Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, November 22, 2009: Christ the King

Texts: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14  •  Psalm 93  •  Revelation 1:4b-8  •  John 18:33-37

 

So the first thing I need to do is to make a disclaimer. Whether you know it or not, my job is to get you in trouble. Maybe you don’t remember that part of my letter of call, but it’s in there. It says,

We call you to exercise among us the ministry of Word and Sacrament which God has established and which the Holy Spirit empowers: to preach and teach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; to administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; to lead us in worship; to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; to provide pastoral care; to speak for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed; to encourage persons to prepare for the ministry of the Gospel; to impart knowledge of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its wider ministry; to endeavor to increase support given by our congregation to the work of our whole church; to equip us for witness and service; and guide us in proclaiming God’s love through word and deed.

Did you hear it? Did you hear the call to be troublemakers? Dissidents? It was right at the very beginning of the letter of call. You said “we call you… to preach and teach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures…” and from that point on pretty much everything else you called me to do was commentary on that first responsibility. And that was the call to turn you into traitors. I’ll get back to that in a second.

cosmicchrist Now, new topic: as Americans we’re not as adept at knowing what to say and do around royalty. We’re not British or Thai or citizens of any of those other nations that still have kings and queens. Those of us raised here in the States don’t grow up learning the proper protocols for responding to royalty. So I’m going to remind you of a phrase you’ve probably heard on television or in movies. It’s really old, going back to 15th century France and the coronation of King Charles VII in 1422, during the time of Joan of Arc. Upon the death of his father, Charles VI, Charles VII became the King of France in an era of British invasion. The French, wanting to make it clear that the French throne would forever remain occupied by French royalty cried out, “The King is dead. Long live the King!” Their declaration of the never-ending line of kings was a response to the foreign powers trying to take control of their nation. A statement of identity and defiance all in one.

So, I’m going to ask you to appropriate this phrase from the French this morning as we celebrate the never-ending reign of Christ Jesus as Lord of All, and reflect on what that means for us and for the world. For the rest of the morning, each time I say “Jesus is Lord,” I want you to respond with “The king is dead. Long live the king!” as enthusiastically as possible. It’s like the word of the day from Pee Wee’s playhouse (I’m dating myself with that reference, I know). When you hear it, you cry out with that kind of ferver and enthusiasm. If it feels weird just keep at it. Fake it ‘til you make it.

So, back to getting you into trouble and preaching the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. Do you think it’s a little strange that in my letter of call the Word of God is separated from the Holy Scriptures? Isn’t that redundant? Isn’t the Word of God the same thing as the Holy Scriptures? Well, no actually, it isn’t. I was reviewing this with our sister Justine at the new member brunch at Scott’s home last week, as we talked about how Lutherans read the bible. The Word of God is Christ Jesus himself, whose life and ministry – death and resurrection – is attested to in scripture. But scripture by itself is not the Word of God. Scripture is the finger pointing at the sun, not the sun itself. And the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, is eternally present with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit. As the first chapter of John puts it,

“in the beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

So in calling me to preach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, you’ve called me to tell the story of this living Word, this creative Word, this Word of life that brings light and hope to places draped in darkness and covered with fear; and in order to do that, I have to keep going back to the scriptures to see what they have to say about who this Jesus was, so that we can discover who he is for us, here and now, because…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

For this last year we’ve been reading primarily out of the Gospel of Mark, hearing his interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus. His gospel comes out of a time of massive upheaval and violent crisis in the life of Israel. I talked about this a little bit last week when I mentioned that this gospel was written during the Jewish-Roman war. Jerusalem was under siege, held captive by the most powerful military in the world. The majority of Jews had been swept up into an epic revolt against the Roman Empire. The religious establishment was preaching and teaching about the might of the God of Israel, who they believed was moving in history to defeat the powers of Rome, and the people were being encouraged to join the war.

