Pontius Pilate, Sign in Please
2007-11-21 by Scott Bryte
“The Soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews….” The words of the soldiers are so heavily dripping with sarcasm that all this time later, you can almost hear the splash. Gushing with sarcasm, is more like it.
It’s much harder, however, to be certain if Pilate was being sarcastic. It certainly looks that way. It seems it was customary for the charge against a criminal to be written out on a board, and then hung around that person’s neck while they were being publicly executed. Jesus’s charge was tacked above his head-written in three languages, so everyone would be able to understand. “This is the King of the Jews”. You couldn’t miss it.
There were already two kings of the Jews at the time. Herod Antipas and Herod Phillip ruled the parts of Judea that weren’t put under direct Roman control after the death of their father, Herod the Great. Phillip and Antipas, each with their quarter-sized kingdoms, were themselves under the direct thumb of Rome. It would have been treason for Marcus Pontius Pilatus, Roman Governor of the Imperial district of Judea, to acknowledge another King of the Jews escpecially one whom the Caesar did not appoint. And so we assume Pilate was being sarcastic when he literally labeled Jesus as King of the Jews. One thing we can be sure of, is that he had the sign made, to tick off the chief priests. It worked. It is also pretty safe to say that Pilate would have been surprised to learn that he was right. “This is the King of the Jews”. Maybe he was being sarcastic, or ironic, or snarky in some other way, but he was also telling the truth.
Not quite eighty two years ago, on December 11th, 1925, Christ the King Day was invented (or declared, if you prefer) by Pope Pius XI. As slowly as things move in the history of the church, saying that something happened a mere eighty two years ago is like saying that it happened last Thursday. In the aftermath of WWI, with the US and well, part of Europe anyway, waiving flags and doing the victory dance, and facing the rise of communism, the pope sought to remind us of who is really in charge. In short order, Christ the King Day came to occupy its present position as the conclusion to the liturgical year. It didn’t take long for Christ the King Day to catch on in the broader church. Even those denominations that do not recognize the date, can hardly argue with the idea. Christ is King. We know that. We get that. It’s one of the few things that the whole body of Christ can say together, with no one so much as blinking.
So why the yearly reminder? Why this seeming campaign to convince us of something we all agree with in the first place? Probably because it’s something we can’t seem to remember for very long. We have constitutions and elections to tell us who it is that has authority, but Christ is King. Industry and the movers of big money might influence how and where you lie, but Christ is King. Your insurance company might make decisions for you, but Christ is King. Your body constrains and limits you; your sin twists and perverts you; addictions and prejudice and plain old foolishness might take over your life; death will ultimately claim you, but CHRIST IS KING. Governments and armies and economies cannot overpower Him. Sin and sickness and the smallness of our brains are not strong enough walls to keep him out. Even death does not have the last word. Christ is King.
A Special Visitor: Martin Luther
2007-11-21 by David von Schlichten
Please be sure to scroll down to read Charles Grant's sermon for Christ the King; it is right on target. Also, Tom Steagald and Virginia Miner have provided some valuable insights in their blog entries.
I was all set to do some blogging myself, when who should should appear in my living room but none other than Dr. Martin Luther, the great instigator of the Protestant Reformation. He has insisted that: A. I get him a beer; and B. that I type this blog entry that he has dictated to me in German.
I have somehow been given the ability to converse with him (xenolalia?) and have explained to him this whole blogging thing. He is quite interested and, as always, has plenty to say.
Here's what Luther wants me to pass on to all of you about our Gospel for Sunday and Christ the King:
Good day, my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a heart-bursting joy to be here on earth to send this message to you, although heaven is quite magnficent, especially the food and beer.
Pastor David here tells me that this Sunday you will celebrate Christ as the King. He certainly is, but don't we celebrate that every Sunday?
We have our earthly princes, lords, and kings that God has placed in authority and that we are to obey. However, many of these rulers are filthy, farting swine wallowing in the mud and straw they have stolen from the hovels of the poor!
We do our best to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, for God has established the throne of Caesar to create order and stability. But when the Caesars of the world spy the Church and then "seize her" like mad, frothing dogs, we are to resist. We follow the one true King, the one who has put into authority all lesser kings. The one true King and his kingdom have authority over lesser, human kingdoms.
And what kind of king is the one true king? Is he a king who demands that we kiss his butt and moan and sing all day about how great he is? Is he the kind of king who wants us to give our money so he can have a prettier robe and slaves to blow his nose for him? Is he the kind of king who wants to sit around and get fat off the beer and beef that come from the farms of the poor?
