Sermon November 20: King of Paradise

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 20, 2016

Christ the King Sunday

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Luke 1:68-79, Luke 23:33-43

Prayer of Illumination:

Reign in our hearts, O God, and shape us as your people. Help us celebrate all the ways you reveal Christ to us ~ through our giving, our receiving, our serving, our witness, and our worship. Amen.

Sermon: King of Paradise

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is not one of the blowout holy days of the church year, like Easter or Christmas. It happens the Sunday right before we enter the season of Advent. Advent is the season of anticipating the coming of Christ ~ both as a baby in a Bethlehem manger and his future coming at some unexpected time ~ and culminates in the celebration of Christmas. But before Advent begins, and before we start singing our Christmas carols we stop on this day, pause for a moment and remind ourselves who Jesus is, why it is he came in the first place, and what it means to know he is still coming. This is where Christ the King Sunday fits in.

In recent years some have revisioned Christ the King Sunday as the Reign of Christ Sunday. I guess that makes sense. We don’t have many kings around anymore and the ones we do have ~ at least in western countries ~ often hold more of a figurehead position. In Jesus day, though, kings ruled. People were at the mercy of the king’s decisions and whims. There weren’t the checks and balances in government as we have today in this country. No matter how we feel about our current, or upcoming, administration we can take some comfort in the fact that our government was established in a way that one person would not have unchecked, unlimited, indiscriminate power. In Jesus day, though, (and still in some places in the world) one’s livelihood, one’s religious freedom, one’s very life depended on whether the current king was merciful or a tyrant.

So it was radical for those early followers of Jesus to call him their king. In doing so they were rejecting the authority of their earthly king and saying, essentially, “You’re not the king of me.” The one whose rule they truly followed was Jesus. They claimed themselves as subject not to the king to whom they paid taxes, but as citizens in the heavenly kingdom.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve heard stories of what Jesus’ kingship is all about. First we listened in on the Sadducees quizzing Jesus on the resurrection of the dead. We learned from Jesus’ response that the heavenly kingdom will be something different, and greater, than what we experience here on earth. As children of the resurrection we are not called to figure it out as much as we are called to trust that God has it figured out. And Jesus, as the king of our lives, will rule with love and mercy.

Last week we met Zacchaeus and learned that the heavenly kingdom is not just for the ‘right’ people, the ‘proper’ people, the ‘insiders.’ The heavenly kingdom is for everyone. Zacchaeus was an outsider and a sinner by all objective opinions. People wondered why Jesus was even hanging around such a man. But Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus is a child of the resurrection.

And so is the criminal in today’s gospel lesson. Crucified, hanging on a cross under a sign that read, “This is the King of the Jews,” Jesus didn’t appear very kingly. He was being executed along side those who had committed God-knows-what horrendous crimes. He was being taunted on one side to prove his kingship. And still, he turned to the criminal at his other side and, in response to his request that Jesus remember him, said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What kind of king does that? What kind of king, at the moment of his humiliation, turns to a stranger with love and compassion? The King of Paradise, that’s who. It’s true, on the surface, Christ doesn’t look like much of a king. He is a king enthroned not in a palace, but on a cross. He is a king not powerful in might or influence, but powerful in weakness and servant-hood. Yet, we are to believe that he is the very image of God.

And, as the son of God, Christ is not king of a particular time or place. As one thoughtful person put it, “Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning. Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.” We affirm that Christ was there from the very beginning ~ creating, shaping, loving the world into being. And Christ will be there at the very end ~ embracing, forgiving, welcoming us into that which was prepared ahead of time for us.

So who is your king? Do you bow to the king of human authority or the King of Paradise? Where is your primary citizenship? On earth or in the Kingdom of God? “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” As Scott Black Johnston put it, “…this ruler is the sovereign not of a certain parcel of land or a particular race of people, but of truth.”

In a few weeks we will celebrate the coming of the King of Paradise as a baby, to unwed parents who didn’t even have a place to stay when their baby was born. Not a very kingly start. Yet, as Zechariah proclaimed in the Gospel of Luke, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This is the kind of king I want to follow. A king who brings light out of the darkness and peace out of distress. A king not just of the right and proper people, but a king for everyone. The first child of the resurrection, that we may all be children of the resurrection. Thanks be to God who brings us just such a king in the person of his son, Jesus the Christ. Thanks be to God.