Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 20, 2016

Central United Methodist Church
A King for This Hour
Rev. David L. Haley
Luke 23: 33 – 43
Extended Advent 2/Christ the King
November 20th, 2016

     “When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.
      Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
      Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God — ha! The Chosen — ha!”
      The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: “So you’re King of the Jews! Save yourself!”
      Printed over him was a sign: this is the king of the Jews.
      One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”
      But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him — he did nothing to deserve this.”
      Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”
      He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”
– Luke 23: 33 – 43, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


Children, youth, parents, do you remember this? “Now I want you to sit here in the corner for 5 minutes, and think about what you have done. And after that I want you to go apologize to your brother/sister/the dog (as the case may be).”

Since the election 12 days ago, our entire country has had time to think about what we have done, not that we won’t have plenty of time to do this over the next four to eight years. So far, a variety of reactions has emerged.

First, there are those who are frightened, even terrified. Debie Thomas, who I’m going to talk more about later, says her husband is an emergency room physican, and the day after the election, he treated an unprecedented number of panic attacks during his eight-hour shift; almost all racial minorities and/or women.

Second, there are those who feel defeated and discouraged, not only at the misogyny that prevented the cracking of the glass ceiling for a woman as president, but also that eight years of President Obama’s significant accomplishments might now be dismantled, with enormous and wide-ranging consequences for every aspect of government and everybody. I have talked to several defeated and discouraged pastors – mostly liberals like myself – who say they spent a lot of time in the last two weeks looking at blank sheets of paper and editing whole paragraphs out of sermons, thinking the better of it.

Then, of course, despite all these concerns there are also those who are hopeful that Donald Trump’s election will finally bring change to Washington; that’s the reason people say they voted for him. They may change, or they may not; we don’t know yet; nor whether those changes will be for better or worse. Judging by this week’s initial appointments; it’s not looking good.

As a diverse congregation of Christians, the reality is that we share these views among us and more. Today, on Christ the King Sunday, I wonder if God isn’t asking us as Christians to “think about what we have done?” Not in the corner, but here in church, as contemplate Christ on the cross, our Gospel from Luke on this Christ the King Sunday.

debiethomasTo add a different voice to our contemplation, I would like to share the insights of Debie Thomas, who writes as a guest blogger on the site Journey with Jesus: A Webzine for the Global Church. I am always looking for new voices and new insights on familiar texts, and Mrs. Thomas is one of the best I’ve found recently I don’t usually do this, but Mrs. Thomas insights are so good and so well-expressed that I want to share them with you. Did I mention Mrs. Thomas is of Indian-ancestry, and therefore brown-skinned, which is why – post –election – she wrote this:

“I am shaken to the core.  Sure, I’ve been disappointed by election results before, but never have I felt so betrayed and unhoused. I feel as if a tidal wave of hatred has washed over the people I love. I feel as if my country has just shown my brown-skinned body the door.

At the same time, I’m aware that I enjoy a great deal of privilege, relative to other people now quaking at the prospect of a Trump presidency.  I am a U.S citizen, I live in a progressive part of the country, I’m economically secure, and my religious and sexual identities place me squarely within the majority. Alongside my frightened search for allies and protectors this week, is the conviction that I need to stand up for those who are more scared and vulnerable than I am.

It’s hard to write in a moment like this. Hard to believe that words matter, hard to place faith in flimsy sentences on a screen. All I want to do right now is act, move, hide, fight, run. Why waste time on words and stories?

And yet, what seems clearer by the day is that America has just suffered an epic failure in storytelling. Millions of us — specifically, millions who profess faith in Jesus Christ — have given ourselves over to the wrong story. A story of greatness.  A story of conquest. A story of victory at any cost.”

As Mrs. Thomas goes on to say (and I summarize), if this were true, you might think that on Christ the King Sunday we would expect to find something “kingly.” Something glorious from the Book of Revelation, perhaps, about Jesus on his heavenly throne, decked out in fancy robes and a jeweled crown.

What we find instead is this: a crucifixion scene. A stripped and suffocating man, his body wracked with pain. A crowd of mockers spewing hatred at his naked body. A man hanging between thieves, derision in his ears, speaking blessing and promise to one less fortunate than himself. Says Mrs. Thomas:

“Can we pause for a moment and contemplate the paradox? This is our king. This is our king. If there is any moment in the Christian calendar that must smack all smugness out of me — all arrogance, all gleefulness, all scorn — surely this one has to be it. Our king was a dead man walking. His chosen path to glory was the cross. If paradise was anywhere, it was with him, only and exactly where his oppressors left him to die. Today. With Me. Paradise.

What does it mean in this time and place to honor Christ’s kingship through his passion?  What does the cross offer us by way of example, warning, and benediction?  What story can we write that will echo our king’s?

I can only begin to speculate.  But as I sit with this week’s lectionary passages, what strikes me most is what I don’t see:

I see no path to glory that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love. I see no permission to secure my prosperity at the expense of another’s suffering. I see no tolerance for the belief that holy ends justify debased means. I see no evidence that truth-telling is optional. I see no kingdom which favors the contemptuous over the broken-hearted. And I see no church that thrives when it aligns itself with brute power.

Where does this leave us?  I think it leaves us with a king who makes us uncomfortable.

During this week when millions of voters decided to “Make America Great Again,” I am wondering what it means to bend the knee to a king who exchanged his crown for a cross. As I engage in strained conversation with Christians who voted differently than I did, I am struggling to honor a sovereign who spoke words of blessing even in his darkest hour. As I hear people calling for a quick return to forgiveness and unity, I am remembering that grace in the Crucified One’s kingdom is neither easy nor cheap; it cost the king his life. When I’m faced with those who tell me to make peace at all costs, I’m trying to hang on to the fact that Jesus died because he made no peace with oppression. When I’m tempted to couch either denial or apathy in some version of “Calm down; God’s in control,” I’m reminded that Jesus’s kingdom is incarnational through and through; it’s a cop-out to expect God to act when I will not.

Even as Jesus hung on the cross, he spoke hope to a thief who needed solace. He hung in the gap between one man’s derision and another man’s hunger, absorbing both into his broken body. This is our king. My prayer for this hard season in America’s history is that we will find ways to walk as Jesus walked — to spend ourselves for love of the Other. To listen, to protect, to endure, and to bless.” (Debie Thomas, A King for This Hour, Journey with Jesus: A Weekly Webzine for the Global Church, November 13, 2016)

My thanks to Mrs. Thomas, for her articulate insights on this Christ the King Sunday, balancing the tensions of this post-election period and what it means for us to follow Christ as our King. During this hard season may we indeed seek ways to walk as Jesus walked, to spend ourselves for the love of the Other: to listen, to protect, to endure, and to bless.  Amen.


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