By no means! Jesus Christ is the kind of king who hangs from the cross. As the physician Luke tells us with words of soothing balm, Jesus the King offers us forgiveness, even when we commit sins that, at the time, we fail to realize are sins. Jesus Christ our King offers salvation to the poor criminal who, despite the priests and the soldiers and the other criminal, persists, by the power of the Spirit, to confess Christ as King.
There exist no sweeter words in all of Rome or Saxony than these from the King, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Christ the King dies for his subjects and provides mercy for the sinner. No church in all the world is as towering and splendid as these words and deeds of sacrifice and mercy from the King whose throne is the Cross.
Each of us is that criminal. On our own, we can never confess the King. On our own, we hang in misery, the Devil dehydrating us, sin strangling us. We will suffocate and shrivel up. The vultures will peck away our flesh. But the Spirit empowers us to confess Jesus as Lord.
By the Spirit, we whisper, "Remember me," and the King declares, "I pardon you." No sweeter grace resides anywhere than on Golgotha.
I thank Pastor David for being my secretary for this message to you, my brothers and sisters. He is now going to take me in something called a Hyundai Sonata to go purchase something called a McFlurry. Pray for me.
Dr. Martin Luther
Some Highlights of this Week's "Lectionary Homiletics" Articles
2007-11-20 by David von Schlichten
We regret that we will not be hearing from Joanna Adams, our guest blogger, this week. We hope we can hear from Joanna during another week.
Patrick Willson's clear and perspicacious “Preaching the Lesson” essay from this week's Lectionary Homiletics articles is available for free. Among other things, Patrick compares the threefold nature of the Devil's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness with the threefold pattern of taunts against Jesus at the cross. Go to Homepage, then Share It!, then Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics to read the article.
Also, scroll down here to read a sermon for Christ the King by last week's guest blogger, Charles Grant.
Here are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics for you to chew and savor.
Seung Ai Yang offers up several nourishing observations. For starters, Yang points out that the taunts against Jesus on the cross move spatially from supervising religious leaders, to crucifying soldiers, to crucified wrongdoer (p. 61). Yang adds that the insults also move through “social strata”; “ [ . . . ] as the status of the taunting individual descends, the humiliation is increased” (61), until finally we have a condemned man deriding Jesus.
Yang goes on to indicate that the crowd has a more ambivalent, less negative response to Jesus, and the other crucified wrongdoer has a clearly positive response. We hearers might be tempted to wonder which wrongdoer we are, but, Yang teaches, the answer is that we humans tend to have both attitudes within.
Yang concludes the article with the astonishing forgiveness Jesus offers both his executioners and the second wrongdoer. Yang notes that, in some manuscripts, the “Father, forgive them” statement is missing, perhaps because the early Church struggled with this display of mercy for a group so blatantly undeserving. Yet such is the way of God's magnanimity; God is the prodigal deity eager to embrace us with forgiveness, even as we struggle to wriggle free.
Kristin Johnston Largen reminds us that this passage proclaims that the salvation Jesus brings to the world is not only for after death but also for now, for today. She also notes that the second wrongdoer does not ask for forgiveness or for deliverance but asks simply to be remembered. Jesus responds to this display of faith by providing eternal life.
Steve Frazier points out that this story of the second wrongdoer is not about “[ . . . ] how lucky the penitent thief is who slipped through the pearly gates just in time” (p.63). The story is primarily about Jesus exercising his prerogative as king. Jesus as king is seeking ways to help others, even as he hangs from the cross (which is, of course, the great throne of salvation). Frazier concludes by saying, “If he was doing this from a cross, imagine [what] he's capable of doing now” (63).
Thanks to all our contributors. Maybe I'll get to meet some of you at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis this May.
Thawing a turkey, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
What Kind of King is This?
2007-11-20 by Tom Steagald
In a recent book I suggested that the Feast of Christ the King, initiated as an official celebration of the Church by Pius XI only in 1925, is the priestly equivalent of the prophetic Barmen Declaration issued by the Confessing Church in 1934. The latter was in direct response to the rise of the National Socialists and their Fuhrer (the German word for 'lord'); the former came from the smoldering ash heap of WWI. Both were, in their own priestly or prophetic way, an affirmation that, as Pius said, "...peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis that through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord."
The pronouncement of Christ alone as Lord (Nein! to all other fuhrers) and the celebration of Christ as King--indeed, the enthroning of Christ on the praises of his people, are the two aspects of one faithful affirmation.
