Sermon November 21 – “What Kind of King?”

The Reverend Stacy Swain

Colossians 1:11-20;  Luke 23:33-43

 In the church calendar, the liturgical year, today is Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday as it is also called.  Now, I found wonderful synergy this week between this Christ the King Sunday and the news of the world.  For, just in case some of you missed it though I do not see how you could have, Prince William announced his engagement this week.  And the world has been abuzz with that good news, the good news of a wedding for a future King.

 But before we delve into all of this, Let us pray:  Holy One, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable to you our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 The summer after I graduated from college, I jumped on a plane and headed to England to volunteer at a psychiatric hospital in Northern London.   I was to teach reading and writing to long term patients as they were preparing to be transferred  into a community setting.  I certainly attempted to do some of that work during the time I was there, but what I remember  most about that summer is the buzz that electrified not only that psychiatric hospital but that pulsed through all of England – for it was the summer that was to culminate in the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

                For weeks on end, talk in the newspapers and around the lunch table was all about the wedding.  The patients I was to teach were little interested in my attempts to show them how to balance a check book or shop on a budget.  But instead they were positively enthralled by the wedding preparation and spend many hours in front of the TV as the china pattern was announced, as close-ups of the ring flashed, as speculation on the dress was bantered back and forth.  Preparation even went so far, as to trace out the route that the royal couple would take from Buckingham Palace to Westminster abbey and to have all of the buildings that faced that route sandblasted and cleaned.  But only the part of the building that faced the route were cleaned.   The sides royal couple would not see remained coal smoke black and pitted.   

              I think, the wedding was so captivating for the country and for those patients,  because it gave us all a way to step out of the grimness of life, the bleakness of those psychiatric wards and into a rarefied world of wealth and splendor.  And when the big day came, I was as entranced as the thousands that lined the streets, as entranced as John, and Benny and Martha as we sat together on the faded couches in the common room, moved to tears at how beautiful and perfect it all was. 

I imagine that Jesus’ disciples and the crowd that had followed him through the Galilean countryside, formerly blind Bartemaus, the ten who had been lepers, the man healed by the sheep’s gate, the woman who bled no more, I bet all of them wanted beauty and perfection for the one who would be their King.  After all they even went so far as to do the first century equivalent of cleaning up the view, when they laid their cloaks down on the path that Palm Sunday morning.  But instead of beauty and perfection, their King got a wooden cross, on a bleak hillside.    Instead being celebrated, Jesus was mocked.  Instead of being wrapped in the finest garments, he was stripped,  instead of having all that faced him be light and bright, he faced darkness and horror.  This was not royal treatment, not the kind we know at least.  So what does this say about our King?  What kind of a King is this Jesus our Christ?

               The kind of King we have in Jesus is one who shares our common lot, one who shares in our suffering.  Ours is a King that walks with us through all of the valleys in our lives so that we will know that there is no place that we can go where God is not. Ours is a King that prefers the grimness of the back alley to the polished facade of the street front.  Ours is a king that knows our suffering and there is comfort in that. 

              But let us not for a moment stop there.   By suffering with us, Jesus does not bless our suffering.  And this is really important.  There is nothing remotely splendid about being walled away in a psychiatric hospital for 55 years because you have a developmental disability and your family did not know how to deal with it.  There is nothing glorious about the suffering of illness, injury, economic hardship, or fear of future security.

               But what is splendid and glorious is that Jesus enters into suffering with the intention of not only sharing in it but of transforming it.   Jesus brings power into places of powerlessness so that we may share in his power and be transformed by it. The world is accustomed to Kings that draw power from the people and exercise that power over them.  But Jesus came to bring the presence and power of God to the most lowly corners of the world, to even the dank darkness of s stable or the stark cruelty of the cross, so that all of those low places may be lifted high and transformed by the power of God. 

This power comes to us not only in places of suffering.  Let’s be clear about that.  God’s power pulsates throughout the entire world and is as accessible as our own breath.  It is just that this power is often most  strikingly revealed in times of suffering because it is during these times that we discover our need for God and in discovering our need for God, we open ourselves to receive God.  Let me say again, It is in times of suffering that the power of God in our lives is most strikingly revealed because it is in times of suffering that we discover how much we need God and in needing God, we open throw ourselves to receive God.

           Ours is a King that came to tax collectors and sinners.  People who were considered unimportant, not good enough, polluted.  Ours is a King that came to children and blind people, and people possessed by destructive forces beyond their control.  And by doing so taught us that the hierarchical ordering of worth that stratifies our human constructs of who is important and who is not, are just that, human constructs that have no more mean than that which we give them.

            People look on the royalty of Charles and William, these one day Kings and sees in them a specialness that sets them apart — that qualifies them somehow for special treatment.   The difference with Jesus is that he looks on the most common person and sees specialness in them.  He sees even the most lowly as a precious child of the living God.   

          Paul understands that becoming a Christian is not simply a matter of fitting Jesus into our present way of thinking.  Instead, in Christ we are transferred, moved, deported from one kingdom to another, from one way of living into another.[1]  Through Jesus we step out of the bleakness and trouble of our lives not into a fantasy world of our own making but into new life given to us through the redeeming, life saving act of Love, manifest in the person of our Christ.  We see evidence of this in the Gospel reading for today where one of the thieves crucified with Christ that day mocked him saying if you are so special use your power to save yourself.   But the other said, because you are special and please use your power to save me.  It was this one, who met Jesus in the depth of his need and for who as Paul says “was made strong with the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power” and who before the end of the day was with Christ in Paradise.  

          This is the kind of King we have in Jesus– a King who is glorious not because he is wrapped in worldly treasures but because he wraps the world in the treasure of his love.  This is our King who gathers us to him, in our joys and in our sorrow, in our health and in our brokenness.  Who does not need worldly wealth because through him each and every one of us becomes precious beloved, gems in the eyes of God.   This is the King that we will meet again in a few weeks in the manger and who will be waiting for us on the far side of the empty tomb.  Thanks be to God for Jesus our Christ.  Amen.   

[1] Neta Pringle. Pastoral Perspective on Colossians 1: 11-20 in Feasting on the Word. (Westminster, John Knox press: Louisville 2010). P. 328.