Traditional Sermon, Christ The King Sunday
In 1928, Elie Wiesel was born in Transylvania. Fifteen years later he and his family would be deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz where his mother and younger sister would perish.
He would later study in Paris and become a journalist where he was encouraged to write about his experiences in the death camps. His memoir, Night, would be the result. In 1978, President Carter appointed him Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. He would later, with his wife, form and become president of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The goal of this foundation to fight indifference, intolerance, and injustice. He has been awarded more than 100 honorary degrees by various institutes of higher learning. Not only has he been a professor of humanities at Boston University, he also taught religious studies and Judaic Studies at City University in New York. Among other awards, in 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He died on July 2nd, 2016. Actually, 1 day after I started my internship with you all here at St. Peter’s.
Dr. Wiesel has written over 60 books, but his book Night has been translated into over 30 languages. It is an excerpt from this book I would like to read to you now:
Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows…”
Some of you may be thinking, “Wait! This is Christ the King Sunday! Why are talking about such horrible things on a day when we should be celebrating the Glory of God and Christ’s defeat over death.” I was reminded this last week in a conversation that Christ’s glory can only be understood through the lens of the cross. We must never forget the horrible cost that Christ paid. A terrible cost that had to be paid precisely because of sinfulness, not just of the Jews, but of every single human being alive, dead, and yet to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are damaged goods. Every single one of us. We are so damaged by sin that God had to become one us and take on pain and suffering, much like that young boy hanging on those gallows. Christ had to suffer beyond anything we can scarcely comprehend and that… that is the reason Christ is King. That is the reason, that no matter how much we suffer, we know God truly knows what it is to suffer and because of it we look forward to a day when none shall suffer again. This is why we tell the tale of the crucifixion on this day.
Yesterday, we buried one of our own. Sandy Rose suffers no more. She suffers no more because of the suffering of our King. Not just our King though. Jewish blessings begin with the phrase, “Baruch Attah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha-olam” Which means, “Blessed are you O’Lord our God, King of the Universe. Is Christ our King? Yes, but not just our King. King of the universe. King of all creation.
But Christ was not the only person hanging on a cross that day at Golgotha. There were two other people as well. Two other people being crucified for crimes against Rome. Two men, representing two different perspectives.
One man, viewed Caesar as the ultimate authority in his current situation. This man did not recognize Christ as King. And who knows his reasoning exactly, but perhaps to show the Romans that he really was one of them and perhaps save his own life, joined in on the mockery of Jesus. Christ would suffer the ultimate form of oppression, and this man would side with the oppressor.
The other man, recognized Christ as the King of the universe and of life & death; an authority even higher than Caesar. He recognized God suffering alongside him. This man sided with the oppressed Christ.
The reality is, we all take sides…
I would like to read an excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize:
And then I explained to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human being endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views…
(I would also include sexual orientation)
…that place must—-at that moment— become the center of the universe.
There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention … More people are oppressed than free. How can one not be sensitive to their plight? Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere…
What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.
We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.
Christ suffered and died for every member of this species known as Homo Sapiens; for every member of humanity. Because of this very fact, and because that Christ is our King, our lives belong to every other living being and those still yet to come. Christ, as opposed to many earthly rulers throughout history across the globe, is the King of unity and peace… never division.
The Jewish people were looking for a king when they were waiting for the mashiach, the messiah and they got one. However, they did not get what they expected. They expected the messiah to be a mighty military leader who would drive out their oppressors and give them authority over all other nations. In their mind, there would be no place in the kingdom for gentiles. The oppressed would one day become the oppressor and all nations would cower before the power of the Jewish people and their God. That is what they expected… That is what they waited for… That is not what God intended and it was not what they got.
Christ did not come to turn the tide of power and flip social structure on its head in that way thereby making the oppressed the oppressor. Christ came for the salvation of not just the Jews, but Gentiles as well. Christ did come to flip the social structure on its head because Christ came to save all humanity. In the eyes of God, there would no longer be Jew or Gentile nor any other ridiculous way that human beings divide themselves. No being exists outside of the love of Christ. Christ’s love envelops and permeates every particle of creation.
The 8th Commandment says that, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Which is followed in the Small Catechism with the question… Was ist das? as Luther would have said in German. What is this? What does this mean? Luther goes on to say, We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” I want to repeat that part again… come to their defense, speak well of them… and… interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
This does not mean that we have to agree with them, but we have to interpret their intentions in the best possible light. Like that quote from Elie Wiesel’s Nobel speech, for the good of everyone we must be willing to stand beside anyone who is being oppressed out of hate.
When we stand in the way of the goals of any individual based solely on the fact of who, or what, that person is, it ceases to merely be a disagreement of opinion and becomes an act of oppression if the goals are noble and identity is the only issue. We are not to suspect that the goals are nefarious either, but are instead to interpret them in the best possible light and defend our neighbor.
We have discussed the 8th Commandment; however, there are 9 more. All 10 of these Christ addresses with two statements in Matthew 22: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. & You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Their is no addendum. There are no qualifiers saying that you are to love your neighbor as yourself as long as they are not black, Hispanic, Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Conservative, Liberal, Gay, straight or any other way we can devise to divide ourselves.
We are always called to act on behalf of those who are oppressed and never to be the oppressor. This also does not mean that we be silent either. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil… Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The Gospel is so “other”, so different in ideal than our sinful human nature is capable of comprehending, that its message of unconditional love for everyone, by its very nature will always feel uncomfortable for us to hear. It’s difficult even for me to hear and understand sometimes.
The reality is, we are all oppressed in some way by systems embedded within our world that foster oppression and fear of the other. Additionally, there is the irony that sometimes when we attempt to free others from oppression we wind up being the oppressor of someone else. As human beings we are bound by our sinful human nature to get it wrong in some way regardless of how good our intentions may be.
So what do we do with this then, if we are only going to screw it up? Because we love Christ for what he did for us at the place known as the Skull, we follow his path. We follow him on the “Way.” We need an example, a guide on this very confusing path that we follow through very difficult territory to tread.
This is why the Gospel is so important. The Gospel is our guide. The Gospels is very simple; though living it out is most definitely not simple. The Gospel is a message of unity, love, and salvation for all and Christ came as our King to be the ultimate example of what it means to love your neighbor. Christ is our King… and our King, the melech ha-olam, the King of the universe did not save himself… Our King let himself die on that cross at Golgotha in order to save us all. And that is precisely why Christ is our King.
And for that I say thanks be to God and Amen…