Gospel: Luke 23:33-43
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:11-20
Happy Birthday King of Kings! Today our congregation is 48 years old. And on this joyous occasion, we read the Scriptures for Christ the King Sunday, and it doesn’t leave us very joyous. Here is Christ on the cross, naked, beaten, betrayed, and dying, in the midst of criminals, being mocked and derided. It isn’t much of a Birthday celebration for our congregation, or our true King of Kings, Jesus.
Sometimes on a Birthday we take time to remember how we got to this point, events over the past year or in the life of the person that were meaningful and important. The readings today cover Jesus’ actions over the course of human existence and show a trajectory of true kingly behavior leading to this cross, another kind of throne lifting him up for him to complete his kingly work of saving the people and putting our needs before himself. The readings give us a chance to review where we’ve been so far.
The readings paint a picture of Jesus there at creation, the word bringing everything into being, holding all things together, heading it up. Something happens between then and the reading from Jeremiah, where kings and leaders, who are supposed to be shepherds have scattered the flock and driven them away. These rulers have been destructive, greedy, selfish, and neglectful. But God has a plan to bring everything back into balance, to gather the remnant and make sure that the flock flourishes under God’s care. A good king is like a good shepherd, and a good shepherd will lay down his life for the flock.
Now we come to Jesus on the cross. This is not a place for a king. A king should be comfortable, protected, honored, and loved. The cry is always, “Long live the king!” Here he is not living but dying. Instead of fine clothes, he has been stripped. Instead of a crown of gold, he wears a crown of thorns. Instead of sitting on a throne, he hangs on a cross. Instead of glory and power, he is weak and powerless.
Or is he? Was it a more powerful act to stay on the cross and not use his power for his own gain, but to show power in vulnerability and remain there to save us all? Jesus had the power, the ability to act, to remove himself from the cross. But he chose not to, because he was the only good king, the King of Kings, showing all of us how to use our powers to benefit other people rather than ourselves.
So, now we come to our congregation. We are named for our King of Kings, not to be confused with him. By choosing this name, we are meant to remember who it is this church represents and whose value system we go by and whose life we follow. There have been times when leaders of this congregation have been good shepherds and times we’ve been bad ones. There are times this church has been afraid and other times it has been courageous. There are times this church has been selfish and other times selfless. We are on a journey to follow Jesus and sometimes it seems Jesus is getting through to us and sometimes we miss entirely. Yet, Jesus died to give us the example to follow and the chance to try again when we fail and the chance to give God credit when it goes well.
Despite any shortcomings we’ve had, this is a day when we can truly celebrate what Jesus has done for us and through us. This year we celebrated several wonderful baptisms, the wedding of Howard and Pat, and the lives of some wonderful members including Wilma Raymond and Larry Sparrow and Dina Black. This year I have wonderful memories of special music that you offered during the summer and when Patty’s brother came and played for us this fall. We’ve had so many people come through our doors and walk out with bags of food and smiles on their faces. Sometimes the kids can’t even wait to get to the car, but stand there eating an apple or banana. We changed out the carpet in the entryway. We began our partnership with Church of God of Prophecy and worked together on church cleanup day and got to know each other. We had such a fun time with our rummage sale with different people contributing and picking up items and working together to make it a success. We shared our joys and pains, came to one another's aid, and worked together to be a welcoming presence in our community.
It seems the story is going to end with Jesus on the cross, but one of those crucified with him see that there is going to be more to this story. Maybe he hears Jesus say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Maybe he perceives that this forgiveness may even extend to him. He takes responsibility for his crime when he states that he deserves what he is getting. He sees that Jesus has done nothing wrong, and in fact is doing everything right. He is offering forgiveness to those who are hurting him. This man wants to be remembered by Jesus. Where others only see a devastating and tragic end, he sees a future, a beginning, an Advent. This story goes on. We know Jesus will rise. We know that we all share in the resurrection and that new life starts immediately, today, in the kind of lives we will live, in the way we will use power to benefit others, in the way we will give ourselves away for the sake of others. Although this reading is depressing and would be shocking if we hadn’t heard it a lot of times, it holds a promise of new life for everyone. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” In fact, paradise is the word for garden. It is as if the readings are taking us full circle from the creation of God’s perfect universe, through sin and brokenness, to God’s intervention and humankind’s efforts to destroy God, to the cross, and finally back to paradise again, where we are one with God and this beautiful world God made.
So, I’ve reviewed a little of the past year. Now, in the hope of the resurrection, I invite you to state your hopes for King of Kings in the coming year.