Devotional – Jeremiah 15.16

Devotional:

Jeremiah 15.16

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

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Cokesbury Church celebrated its 58th anniversary on Sunday. For our Founder’s Day we had the choir singing and clapping, we were blessed by a sacred dancer, our children marched through the sanctuary singing happy birthday, each person in attendance was given a puzzle piece to add together in order to produce an image of the church, and we had one of our former members return to offer the sermon.

It was a strange a beautiful thing to witness a church reunion for which I am the newest part. While I am still learning about all of the traditions of the church, I had the opportunity to meet so many people on Sunday for whom Cokesbury is/was their home church for longer than I’ve been alive. Before the service started I was able to mill about and observe reunions between people who had gone far too long without seeing one another, and I overheard stories about the church from the past while also listening to hopes about the future.

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All in all, it was a remarkable worship service and I count myself blessed for having played a small role in it.

When the service came to its conclusion, and I offered the benediction, I stood like I always do in the narthex and shook hands with people on their way to the social hall for our reception. The food was hot and ready by the time we finished and we could all smell the delicious feast awaiting us in the air.

While I was walking around and shaking hands a man walked up to introduce himself and I made some offhand comment about how he needed to stick around for the food otherwise I’d have to eat it all. In response he smiled, looked me right in the eye, and said, “Son, we just feasted on the Word and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more full in my whole life. But I’ll see what I can do.”

We can feast on any number of things: food, experiences, even television shows (aka binge watching). But how often do we feast on the Word? The prophet Jeremiah knew that feasting on God’s Word would bring a delight unmatched at any church potluck or dinner function. Jeremiah knew that God’s Word would fill his heart in a way that no relationship ever could. Jeremiah knew that when the Lord called his name it would sound better than any music to have ever touched his ears.

We feast on God’s Word whenever we worship, whenever we pray, and whenever we read the bible. And though we might try to alleviate our hunger with a number of empty solutions, God’s Word will always be there to offer us true satisfaction.

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Discerning the Devil

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This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Rev. Drew Colby about the readings for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Exodus 3.1-15, Jeremiah 15.15-21, Romans 12.9-21, Matthew 16.21-28). Drew is an ordained elder in the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and currently serves as an associate pastor at St. Stephen’s UMC in Burke, VA. The conversation covers a range of topics including beef tubes, identifying with biblical characters, nudity, kinship analogies, sleep, and knowing the devil. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Discerning the Devil 

Drew

 

Devotional – Jeremiah 23.1

Devotional:

Jeremiah 23.1

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.

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The last week has been crazy. People on both sides of the political aisle are filled with anger, fear, and resentment. Those who voted for Donald Trump are being attacked for the political opinions and those who voted for Hillary Clinton are protesting the results of the election across the country. Many Republicans and Democrats are being led astray by false shepherds who seek to destroy and scatter the sheep of God’s pasture through calls for violence and manipulation.

However, there are some who are seeking to lead God’s sheep in ways that lead to life. One of those shepherds is a former youth, and now college student, from St. John’s named Danielle Hammer. While others were flocking to Facebook in order to shout their political joy or disappointment into the fray of social media, Danielle wrote a post that makes me proud to call her my friend and my sister in Christ. This is what she said:

“This election has caused so much uproar among our American communities. We have heard of the hate crimes and violence that has occurred. It is genuinely terrifying, and I think we need to take a moment and sit down with God and pray. Lend God your anxieties and concerns, because God is listening to your cries and God holds the future. How comforting it is to know that no matter what happens here on earth, our Lord God knows our destiny. And yet, we need to make peace in this world. Compliment someone, pay for someone’s meal, help someone carry their groceries, or any other act of kindness that will show someone that there is still kindness and love in this world. Volunteer in your community. Stand up for your beliefs. Be a listening ear for those who need it. These small but significant acts add up, and they brighten the day of people who might be upset. Showing God’s love is timeless, and no matter who is in office, we need to radiate God’s love to others. So keep on radiating kindness in your life, and pray for those who are living in hatred or fear.”

