Sermon by the Reverend Tom Weller in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida on Sunday, November 20, 2016. Last Pentecost: Proper 29, The Reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
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. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but 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!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
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." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
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When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with other criminals. There was an inscription over him, "King of the Jews.” … ”Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
More than I could ever tell you, I loved and enjoyed the charismatic movement of the Episcopal Church 30, 35 years ago and more. Movements come and go, but we had wonderful praise and worship, spirit-filled songs about Jesus as our King. If I could go back anywhere in life, it might be to reclaim that beautiful place and time of joy in the Lord. “Alleluia, alleluia, opening our hearts to him, alleluia, alleluia, Jesus is our King.” A triumphant hymn for opening worship, every hand in the air, joy in Jesus on every face!
But you know what, I have to give them credit: the lectionary framers are idiots, this is an absurd gospel to read on a Sunday we’re celebrating Christ the King: what kind of king hangs on a cross, or maybe Jesus was right last Sunday, maybe the earth is quaking, not one stone left upon another, maybe we do need to see our king hanging naked on a cross bloody, drooling and dripping to shock us into remembering who we claim to worship and adore, and in whose bloody tracks we covenant to tread: we adore thee, King Christ, and we bless thee; for by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world. Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
But Jesus is not King, because Christianity is where Christ is King, and a Christian is someone who is becoming Christ, and we are not becoming Christ, and Christ is not king for us — which is why we have this Day in the first place.
You’re heard this from your priest before, here at Holy Nativity one or both of us tell it every year: in 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Christ the King Sunday, in response to growing secularism in the world, ascendance of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Italy, nationalist fascist movements erupting throughout Europe by majority vote of the electorate, for whom Christ was not King, stirring hate and prejudice and the unspeakable horrors of the German Holocaust, and igniting World War Two.
I am that age, I was there, a child but I remember the propaganda, the newsreels, our national fears, hatreds and determinations. I remember the war songs, the nationalistic fervor. How we hated the enemy. I remember the nuclear fireballs that ended the war with our exuberant celebration, I have stood at the atomic epicenter in Nagasaki; and I have served. Christ is not king, Nation is king, Flag is king.
Nothing, little has changed, Your Holiness. The Pope was right: Christ is not king and still hangs dying (poor Yahweh, he never gives up on us), crucified God ever hopeful that Sunday, Easter will come for us, in spite of all that we are and all that we worship in this world. Like and with Saint Paul two thousand years ago, my longing is that Jesus may return in my Time as conqueror and king: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, Amen, maranatha, come, Lord, quickly come!
One wonders if Jesus will be disappointed, angry; what will be his reaction to us as he finds us? One of my books at home is the Bible according to Mark Twain, who early on replicates the familiar scene in the Book of Job where God’s advisors, the heavenly chorus of angels, gather in conference with God. God tells the angels he has created humans in his own image. Stunned, they don’t know what to say. Satan rolls his eyes and snorts, “Excellency, what are they for?” And when it comes to the question, God does not seem quite sure.
In a later scene, God is disappointed, confounded and desolate that His human experiment has gone so wrong, so wicked, bad and evil, so far from His hope and dream; and so God again confers with the council of angels. Satan, the caustic angel of sarcasm, wit, and bitter cynicism speaks the wisdom of the ages when he advises God, “I’d drown ‘na whole lot of ‘em ‘n start over.”
Look at the world around us: Christ is not king, will never be King simply because God the Father wills it, only if and when we Christians make it so. But from Nawkhawsh the Serpent in The Garden to this present moment, our record in human history is unpromising and unhopeful.
As your preacher this morning, I can smile and laugh with you, raise my hands in the air praising God and shouting Alleluia, Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia, but you heard the gospel: he is not, not risen, not king, I am the idiot: the lectionary framers are right: he hangs crucified, the resurrection but a future promise and divine hope — of paradise where Christ is King on earth. Not King in an afterlife above the firmament, but here on earth, king in this room here and now, king in your home and family, king in human life today. Christ will only be King when for every problem the only question is WWJD, What Would Jesus Do? and in answer we follow in His bloody tracks. We are A Long Way From, and every day is Good Friday as our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe hangs in agony on the cross, and the earth shakes with the trembling rage of God the Father.
There he hangs, in today’s Gospel, the man on the cross. What he is and will be depends solely on you, on your becoming:
- whether you follow and obey him as your Lord and King, or hurl stones and insults as a common passerby.
- Whether you persevere in resisting evil, or surrender to the powers of darkness.
- Whether you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself, or unite with the hatreds that divide us.
- Whether you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being; or sink into prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from you.
You are bound in Covenant to Christ the King. If you are not living into your baptismal promises, he is not king, not your king, not king for you. As we head into Advent, I exhort you: seriously contemplate the promises and vows that you have made. Let us pray:
Almighty God, thank you for the Good News Gospel that in the death of your Son Jesus Christ you overcome sin for all who follow and obey him as King. Thank you that in his resurrection you overcome death for us. Thank you that by the sealing of your Holy Spirit in Baptism you bind us in love to your service. Renew with us the covenant you and we made at Baptism. Send us forth in the power of the Spirit to live the life you set before us in Jesus Christ your Son our King, who lives and REIGNS with you and the Holy Spirit one God, now and to the ages of ages.
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I do not publish these sermons proudly, but simply and only to keep a promise to a dear friend that I would always do so. TomWeller+
Art: scene from The Passion of the Christ
Art: scene from The Passion of the Christ