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Sermon: Jesus, Re-member Us!

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA November 24, 2013.

Last Sunday after Pentecost/Christ the King; Year C (RCL): Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

                               I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of Pentecost, and the final Sunday of our Church Year. Today is a day for remembering – remembering that as this year ends, as with the End of the Age, Christ our King rules victorious over all of creation.

In America, we live in a democracy, as forbearers of our land had rejected the idea of a monarchy. Yet we use the term “King” loosely such as ‘King of the Hill,’ or’ King of the Road,’ and maybe even ‘King of all that I survey.’   We tend to crown our entertainers rather than rulers. Think of “The King of Swing,” “The King of Rock n’ Roll,” or even “The King of Pop.” Bennie Goodman, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson were all dubbed ‘kings,’ considered the best at what they did, at the top of their game. Calling someone ‘King’ extends an exalted status, elevating them over and above.

The great irony of the Feast we celebrate today is that the Jesus of the gospels is none of these outward things. Christ bears no semblance to that image of a rich king we have in our mind’s eye. He turns the idea of kingship on its head. Jesus tells us the world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige. His is about service and humility. The world’s kingdoms are often about coercion and violence. The Kingdom of God is about peace and reconciliation. Worldly kings surround themselves with adoring attendants; Jesus was surrounded by the poor, the lost, and the marginalized.

Today’s gospel shows us Jesus reigning not from a throne but hanging nailed to a cross. He is adorned not with royal robes, but wears a crown of thorns. Jesus rules not with power and might but in submission and obedience. He is not surrounded by adoring attendants, but by two criminals, and a crowd in which some taunt and tease, and others wait and watch.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The words of the repentant thief come from one who recognizes not only the kingship of Christ, but somehow also knows that the cross is not the end of the story. He somehow understands that Jesus has yet to come into the fullness of his kingdom.

R

emembering is an important theme in Jewish tradition. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, the book of Exodus tells us God “remembered” his covenant with Israel and freed them from their bondage. This kind of remembering is not the opposite of forgetting; God did not forget Israel. Rather the opposite of remembering is dismembering. God re-members Israel, seeking to restore them, to gather them together, and reclaims them as God’s own.

The thief on the cross pleads to be “re-membered,” to be brought back into the fold of God, to be forgiven, restored, and freed. He wants to be part of Christ’s Kingdom, the bringing together of all that is lost, divided and broken. Jesus promised it would be so - “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

          Christ the King Sunday is one of the newest liturgical celebrations in our entire Christian calendar. It was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It gained popularity in the Protestant Church during the 1960s as more churches began using the Lectionary, our fixed schedule of scripture lessons, to proclaim the Word of God each week.

You might wonder why the Pope created this feast and set the readings we heard? It was in response to the devastation of World War I. Europe was reeling from a war more terrible than anything ever imagined. New leaders were taking advantage of the nations’ weaknesses. In 1925, Benito Mussolini had been the leader of Italy for three years, and Adolph Hitler was beginning to gather power. The Pope’s motivation was, that in the face of new dictators and false values, to remind the Church and the world that as long as people refused to submit to the precepts of Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords, there would be little prospect for peace among the nations of the world.

The Pope’s worldly critique could well have been written today for it seems that the idea of a peaceful world lives only in the imagination of God. There has rarely, if ever, been a time when we have all lived together in peace; certainly none I can remember. Not a single age has successfully restrained the dogs of war; to the contrary, many have loosed them with great enthusiasm. It seems we have come to measure the greatness of a nation almost exclusively by its capacity to make war. We think it’s better to be seen as ruthless rather than appear to be weak. Nations too often have wrapped aggression in a thin veil of justice disguising their self-interests. Need we look any further than the extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the age-old strife in Palestine? Any student of history has reason to be grim for the story of humanity is not a pretty one.

The Feast of Christ the King is as much a judgment of our human shortcomings, as it is a hopeful reminder that we are called to make God’s vision of a peaceable Kingdom our own, for a world to be ruled only by the standard of Love. To seek a world marked by justice, compassion, reconciliation, and peace.

The question is: Who exercises dominion over whom? Who or what rules our lives and how? If we consider this carefully, this Feast of Christ the King might make more sense to us.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we will own up to the fact that greed, pride, selfishness, and fear motivate much of this world. Consider the economic and political systems where what matters most is not whether you’re right or wrong, but whose side are you on, who you voted for, or who you work with. Too often, the hearts and minds of many think only of what is in it for them, but rarely consider those they don’t know, or those they do not like.

Forces that rule our culture in every nation are obvious. Rubble and debris lie everywhere. Images of countless many needing food or medical care in Africa, Asia, Haiti, the Philippines, and now Illinois and the Midwest, regularly confront us on TV and in the news each day and night. There are homeless on our streets. For years, Chrissie and I supported with food and clothing a veteran we referred to as “Andrew by the Bridge” - how much longer had he been on 14th Street than when we knew him? I imagine he is still there now. There are too many who have been beaten, battered, abused, or depend upon drugs or alcohol. Andrew was all that. He is part of the “hidden” living on our streets and not in a home.

The pursuit of happiness and success, and the exaltation of our families, region, country, religious or political thinking as the most important things in life is fraught with danger. These are, partly, things that led Mussolini and Hitler in the 1920s and 30s, and they are, in part, things which feed oppressive leaders and terrorists in our world today. These are the reasons that Pope Pius XI thought we needed to hold the banner of Christ the King before us.

We come regularly to Immanuel because we see that banner of Christ the King before us. But bringing people together is never an easy task, despite our very best efforts. Even service schedules, education opportunities, and mission opportunities can challenge us. Today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah reminds us how the Lord gathered up the remnant of His flock out of all the lands where He had driven them, to restore them to the fold, so that they might be fruitful and multiply. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which He will be called: “The Lord is Our Righteousness.”

Jesus, our Lord and King, is our Righteousness, the One who heals, forgives, and restores. Christ Jesus is the One who, even as he died on the Cross, promised us all as he promised that repentant thief crucified at His side, that He would ‘re-member’ us all when He comes into His kingdom.

Today we hear the gospel message that Christ is in charge. We proclaim it not only because Jesus is King, but because the peace we need today, the hope we seek now, can only be found in and through Him. And even more, the peace that our world seeks, the peace which our earthly culture needs, can come only through Jesus Christ. So it is important, very important, that we, along with Paul as he exhorts the Colossians, name Christ not only as the King of the Universe, but also as the King of our lives; of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Who and what reigns over us? I hope and pray we all know.

“Jesus, re-member us when you come into your kingdom.”

AMEN.