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Oh that we could reject the false shepherds who lead us astray, and instead remain steadfast in our willingness to follow the Good Shepherd! For the Good Shepherd is the one who goes before us on the way that leads to life. In our discipleship, in our following, we radiate God’s kindness toward all people. We look for the ways that we can speak up for the disenfranchised, the poor, and the marginalized. We seek the peace that allows all of us to dwell together in unity. We pray for the Lord to give us the courage to show God’s love toward all people.

Devotional – Jeremiah 1.9-10

Devotional:

Jeremiah 1.9-10

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and the plant.”

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Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once said, “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” His quote is remarkably indicative of what our contemporary experience is like with new projects constantly fading away into obscurity. For instance, while the world tunes in for the Olympic games in Rio, the former Olympic site in Athens, Greece is falling apart and is being used as a living area for Syrian refugees. Millions are spent on building the stadiums for the Olympics, and within a decade most of them start crumbling.

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In our churches this same type of behavior is common. Whenever a new opportunity for ministry pops up it garners support from the majority of congregations. Money will come in, people will volunteer their time, and the project usually bears fruit. However, after a program loses its luster it (like Olympic sites) begins to fade away from focus and fails to bear the fruit that it once did.

Moreover, the same principle holds true for our own discipleship. Whenever we encounter a new spiritual discipline, or a new bible study, it captures our initial interest and we start to grow more in our faith. We might commit to praying every morning as soon as we wake up, and for the first few weeks it is incredibly life giving. But as time passes, and the new behavior feels more like an old routine, we stop giving it our full attention and effort.

We like building, but we don’t like maintenance.

When the Lord first called Jeremiah to be a prophet, he gave him a difficult task: “I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah’s mission would not be limited to starting new programs and building new buildings alone. Instead, he was tasked with the even harder work of maintaining the people by plucking up and pulling down practices and behaviors that were no longer bearing fruit. He had the unenviable responsibility of maintaining what the Lord had created by destroying and overthrowing whatever stood in the way of God’s will.

What kind of maintenance work are we avoiding? What do we need to pluck up and pull down in our churches for them to truly become the body of Christ for the world? What do we need to destroy and overthrow in our lives to become the disciples that God is calling us to be?

Do Not Listen To Preachers (Including Me)

Jeremiah 23.23-29

Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? Says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Says the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back – those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? Says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

Pastor Holding Bible ca. 2000

 

A young preacher stands in the pulpit after a long week of parish ministry. The visits have all been made. A new budget for the coming year is finished and ready for approval. Plans for the Community Cook-Out came to fruition as people from all over the community gathered together.

The young preacher stands in the pulpit and looks out at the congregation. He sees couples that he has counseled; children that he has baptized; families that are struggling; individuals whose husbands or wives he has buried; and he even sees people he has never seen before. He looks over the bulletin one last time just to make sure that everything is listed the way it is supposed to be, and then he begins by saying, “This morning the sermon will be short and sweet”

“Hallelujah!” Someone shouts out from a pew.

“Is that for the short, or for the sweet?” says the preacher.

The congregation laughs.

The preacher sighs.

The art of preaching is a strange thing, but an even stranger thing when we consider that what we want from a sermon is something short and sweet. Some of you have been quick to say that you want a sermon that leaves you feeling good on your way out from the sanctuary. Others have said that you want a sermon that gives you something to think about during the week, or one that helps to remind you that God is love, or that Jesus wants the world to be a better place, etc.

I would classify myself as a short and sweet preacher. I fundamentally believe that if you cannot say what you’re trying to say in 15 minutes then you’re never going to say it. Additionally, I love pleasing all of you. I live for those moments in the receiving line following worship when some of you offer praise for what you heard through the sermon. I know I’m supposed to be humble, but it feels pretty good to be congratulated and praised for preaching.

In the last few years we’ve had an abundance of sweet sermons; times when I wanted all of you to leave with just one thought: “God loves you.” I’ve done my best to make you laugh and smile when thinking about the abundant glory of God’s grace. I’ve tried to cheer you up during times of domestic and international strife. I’ve worked to make this place as appealing as possible for as many people as possible.

