Christ the King Sunday Luke 23:33-43

Once upon a time this was called “Judgment Sunday.” 

This is the last Sunday of the Church year, and “Judgment Sunday” was intended to focus our attention on what we confess at the last part of the Apostle’s Creed, how Jesus will come “to judge the living and the dead.”

I doubt anyone here remembers that. 

I certainly don’t, and I’ve been around the church for over half a century now as either a worshiper or a pastor.         

“Christ the King Sunday” as it is called now came into existence after the second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, with an emphasis in the Roman Catholic tradition on the majesty of Christ. 

 But Protestants, who tend to be more attuned to a theology of the Cross than to a theology of glory have always been a little uneasy about this celebration.  Indeed, it’s hard to call it a “celebration” when the Gospel lessons chosen for it all center around the events of the Passion narrative.  Today it is this vibrant story of Jesus words of forgiveness and the interchange between the thieves crucified with him.  

There is an insistence in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus is the King, is the Messiah.  Everyone in the story is looking up at him wanting that verified.  The problem is that the proof that they insist upon would be for him to save himself.

Verse 35 “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!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 

The sign posted above Jesus’ head read “The King of the Jews.”  It was put there mockingly by Pontius Pilate.   The sign was meant to convey the hopelessness of engaging in any kind of uprising against Roman authority.   This Jesus talked about a Kingdom other than Rome’s authority and l this is what we do to those who lead such insurrections.  Behold your king, is it another broken body and another empty promise.

The sign of kingship that everyone seems to be looking for is one connected to power and self-preservation.   People are absolutely mystified at how Jesus can claim to be the Son of God and a King if he will not verify his power at this crucial moment.

Amid all the clangor and clamor of demand and mocking words however, there is this conversation recorded between those crucified, a detail important but almost overlooked.

            On one side the criminal hurling the same demands.   Do something to show your power!  “Save yourself and us!”

            On the other side, a criminal who acknowledges that he is getting what he deserves.   We are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong. 

            And then this criminal does something unexpected in the conversation. You need to get this picture firmly in your mind to catch it.  The three and hanging, dying, life dripping out of them, and in resignation it is the thief who has acknowledged his guilt who looks at Jesus and asks something of him. 

            Not a demand.

            Not a show of power.

            No, it is a request.

            “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom….”

            And it is to that request that Jesus pays attention and grants a word!  

Jesus has had absolutely nothing to say to the shouts and clamor from below to save himself or to show his power.

He has nothing to say to the thief spitting demands at him.

But he does have something to say to the one who makes the request, the one who knows he is getting just what he deserves.

            “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

            Now, I have always heard this as a future promise. Here Jesus is offering the repentant one the place prepared, the end of suffering, heaven, paradise…however you picture it.

In the bible that word “paradise” often has a connotation of the Garden, and the state of things in Genesis before the story of Adam and Eve unfolded.   It was from “paradise” that they had been expelled, out of the presence of all that God had hoped for. 

I think I’ve always heard this as Jesus turning to the repentant one and giving him an assurance that if you can hold on just a little longer today, something better will be coming.  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

            But what if what Jesus is saying isn’t a future event.

            What if this promise is now?

            It is Judgment Day, and here is the judgment: you are with me now.  

It may not look and feel much like paradise at the moment, but there is in this exchange a moment of grace and peace and comfort even amidst of all the dying, the clamor, the noise and the demands all around.

This is the judgment.  “Today, you will be with me…..right now.”

I think that stands in stark contrast to what the world wanted to see, what it still wants to see, and too often what we want to see from Jesus as well.  

This world is a place of struggle and pain and difficulty.  A struggle that never ends.  A promise that never seems to begin.A sorrow that never seems to subside.  For all its good moments there seems to be another hundred disappointments looming just around the corner. 

I’d really like some assurances from Jesus, some concrete actions on a few messy things, some guarantees to depend upon.  At very least I would like some sign that God is working still in this world.   Truth be told, what I too often expect Jesus if he’s really King to do is to waltz in, sit down opposite all the forces at work in this world that are evil and destructive, and wrestle them down for me. And, that puts me squarely in the camp of everyone at the foot of the cross shouting their expectations to God.    “Show me!”  “Show Us!”

When it seems that Jesus is silent to our demands our default is often to is this:  “Someday.”

We look at the cross and Jesus’ promise as a future event.  

