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Kings and Queens - Sermon on Luke 23:33-43

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We choose rulers and they are sometimes chosen for us. They are always imperfect. No matter who rules us here on earth, our King is Christ.   

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

November 23, 2016 - Christ the King Sunday   

"Kings and Queens".  Text is from Luke 23:33-43

Today we are at the end of our liturgical year, and we can also view this as the primary time to look forward to the coming kingdom and remember who it is that reigns on the throne. But the text that we're focusing on today is one at the crucifixion, not of Revelations, not of predictions but situated smack dab amid Christ's passion. And we see upon this hill called the Skull not just one cross but three, for along with Jesus hang two men who are condemned to die as well, albeit for serious infractions against the people. 

And even at his time of death, even as the centurions taunt him, as the leaders of the Judeans make fun of him, Jesus asks the Father for forgiveness for all of them. 

But even the first criminal appears to taunt Jesus as well, echoing for a third time the running joke, why can't Jesus just save himself from the cross, if he is indeed and truly the messiah. 

The second criminal, however, bridles at the suggestion, rebuking the first one and asking if he does not fear God. Then after admitting his culpability he turns to Jesus himself and asks him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. 

Jesus promises the second criminal that he will be with him in paradise. And we leave the reading there. Because we look at this reading not with Jesus the man hanging on the cross but a king who in a few short days will be lifted onto his throne. A king who is already commanding the faith of at least one soul around around him, someone who recognized him and recognized his nature. 

We have in Jesus a king who has been crucified, and even if the sign above him was done in humor, "This was the king of the Jews" it stood for all to see. Whether the Romans did it to humiliate Jesus or the people it mattered little, the king has been condemned. But look at the king who forgives the people who have condemned him, suggesting that they do what they do in ignorance. And we have a king who grants salvation to the criminal who asks him for it. Finally the king instead of laying additional condemnation upon the condemned, brings them into paradise with him. 

Claire Foy as Elizabeth Heavy meme.jpg

Because what we have a severe lack of on earth is rulers who are going to steer us right. Our country changes hands, and no matter who you supported during the previous election there is no doubt a level of insecurity about the approach the new administration is going to take. I think for many people of a certainly ideological bent became complacent about speaking truth to power while certain victories were achieved over the last few years, particularly in terms of queer rights, and I speak of same-sex marriage, thinking that things would continue to progress in a forward manner in all instances. 

But even if you like our outgoing ruler, he is still tremendously flawed, and whether things improved for most people under his administration is and will continue to be a matter of debate for some time to come, you will be sure of that. We cannot put too much stock in our rulers because they will continue to disappoint us. We don't elect kings and queens. 

Those people on earth who are under those roles are also powerless. The time for earthly monarchs of power is past. Although most British people want to continue to have a nominal head of state in their royal family, the position yet remains a powerless figurehead. I mention this as Michael and I are enjoying the Netflix Television series The Crown, which highlights the early days of Elizabeth II's reign in the 1950s. One can imagine her responsibilities as monarch to be considerably reduced than they were in those days, and her position entirely ceremonial. The true power in the United Kingdom continues to rest in Parliament and with the office of the Prime Minister, and indeed, that is where scandal often rest as well. 

On earth, they say that power corrupts. This is quote probably true for earthly power, in the hands of humans. Start a sentence like this: If I was president of the United States, then I would...  Let's think about the things that you might do?

And we certainly elect human beings to these posts who are already questionable ethically. Maybe it's for the better, rather than worrying about an idealist being corrupted, to have someone that's already obviously corrupted there, best not to be disappointed from the very start. Or maybe that's the cynic in 

But I read this not as a tragedy but as an opportunity. For if we have been complacent before we now have an opportunity to be vocal. We have an opportunity to stand up to government and tell them they are doing wrong. That in knowing that even as we respect the laws of humankind, at least the just ones, that we as children of God derive our authority from a higher king. Even as earthly lords rule over us, that we know that a Jesus Christ truly rules over us and all the earth, and that gives us strength and that makes us just people, doing the will of God in the world. 

And we have to remember that this is what makes the body of God what it is. Because in order to be Christ's body in the world, to represent who our Lord and Savior is, to be what is good and decent, we have to acknowledge who we have been. As the church, we have not always been the voice of justice and salvation for everyone who deserved justice and salvation, but we have the authority from a higher king to claim that, and we should apologize for not standing up for those people who Jesus sought to save and begin the work of saving them today. And who are the people who need saving? They are not always here inside the church because they are not always people who turn to the church. Particularly in an area such as Berkeley, where so many people come from lives elsewhere, and who see the church as a force in their lives not as one that uplifted them but one that oppressed them and told them that they were worthless or evil. How do we become the body of Jesus that stands up for the marginalized? 

If we let ourselves be drowned out by voices of hate, to let the rhetoric of exclusion be the louder voice, then we say that the Gospel is not powerful. If we are fearful of being offensive, of falling prey to worrying over the sensibilities of those who are comfortable, then we act like the most offensive thing, that our king was someone who was hung on a tree and left to die in state sponsored execution. 

On November 8, while we decided who would lead our country for the next 4 years, here in California, we decided not to overturn the cruelest punishment of all: the death penalty. Now, there may be arguments about why putting certain criminals to death is not only just but merciful, until we can get past the arbitrary nature of sentencing people to die, and the unfairness of the process, that overwhelmingly men of color are given death sentences over white men, any debate about the appropriateness of the punishment is pointless. And that, very simply, this punishment is not so much about death but about retribution, and that in some instances, people turn around their lives so much, that even the families of the victims plea for their exoneration from punishment, but the state that sentences them never forgives. We place the decision in the hands of governors who are fearful of looking "soft on crime" and who never commute sentences, even after it is crystal clear that the sentenced ones commit no danger to society. 

And we put the matter to the voters of the state, underscoring the fact that we cannot trust our very own legislatures, and we fail once again to overturn this unjust and barbaric practice, that out of all the Western nations of the world, the United States is alone in its implementation. 

Is it the confidence that Christ is our King also our downfall here on earth, that matters of the state be left to Caesar? We can, do better. So long as we continue to put kings and queens to reign above us, we must remember that the church does answer to God's authority and we must remember that Christ's saving grace is meant for all of his creation. The good news, my sisters and brothers is that we have a place in his kingdom, and we have his authority to claim the higher ground, to serve his justice by offering compassion to those who are denied by the state, by offering healing to those who have been harmed by the church and by offering welcome to all of God's beloved children, in the glory of his wondrous name.

King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Christ, our God.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on November 23, 2016 3:14 PM.

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