33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, God’s chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked Jesus, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Judeans, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over Jesus, “This is the King of the Judeans.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding Jesus and saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then the criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Holy living, crucified, and risen Christ,
The world is yours and all that is in it.
All things are under your feet,
And around, within, and above it all, you reign.
Remind us of this simple truth, this morning.
That all things are yours.
There’s a piece to the great banana saga that Danny talked about in his sermon last week that didn’t get mentioned at the time. It is this: I, for one, am extremely grateful to the Cavendish banana. Maybe you’ve seen me around on Sunday mornings with my banana and coffee…some of our young folks like to give me a hard time about it. I’m grateful to the Cavendish banana Danny talked about because I eat bananas like they’re going out of style. Seriously…2-3 bananas a day. They’re a great post-workout breakfast, they’re handy, and they’re extremely portable.
So a world without bananas, whether Big Mikes or Cavendishes, sounds to me like…I don’t know…the opposite of paradise that Jesus talks about on the cross in our gospel reading this morning. Like, if a kind of hell is the opposite of paradise, then hell, for me, is a world in which i have to find something else to eat for breakfast. I’m just not sure I would have survived the Great Banana Blight of the early 20th century. “Take me with you, Jesus. I’m not made for a world without bananas. Take me with you to paradise where I’m certain there are plenty of tropical fruits.”
If hell is a world without bananas, then paradise, at least for me, I have to believe, is a sandy beach next to turquoise water with a fruity drink and plenty of Big Mikes and Cavendishes to go around.
I wonder what paradise might look like for you, church.
On this Reign of Christ Sunday—or Christ the King Sunday—we close the chapter on yet another liturgical year and get ready to turn to the next page and begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday in Advent. We’ve made our way all the way around all the colors of our liturgical calendar and we’re ready to begin anew starting next Sunday. And as time marches forward, we both give thanks for the year that was and look with anticipation toward what’s coming.
Reign of Christ Sunday is a Sunday and a Festival to remember what’s truly important, what holds all of *this* together. Amidst the changing seasons and all the different liturgical feasts and celebrations, throughout it all, Christ holds all these together. Jesus is the central figure that draws us together as God’s people. And throughout all the divisive turmoil and frightening change of the world around us, God, in the person of Christ, is the one who is around it, cradling all of it in God’s arms; within it, walking with us through it every step of the way; and the one who stands above it all, guiding and pointing the way beyond all of the noise and shouting and harshness and cruelty that have become so commonplace in our lives.
Reign of Christ Sunday is an opportunity to recognize and remind ourselves, at the end of the church year, that all things are God’s. Everything we’ve just come through…is God’s. Everything to come…is God’s. All things are God’s.
Especially in the world we live in, we’re raised and conditioned to believe that all we have is our own, that we’ve made our own way, that what we have we’ve earned, and it’s our to do with what we want. Reign of Christ Sunday is a corrective lens to that worldview that says, in fact, it is all God’s. It is God’s action, God’s help, God who has done for us what we cannot do ourselves.
The prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God, reminds God’s people of all God has done. “Thus says the Lord, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them…so I will attend to you for your evil doings. I will gather the remnant of my flock…I will bring them back to the fold, and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing. I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and this king will deal wisely and will execute justice and righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which the king will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
It is God’s action. God gathers the people. God raises up the righteous Branch. God—the Lord—is our righteousness. It is God who saves, not us.
A salvation that comes through the crucifixion of Jesus. A justice, a righteousness, and a way of ruling that is completely unexpected. Not at all what we think of when we think of how a king rules. Christ rules from a cross, executed between two criminals The throne of Christ is affixed to that cross, a humiliating way to die, certainly not fit for a king. And yet Jesus is pronounced a king by those very same people who put him to death. The inscription above him reads “This is the King of the Judeans.”
Completely backwards from what we think of kings. Not a throne, but a cross. Not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. Not lush robes and fine linens, but a single cloth garment, mostly naked and exposed. Not a scepter, but a sponge of sour wine on a stick. Not royal decrees and pronouncements of judgment, but words of forgiveness and promises of life. “Father, forgive them… You will be with me…”
If our whole worldly system is set up as a race to the top, the dominion of God is a race to the bottom, to be found alongside those of lowest estate, those without, those with no status or wealth, the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the ones the world thinks nothing of. This is your calling to discipleship, church. A path marked by justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love.
It’s a backwards way of living, but it is the way walked by Jesus, and the way of discipleship to which you are called, Christian.
And around, within, and above it all, Christ reigns.
All things are God’s.
As we’re in the thick of our Season of Stewardship, I find this reminder extremely comforting. As we look at deficits, stare down budget planning, and try and get all these things back into alignment…all the while experiencing the very same things you are at home: costs on everything soaring, being asked to do more with less, trying to stretch every last cent further… The anxiety about it all is debilitating sometimes. I know it is, church. I know it is.
But this morning I’m reminded that all things are God’s and it is God who saves, not us. We cannot save ourselves. That’s God’s work.
It doesn’t excuse us from doing what we can. There is still work for us to do and a role for us in these tough times. But I can take some deeper breaths knowing that God is in the midst of all of this, and is, in fact, working with us to figure it all out.
Last week, Danny preached about what people of God, and specifically, you people, us people, of New Hope, do when roads get tough and we’re not sure if we’ll make it all the way up this current mountain we’re climbing. I’ve been thinking about FM 1092 lately, the road just out our front door. They’ve been doing a lot of work on it this year, and they stripped it all up, and the past couple of weeks it’s been not super-pleasant to drive on. But someday soon, they’ll repave it. Someday soon, it’ll be a brand new smooth road.
When we’re climbing mountains and trying to overcome obstacles, there is no guarantee that we’ll reach our goal. And when we run out of gas, as Danny said, we get out and push. But when our legs won’t even work…when we’ve exhausted all of the energy that even we ourselves have…this is the exact moment for faith. When we get to the very end of what we ourselves are able to do, we finally must rely fully on God to get us the rest of the way. And what you’ll find, church, is that God has been there all along, helping you push, helping you get up the mountain…and that moment of faith is trusting that when we get to the absolute limits of what we are able to do ourselves, that God will get us that last little bit over the top. Trusting God to do what God promises.
Yes, there is work to do, church.
And we cannot do it without you. It will take all of us.
But we do not do this work by ourselves.
Around, within, and above it all, Christ reigns.
All things are God’s.
Thanks be to God.