Someday the wars will cease. Someday justice will prevail.  Someday the world will be set right, creation restored.  And in all this hoping for “someday” we find ourselves forever milling around the foot of the cross not hearing what Jesus says from it:

“Today you will be with me in paradise”….with that heavy emphasis on the here and now.

I never expected this. 

I still don’t know exactly what to do with this vision of a King, who somehow reigns supreme from a cross, and who announces victory in his own suffering and death, and that when I turn to him in utter defeat he has the word to say to me.

I don’t get it at all, until that moment when in the midst of all the demands laid upon me, and the clamor for proof that people want, and all the demands that are hurled up at me, I remember that what Jesus listens for, and listens to, is the request.

“Jesus, Remember me…”

And in that moment, everything else falls away, and quiets, and there is a sudden clarity that the Kingdom is not just some promised “Someday” event but it is here and now and I am a part of it, even in the midst of all the things happening to me that I cannot control.  

It comes not because I demand it, or even really because I asked for it, but it is coming of its own accord and all that was required of me is that I acknowledge who I am, and who Jesus is.

“Just, remember me.”

I’m getting what I deserve, and Jesus is meeting me in the midst of that with a promise that is not just future, it is now.

The Judgment has been made about me, about you, and in that look that comes from the cross Jesus says “you are with me, and I am with you.” — and that is paradise.  That is everything being put back the way God intended for it to be, this relationship where no matter what else happens in this world, nothing takes us away from the love of God found in Christ Jesus.

It may not look like paradise at the moment for you, but that is what it is.  Amen.

Luke 6:20-31 “Do!”

This past summer’s project around the Brockhoff household was repainting the front room and dining room.   We try to take a room or two a year and keep ahead of the needed maintenance that way.  On the “while we’re at it” list in the dining room was replacing the chandelier that my wife has never liked, doesn’t fit with the style of the house, and generally didn’t light the area all that well.

            It’s easy to decide to change a light fixture.

            It’s less easy to find “just the right one” I discovered.   After perusing the local home improvement centers, I decided on night to pull up a lighting distributor on the internet and look through available fixtures there.   It was very helpful.

            Maybe, however, a little too helpful, because the next time I opened my browser a banner came up along the left side that said, “Mr. Brockhoff, are you still looking for light fixtures?” and then it proceeded to scroll the fixtures I had looked at and been comparing the night before.

            It’s nice to have a personal touch, but this was a bit too personal.

            It continued every time I opened a new page, or surfed to a different site, that left banner, or down on the bottom, incessantly scrolling the same fixtures.           

            That “maybe too personal” touch happens in other places as well.    If I buy a book on Amazon.com, Amazon thoughtfully puts up on my screen, “Other people who have bought this book have also purchased…….” And then a list of similar titles appears, shining dust jackets prominently displayed.

            When does this “personal touch” thing become a bit too invasive?   Uncomfortable?

            I think we can ask the same thing about the Gospel for this All Saints Sunday.  It is Luke’s recording of the Sermon on the Plain, the Beatitudes, and Luke makes it personal.  In Matthew’s Gospel you have the general “poor in spirit.”   But Luke makes it personal.  “Blessed are YOU who are poor” – emphasis on the personal “You.”

“Blessed are YOU who are hungry NOW.”

“Blessed are YOU who weep NOW.”

It’s all pretty good news, this personal attention from Jesus.  If you are experiencing these things right now, you have Jesus’ undivided attention and blessing right now is just what you want.

And if that is where Jesus had stopped, we’d probably be just fine with it.  But if Jesus is good at giving a personal blessing, it appears that he is just as good at giving a very person “Woe” as well.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full NOW, you will be hungry.”

“Woe to you who laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”

Now wait a minute; that is just a little too personal!   It’s a bit invasive Jesus, because now I’m trying to figure out just where I sit in this scheme of blessings and woes.  Here in Luke, Jesus’ sermon has real teeth.  Luke heightens that by where he locates this sermon.   It’s not the “sermon on the mount” here.   Jesus instead steps uncomfortably down from the mount and begins to talk to us “level ground.”   It’s the difference between me delivering this sermon from the relative distance and safety of this pulpit, and stepping down  into the midst of you and asking you from here.

So, what’s hitting you today; the Blessing or the Woe?

