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If you walk around Manhattan, especially the tourist areas,  I guarantee you that your pockets will eventually be bulging with brochures, fliers and handbills that people have given you.  This week I received one (which I’m holding up here):  The End of the World is Almost Here!  Holy God will bring judgment day on May 21, 2011.  Now, that’s exactly six months from today.  I’m skeptical.  Human nature tells us that people are fascinated talking about the end, God bringing the end, Jesus coming back at the end.

Well, today marks the end of the church year.  We celebrate Christ the King Sunday.  It’s not an event day like Ascension or Transfiguration or Christmas or like Holy Week.  It’s a Day to recognize our faith in Christ as our King.

 

Christ is King, and today’s readings are specifically chosen to reinforce what kind of king Jesus is.

 

But in our Gospel reading today, this king is not clothed in glory; he is naked bloodied beaten dying on a cross, hanging between two common thieves.  Dying on a cross in a place called the Skull. 

 

Couldn’t we find a better passage in the Bible to illustrate Christ’s kingdom? 

 

It would appear to all that the powers of this world have rendered Jesus powerless, pathetic and irrelevant.  The Romans go to the trouble of inscribing “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” above Jesus’ head.  Pontius Pilate was being ironic, or maybe having fun at the expense of his good friend Herod, who wanted that title for himself.  It appears that the powers of pain, brokenness, suffering and injustice are ascendant.

 

As described in Verse 35, the people stood by watching.  People who had seen the triumphant entry into Jerusalem just a few days before.  They must be thinking “what went wrong?  How can this have happened?”  But Luke tells us how and why the opposition to Jesus had been building.  Herod, the chief priests and Pilate had almost nothing in common.  The only characteristic they shared was their love of their own power, and their determination to keep that power at all costs.

 

But Jesus had been winning over the crowds.  His message of love, humility, charity were looking to win the day.

 

In Luke 20:19, “the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.”  In Luke 22:2 “The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.”  Now, here in this Gospel passage, Pilate, Herod and the Chief Priests seemed to have vanquished this threat to their authorities, while the people stood by watching.  We read this passage and we are there standing by, watching, powerless, frightened. 

 

The leaders scoff at him.

 

“He saved others, let him save himself!”  Not this king.  But this is the point of Christ the King Sunday.  This King does not save himself.  He saves us.

 

What kind of king is this Jesus?  There are two words in this reading that show how Jesus exercises his dominion.  In the midst of all this mockery, hatred, the arrogance of Rome, the small-mindedness of the scribes and the chief priests, throwing insults and spitting hatred up at him, Jesus enacts his authority thus:

 

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing!”  Pilate tells Jesus that he has his life in his hands.  Jesus, here, shows that he has our lives in His hands.  Jesus does not wash his hands of us.  He takes up our cause, chooses to defend us, to die for us.  This is a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  This is truly a KING!  The king of love my shepherd is.

 

The first thief derides (and in another translation blasphemes) Jesus, and also begs Jesus, “If you’re really who you say you are, what are you waiting for?  Save yourself and us!”  This man Jesus who has shown power over disease, weather, blindness, demons, even death!   Now both these thieves, we can assume are equally guilty, being sentenced for the same crimes. The only difference is that the second thief recognizes Jesus for who he is.  And he recognizes his own sinful nature, his own brokenness, his own need.  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

 

The second thing Jesus says is:

 

“Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  This is how Jesus ends his earthly mission, his last words to a fellow mortal, his last miracle as a man.  But just as it is the end, it is also the beginning….. The beginning of his authority as the Son of Man, giving mercy to us sinners.  Now, spoiler alert!  Unlike the crowds, the Romans, the scoffers, the powers that be that have been watching and participating and delighting in this foulest of all crimes, we know what happens next.  Jesus dies, but in so doing meets death itself,  defeats death, on our behalf, and begins his reign.  What a different sort of king.  A lamb is now seated on the throne.  Not Caesar the all-powerful, not Herod his puppet king, or Pilate his lackey, but a lamb.

 

It would appear in this Gospel today that the powers of this world have rendered Jesus powerless, pathetic and irrelevant.  But the reverse is true.   Two thousand years later, it still seems sometimes that the poor, the powerless, the voiceless, those who are persecuted, and those that are denied justice or dignity have no king or president to take up their cause.   Last night we held a memorial service for transgendered people who have been the victims of violent deaths.  We did not do this to express our sadness, although the reading of the names was not happy.  The youngest victim was a sixteen-month old baby boy who was beaten to death because the father wanted him to try acting more like a boy than a baby girl.  This memorial service was about giving voice to our anger, but also committing ourselves as a church, as a people, to make sure that this church commits itself to show love, God’s love for all, regardless of age, race, culture, national origin, immigration status, sexuality, gender identity, profession.  It says it right here on our brochure!

 

The season of Advent begins next week   That is when you and I come in.  To open the doors of this palace at 61 Church Street, and invite everyone to meet the newborn king born in a manger.   

 

The season of Advent begins next week.  The world will not end six months from today.  But the world of sin and brokenness and death has ended for us.  And Christ’s reign as our most righteous king, our champion, our friend, our vindicator, the one who lifts us up, who loves us, who remembers us, who laughs when we laugh, who dries our tears when we cry, this king is here now.

 

And that kingdom will NEVER end.