November 20, 2016
There has been much written and spoken on the state of our nation's leadership after our contentious and bitter presidential election. We elected a man who epitomizes in many ways the world's view of greatness: he made lots of money. He gets his way on most things. He's never wrong...in his opinion. Ever since we've heard the myth that George Washington rejected the possibility of becoming the King of the United States we have had presidents with various leadership desires, skills and abilities. But one thing they had in common, they aspired to be great leaders.
Today the church recognizes as Christ the King Sunday.
We read the taunts that are thrown at Jesus, King of the Jews as he hung on the cross: the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" They are looking at him from the world's point of view; the King, the Messiah could and would come down off the cross and lead the rebellion. It was the power of the government that put Jesus on the throne; couldn’t the power of the Messiah correct this wrong done to an innocent man?
Even one of the criminals hanging there joined in, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" He joins in the derision thrown at Jesus, yet perhaps he is holding out a bit of hope that Jesus would actually do it; show the kind of power which everyone expected of the King of the Jews and come down and save the two of them along the way.
Jesus refuses. I remember as a youngster hearing this story every Good Friday and always wishing that Jesus would come down just long enough to show all his critics the truth of his power then return to the cross to complete his work of redemption. Jesus does display power, not by coming of the cross but the power of forgiveness and redemption. Listen to what he said from that cross. "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." and "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." He displayed his power to forgive and shared the hope of life in God's kingdom by the power of his word. Powerful. Grace-filled. Loving. Kingly...but not as the world views kings. His kingdom, as he told Pilate earlier, is not of this world. And his kingship is not like the kingships of this world. In his kingship, he identifies not with the rich and powerful, but with the weak, the rejected, the outcast, the suffering, the lost. The picture of power is turned upside down at the cross. It was expressed not with the hubris we see in our campaigns for election to positions of power but with humility. It was expressed not with a show of the world's goods but with his only worldly possessions, his clothing, being gambled for. It was expressed not with wildly cheering crowds but with almost all who knew him abandoning him and him dying mostly alone. Power was expressed on the cross not with retaliation or revenge; but with words of forgiveness and grace. It was expressed not with a show of strength but of vulnerability and weakness. You get the picture; the world's view of power and Jesus' kind of power. The world's view is turned upside down.
I ran across this poem. The author is anonymous but it speaks to the expectations the world had for Jesus and how so many, even his closest followers missed it. The cross was not what they expected and so they missed his kingship. It could still happen to us. Title: They Missed Him
They were looking for a lion, He came as a Lamb, and they missed Him.
They were looking for a warrior, He came as a Peacemaker, and they missed Him.
They were looking for a king, He came as a Servant, and they missed Him.
They were looking for liberation from Rome, He submitted to the Roman stake, and they missed Him.
They were looking for a fit to their mold, He was the mold maker, and they missed Him.
What are you looking for? Lion? Warrior? King? Liberator?What are you looking for?
He came as a Lamb to be sacrificed for your sin. Will you miss Him?
He came to make peace between God and man. Will you miss Him?
He came to model servant-hood for all mankind. Will you miss Him?
He came to give you eternal life. Will you miss Him?
They missed him. People saw the Christ through their own eyes and missed him. They wanted a warrior and he came as the king of peace. They wanted a lion , he came as a lamb. Jesus was not the kind of king that most people thought. He came as a suffering king and many missed him. (Anonymous)
So perhaps today's text is most appropriate for Christ the King Sunday, Jesus came to turn the world upside down and this picture of the Messiah does that.
