Christ the King Sunday … today’s celebration … is the final Sunday of the Church Year. It is a time when the Church not only thinks about the end of our twelve-month cycle of Sunday church services and accompanying lessons and festivals. It is also a time when we think about the end of time, and Jesus’ final return to earth to complete God’s plan to save the children of God. But what does that arrival in our world look like? … what kinds of images come to mind when you think of the end of the world as we know it?
Maybe you think of worldwide disasters … or the coming of the Son of man on the clouds of heaven … maybe you think about the Rapture (even though it is neither a Christian teaching nor a biblical teaching) … maybe you recall the words of the Book of Revelation, and try to picture the Holy City Jerusalem coming down our of heaven to land on earth and transform the world as we know it. If you feel confused, don’t feel badly about that … our church tradition doesn’t really help you. Because we see a variety of images associated with the end of days on earth, and at first glance, they do not seem to speak to the same event.
Two years ago, we read these words from St. Matthew’s Gospel … “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” And we were challenged to consider the call to serve as the kind of behavior our king looks for in gathering citizens for the kingdom over while he rules.
Last year at this time, we read this passage from John’s Gospel, Chapter 18 … “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ And we were challenged by Jesus to consider a kingship that is different from that of any other king in our world.
And this year’s reading is a section from the story of the crucifixion in St. Luke’s Gospel, and is from Jesus’ short conversation with one of the two thieves who were crucified with him. The words of interest to us for today’s festival are found in the final exchange between this Jesus and this prisoner, that the Catholic church has traditionally given the name of Dismas … following the naming of the thief in an apocryphal 4th century writing titled, The Gospel of Nicodemus. This final bit of conversation goes like this according to Luke, who is the only Gospel to record it: Then he (Dismas, according to St. Luke) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He (Jesus) replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And we are reminded that whatever this Kingdom looks like … being in relationship to Jesus is a key component to being a part of this kingdom.
So, what are we to make of this mixture of images and expectations and mystery around an event none of us have yet to experience? Let’s start with today’s lesson from Luke’s Gospel. What today’s lesson proclaims to us is that Jesus is our link to the kingdom that God will someday bring you our world. So … what connects us to Jesus? You can probably each name a number of things that connect you to Jesus. But what connects every single one of us to Jesus? Where do we receive a second name of “child of God” in addition to the name bestowed upon us by our parents?Here at the font … here is where our journey to Jesus’ eternal Kingdom begins.
But life with Jesus is never a once and done. God finds regular ways to be present to us in ways that lead us to the paradise promised to us from God. This is the place where we regularly encounter the presence of God in our life. Our communion liturgy makes this promise most of the weeks we gather around the table … “who on this day overcame death and the grave, and by his glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life.” We are invited into the gathering of saints our king prepares for us each and every week, in the words we hear and speak in our Holy Communion meal.
But where is this Kingdom God promises us? Our Gospel Lesson from last year’s Christ the King celebration points us to that Kingdom. Jesus’ words, point us to that Kingdom when he says, “But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” In short … God’s Kingdom is not of this earth … it does not follow the rules and practices that our world cherishes and thus follows. Because where our world values power and authority in its kingdom’s, Jesus Kingdom is dominated by an instrument of suffering and death. Jesus Kingdom is defined by the cross. … and by the recognition that sometimes we are called to suffer for this Jesus that we love. Whenever we gather around the cross or gather in the shadow of this cross, we acknowledge the counter cultural nature of this Kingdom.
Yesterday, some of you gathered in this sanctuary to celebrate this cross-shaped victory, when you came to entrust into God’s hands the oldest saint of our congregation, Marie Kratzert. For those who knew Marie in her earlier, healthier years, she was a force to be reckoned with. Short of stature, but tall is spirit and strength, she was a person who constantly pointed people, both young and old, to the promises of God’s Kingdom. And as she lived her life under the shadow of the cross of Jesus, she invited others to do the same.
All this is well and good. But at some point, most of us need something tangible that we can do, to indicate our commitment to the Kingdom that awaits us. We find ourselves needing to respond to Jesus call. We know that we live under the grace and love of God … but we also want to do something that shows the world how that grace and love has changed our life. And we turn to the lesson from two years ago, to help us shape what that response looks like.
Feed the hungry … give drink to the thirsty … welcome the stranger … clothe the naked … visit the sick and imprisoned. Your St. Peter’s quilting group seeks to make life easier for the naked and sick every Monday afternoon. This year they sent over 100 quilts to persons connected to Mom’s House and Transitional Living Center, including parents, children and veterans. And every week we collect food in our Feed My Sheep carts, and some members travel to a few local supermarkets and collect day old food and transport it to shelters in the area. These are just a few of the ways the people sitting next to you in the pews try to herald the arrival of Jesus into our world. We are believers in an unconventional God who plays by his own rules and dares the world to watch for a king who will usher in not what we want … but what we need … from the God who first made us. Amen.