Go to the Sermon Page to get a link to the audio file. I can’t figure out how to embed the audio yet. 🙂
Here is my sermon from Christ the King Sunday on November 21, 2010.
Luke 23:33-43 • November 21, 2010
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who is the King. Amen.
As many of us are already thinking about Thanksgiving celebrations that will take place in the next week, I offer a word of thanksgiving to each one of you. I am just returning this week from being away for a month for a time of rest, prayer, and renewal. You bless my family and I with opportunities like this and for that we are very thankful.
And we are thankful to be back with you today.
This is very special day of worship in the church’s year. A day that is somewhat like the Christian church’s version of New Year’s Eve. It’s a day where we celebrate Christ the King. This is the last day in the worship year of the church. So it’s an ending of sorts. We begin a new year in worship next week as the season of Advent begins. My guess is that many of us don’t think much about what that means. I would guess that, if you’re anything like me, this is just another Sunday in a long list of Sundays. Another Sunday when we decided to get out of bed and even though it’s incredibly cold outside today, we headed out the door of our homes for worship just like we so often do. Nothing special. Nothing new. Nothing out of the ordinary. And after worship today, we’ll leave this building in much the same way that we always do, maybe stop and get something to eat or rush off to get home in time to watch the kickoff of our favorite football team.
But what if something was a little different today. What if you chose to worship at a different time than you typically do? What if you chose to sit in a different pew than you typically do? Maybe you are worshiping here for the first time today or it’s been awhile since you were last here? What if you called someone that you haven’t seen or heard from in a long time later today, just to see how they are doing, instead of doing what you had planned to do today?
Calling Christ the King and worshiping Christ as our King is not something that happens the way we have planned. Jesus isn’t riding in on a white stallion with a sword in one hand and a defense shield in the other. Jesus isn’t robed in white with a sheep on his shoulders looking like a middle-class white American. Jesus is hanging from the cross. Jesus is bloodied. Jesus is broken. Jesus is dying. And still he says to you and me, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He doesn’t say, “someday” or “yesterday you were with me in paradise, but you blew it, so don’t expect to be with me in paradise again anytime soon.” Jesus says, “Today.” Calling Christ our King should cause us to see things and do things differently. But do we?
I’ve been collecting a variety of crosses for several years and even brought some with me to share today. For me, the cross is central to how we seek to live out our relationship with God. But why I collect these crosses has changed over the years. I used to enjoy my collection of crosses as artistic pieces that graced the walls of my office and home. I didn’t necessarily see the cross as the unexpected gift of God coming to me in person of Jesus Christ our King saying, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
The Archbishop of Paris was preaching in the pulpit of Notre Dame and told a story that had taken place thirty years early with three young tourists in that very cathedral. Two of the young men dared the third one to go into the confessional and make a made-up confession to the priest. The two bet him that he didn’t have the nerve to do it. Eventually the man gave in to his buddies’ pressure and entered the confessional and tried to fool the priest. But the priest knew that what the young man was saying was a lie. There was a tone of arrogance in his voice – which the priest caught onto right away. After listening to the confession, the priest told the young man his penance. The priest said, “Very well, my son. Every confession requires a penance, and this is yours. I ask you to go into the chapel, stand before the cross of Jesus Christ and say to it, “All this you did for me, and I don’t give a damn!”
The young man staggered out of the confessional and boasted and bragged to his buddies that he had done as they dared. But his buddies insisted that he needed to do the penance in order to complete the dare. So the young man went into the chapel, stood before the cross, looked up at it and began, “All this you did for me and I … I … I don’t … I don’t give a …”
At this point in the story, the archbishop leaned over the pulpit and said, “That young man was this man who stands before you to preach today.”
The cross that we experience in the gospel of Luke today does not bring us images of what we would think of in a king. This cross doesn’t come with the pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding at Westminster Abbey. This cross doesn’t come with the red carpet crowning of Hollywood royalty on the night of the Oscars. This cross doesn’t come after spending millions of dollars on campaigning to be elected to political office.
In celebrating Christ the King, we share our fears and experience our frailties from the cross. In celebrating Christ the King, the powerful one does not intimidate the weak, but cares for them from the cross. In celebrating Christ the King, the person of authority does not use others, but seeks them out, crowns them with mercy, offers them the promise of life from the cross. In celebrating Christ the King, we share in the joy of God’s unconditional grace and love from the cross. The cross is where we proclaim Christ our king. And at the cross there is room for all.
Will you go about your routine and busy life this week in much the same way you have every other day before? Or will Jesus saying to you from the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” transform the way you go into this week of Thanksgiving?
Today we celebrate the last Sunday in the church’s year and proclaim Christ as King. But our King is on the cross. It’s not the place you’d look for a king, but then again, nothing is ever quite what you expect with Jesus. Amen.