Now we who are called as God's children, who have chosen to respond to that call and follow the Messiah, the king, are called to express the power of God not as the world knows power but as Christ demonstrated it for us. I want to talk about how that might look in 2016-17 in Litchfield, Minnesota. I have to be a little careful as I am now living with a “politician” whose campaign for school board was not, in my opinion, filled with the hubris of the presidential candidates but run with humility and a desire to serve. And this last little word is at the heart of how we live in God's kingdom; serve. Judy did a nice job last Sunday using our chili supper as an example for us in what spiritual endurance might look like. Spiritual power is very similar. Listen to this quote from last week and consider it in terms of the kind of power Jesus exemplified, “We are called to be peacemakers and reach out to one another; called to expand our acceptance of those who are different from us; called to treat people respectfully and kindly. Yet, we live in a world that rewards behavior quite opposite of what God calls us to.” That last line really grabbed me, speaking about living in a world that rewards behavior that is opposite to what God calls us to...that's what I'm talking about today. A man with great hubris was elected president and none of us can know how successful he may be. But God's kingdom rewards different behavior. And that's why this reading of a humiliating death on the cross is shared on Christ the King Sunday. God's kingdom is in so many ways the opposite of what we live with everyday.
The results of the presidential election have caused a lot of despair across the social media networks. There are many worried about how President-elect Trump will use his power as president. There are right and wrong ways to express that concern. I was so touched by a comment Amy Levinski shared as we visited about the results at the chili supper. She said' “we do what we are doing here tonight, loving each other, serving others...” We weren't talking about Christ's power, but that's it. That is what power looks like in God's kingdom, love and serve.
But lest we forget, Jesus is ultimately God, all-powerful, King of the universe. That position will be fully recognized when God's kingdom is fully realized. God's kingdom has begun, it began when Jesus came to earth. It is a present reality but is not visible and is not fully consummated. We are familiar with the title, King of Kings and Lord of Lords...that's Jesus now as he reigns in heaven. It is Jesus when he reigns over the new heaven and the new earth. We don't know the when or even the how of that fulfillment of the Kingdom, but we trust the promises that God wins and Jesus reigns. And Jesus reigns not as a president who won the electoral vote but not the popular vote as our new president does. President Obama noted this week that our democracy is bigger than any one person as he defended our democratic process in an overseas speech. But God's kingdom is all about one person. Jesus reigns not as president but as king. We are reminded today that the kingdom of God is not a democracy, it is a monarchy. As Americans we might struggle with that a bit. But we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus reigns as lord and king.
R. C. Sproul writes of this, reminding us of our role in the kingdom, “At present the kingship of Christ is invisible. We as Christians live somewhat like Robin Hood and his merry men of Sherwood forest. Robin and his cohorts were disenfranchised by wicked prince John. But John was a usurper. The throne belonged to Richard the Lion-hearted.... Our king is not visibly present in his realm, but his reign is real.... We live in this world as outcasts, but we remain loyal to our king who has ventured into a far country. We await his return in glory...our mission is to bear witness to his reign.”1 I kind of like that, we are Jesus' merry men, not robbing from the rich to give to the poor, but loving and serving the world to share the riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One part of those riches is the gift of eternal life in the presence of the almighty. Jesus displayed his power over eternity when the one criminal requests that Jesus remember him...”when you come into your kingdom." He acknowledged that Jesus was a king. He acknowledged his understanding of his sinfulness when he stated that he was getting what he deserved. And Jesus gave him the promise of paradise...obviously not because the man deserved it. In this world he was getting what he deserved, death. It is too late for him to make amends...nothing to do but turn his heart to Jesus. And we are shown once again that God's kingdom is upside down from this world. Grace supersedes the power of sin and death. While we deserve judgment for our sin, Jesus offers us forgiveness, grace, eternal life. And while Jesus is not a visible king on a throne here in our world, he deserves our love and our obedience. We are servants of the king and servants to the Lord's people...who is everyone. A tough assignment. A mission from the king. To love, not as the world loves, but as Jesus loves. To serve, because in God's kingdom, the first are last and the last are first. To obey, because our King is coming again and we are commanded to be alert and ready for his appearance. Our hymn reminds us of his glory, we sing of his coming, first as Emmanuel, God with us. His coming as the conqueror of sin and death. His coming with the vision of our eternal home in heaven. The King of glory comes, let the nations rejoice! Amen.
The King of Glory # 136
1Sproul, R. C. What is Reformed Theology? Baker Books 1997 pg 98