lightning or fire for having uttered such things…hear me out. (pause) I grow weary of looking for Christ sitting on the throne out in the future…because if I recall correctly, the kingdom of heaven doesn’t really fall in the “not yet” category that we Lutherans like to talk about…on the contrary…I’m pretty sure that the kingdom of heaven is already here. (pause)

Way back in Matthew chapter 3…following nothing except a genealogy and King Herod trying to exploit the wise men…we hear John the Baptist declare to the world that the kingdom of heaven has come near…Its already here…and why? Because God made a choice to enter into our reality…In short…the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood and with that…in that instant…the kingdom…became…reality. (pause)

And this whole time…throughout the course of the whole year…we’ve been hearing story after story…instance after instance of Jesus…of God in the flesh…walking around…encountering people…and today, in our story…we hear that reality of God encountering people never stopped…even when Jesus stood on a mountaintop…tipped his cap to the disciples…and ventured off into the clouds. (pause)

Today’s story features a division that apparently will happen at some unknown point in the future, when Jesus takes the judgment seat and divides the people…but I’m not really concerned about the division today…I’m more concerned with the response that everyone shares when Jesus addresses them.

I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was a stranger …naked, sick, and in prison. (pause) Everyone hears these words…and everyone responds in the exact…same…way…Lord, when did we see you? (pause) And Jesus response? When did you see me…More often than you think. (pause) You just weren’t looking for me.

That’s the crazy nature of this whole idea that Christ is the king of a kingdom that we don’t really recognize…its all around us…we just aren’t looking for it…but trust me…its there. (pause)

The kingdom is present when we help pay for supplies at the local food back…its there when we fill up a water bottle for a homeless man walking by Underwood on his way from Wisconsin to Oklahoma…and when we spend a few minutes talking with him even though he’s a stranger…the kingdom is present when we give clothing to Goodwill, or when we sit with a friend in the hospital…and its there when we take a moment to spend with the social outcast. (pause)

And if the kingdom is present…then you better believe that the king is present…and he tells us that today…whatever you did to the least of these…you have done it to me. (pause)

We have a God who made the choice…the conscious effort to put on flesh and experience this life…this life with all of its joys and with all of its hardships…and because of this, we have a God who is present in these times, good and bad…and so that’s where we look to find Jesus…we find Jesus in vulnerability…whether that vulnerability is our own…or someone else’s…that’s where Jesus is found…not because we’re looking for him…but simply because God is present in those circumstances.

We see evidence of this all over Matthew’s gospel…whether during Jesus first major address to the multitudes when he assured us that blessed are poor in spirit…and those who mourn…and the meek, and those who hunger and thirst…or when he reaches out to heal the sick and the lame, the foreigner and the unclean…for where they are…God is there also…and he tells us that he will remain with us, even to the end of the age…and you better believe that when God makes a promise, you can take it to the bank.

And today, we know especially that this is true…not only because God chose to put on flesh and dwell among us…but because Jesus was about to become the embodiment of the vulnerability that he talks about in today’s lesson. As far as the story goes, this is it…right after this, it’s go time…and the crucifixion train is off and running. (pause)

And in that, we see that God…is imprisoned…and stripped naked…he is the stranger on trial with the Romans…he hungers and he thirsts while he hangs on the cross…Jesus Christ…God in flesh becomes the physical embodiment of vulnerability…and he does so in order to share the experience with you. (pause)

We have a God who experienced every facet of life, so that he can meet us in those moments when we are most vulnerable…and through his example we learn that we are to meet him there as well…even in those times when we encounter the vulnerability of others.

Lord, when did we see you? More often than you think…because the kingdom of Heaven is here now…and we have a king that is with us always…even to the end of the age…even when we don’t recognize him. (pause)

And certainly there are many times in our lives when we fail to recognize Jesus being present in vulnerability…but in a short amount of time, he’ll prove it once more…Next week we enter Advent as the world waits in anticipation for the coming Messiah…as the world waits for its king…and that king comes into the world in the most vulnerable way possible…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent on others…just as we…utterly depend upon him.

Behold, the kingdom of heaven is here now…even if we fail to look for it…and if the kingdom is here…you better believe that the king is here too…and he promises to remain…even to the end of the age. Amen.




Confirmation Questions 11-24-13

Sunday’s sermon came from Luke 23:33-43. You can find the sermon here.

The Confirmation Students posed an interesting question on sermon notes.

-Why was the criminal mocking Jesus along with the other people.
Great question. On one hand, we could argue that the criminal mocking Jesus was making a proper request. “Save us,” but that’s not really the point.  It seems that the criminal in this Gospel (both of them in the other gospels) were too focused on the immediate situation to really know what they were asking for. To say “Jesus save yourself and us” reveals the selfish nature of the request. The criminal is asking to be saved from the immediate pain and suffering of crucifixion. In other words, he is trying to be saved from death and remain living.  What he doesn’t realize is that Jesus is, in fact, saving all of humanity in the eternal sense. We are able to join in the resurrection of the body that Jesus made possible through his own death and resurrection.  So in short, he’s trying to save his own skin, but that’s not what Jesus was accomplishing.

Save Yourself 11-24-13

Today’s sermon was based on Luke 23:33-43. The text was the crucifixion scene, utilized as today is Christ the King Sunday.

