Christ the King Sunday – November 24, 2019
The very popular TV series, Downton Abbey, was recently turned into a full-length movie. The whole plot is about the Abbey preparing for and putting on a 24-hour visit from the King and Queen of England. For those of us who aren’t up to date about the series, Downton Abbey does its best to present an upper-class “upstairs” country manor. We get introduced to an earl and his wife whose finances are diminishing, all of this while they hold expectations to fulfill their high station in life. We also meet the “downstairs” servants, ranking from the butler to the carriage footmen. In the series, we see these two groups tied to each other by strict hierarchical rules. On the one side there is the “upstairs” family and on the other, the “downstairs” servants.
The movie takes the viewer through all the fuss and drama of the Abbey preparing for the royal visit and trying very hard to be seen as “good enough” for the royalty. It was a huge honour to them, even if it was very brief. And then we also see how it gives everyone looking on the opportunity to gaze at the royalty when they admire the kids in their neat little outfits. How nice it is to be gawking at glamorously-dressed Meghan and Harry waving at the camera. We even watch it eagerly in the grocery store checkout lines. There’s something about it that makes us feel good.
Perhaps there are a few passages that could have paired better with our sensibilities about royalty. Think of Jesus entering the city with hosannas. Or Jesus walking through locked doors. Perhaps even the three kings following his birth.
Those aren’t designated for the Sunday of the reign of Christ. Our sensibilities are actually offended when we allow it to. We’d rather flinch and turn away, quite different from what goes on when we see Harry and Meghan in the checkout line magazine. The man we watch on the cross is being mocked, He gasps for breath as a sign is hung over Him to ridicule Him. He offers the people crucifying Him forgiveness and He promises a dying criminal that He’ll remember Him, with the assurance that they’ll soon be together in Paradise.
There are other readings that help ease this painful image of King Jesus. Aren’t we being brought closer to the cross of Jesus when we hear of forgiveness and joining Him in Paradise?
Roughly six decades before Christ came and lived among humans, the people of Judah experienced one of the greatest losses conceivable: the exile. They were invaded by a superpower of their day, Babylon. It was dehumanizing. In masses, they were taken away. The Temple was destroyed. The prophet Jeremiah was one who saw this coming. God’s Spirit urged him to warn the people, to plead with them to change their ways. As the exile became real, the Lord told the people through Jeremiah that there still is hope and promise.
To one’s surprise, the main cause of Judah’s exile wasn’t the dominating, land-hungry Babylonians. Rather, it was Judah’s own corrupt leaders from the inside. They were the Shepherds of Judah, their kings and, make no mistake, the priests as well. All of them were corrupt.
Instead of caring for the flock, they scattered them.
Instead of integrating God’s laws into the complete core of how the power structure did business, they chose the all too human law of “power fixes everything.”
Now things turn, and according to Jeremiah, the leadership of these corrupt shepherds unavoidably brings consequences that lead to suffering: exile is inevitable. So, Jeremiah springs away from bringing a message of doom and rather offering hope in God’s promises. We need to look beyond the horizon and see the promise of a new Shepherd.
A Shepherd who gathers, not scatters.
This is a Shepherd who will bring them back, not drive them away, who will lead them beside still waters instead of making them work or be on-call or be ready to respond to texts and emails filled with angst at all hours.
He is a Shepherd whose grace enables them to realize the intention God had for humanity from the beginning: to be fruitful and multiply, to flourish.
Now as Christians, we look at these holy writings from antiquity and can’t help but imagine Jesus and the Spirit at work. Surely the Gospel-writers did too, as they found ways to connect Jesus to the Old Testament witnesses.
Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus the King seems to be the One who gathers us. He includes specifically those that are left behind.
Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus the King bids us lay our burdens down and come to Him for rest.
The nature of this shepherding, this kind of kingship has cost Jesus dearly. The kings of the world resist it, they want to stamp it out, and they try to do so. This is what we see when Jesus is crucified. Subtly, but also blatantly we see a battle going on between worldly kings and the Divine King. There are corrupt shepherds and there is the Good Shepherd. Between the way of love and the way of evil, there is forgiveness, compassion, and peace. Zechariah speaks eloquently of this in today’s first piece from Luke.
Earthly kings at their best point us to our divine king and his life-giving law.
We are about to enter the season of Advent: four weeks of preparation lie ahead of us to receive our king. What does it look like for us to prepare? It probably isn’t much like Downton Abbey’s preparation for a visitation from on high. It doesn’t involve polishing a lot of silver or obsessing about how our house looks before we invite friends in.
No, our preparations are for a visit from royalty who always greets us with forgiveness, acceptance, and love, a visit from a king who humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross. He is a king who prefers the company of the lost, the lonely, least, and the last. A king who can hear the cry of the criminal and the cry of desperate: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is a king who promises from the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (1.)
1) Source for this message is from “Sermons that Work” at https://episcopalchurch.org
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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