The Cross is the Way, Christ the King Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA November 24th 2013
Christ the King Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA November 24th 2013
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 46 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43
The Cross is the Way
We have come to another end of the Church Year, because it is Christ the King Sunday and next Sunday a new year begins with the First Advent. So as we anticipate the birth of Christ we first have to get through his dying by crucifixion on today’s Sunday. The way to the new beginning is through the end. The way to the promised abundant life is through the dying Jesus, as the repentant criminal beside Jesus on the cross shows us.
We call Christ our king. Now of course we elect presidents and we do not have kings in this country who receive their power because they come from royal families. Still our presidents have powers that the kings of old could only have wished for and we just have to consider that there is an administration over the one of our president, which represents the rule of God, whose righteous branch is Jesus, whose reign cannot be identified with any earthly country and every empire, nation, kingdom, and even church will be judged by this Christ, this Lamb of God. Note how the Psalm states that Christ stops wars, while it implies that earthly powers start them, opening up the jaws of hell, swallowing the people God loves, and destroying God’s creation. So let’s be peace-makers, because our Savior is the Prince of Peace.
Driving up Tuolumne Street each Sunday morning to get to church, we pass the Catholic Church called, St. Basil the Great. “Basil” in Greek means “king” and “Basileia” means the “kingdom.” “Basileia tou Theou” means Kingdom of God. Basil was a very great bishop of Caesarea who lived in the fourth century. His name makes that church a permanent reminder that Christ is our King, and we accept God’s rule over us, through Christ, the Lamb of God, who is closer to us and knows us better than we even know ourselves, more forgiving, than we are even to ourselves, and fulfills God’s promises to us, the way no earthly president or ruler can. This rule of God over us is not a place, but our acceptance of God’s rule of righteousness over us and our being under the influence of the Holy Spirit so that wherever we are, every place through the quality of our relationships gets a taste of Heaven.
One of the women pastors this week was confronted by a young man, who declared that the Bible said women were not allowed to be pastors. He quoted First Timothy 2:12, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” She knew that his father had left his family. “Who brought you up?” she asked.
“My mother.” he answered.
“And who was the head of your household?”
“And what did Jesus say about lording it over others?
He did not know that.
“Well, men are also not allowed to lord it over others, not just women.”
That made him reconsider what he had said. He went into his room and later came out in drag! He was sure she was going to judge him, like most Christians would. I myself have to exercise my acceptance there, because that takes me way out of my comfort zone. But she said, “You are so beautiful in that dress.”
He was dumbfounded that a Christian pastor would not judge him. Meanwhile there is, of course, a whole chorus of Christians ready and glad to judge, who drown out the voices of the ones who follow that one who kept repeating, even while he was being executed brutally, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” Evidently the Greek implies that he repeated it, kept on saying it during the crucifixion, and mind you, like governors and presidents, Jesus Christ the King, has the right to pardon us the same way they do – with a forgiveness even more gracious.
Jesus demonstrates the almighty power of love there on the cross. We want to appear to be more than we are, but Jesus showed us the power of love, dying on the cross for us, while being unwilling to save himself. That is the power that makes us who we were created to be, not more and certainly not less. But we can wrap ourselves in layers and layers of things in which we can’t find ourselves. Someone wrote a facetious ad for Black Friday: “We guarantee one trampled consumer per store!” Our economy tries to convince us that having things fulfills us and makes us more than human. But it doesn’t.
Brian Stoffregen in the online commentary for this Sunday described what he believes Americans want in a Christ and that is not the one dying on the cross, unwilling to save himself because of his wanting to reconcile us with God and bring about our atonement as the Lamb of God, our Passover lamb.
“Jesus is not the kind of Savior we want… [he says and then he] presents a wonderful picture of our typical American Messiah — and it doesn’t look much like Jesus on the cross:”
[Stoffregen is quoting Robert Capon.] . . . almost nobody resists the temptation to jazz up the humanity of Christ. The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s Superman! Strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American Way.” If that isn’t popular christology, I’ll eat my hat. [Capon says] Jesus — gentle, meek and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than‑human insides — bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute, struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and, with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven. It’s got it all — including, just so you shouldn’t miss the lesson, kiddies: He never once touches Lois Lane.
You think that’s funny? Don’t laugh. [he continues] The human race is, was and probably always will be deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. We don’t want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus, not because he was God, but because he blasphemed: He claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn’t do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying.
So we have to realize that the power we want cannot be the same kind that the world wants. Jesus is up there on the cross, stripped down, and hanging there, but contrary to all appearances he is drawing the whole world to God. Pilate said, “Behold this human being!” He was no superman and in the weakness of his forgiving love and his humanity, he was giving us a glimpse of the heart of God.
Jesus understood himself to be a king. When Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered “It is as you say.” “Usually, when Jesus is called a king, it is by those who mock him: “The irony and pathos of Jesus’ death are that those who mock him declare his messianic identity and the salvific significance of his death but do not grasp the truth they speak.” Like Pilate writing “This one is the King of the Jews” and posting it on the cross. The priests come and say, “No, write, ‘This one said I am the king of the Jews.’” Pilate responds, “What I have written I have written.”
So the soldiers played a cat and mouse game with Jesus. They put a seamless robe on him. Gave him a reed to hold as a stupid scepter and planted a crown of thorns on his head.
But God had become a human being in Jesus. God was demonstrating almighty love and forgiveness. And this love is reached through the baptism of our suffering and death. We enter the reign of God through the dying Jesus. Like last Sunday, Jan and I visited Duane Jensen, who loved the hymn, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” – so I played it on my trumpet in the hall, because his sick room was so small. And we sang only two verses and he wanted to sing three! And on the cross that repentant criminal saw through Jesus’ dying and realized where love, compassion, and forgiveness came from and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” And Jesus said, “Amen, amen, today you will be with me in Paradise!” We always say “amen” at the end of our prayers, Jesus would say “amens” before his words.
The repentant criminal says, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Remembering means much more than just thinking about it. The poor criminal meant, “Pick me up. Hey, wake me up from the dead, too. Let me enter the wonderful gates of Heaven and be there in your gracious, loving, and forgiving presence.”
We will again come forward and receive the body and blood of Christ, who says, “Do this in remembrance of me!” That means more than just thinking about Jesus. We listen to Christ calling our name, Christ the Good Shepherd King who does not scatter but gathers up God’s sheep. When he calls, we come and respond entering his presence. We respond with our lives, so we don’t only talk the talk, which we sometimes don’t even do, but also walk the walk, in the loving, gentle humanity of Christ, finding our strength in that weakness. We enter the Way through the dying Jesus, who is unwilling to save himself. We walk on the way Jesus walked. Before we were called Christians we were called the “People of the Way.” Jesus’ followers were first called Christians in Antioch. Before that they were called the People of the Way. We enter the Way through the suffering and dying Jesus. We enter the way through the cross. And it’s not like it only happened in the past or like we could only expect it in the future, on the way today, here and now. We’re on the way when we enter and bask in our wonderful relationship with God, who takes our hand as we enter another preview of Paradise. Amen.
 Ibid., pp. 90-91; this book has been reprinted, along with two other books under the title The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair with Theology]
 Stoffregen is quoting Culpepper (NIB) p. 456.
 I also picked up this thought from Brian Stoffregen.