Of course, words like Empire, king and even Lord rasp in modern ears. Many folk would find themselves in agreement with Samuel, of all people, as to the mischief kings cause (I Samuel 8:10-18). No wonder that, from Revolutionary times till now, many people would pray with Jacob Gruber (at Washington's Light Street Methodist Church, as British cannons announced the arrival of troops to the city in 1812), "Lord, have mercy on the Sovereigns of Europe--convert their souls--give them short lives and happy deaths--take them to Heaven--and let us have no more of them." (cited in Doug Adam's dissertation, Humor in the American Pulpit from George Whitefiled though Henry Ward Beecher, pp. 114-15).
But to say Christ is King, both through Sacrament and Proclamation is not to say he is like other kings--tyrants or gods, jokers or jesters, anachronisms or, on account of their silliness and celebrity, impotent potentates. It rather to say he is precisely not like other kings. He is Lord of all because he is servant of all.
No greater proof could be offered than the Gospel lesson for Sunday. I mean, what kind of King is this to "exalted" in such a way--elevated on the cross. This is the King's coronation, a bitterly perfect irony played on our use of the words.
Kingdom Cross - The Sermon
2007-11-20 by Charles Grant
Last week I posted some thoughts on the texts for Christ the Kingdom Sunday, November 25. What follows is the sermon that flowed from that blog. It is entitled "Kingdom Cross". I hope you finish your sermon by tomorrow so you can have a restful and Happy Thanksgiving.
On the festival of Christ the King we face a dilemma. On the one hand, the most beloved and inspirational Easter anthem is Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Whenever it is sung we leap to our feet in respect for the one we believe is indeed, “King of kings and Lord of Lords…” Many of our hymns include king and kingdom imagery, such as “The king of love my shepherd is” and “Crown him with many crowns”, and “All creatures of our God and King”. But as Americans, kings and kingdoms don’t mean much to us, in political terms. In fact, in are acculturated to RESIST king-talk. Wasn’t that part of our beef with the British in the first place? When George Washington was first elected, he was referred to as “His Excellency”, but early on, we affirmed that we might have a Mr. President or a Ms President to whom we show great respect, but not a royal ruler to whom we bow and curtsy. So, talk of kings and kingdoms, such as we find in the Bible, don’t really speak to Americans.
Except the language and notion of empire and kingdom really do shape our consciousness. We may not have an emperor, but the good ole USA is truly an empire if there ever was one, in both the Biblical sense of the word and in secular usage. The USA is the only reigning super power. And like the biggest guy on the playground, America doesn’t take kindly to criticism from little whipper snappers or would be super powers.
Even so, as Christians, we yearn for the kingdom of God. For God’s divine rule in our earthly lives and world. Remember those words from the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy KINGDOM come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…for Thine is the KINGDOM.” Kingdom talk is part of the vocabulary of faith. God’s kingdom, God’s peaceable kingdom, is a vision that shapes our hopes. God’s kingdom is about men and women living in harmony with one another under the guidance of God’s word and presence. But whenever WE talk about kingdom, we end up using the language of power, ruler and ruled. Which kind of kingdom do we want?
We easily confess Jesus as our Lord, but this king talk really throws us off. On the one hand, the only kinds of kings we know about today are symbolic figureheads. On the other hand, the kings of a former day tended to be tyrannical absolute rulers. Either way, we are uncomfortable linking king talk and God talk.
No wonder, that in recent years some theologians have tried to talk not about KING-dom but about KIN-dom. That is, what we are really working for is a divinely led kin-dom or holy community in which all persons are equal, as opposed to a KING-dom of ruler and ruled. Christ the King Sunday invites us to reflect more carefully about such language and imagery, including our over-used language of “king” when “sovereign” would not only suffice but be more inclusive.
The other side of this Sunday is not awkward; it is downright difficult: the CROSS. What Christ the King Sunday is really all about of course, is that the one whom the people wanted to be an earthly king turned out to be a king of a totally different sort: a king on a cross. The king whom we follow calls us not to follow him to victory, but to follow him to death. The king whom we serve we serve because he first served us. The king whom we follow calls us to embrace a life of suffering. Christ the King Sunday –or the festival of The Reign of Christ–calls us to confess that no earthly ruler is worthy of that title or our unconditional allegiance: God and God alone is sovereign. The God we know in Christ is our only sovereign Lord.
