A Sermon preached on Luke 23:33-43 for Christ the King Sunday, November 20, 2016
The difficulty in celebrating Jesus Christ as our King today, and every year, for that matter, is that after 2 millennia, Christians the globe over still find Jesus’ style of leadership nearly impossible to follow.
This passage from Luke offers us two kinds of kingship—two kinds of power and authority, two kinds of kingdoms, and we often find it’s easier to side with the crucifiers rather than the crucified.
The leaders, soldiers, one of the criminals and the standers-by give voice to Herod’s kingdom. In the verses earlier in chapter 23 of Luke, both Herod and Pilate have found that Jesus has done nothing wrong, yet the truth seems irrelevant in a culture where wielding power over others is the ultimate god. “Save yourself!” shouted the soldiers, leaders and on-lookers. “save yourself and us!” implores the criminal hanging beside him. “Look out for #1 and use force, use might, use power over others by any means necessary to win the day!”
Jesus, hanging on the cross, brings us a different kind of kingdom. “Father, forgive them for they do not what they are doing.” Instead of fighting and resisting, Jesus takes on the violence, he absorbs it rather than giving it back. Jesus takes in all the pain and returns love. In Jesus kingdom, he reigns from a cross rather than a palace; he forgives the people who killed him, his only weapon is love rather than might, and he saves criminals and brings them to paradise. Rather than power over others, he embodies an equalizing power beside others—beside all the other innocents who suffer unjustly.
Herod uses violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nationality. Jesus' sets aside the sword and instead invites all people, even enemies, into a new way of being.
Herod’s authority comes from the will of Caesar, the emperor, and it’s always tenuous. Jesus' authority comes from doing the will of God, which is constant and eternal.
Herod taxes the poor, takes what is not his, oppresses the vulnerable, and demonizes those who threaten his power. Herod has no interest in building community - much less one guided by truth and love, and Herod keeps order through fear--through the threat of death on a cross or otherwise. Again, by contrast, Jesus’ ministry has been a traveling parade of love, healing, renewal, second chances, beatitudes and bread – lots of bread to feed thousands and thousands of people. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers leap for joy, the demon-possessed dance with praise. Jesus enters peoples’ suffering, sees their humanity, empowers those he meets with forgiveness and love.
Yet when his kingdom leads to the cross—we’re not so sure we want to follow Jesus’ reign as king there. There’s a fearful part of us that wants the same kind of king as the crowds, leaders, and soldiers that believe that Herod’s kingdom is the only way – we want someone who is powerful, who can save himself and us, and who will take vengeance on his and our enemies.
But Christ our King, looks at us from the cross and asks, which kingdom will you follow?
• When white supremacist views regain currency in our national conversation and leadership, who’s kingdom are we listening to—Herod’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?
• When we view our political enemies as a “basket of deplorables” who’s kingdom are we voicing —Herod’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?
• When we’re tempted to demonize Muslims or immigrants out of our own fear and prejudice, who’s kingdom is gaining power, Herod’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?
• When we see acts of terrorism that continue around the world, we do want to give into fear, to close our borders, to increase military action abroad, use drones and every kind of fire power against our enemy, but who’s kingdom does such action follow, Herod’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?
We bring our cries and prayers before God today and we ask for the power and wisdom of our risen Lord and King to help us tease out the differences between what our fear want us to do and what our faith in Jesus Christ calls us to do.
The great sin of American Christianity has been to merge our patriotism with our Christian calling in the world, but Luke makes clear that these are often not one in the same. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to lift up Jesus Christ as King than after this election. For there is no political party, no candidate, and no government that embodies nor deserves our loyalty above Jesus Christ our Lord.
For all violence, whether wrought by terrorists, nations, or individuals, is the way of Herod which never leads to a crown of righteousness, a kingdom, and a power that is true and everlasting.
All rhetoric that divides and demeans people whether spoken by a political candidate, a family member across the Thanksgiving table, or a social media platform, is the way of Herod and not the way of the cross.
Mahatma Ghandi said it this way: “The enemy of love is not hate, but fear.” In fact, there are 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible – one for every day of the year. Fear is fundamental in our drive to follow Herod’s way and save ourselves, rather than Jesus’s way of forgiveness, transformation through love and care for those on the margins of society.
It does not mean that we don’t need compassionate screening at our borders, or economic policies that produce jobs. But as Christians, we must call to account, manipulation through fear-mongering, demeaning and endangering people by fostering hate, and unethical, inhumane policies that result from fear.
Jesus did not let fear, the threat of violence, or the pain of death put a stop to his love, compassion, and solidarity with God’s people. He transformed fear into love, and death into life, and violence into victory. Through his resurrection from the dead, he slipped the surly bonds of earth so we can all touch the face of God. Jesus’ kingdom is so powerful that it bridges this life and the next life, the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, the finitude of this world and the infinity of the next.
We don’t need to save ourselves, because Jesus has already done so! Herod’s kingdom tempts us to seek through violence that which we already have—salvation!
To the criminal hanging next to him, Jesus says: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Today, not tomorrow, not next week, not when the kingdom comes in its fulfillment, not at the apocalypse, not when the Herod’s of the world give up. Today. Today you will be with me in paradise.
Jesus says the same to us--"Today, you’re sins are forgiven. Today, this is my body and this is my blood given for you. Today, I am with you. Today, my love is stronger than death. Today my power is greater than your fear. Today my kingdom is greater than this earthly realm." Today, Jesus calls us to live in this eternal kingdom here and now, as a witness against the “Herods” and “fear-mongers” of this time.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order and The Spiritual Exercises, describes Jesus’ call from the cross in this way: It is my will to win over the whole world, to overcome evil with good, to turn hatred aside with love, to conquer all the forces of death—and whatever obstacles there are that block the sharing of life between God and humankind. Whoever wishes to join me in this mission must be willing to labor with me and so by following me in struggling and suffering, that you may share with me in glory. (A contemporary interpretation by David L. Fleming, S.J. in Draw Me Into Your Friendship, p. 85)
Jesus, risen from the dead calls us to join him in winning over the whole world with love. A friend of mine has a son who works as a high school counselor. The day after election, he texted his mom in the morning to say it was a terrible day already because white students were bullying minority students. He had a Latino student in his office in tears because students were saying he would be deported. At the end of the day, he communicated with her again and said it had turned out to be a good day. He was able to talk with the bullies and the victims and was able to begin to transform hate and pain into respect and healing. In other words, he was working in Jesus’ kingdom to win over the day with love.
So be filled with Jesus love at the Communion table today, and at your own table every day. Embody Jesus’ kingdom in your daily life, your daily conversations, in your daily actions and your daily work by being grounded in Jesus’ love and salvation for you, grounded in God’s love for this whole Creation and for every person it; and trusting that through Christ, all things are possible.
That’s what Jesus, our King desires; and it’s absolutely what our country and world needs.