You can listen to the sermon here:

Here is the text of the sermon so you can follow along if you like. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the weird punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Considering that today is Christ the King Sunday, I almost changed up that normal opening line…not the grace and peace part…and not the God our Father part…but the last part…the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ part…I thought about saying Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our King Jesus Christ. (pause) Our king Jesus Christ.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though does it? And so as I sat at my desk, staring at my computer screen, trying to convince myself to change the format of my opening line, I ended up on Google, looking up the definition of the words Lord and Savior.
Lord is defined as someone or something having power, authority, or influence…or a master or ruler…interesting…kinda sounds a little like a king right? (pause) Well what about Savior? Well, a savior is defined as a person who saves someone or something from danger…especially in terms of a country or cause…hmmm…saving a country from danger…well shoot, that sounds like a king too doesn’t it? After all, don’t we look to the leaders of our country to protect us from danger? Sure we do…so maybe, just maybe, calling Jesus our Lord and Savior is the same thing as calling him King.  I like it…let’s run with that. (pause)
But if we’re going to call Jesus Savior…just what are we REALLY saying? What is the danger that Jesus is saving us from? That’s the real question isn’t it? And its an important one to think about.  If was to pose this question downstairs during confirmation class…I would likely be answered with a moment of silence…while the students try to decide if I’m looking for a “church answer” or a “real answer.”  And in this case, I would tell them…HINT!!! It’s the church answer. (pause)
What is Jesus saving us from? Sin and death…the big two.  (pause)
Its interesting, when we stop and really think about it…just how Jesus accomplishes all this stuff.  It’s not exactly our normal mental image when we think about a king, or a Lord, to picture a humble guy who actually seems homeless, because he’s walking around all the time…and we sure don’t tend to think of our King being tortured and killed…but yet that’s exactly where we find him in today’s story…being crucified…hanging on that cross, smack dab between two criminals…accused of a trumped up charge of sedition…accused of being the revolutionary king of the Jews.
Now interestingly enough, this is a scene that’s depicted in all four Gospels…a rare thing…but not unexpected considering the importance of the crucifixion…Jesus’ death on the cross is one of those central tenants in our faith after all…but I have to admit, I really like Luke’s account…because it’s got a couple of details not present in the other three gospels.
Luke is the only gospel where we hear Jesus say his famous words “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And it’s also the only gospel where the criminal declares his own guilt and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  (pause)
Father forgive them…who’s Jesus talking about here? Is he talking about the Romans that nailed him to the cross?  Is he talking about the religious leaders that trumped up the charges against him? Is he talking about Judas who betrayed him, or the disciples that abandoned him? Well, yes, yes, yes, and yes…but that’s not all…I think Jesus is asking God to forgive EVERYONE…because none of us really know the depth of our sin do we? We might recognize some of our sinful behavior but when we get honest with ourselves, our sinful nature goes a heck of a lot deeper than we know…
Father forgive them…forgive them of the sin that they don’t even realize is there…father forgive them…right there in that moment, as Jesus is hanging there on the cross…listening to taunts…he’s thinking of others…he’s saving us from the sin and death that rules our life, even when we don’t realize it.
And during all this time…the people there are throwing insults his direction…and all of those insults have something in common. He saved others, let him save himself…If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself…Are you not the messiah, save yourself and us.
There sure seems to be a lot of people telling Jesus to save himself aren’t there? And you know what…he could have…at any moment, Jesus could have played the “Hey I’m God card” and ended it…He could have come down off the cross, healed his injuries and walked away…but he didn’t.  Because he meant it in the garden when he prayed to his father…Not my will, but yours be done.
Jesus Save yourself…that’s the one person that he WOULD NOT SAVE…because if he chose to do that…then his request…Father forgive them…would have been meaningless…but it wasn’t…because he refused the easy road…he refused to save himself because he knew in that moment…that we needed a savior…each of us…each member of humanity, whether they realize it or not, each of us, needed him to hang on that cross and die in our place….we need him to save us from sin and death.
And in this scene…in this lesson, there’s only one person who gets it…and he’s hanging there too…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (pause) You know, that’s an interesting request when we think about it.  It’s not “save me from this pain.”  It’s not, take me with you…it is simply asking “hey Jesus, whenever it is that your kingdom occurs and you are sitting on the throne, think about me okay…just remember me…sometime out there in the future.”
But Jesus goes farther than that doesn’t he?  Jesus makes a promise…Today you will be with me in paradise.  Today…right now…At that moment, this man receives the promise of God and if faith has taught us anything, its that when God makes a promise, you can count on it.
And in this moment, as Jesus is hanging there, in agony…tempted to save himself, we find him once again, saving someone else…Jesus remember me…and you know what, he does…not out at some unknown time in the future, but in that moment…as he was hanging there…he was thinking about those that need saving…not just the criminal that he answered…but everyone that needs saving…everyone that needs forgiveness…everyone.  And that includes you…at that moment, when Jesus says Father forgive them…you were on his mind.
And then he died…but the story doesn’t stop there…because we know that three days later…Jesus came back…we know that he was resurrected…and we believe that we are offered a place in that.
Salvation is offered to each and every one of us…We are invited to join with Jesus in a death like his so that we might also join him in a resurrection like his.  And when we join together in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are given the name child of God.
Today, at this font, Bowen Thorne will receive this gift. Today, Bowen will be washed in the water of holy baptism…today, we believe that in the waters of his baptism, the sinful self will die and he will rise again…a new creation…we believe this is true…and we believe that each and every one of us are part of that same baptism.
Through the waters of our own baptism we too, have died and risen again as members of the one body of Christ…we each share the name Beloved Child of God…and each and every day when we repent of our own sinful nature…and remember our own baptism, we proclaim the glory of Christ…we recognize our need for a savior…and we recognize that in his death…He is our king…he is the one that took authority over sin and death…he is the one that defeated it because we can’t do it ourselves…we needed to be saved from it.
And so today we recognize our king…God himself…not some angry judge standing there with his arms crossed waiting to toss you into hell…but rather God’s hanging there, bloody and gasping for breath…arms stretched out wide to show us that there is nothing he will endure to save us from ourselves. (pause)
Jesus SAVE YOURSELF!!! (pause)
Nope…he’s too busy…saving us.  Amen