The festival of Christ the King then strikes us an odd observance at an odd time. Even though because of the calendar, this year the advent season is still a week off, we are already into Christmas preparation mode. The retailers’ nightmare and the shoppers’ dream of “Black Friday” is behind us now. Here we are getting ready for Christmas, and we haven’t even begun the four week period of PREPARATION for Christmas known as Advent. So, all of this talk about cross and crowns, kings and kingdoms, feels out of place. This is the season to be jolly, a time for babies and angels and jingle bells, and peace on earth goodwill towards all. Not Jesus’ last words from the cross. We are content to confine those words to Holy Week and Good Friday.
But I would suggest the festival of Christ the King may just be the medicine we need, at this season of the year and in every season. For the festival of Christ the King reminds us whose subjects we are. Reminds us of the power of those thrilling words from Isaiah and Handel’s Messiah: King of kings, and Lord of Lords. Granted, the whole idea of king and kingdom doesn’t fit with our political system or American sensibilities. But as Bob Dylan sang – even before he got religion – “everybody’s gotta serve somebody.” And the somebody WE serve is the God we know through Jesus.
The claims of our religious faith are but one among many competing claims: our faith calls us to sacrificial service; our culture calls us to self-centeredness; the market place calls us to “buy, buy, buy”; Christ calls us to “give, give, give”. The world says life is about “me”; the world of faith says, life is about “you”. Religious faith is but one claim among many competing claims. But the claim of our faith is the claim of Christ is the only claim that counts. And the festival of Christ the King reminds us we sing “Joy to the world the Lord has come” because Jesus has come to BE our Lord.
The festival of Christ the King also is a corrective to all earthly kingdom talk. Commenting on the trial and execution of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan observes that the ancient Roman government and Pilate got it exactly right when they killed Jesus. Because when Jesus replies to Pilate’s inquiry, “My kingdom is not of this world”, Rome had good reason to fear. Jesus was announcing a kingdom superior to and critical of every earthly kingdom. The kingdom of God holds every earthly kingdom up to a very high standard. Some may fare better than others, but when compared to God’s standards for justice, fairness, generosity, compassion, and peace, no earthly kingdom measures up.
Which means there is no room for complacency. Even in America. If we are to transform this world into a close approximation of God’s kingdom, we have lots of work to do. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in the Bible we have the only plan we need to establish the holy city, and in Jesus Christ we have a ruler worthy of our respect, our obedience, and our love.
And finally, the festival of Christ the King draws us to the center of Christian faith: a crucified messiah who redefines what king and kingdom are all about. Our king is a crucified king – a king rejected by the world, who through his self-giving sacrifice is now the only worthy king in the world. Christ the crucified king reminds us that it is only through suffering that we will we find God. Pastor Kenneth Carder asks “Why would anyone follow a crucified Christ?” And his answer? “Only those who follow Jesus all the way to the cross will really know who he is. If we stop before Calvary, we will misunderstand him.” (Carder, in a sermon) As Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
The universally recognized symbol of Christian faith is not the Christmas tree, or the chalice of communion or the waters of baptism. The universally recognized symbol of Christian faith is not even the empty tomb of Easter. The universally recognized symbol of Christian faith is the CROSS. For nearly 500 years now we Protestants have smugly insisted that it is an EMPTY cross that symbolizes Christian faith. The empty cross is said to draw us to the empty tomb – the cross is empty because the tomb is empty - Jesus is NOT dead, but is alive and risen! And for sure that is the message of Easter Day.
But today is NOT Easter day. It is the Sunday of Christ the King – Christ the crucified King. The cross stands empty because it is NOT the cross of Christ at all. The empty cross of Christ is OUR cross. Your cross and my cross. And it is empty because it awaits followers of Jesus who dare to deny themselves and to take up his cross and follow him.
Kingdom Cross. Two words we really struggle with. Kingdom, because it is outside our daily human experience. And cross, because it IS part of our daily experience – and we know we want nothing of it.You may have noticed the masthead of the bulletin for today calls this Sunday “The Reign of Christ”. That is the alternative, newer designation for this Sunday of Christ the King. And it directs us where we need to be. For what is important about Christian faith is not whether we use the image of king and kingdom, but whether Christ reigns in our hearts, in our lives, in our world. In the words of that old hymn of Isaac Watts,
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Friends: If Christ does NOT rule in our hearts, nothing in faith matters. But if Christ rules in our hearts, nothing else matters at all. Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim! Till all the world adore his sacred name. AMEN.
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