Gospel: Luke 23:33-43
Amid scoffing and slander from those who sarcastically call him Messiah and king, Jesus reveals that to be Messiah and king is to give one’s life for others. Here he uses his power to welcome a despised sinner to paradise but puts his own death into God’s hands.
33When 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. 34⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And 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!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Sermon for Christ the King Sunday November 20, 2022
When He instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, Pius XI made the wise observation, “People are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectively by the annual celebration of sacred mysteries, than by any official pronouncement of the teachings of the church. The pope understood the power of the liturgy as a school of the church. (Pfatteicher, Journey to the Heart of God.)
The yearly and weekly celebrations of the mysteries of faith include us as full participants, body, mind and spirit. We become part of what we celebrate and it becomes part of us. We step into the stream of worship including those of every time and every place, in heaven above, and here on earth and lift our voices together. This is a gift of the liturgy, and a gift of our Lutheran heritage to be full participants in what happens here on Sunday mornings and each day of the week. When Martin Luther pushed for the mass to be in the language of the people, all who gathered were able to hear and participate.
Each person here fully participates, singers and non-singers, people kneeling in pews and people sitting or standing. Children playing are participating in the ways they know best, absorbing the words of our liturgy like little sponges, that the word of the Lord might not just be in our books and on our screens but in our hearts.
Liturgically, the end of the church year has traditionally been a time to be confronted with the judgment of God, not so much to cower in fear, but rather to take stock of ourselves, to repent, and to seek forgiveness and amendment of life. The feast of Christ the King was moved to the last Sunday of the Church year following Vatican II, replacing the terrifying theme of the last judgement as a way to close out the year.
And so today, we honor and worship Christ as King of all creation, and ruler of our lives. Christ the king, unlike earthly rulers who divide and enslave, sets free and unites those who submit to him. Christ the king, unlike earthly rules who show power through wealth and war, shows power in the cross, in vulnerability.
We both submit to that reign and participate in it, especially as we understand those who rule and reign and lead. The key to tying all these text together – is understanding Kings as shepherds who have failed in their primary task of protecting and nurturing those whom God has entrusted to their care. Literally the leaders of the people of Israel. Jeremiah and Ezekiel share this Shepherd King image at about the same time—when the Hebrew people are heading into the exile—spelling out in more detail the failure of the leaders. Rather than feeding the sheep, they have fed themselves, gathering the fat and the wool for their own use—literally, living off the “fat of the land.”
They have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, bought back the strayed, or sought the lost – in God’s eyes – these are the responsibilities of the leaders and Jeremiah makes sure they know that they have brought all this on themselves. Bad leaders, we see, bring judgment not only on themselves, but wreak havoc on their entire nation, including those caught up in disaster through no particular fault of their own. Our participation, as Christians as leaders, is judged by our willingness to feed to sheep.
Pastor and Professor Karoline Lewis writes about her father’s recent death in her regular preaching column on WorkingPreacher.com, “He was confident in his faith, but never overly demonstrative about it. Rather, he lived as a citizen of the kingdom he knew to be true—a kingdom of forgiveness and reconciliation; a kingdom of acceptance and belonging; a kingdom of righteousness and blessedness for all. To claim Christ as King means to live as if you believe it to be true.”
This requires not just assent, but participation. More than speaking aloud the creed in worship and attempting the melody of our communal song, more than membership, but attentiveness to the mission of Christ’s Church and a sworn allegiance to carry it out.
But this participation, this faithful response to our King, it is not without help – because in him all things hold together. Even as we would crucify our Savior, he forgives. Even as we would overlook those in the margins, he stands with them. Even as we would bypass the hard work of the kingdom for better blessings elsewhere, we are blessed in our despair and lack, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is a kingdom of grace.
With Christ as our head, the body follows. We do not exist for our own benefit – but for the kingdom. When we pray thy kingdom come, we know that the kingdom comes, with or without our prayer, but we pray that it might come to us and through us – even as we are strengthened and empowered for the kingdom work.
11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14)
Pastor Erin Evans