And that is why you should not listen to preachers, including me.

“Am I close to you?” says the Lord. “Or am I far away? Who thinks they can hide in secret places so I cannot see them? I am the Lord! Do I not fill up heaven and earth? I have heard what those prophets have said who prophesy in my name saying ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed! How long will they continue like this?”

The prophet Jeremiah lived during a time filled with false prophets, people who would ascend to places like this in front of a gathered people and make claims on behalf of the Lord. They would spout off about their visions of what the Lord was doing, and the more they said, the further they moved away from God.

God warns us against listening to false prophets, about succumbing to their visions, and about what happens when we trust them more than the Word.

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It would be easy today to make this whole sermon about the false prophets of our contemporary experience. We’ve got plenty of false prophets who use their skill to sell us on what they believe the future should hold. In fact this whole sermon could just be a warning against listening to the likes of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

What kind of dreams are they selling?

“I have dreamed of a future where everyone can, and should go to college for free. Where healthcare will be free for everyone. We need to remember what made us great and start taking from the wealthy and giving it to the poor. It’s not about progress; it’s about fairness. We need to make America fair again.”

“I have dreamed of a wall unlike any other wall. This wall will fix all of our problems. It will bring wealth back to our country. We need to bomb the Middle East into oblivion to assert ourselves as the top of the world. We need to make America great again.”

Politicians have always been false prophets making promises that cannot be kept; selling a vision of the future that rarely comes to fruition. And we know this is true. That’s why we’ve grown so jaded by our political seasons and apathetic about whatever will happen.

But there are more false prophets out there than just politicians, and one of them is talking to you right now.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God warns us against listening to people like me, people who march up to the front of the gathered church and strive to proclaim God’s faithful word. For whenever we hear a preacher go on and on about the beauty and majesty of God’s Word, whenever the Lord is watered down to a spirit of love, whenever we hear more about the preacher’s dreams than God’s will, we need to be reminded that the Word of the Lord is like fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces.

Since we’ve been together in this strange thing called church, I’ve preached over 150 sermons. I’ve preached from Genesis to Revelation. I’ve mentioned the patriarchs and the prophets. I’ve proclaimed the possibilities of the psalms. I’ve proudly preached on the power of parables. I’ve done different series on “Why We Do What We Do” and “The Basics” and “New Beginnings” and “Strange Stories from Scripture.” I’ve even dressed up and preached not one, but TWO sermons from the perspective of a donkey.

And for what?

Has the preaching in this place challenged you to be a better disciple? And maybe not just from me, but have you ever left this church really feeling convicted by what you heard and wanted to live differently? Or has your experience been like most, and you leave feeling pretty good on Sunday afternoon?

We preachers are tempted by the practices of false prophecy. We like to be liked. We want to fill pews with people to boost our egos. We need to hear praise from lay people on their way out the door. We yearn for success. We, after years of sermon preparation and proclamation, fall prey to hearing our own voice so deeply that we no longer hear others, nor do we hear the Lord.

For the last three years I’ve had a dream about the future of this church. I have dreamed of Sunday mornings where so many people fill the pews of this sanctuary that I cannot know everyone’s names. I have imagined crowds gathered around the baptismal font in anticipation of bringing a new person into the life of our church. I have pictured people having to park on the front lawn because there are not enough spaces left in our parking lot.

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And because I had this dream, I preached and worked toward things like our Community Cook-Out. I implored our Church Council to use enough money to give away the food and the games and the fellowship all for free. I sent out hundreds and hundreds of post-cards to all of our neighbors so that they might join us on the front lawn.

I have dreamed, and I want the dream to become real. So I work week after week on ideas and programs and sermons that will draw people into this sanctuary on Sunday mornings until that dream becomes reality.

A couple weeks ago I was standing in our narthex right before our opening hymn. Most of you were sitting in the pews; our liturgist had gone through the pertinent announcements and necessary welcome. Rick was playing something melodic on the organ as we prepared our hearts and minds for worship when I stepped onto the carpet with our acolyte.