All Saints Sunday is that kind of a raw nerve celebration.   We will the light candles for our departed loved ones and bring them back to mind.  It makes us feel close again, but it also emphasizes the pain of loss.

We give thanks for the Church Triumphant and for the promised resurrection and we live in the hope of being reunited with them; but at the same time, the memory stings, and the regrets the loneliness, the aching missing of them creeps in.

What is it today, for you, blessing or woe?

Are you feeling the good news of a word from Jesus that assures you that poverty ends, or that THE tears are wiped away,

Or are you feeling an uncomfortable sense that you really have it pretty good and may, just maybe have had it a little too good and taken things for granted.  Are you feeling the “woe” of settling back and enjoying life and realizing that maybe you have been doing that at the expense of others?

This is what the Beatitudes from Luke’s Gospel do to us.  They hit us, and they are meant to, because what follows this sermon is Jesus invitation “to do.”

After the “blessed” and the “woes” comes the “Do!”

Immediately after the “blessed” and the “woes” Jesus presses those within earshot to engage in activity that sounds hard, impossible, maybe even unpleasant.  How is that good news?

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

How is that good news?

It’s good news precisely because of what “blessings” and “woes” tend to do to us!

Blessings tend to make of us passive receivers.   Everything seems so out of reach in the midst of this, what I am experiencing right now, grief, poverty, loss, an persecution.

Poverty is debilitating.   Recent studies bear this out as we find that those caught in its web suffer from the inability to make good decisions, think clearly, or engage in the very things that would help escape from its clutches.

Grief is oppressive, and persecution is stifling.  Such things make you just want to lie down, hide, wait for something from the outside to enter into your pain and suffering, and rescue you.

“Doing” is the last thing on your mind, the last thing you think you could do.

Woes tend to make of us hand wringers.   “I didn’t intend to do that!”    “I am afraid of what may happen if I gave more, what if I can’t take care of myself and my family because I didn’t manage things wisely?   The more one has, the more one tends to fret over losing what one has.   Why are things going so well for me right now?  When does the other shoe drop on me?”  

We wring our hands at what can be done that won’t change things too much.

The “woe to yous’” and finger pointing events of life are debilitating in a whole other way.   They strip of us our ability to change.  They rob us of the possibility to action because we become afraid of losing, or acting inappropriately. 

Everything seems so muddy to me, where would I start?   If I help one, where would I draw the line?   Wealth is its own form of bondage.  We all think we would share more freely if we had more.. but when is it “more” enough to share?   We wait, we hold on, we fret and worry and justify our actions.   The “woe to yous’” can tie us up and bind us, always intending to “do” something, but not sure what to do or how much.

In the face of both of those, the blessings and the woes, comes this word of Jesus to “do!”

That’s what makes this good news.   Whether you are “blessed” or on the “woe to you” side the command is the same.  

“Do!”

The most impoverished of you can pray for their enemies.

The richest among you can do good, even to those who hate you, and who may hate you because of all that you have!

The grief stricken can bless those who curse and abuse them.

Those who are full can still hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness and can move using their influence to intercede on behalf of those who are persecuted or abandoned.

Everyone can “do”, that is what Jesus insists as he meets us on this level ground and looks us in the eye.

Here is the deal, for all you who feel blessed, and all who are feeling the “woe” this day. 

Stop looking at yourself!

Look instead at each other.   “Do to others, as you would have them to do you.” Jesus says.  See the world through that neighbor’s eyes.  You have much to learn from each other, all you who are both blessed and who are under the “woe.”  

“I have come,” Jesus seems to say, “that you might stop pointing the finger at each other, stop evaluating each other, stop accusing each other, and instead begin to ‘do’ for one another.”

It is a two way street here on the level playing field.

If I am poor, in grief, abused….I have to trust that you will see me as more than my situation. 

If I am feeling like one of those being warned, feeling the “woe to you”…I have to trust that God will continue to bless and provide and that scarcity is not in God’s plan, but open handed working together is.  Together we have to dialog and work and reach out, and do for one another, for that is how the Kingdom comes among us.  That is how we find God in this world.

This is All Saints Sunday, and it is a time filled with joy and regret, sorrow and hope, but most of all, a day where we are reminded how much we need each other.

Jesus gets personal today, perhaps too personal, but that is the only thing he knows how to do.   It is the only way he knows how to reach us, and move us from inaction to getting out into the living once again.