Jesus, Remember Me
Singing: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (488)
Today is the last Sunday of the Christian Year, which is also known as Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. How many of you know what Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday is? It’s not one of our major holy days. In fact, often, Christ the King Sunday gets a bit neglected, because most years, it falls on Thanksgiving Sunday, which isn’t technically even part of the liturgical calendar, but usually takes precedence for Christians in the United States. If we have to choose between Thanksgiving as a focus in worship and focusing on “Christ the King,” we usually choose Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is important, and indeed, that’s the direction I had planned to go today. But as I was preparing for worship this week, I just felt drawn to the themes that come with this Reign of Christ Sunday. I was thinking about what my Uncle Bill said at the end of his sermon last week, when he was reflecting on the election. He said that whatever happens, our call as the church of Christ is unchanged. Our allegiance is to God, and Jesus asks for our obedience. With those themes in mind, we come to this Christ the King Sunday.
It’s a relatively new addition to the Christian calendar actually. In 1925, Pope Pius XI announced a new feast day, the Feast of Christ the King. He said that he felt that the rise of atheistic communism and secularism were a direct result of people turning away from Jesus’ sovereignty, and of people denying the authority of Jesus and the Church. So, this Reign of Christ Sunday is about reclaiming Jesus’ place of authority in our lives. But what does that mean for us?
I think it is a particularly interesting and challenging question in our American context. After all, as a nation, we rebelled against having a king. No longer wanting to be under the absolute authority of a monarchy but desiring instead to participate in a democracy was a primary component of our founding. We fought wars over it, this right not to be ruled by a king. Sure, maybe lately, with the stylish, young, and admirable William and Catherine marrying, and the birth of their children, people are suddenly a little more intrigued by the idea of royalty. But mostly, we seem, as a society, to be more into Disney princesses and their costumes than in submitting to the authority of a king.
Still, we all have to submit to forms of authority, right? Even if we don’t have a king, governments still exert authority over us. We pay taxes, right? We follow laws, or are punished or fined for our failure to follow. And we have authority figures in many other places too. We have bosses – or bishops! We have teachers and principals. We have parents and grandparents. All these people might be in positions of power over us, at least in some matters, able to tell us what to do. They have power. They have authority. We can push the boundaries of that authority – can and do. We can reject it, but usually not without major consequences. And we have presidents, don’t we? And other elected officials. Clearly, given the build up to and the aftermath from our election earlier this month, we pin a lot of hopes on the leaders of our nation. So when we talk about Jesus as a King, when we celebrate this day – what does that mean to us? How do we, independent people, private, prizing our individualism and autonomy, let someone be our king? What does that mean, exactly?
Let’s take a look at our text: Although next week we suddenly find ourselves thinking about the coming Christ child, a tiny baby at the center of everything, today we are inserted abruptly into the midst of the crucifixion scene. Our reading today takes us to Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” Here, in Luke's account, the actual process of crucifying Jesus merits just a passing phrase: "they crucified Jesus there with the criminals." But the details come from those who watch Jesus dying: the religious leaders, the soldiers, and the two criminals with whom he is crucified. From most, there’s a repeated refrain: Why doesn’t Jesus save himself? “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one!” from the leaders. “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” from the soldiers. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” from one of the criminals. Only from the other criminal do we hear anything different. He declares that the two criminals are only justly paying the price for their crimes but that Jesus "has done nothing wrong." He then asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, and Jesus responds that truly that day the man will be with him in Paradise.
We have here a Jesus who seems most un-kingly. He's mocked, beaten, suffering, harassed, murdered. How is Jesus a King? The inscription that was placed above him – his sentence, the crime for which he was being crucified read, “This is the King of the Jews.” But it was meant as a mockery. A man being crucified with criminals was hardly a king. The sentence poked fun at Jesus, at his disciples and followers. But yet, we believe Jesus reigns. Why? How? How is Jesus king? I think it is about putting the emphasis in the right place. This Sunday is perhaps not about the fact that Jesus is King, but about the fact that Jesus is King. (1) This Sunday is not about the fact that one characteristic of Jesus is his Kingship, his divine royal status, one characteristic among many others. Instead, this Sunday celebrates the fact that it is Christ, Christ above all others, who is the highest authority in our lives. Not King Herod. Not Pilate. Not Caesar. And not President Obama or President-Elect Trump, nor Congress, nor the Supreme Court. Not the stock market. Not the dollar. Jesus is king.