Without thinking much about it, I started to count the back of all your heads. I started with the front left and made my way toward the back, then my eyes moved to the front right and all the way toward the back. My lips must have been moving because our acolyte looked at me and said, “What are you doing?”

“I’m counting…” I said while trying to not lose track of the number.

And then he asked, “Why?”

Why?

In his question, in the simple raise of an eyebrow at my action, my heart caught on fire, it burned like a blaze, and I felt it crumble into ashes.

For how long have I deceived my own heart? For how long have I been so consumed by the number of people in our pews that I have forgotten the call to share the Good News? For how long have I proclaimed a God of love who is so loving that he does not expect us to live changed and transformed lives? For how long have all of us listened to false prophets who preached their own dream instead of speaking the Word of the Lord faithfully?

In his question I heard the Lord convict my heart because I have been caught up in church growth not for the sake of the kingdom, but for my own affirmation. I have wanted the front lawn to be packed with people from the community not for the sake of the kingdom, but for the pews to be filled in worship. I have preached sermons to make us feel better not for the sake of the kingdom, but for all of you to come back the next Sunday.

Sermons are a good and strange thing. After all they are the means by which the Word of the Lord is interpreted for our lives on a weekly basis. But they cannot be blindly accepted without challenge. For to only ever hear about God’s grace does a disservice to the Lord who is always calling us to live more like Christ. And, on the other hand, to only ever hear about how sinful we are neglects to reveal the light of Christ that shines in the darkness.

God cares more about spreading the Good News than about filling up the pews.

And sometimes that Good News is that we need to be better than we were when we arrived, that we are called to a life of discipleship that pins us against the world, that the Lord expects great things from us. The Good News is that God has not abandoned us to our sinful desires and devices, that God believes we can be better even if we don’t, and that we can transform the world but we first must transform ourselves.

We need good preachers, men and women who are willing to lay down their egos at the altar and faithfully proclaim God’s Word. And we need good lay people who are willing to crucify their fears and speak the truth in love toward the preachers who have fallen into the trap of false prophecy.

So, may the Word of the Lord be like a hammer that breaks our lives into pieces! Let it shatter our false identities and insecurities, let it break down all our preconceived notions and assumptions, and let it burn and blaze forever and ever. Amen.

Devotional – Jeremiah 31.14

Devotional:

Jeremiah 31.14

I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty.

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I still feel full. More than Thanksgiving, the days following Christmas are filled with such bounty that I never stop feeling full. Family and friends gathering together require an abundance of delectable foods, an assortment of particular presents, and time for catching up with stories and laughter. The wake of Christmas leaves me reminded of how much my “cup runneth over” with a tremendous number of blessings.

Our house was recently filled with family for the holiday and it was when I was cleaning up wrapping paper and doing the dishes that I was struck with how much God has blessed us. The crumbled bits of paper and the empty plates signified, more than the actual gifts and food, how much God has provided for us. Each ripped wrapping paper and each plate conveyed the fullness that we received from one another, leaving us stuffed for days to come.

When the Israelites were exiled from their homeland, God promised that they would be returned and would rejoice. Everything would be turned upside down after a great period of suffering; young women will dance, the men shall be merry, mourning will turn into joy, and sorrow will be replaced with gladness. Even the priests will be given their fill of fatness (something I can connect with right now) while God’s people will be satisfied with God’s bounty. The time after Christmas reminds me of the great promise that God made to the people regarding their exile, and the promise God made good on when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Similarly, we are reminded of the great gift of Christ through the gifts of family, friends, food, and gifts during the season of Christmas.

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However, we must be careful to not let the presents overshadow the value of presence. There is a great temptation to so deeply root ourselves in the tangible and material that we neglect to value the beauty of being. The great gift God gave was not so much that he provided a fleshly human being, but instead provided a human to dwell among us, to stand by our sides, to hear our prayers, to know our weakness, and to love us in spite of it all. You could wake up on Christmas morning and open every earthly thing you’ve ever wanted and it would still pale in comparison to the gift of God humbling himself to the form of a slave to truly be Emmanuel, God with us.

