Christ the King Sermon – First Lutheran Church – November 26, 1995
Christ the King: The Last Sunday after Pentecost
The Last Sunday as Interim Pastor at First Lutheran Church in Oakland
Jeremiah 23: 2-6. Colossians 1:13-20. Luke 23: 35-43.
My time has come to give thanks joyfully to God our Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for having been able to serve you these last sixteen months. We did not think this interim would take this long, but that has made it all the more precious. Indeed my time has come to thank you and the dear Lord for the very high privilege of being your servant of the Word. After reading Pastor Holmes’ article in the news letter, I realize you have nothing to fear. You have another servant of the Word, who will be with you as you Passover into Advent. We find ourselves here at the end of the Pentecost Season, at the end of the interim period of this church, after Pastor Ted Berg left, and now with your new Pastor Holmes you are passing over into the glorious Advent of our Lord.
And give yourselves a push. Go the extra mile. Come in a little earlier and you will find it a real blessing. Then you can change [your Sunday bible study time and choir time] to Wednesday or Thursday evenings the way St. Paul’s does it, when their whole church bustles with activities, which they celebrate on Sundays. But let the Spirit guide and direct you in all that you do.
If you would read my mother’s letters, you would discover why women should be ordained. My mother of course does not believe in women’s ordination, but she is continually preaching to me in her letters. Sometimes her preaching is 90 per cent of the letter. She is filled with anxiety lest I not be preaching the Gospel. What is the Gospel? That Jesus will remember us when he comes into his kingdom. When he goes through the gates of Paradise once more. Even as sinful as I am, as sinful as you are, we will be enfolded in the arms of Jesus, because he has snatched us out of the power of darkness and carried us over into the Kingdom of the delightful Son, the Son of Righteousness. Christ is the “‘Son’ in whose light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
That is the Gospel: Christ has called us out of the darkness, to be his very own people, to sing his praises, after we have rubbed our eyes, and have begun to see the world and each other in God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
Perhaps what my mother is after is some fire and brimstone, Jonathan Edward’s- sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God kind of Gospel. But you can see right into the heart of the Gospel in this Lucan depiction of the crucifixion scene. This is Luke’s painting of the Gospel, the scene of the crucifixion, for us, in words, if you will.
The leaders are there torturing Jesus with the words: “He saved others, let him save himself, since he is the Messiah, God’s elected.” Bertolt Brecht has a poem in which the leaders of the former East Germany say to the people: “You have disappointed us. We are going to go out and elect another people.” Think about it! That might be the only way to elect a new government.
But the crowds picked up the words of the leaders and chimed in on the blasphemy, and the soldiers get their licks in too. The charge against Jesus was written in an inscription over him on the cross: “Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews.” It was written in three languages: in Latin, in the language of government: Jesus Christ, Rex Iudaeorum; in Greek the language of culture: βασιλευς τωv Ίoυδαίωv; and in Hebrew the language of religion: Melek Jehudahim. Thus God ironically exacts homage for his Son, even from those rebelling against their God.
What an enthronement this is! That one from heaven sent, the Holy One of Israel, nailed to a cross, and wearing a crown of thorns. What is a real king? Does Princess Diana know?
One of the thieves on the cross (I’m sure it was on the right of Jesus) picks up the blasphemy. “Since you are the Son of God, save yourself, and us!” But Christ is the King of others, there utterly for saving others, there is no selfish bone in his body.
And when the other thief protects him, and says the only kind thing Jesus heard throughout that brutal torture, Jesus shows him that he is indeed a king: “Amen, I say to you, today you will with me in Paradise.”
Do you believe? Oh, Lord, we believe. Help us free from unbelief!
In this way Jesus was crucified between two thieves, who are the representatives of the human race, the House of Representatives for humanity at the cross.
In one commentary it says, on Calvary there were two thieves crucified with Jesus. One thief was saved, so no one need despair; but only one, so that no one might presume.
And here is the Gospel: It was while we were yet sinners that Jesus died for us in order to save us. Christ saved us reconciling everyone on earth with everyone in heaven by the blood of his cross.