So if we claim Jesus as our Ruler, what exactly does that mean? It means that we’re choosing a leader who rejects most everything one might traditionally associate with good leadership! David Lose writes, “Jesus, to put it [pointedly], would not have won last week’s election. But let me be clear: this is not a political statement as much as it is an existential one. We seek out those things and people who grant us a measure of security and who affirm our values. And, it turns out, when we are frightened or feeling particularly at risk or left behind, we may even accept someone who we profess decidedly does not reflect our values but who we believe will offer us security against our enemies abroad and prosperity at home. We vote for someone, that is, who promises a better tomorrow, and the candidates of both parties tried to offer themselves as the one who best fit that bill. Jesus doesn’t do that.”
We have a repeated phrase in our scripture passage today – Jesus, why don’t you save yourself? The religious leaders, the soldiers, the criminal – they all say it. Instead, Jesus saves us. We long to be safe and protected. Instead, Jesus demonstrates a risk-taking, vulnerable, literally life-giving way of being that saves us, all while refusing to save himself or promise us safety in exchange for our discipleship. Lose continues, “He refuses to come in power but instead appears in abject vulnerability … He does not come down off his cross to prove his kingly status but instead remains on that instrument of torture and humiliation, the representative of all who suffer unjustly. And he does not promise a better tomorrow but instead offers to redeem us today.” (2)
Claiming Jesus as our Ruler means aligning our values with his values, our priorities with his, our ways with his ways. Karoline Lewis writes, “First of all, in Jesus, we have a king who is crucified. Second, we have a king who forgives the very people who have secured his death. Third, we have a king who, while hanging on his cross, grants salvation to the criminal on the cross next to him … and fourth, we have a king who brings the condemned into Paradise with him rather than bring upon them further condemnation.” (3) Lose writes, “… While Jesus was not running for president, he does call leaders of all kinds – and, indeed, any who would call him “Lord” – to join God’s insistent, consistent, and persistent solidarity with the weak, the oppressed, and the forgotten of this world. In short, the church of Jesus Christ reveals itself as faithful to its Lord only in so far as it stands with those who are most vulnerable … God calls us not only to identify with the weak and dispossessed, but to lift our voices on their behalf, calling leaders to care for them as parents care for their children.” Is Jesus our Ruler? How are we working to make his ways our ways? How are we prioritizing the most vulnerable in the work of our church, the work of our community, the work of our lives?
Activist for the poor Shane Claiborne started a campaign during the 2008 election season, calling for “Jesus for President” as a way to call attention to God’s values, God’s call, God’s hope for our world. He wrote, “We may vote on [election day]. But we will also vote today, and tomorrow, and the next day. We are convinced that change is not confined to one day every four years. Change happens every day. We vote with our lives. And we are convinced that voting for a new President may be little more than damage control. For Presidents and Caesars do not save the world. But there is a God who can. Enough donkeys and elephants. Long live the Lamb.” (4)
Typically, the subjects of a king don’t get to decide whether or not they want to follow that person, have that person as their ruler. But God wants us to choose. God gives us the freedom to decide whether we will be disciples or not. But if we’re choosing Jesus, if it is Jesus who rules in our hearts and our lives, we should know who we’re voting for. Our leader is one who offers vulnerability and humility, not might makes right. Our leader is one who keeps company with the least and lost and last, rejecting offers of power and position and status. Our leader is one who will not save himself, but will instead offer his life for others, and ask us to do the same. Jesus is a Ruler like no other. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Singing: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (488)
(1) Jenee Woodard, The Text This Week Weblog, http://textweek.blogs.com/textweek/
(2) David Lose, In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/11/christ-the-king-c-what-kind-of-king-do-you-want/
(3) Karoline Lewis, “Who and What Is Your King,” Dear Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4754
(4) Shane Claiborne, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/politics/jesus-president-2012#mZoCIKKzycee93Fl.99