As we prepare to take steps in 2015 let us remember that the gift of presence outweighs the gift of presents, let us look to the ways that Jesus came for us to learn how to be there for others, and let us be truly thankful people for all the things that make us full.

Cross and Crown – Sermon on Jeremiah 23.1-6 and Luke 23.32-43

Jeremiah 23.1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall fear nor longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

 

Luke 23.32-43

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 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. And the people stood by, watching; 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 for 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.”

 

If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.

The first time I traveled to Guatemala I had no idea what to expect. Sure I had been on previous mission trips to different parts of the United States, but I had yet to serve the church in a truly different environment. Everywhere we traveled there was a sense of excitement in the air because everything was so remarkably fresh. The abundance of colors in the differing marketplaces, the worn and wrinkled faces of the elderly mayans carrying heavy loads, and the mountains scratching across the horizon.

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I had been looking forward to the trip for sometime and when we finally arrived, everything was meeting my expectations. I believed that we were truly serving God’s kingdom by serving our Guatemalan neighbors by building stoves in the indigenous highland areas. I believed that we had something to share with them, not to convert them, but to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ and demonstrate the love of God in the world.

On one of the early days of the trip, our team arrived in the town of Chichicastenango, known for its traditional K’iche’ Mayan culture. It was a pit stop for us on the way to the higher regions, and we were there for lunch and to explore the vast and dense market. Everywhere you turned you were overwhelmed by the sense of time and tradition, as if this place had remained unchanged for the last few centuries. I wandered through the winding streets, peeked in some of the different booths, but really I was just trying to soak up the culture.

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At some point, I became lost. I could not see anyone from my group and continued to travel aimlessly throughout the town. I tried to keep it together, not panic, and decided to find a high vantage point in order to get a bearing on my surroundings. I walked until the stones under my feet started to slant upwards and eventually found myself in front of a very old church. The stone steps were covered with Mayans, sitting and sprawling over every space, and I had to weave my way back and forth in order to reach the entrance of the church. Though I should have immediately turned around to look out at the town, something drew me inside.

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The church was damp, dark, and devoid of anyone else. The ground felt alive under my feet as it gave way to my weight, the walls were covered with black soot from centuries of fires, and the paintings and decorations had nearly all disappeared from view. The smell of melted wax filled my nostrils as I began to creep closer and closer toward what I imagined was the altar. It was the least church-like church I had ever entered. Without the help of lighting, I stumbled over rickety wooded seats until I finally found myself standing in the front of the church. There poised in front of me was perhaps one of the most pristine sculptures of Christ that I had ever seen. In complete contrast with the rest of the space, this Christ was unblemished, beautiful, and brilliant. Jesus stood elegantly with his robes draped over his shoulders with one hand outstretched with a remarkable golden crown resting on his forehead: Christ the King.

 

The celebration of Christ the King Sunday is a relatively recent addition to the Christian calendar. The greater church had celebrated the knowledge and image of Christ as king for centuries, but Pope Pius IX officially added to the Christian year in 1925. It took the church 1900 years to need this feast so bad in order to add it to the life of worship. When the first celebration of Christ the King occurred, Mussolini had been in charge of Italy for three years, the maniacal man named Hitler had been out of jail for a year and his Nazi party was growing in popularity, and the United States was preparing for the Great Depression. In such a time, when the world seemed out of control, the church asserted that, nevertheless, Jesus Christ is King of the universe.

This day, this celebration in the life of the church, became the church’s great nevertheless to the godlessness of the world. Despite the rise of dictators, wars, fear, and death, despite the widespread notion that religion was only a “private affair” for individuals, Christ the King asserted that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and he shall reign forever and ever. 

During the celebration of holy mass in the chapel of the Carmelite Monastery 6 members of the OCDS community made promises to the Order.  Dr. Jason Bourgeois and Judy Hawkins professed their temporary vows for 2 years and David Travers, Suzie Megown, Kath

On Christ the King Sunday the Lectionary provides for us scriptures that reflect the “kingliness” of Jesus. The Old Testament scripture from Jeremiah, contains a prophetic word about the coming Messiah: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah reports the Word of the Lord to a people in a time of chaos: there are people who are unworthily leading and scattering God’s sheep. But nevertheless, God will bring about a righteous Branch, a king to rule all things, a king of righteousness.