But Mark was preaching and teaching the minority opinion. Living seventy years after the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the community gathered around Mark’s gospel believed that God had already moved in history in a decisive way that looked nothing like the kind of power and control Rome used and Israel resented. Throughout the gospel of Mark we have encountered in Jesus a God who comes with a revolutionary vision for the world where people come first – before power and policies – which is why, even to this day we are still proclaiming that…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

In the gospel of Mark the power of God at work in Christ Jesus is revealed through his exorcisms, his miracles and his authoritative teaching. Mark wastes no time getting to the point. There are no stories of Jesus’ birth or childhood in this gospel. It begins with John the Baptist outside the city baptizing the people, including Jesus, and calling everyone to return to God. John is arrested and Jesus begins to preach. This is still the first chapter of the gospel. Then he casts an unclean spirit out of a man, his first miracle. Then he heals a crowd of people who have gathered at the home of Simon Peter, which leads to a preaching tour throughout the region of Galilee, and more healings: a leper, a paralytic… still chapter one.

By chapter two Mark reveals that Jesus is getting himself in trouble. He heals a man and forgives his sin, and the temple accuses him of blasphemy. He keeps on pushing, calling a tax
collector to join his fellowship, a traitor to the Jewish people who collected money for the occupying forces. A picture of Jesus as someone who will associate with anyone is emerging, and what’s worse, he seems to actually prefer the poor, the diseased, the neglected and the despised, which is part of the reason we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

In chapter three Jesus is marked for death. He enters the synagogue and heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. The fact that he brings life and health is not what concerns the authorities, but the fact that he does so on the Sabbath – in violation of Sabbath laws – does. Jesus puts people before power and policies, and so Mark says, “the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

After that things pick up in pace. Having captured the people’s attention with his healings and exorcisms, Jesus continues his teaching with a series of parables – the parable of the sower, the lamp under the bushel, the mustard seed. He continues his boundary-breaking ministry by crossing the sea and entering the land of the Geresenes. He calms the storm and heals the foreigner. His power is now unmistakably for all people, for all of us, which is why we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

By the fifth chapter of Mark all sense of good order has been thrown out the window. One of the leaders of the synagogue, Jairus, comes to Jesus to beg for his daughter’s life. A leader of the synagogue, the very people who have set out to have Jesus killed, is now coming to Jesus for healing and mercy. But Holy Spirit is working so rapidly now that Jesus can’t even get to Jairus’ daughter before another miracle takes place. A woman who has been hemorrhaging for years, who was failed by a broken health care system, comes to Jesus for healing without even asking, she just reaches out and takes what she needs – confident that if she only touches Jesus’ clothes she will be healed. And rather than reprimand her for her presumptuousness, as perhaps the leaders of the synagogue would have done, Jesus commends the woman for her faith, saying that her own faith has made her well. Jesus is encouraging people to get what they need! Which is why we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

In the sixth chapter of Mark Jesus feeds the five thousand, the only miracle story appearing in all four gospels, a central feature of Jesus’ ministry. No matter who tells the story of Jesus, they always remember this fact of his life: Jesus knew that there was enough for everyone to have what they needed for life. There was no excuse for poverty, and no excuse for hunger. Jesus’ powerful teaching and miraculous healings drew a crowd to him, but when the crowd got hungry and the disciples wanted to know what Jesus was going to do about it he said, “you give them something to eat.”

You give them something to eat. God has already done God’s part. God created a world of abundance in which there is already enough for everyone. Even in this era of over-population we are told that they earth is still capable of producing enough food to make sure that no one ever goes hungry. But even here, in the United States, in the Midwest where we are only miles from some of the earth’s most fertile land, people are going hungry. Not because we don’t have enough food, but because we don’t have enough resolve to commit ourselves to ending hunger. When disciples ask Jesus what God is going to do about this ongoing problem, Jesus says, “you give them something to eat” and then somehow a miracle takes place and out of the crowd there is enough to eat with leftovers for those still in need. Jesus reminds us that God has created us in a world of abundance and convicts us of our responsibility for one another, which is why we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

Jesus continues to teach and to preach, and the temple authorities continue to conspire against him, and everyone knows this is going to end badly. The disciples don’t understand why Jesus seems set on going to Jerusalem, despite the fact that he predicts his own death on three separate occasions.