And it is Christ who has put us all together. When I think about you all, all you dear people in this congregation, then I really understand how precious Christ is. Jesus! What a wonderful thing when our hearts are all together, bound and reconciled into one heart – because you know that Christ Jesus is our heart, Christ is our center. Princess Diana with all her troubles wants to be a queen of hearts of her British people. It is a hard thing to be able to get into people’s hearts. But Christ has a way of getting right into our hearts, and making them come alive with the love of God, with our whole heart and soul, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
God is in Christ, and through this cross upon which our savior died, we are all reconciled together.
What a blessing our country has been at times! How very thankful we can be. Not that we don’t have troubles. Our crimes and their atrocity have increased with capital punishment. We certainly have our faults, indeed we do. But look at what just transpired in Dayton, Ohio. Our shepherds in the White House are gathering people together, and in their ministry of reconciliation, they are witnessing to the Good Shepherd, the promised one. What a reconciliation they brought about between the Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Serbs. What a really selfless thing for Warren Christopher and Richard Holbrooke to do! With the years of hatred, revenge, and murderous wars of the Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats, and now even with their ethnic cleansing and war crimes to boot, there would be ample reason to say – “Forget them!” And who would have blamed us? But they know about the King who died on the cross for us, and loved us, and died for us, while we were yet sinners, as sinful as can be.
That is why Christ is the righteous branch, the promised King to the house of David. God promised that from David’s throne a king would reign eternal. And that is Christ, who is our righteousness. In the Old Testament passage Jeremiah is taunting King Zedekiah. His name means, “God is righteous.” But he left much to be desired, and the prophecy plays with his name, and writes: Yahwey Sidhkenu Christ is our righteousness.
This one who is dying righteous, dying on the cross with all our sins, our injustice, and unrighteousness upon him; this one dying on the cross is our righteousness, and in exchange for our sin and our cursed crimes and violence, he gives us his sinlessness, innocence, and blessedness. Christ takes our death, our mortality upon him, and in exchange, gives us his immortality.
Thus Christ is our very King. Melek Jehudahim: our King of the Jews. The meaning of the name Jews is “those who praise God.” We are the adopted, they the children. This Christ is our βασιλευς τωv Ίoυδαίωv. Basel means “King” in Greek. And Christ is our Rex Iudaeorum, in Latin, our King, the very King who “sits enthroned on the praises of his people”. That comes from Psalm 22:3, which starts, “My, God, why have you forsaken me?” But that is God dying there upon the cross, who did not abandon his people.
You know that fellow crucified on the cross has become our very heart, and his love, one greater than the world has ever known, and powerful enough to make the heavens bow down and kiss the earth, also has the power to make our hearts one with God.
We need not remain in the garbage can existence of sin, but this champion of ours, whom God himself elected, comes and snatches us from the powers of darkness and transfers us into the Kingdom of the Son, the delightful Son. The promise of Paradise is there once more, that Garden of Delights, for all those in whom God delights, because of his beautiful Son, our Savior.
We live in a democracy of course, and thus we have no king. Call him Melek-Basel-Rex, Koenig or king, what you will, this man dying on the cross came down from heaven above to pick us up out of this old and sorry world, and drop us over into a fresh new world, the gentle loving world of God’s brand new creation. Where in Calvin’s words, (not Calvin and Hobbes), but the reformer, there in the peace that passes understanding we praise and enjoy God forever.
Call Christ what you will, but he has come into our time of troubles, to make selfishness and greed, violence, wars, and crime come to an end. Because Christ has come down to us, these old times have come to an end, a new calendar even now marks the event, this season draws to a close, and we have the advent of a new time. It is a new time in which we can be with the Lord and the Lord is about. Because of Christ ours is a new world in a new time, with a new humanity, because of the Son of Righteousness – this human being who broke through, offering us all the abundant life of the dear Gospel. Melek, Basel, our King, and Rex – Christ will keep our hearts together, until God’s remembering raises us up to be with our righteousness on that day. Amen.
Pastor Peter Krey