What do we want out of a king? Someone who will execute justice and righteousness? Someone who has our best interests at heart? Someone who lowers our taxes? Someone who will lead us victoriously into battle?

The Israelites wanted a king like David. They so desired someone to come in the name of the Lord in order to overthrow the powers that be, and take a seat on their appointed throne. To be crowned with glorious gems and rubies, to bring about God’s kingdom on earth with power. What kind of a king do we want?

 

And he was led away to the place called The Skull with two others, who were criminals. There Jesus was crucified with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. With the blood still wet on his hands and feet, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” those who had gathered to witness his death began to cast lots for his clothing, and people stood by watching, waiting. The leaders began to mock him, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers present also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” And there was a sign hung over his head that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

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One of the criminals hung next to Christ kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself AND us!” But the other criminal rebuked him, saying “Are you not afraid of God, since you are under the same punishment? And we were condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he looked to the Christ, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

That is our King.

When you really get down to it, when you hear Luke’s remembrance of the crucifixion, it is so simple and straightforward. This is in contrast with the flood of feeling-filled poetry, hymns, sermons, and images that have flowed ever since. Our King did not reign in glory according to the expectations of the world. Instead of a long flowing purple robe he was left nearly naked on the cross. Instead of a crown of rubies, diamonds, and gems, he wore a crown of thorns. Instead of a majestic throne inlaid with gold and comfort, Christ reigned from a cross.

The Romans were notorious for using crucifixion as a form of execution for common criminals because it not only warned the public about the crimes against Rome, but it also added shame, pain, and a slow death. Yet somehow, instead of being hung for shame, Jesus Christ was elevated to his throne on the cross.

In that simple moment of hanging for all to see, Christ the King reigned magnificently over God’s kingdom and demonstrated the depth of what it means to be our King. Jesus refused to test God and heed the call of his tormentors to save himself. Three separate times Jesus was mocked to “save himself,” with the one criminal adding, “and us.” In his final moments Jesus does save someone, and that the one he saved was a dying criminal fits perfectly with the greater message of God’s Good News of the world. In Jesus’ dying hour, he continued his ministry: For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. That is what it means to be King.

 

As I stood in that Guatemalan church, I was confronted for the very first time about what it really means to believe that Christ is the King. I was surrounded by decay, desolation, and disregard yet Christ stood before me as the King. In that moment I saw the paradox of the crucifixion, that the King of God’s glory was hung on a cross to die, that Christians in Guatemala can see the world slipping away from them, yet Christ is still King of the universe. I thought I was bringing something with me to Guatemala, that I was carrying God’s message. I believed I was looking for and seeking out God in my own life when God was the one looking for me; waiting to confront me in that dark and empty church.

How remarkable is it that we worship a God who loves us so much that he is continually looking for us, finding us in the differing moments of our lives to remind us who is really in charge? How beautiful is it that our God came in the form of flesh, to be the incarnate Word, and reign from a cross at the place called The Skull? How perfect is it that our King does not meet the expectations of the world, but instead turns the world upside down? How blessed are we that our King reigns not above us, but for us, beside us, and with us?

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year, we have come to the conclusion of our liturgical calendar. We began with Christ’s birth made our way through his life death and resurrection. We have remembered the stories of the Old Testament where God made covenant with his people to be their God. We have witnessed the tragedies that have occurred in the world, we have lost loved ones, and suffered in our own lives.

Yet, nevertheless, Jesus Christ is King of all things.

christsinai

Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, brought forth a new age in the life of humanity, ushered in a new kingdom by water and the Spirit, reigned triumphantly from the most unexpected of places. Jesus Christ, Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus Christ, Son of God, died on a cross for the world so that we might all be reunited and reconciled with God. Jesus Christ, the Holy One, taught us about how to live and love abundantly in God’s Kingdom. Jesus Christ, King of the universe, was resurrected from the grave to share life eternal with us.

Hallelujah! To God be the Glory forever and ever!

Amen.