Once they arrive in the city Jesus sits down with his friends for a Passover meal, and he reinterprets the meal for them using the words we echo each week as we gather at the Lord’s Supper, “Take; this is my body. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Jesus gives us words and ritual action that we can repeat as a way of connecting us to his words and actions. Now we eat the bread and drink the wine. Now we give ourselves away for the sake of the world. Over and over, until the ritual is so deeply embedded that it becomes our way of life. Us in the sanctuary receiving God’s justice and God’s mercy. Us in the streets making God’s justice and preaching God’s mercy, which is why we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

The story we hear this morning from the gospel of John about Jesus’ encounter with Pilate is found in Mark as well. In both places Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and Jesus responds, “You say so.” Though, as usual, Mark uses less words to get to the point. Jesus is sentenced to death, as we have known he would be since the third chapter of the gospel. And do we remember why Jesus is being taken to the cross now? Because he healed a man on the Sabbath. That act, that commitment, brought him into conflict with the temple establishment charged with policing the boundaries between clean and unclean, sinner and sanctified, Jew and Gentile. But Jesus insisted on putting people before power and policies, and those priorities put him in conflict with an entire system of being. His powerful words and actions confirm what John declares,

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Which is why we proclaim… Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

And now do you understand what I mean when I say that my job is to get you into trouble? You called me to preach the Word of God, in accordance with the scriptures, which leads to all the rest – the worship, the solidarity with the poor and oppressed, the care of the sick, feeding the hungry. You put it in my letter of call, though of course you were already putting people before power and policies. You were already getting yourselves in trouble. You were already following Jesus of Nazareth, the visible sign of the invisible God. The Word of God with us. You rebels! You dissidents! You traitors!

Mark would be so proud of you all.

At a time in history when the religious establishment was trying its hardest to convince faithful people that the God of Israel was calling them into combat with the Roman Empire, the community Mark belonged to had something else to say. It proclaimed a God in Christ Jesus who was willing to cross the sea to heal a foreigner, who gave healing to a Syrophoenician woman’s child. They remembered a God in Christ Jesus who didn’t divide the world into “us” and “them,” but who kept company with lepers and tax collectors and women. They remembered a God in Christ Jesus who saw any dividing line as an opportunity for reconciliation.

Face to face with Roman power in the person of Pontus Pilate, Jesus simply says, “for this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus speaks truth to power, which is why we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the
king!

Then Jesus is led away to be killed. The gospel of Mark, the earliest of our gospels, ends very abruptly – so abruptly, in fact, that later versions of the gospel tack on alternate endings to try and make sense of it. But it its earliest, purest form, the gospel of Mark tells the story of Jesus’ death and burial. Then, when the Sabbath is over, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bring spices to the tomb so they can anoint the body. But when they arrive, the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away and the body is missing. A young man dressed in a white robe is sitting next to the tomb, and he tells them “do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” And the women flee in terror, and scripture says that they say nothing to anyone because they are afraid. Though, we are left to wonder how that can be true, since Mark is writing seventy years later and clearly someone has told someone something.

And that is the story of Christ the King. God acting powerfully in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to put people before power and policies. God breaking through boundaries and praising people for demanding what they need for life, and life abundant. God pointing to the abundance of creation and demanding, “you feed them.” God unafraid to speak truth to power, even when the price of doing so means death – because on the other side of death is new life, something we have all experienced in our own lives, but which we need to be reminded of, again and again, because it terrifies us. It sends us running away from the tombs that fill our lives, too terrified to even open our mouths.

But we do open our mouths, eventually, we must – because the story has made its way to us, and we pass the story along. It is our song and our strength in times like these, in times of war, when the world is constantly calling us into combat with one another. It is a story so powerful it creates a new people, a new nation, a new world where we all belong to one another. Everybody in, nobody out. And that is the reason we proclaim…

Jesus is Lord!

The king is dead. Long live the king!

Amen.

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