God's Alternative Reality
2007-11-22 by Dee Dee Haines
Part of the experience of being an American living and serving abroad means that today is not a public holiday. We, like the rest of the world, give thanks daily but there is not a day set aside that compares to the festivity that surrounds American Thanksgiving Day. I also stand with my friends, and neighbours, when it is appropriate to sing, “God Save the Queen.” So, Christ the King Sunday, is received, and pondered, in a different context than that of my family in Iowa. I think that most of my congregation might conclude that the American Presidency has more influence than the Monarchy. I do! Looking at the other blog entries, I guess you might think that too!
The assigned text from Luke, with its graphic imagery, has the potential to capture our attention before we make a conscious decision to step into the story. This week’s text has, within it, picture echoes of the tempting of Christ (He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah…If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.), and his response to each invitation. In the temptation story, Jesus consistently offers a resistance that is grounded in God’s alternative reality. Each reply undermines any worldly value with a Kingdom cost that begs every disciple to grapple with a question: Do my choices contribute to the building of God’s empire or do they promote, and sustain, an unjust status quo?
(I recognise this week’s comments from Charles Grant that are of great value: “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.”)
Today’s text also offers God’s alternative reality. In the face of mocking, torture and death, forgiveness floods the scene of impossibility with a glimpse of God’s promise of paradise.
The powerful message of forgiveness in the text beckons us, as readers, to consider our own power to grant forgiveness. What will family gatherings look like if Auntie Nell and her sister, Rita, decide to speak to each other again? How will our next door neighbour’s life be changed if they aren’t required to return the money they borrowed for an emergency? How could our lives, and even the Advent season be changed if we decidedly focus on our own power to forgive? This is the power that is called forth from each of us, in response to the forgiveness we have received through Christ the King.
Our choices are always grounded in questions about how we will make use of the power we each possess. It is a poignant and complex consideration, made even more difficult by the approaching season of Advent where we are seduced, by our culture, into thinking we can substitute the absence of so many things with material possessions. In addition, any discussion should invite us to consider that we are often fooled. We aren’t very good at understanding what our ‘real power’ is. So we try to manage, or mismanage, something that is really outside of our reach while neglecting to exercise the gifts that are undeniably placed within us by the Creator, to be used for good.
The last Sunday before Advent can provide an opportunity for grounding, so that the texts heard in the coming weeks will be accompanied by an undeniable and unforgettable memory of the cross, where we grasp the depth of God’s gracious love for humanity, and the cost.
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
Welcome, Scott Bryte
2007-11-21 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Pastor Scott Bryte for filling in as a guest blogger at the last minute. Scroll down to read his smart, thought-provoking entry.
Scott is an ELCA pastor near Pittsburgh. He is also a ventriloquist who makes his own dummies. He recently published a book entitled Tales of the Inner City, a delightful, humorous, quirky, creative collection of original allegories based on biblical stories and themes. One of the enjoyable features of the book is that it is full of illustrations done by Bryte. A review of the book will appear soon at Share It!
May everyone have a holy Thanksgiving. We look forward to more responses here and at Share It!
Eschewing cranberry sauce, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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
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