“What Kind of a King Do You Worship?”
Psalm 46 & Luke 23:33-43 ~ Northwood UC ~ November 20, 2022
Earlier this month, many of us attended Remembrance Day ceremonies, and we did something that many had not done in their entire lifetime, or certainly a long time. Do you know what it was? We sang “God Save the King.” As the monarchy passed to King Charles earlier this September, the monarchy went from Queen to King. Since 1952, “God Save the Queen” were the words sung. And, as “God Save the King” was sung there were many emotions present. One area that, frankly, centres around any leader, is the nature and authority of their leadership. And we have heard these questions leading up to King Charles taking the throne. Is he ready for role of King? What kind of a King will he be? Is he strong enough? Wise enough? Powerful enough? Is he enough to be ‘King’? Similar questions are occurring south of the border as Donald Trump announced his bid for the 2024 Presidential election race. Questions of who is feat to lead? Who is wise enough? Powerful enough?
Our world asks these questions of leadership authority of those whom we look up to, of those whom we elect; of those whom we entrust to maintain the structures of power and authority. And when we make decisions of who we elect…of who we follow, we need to decide if they hold the kind of authority, if they can carry the power, if they can use it wisely. We ponder who it is that we choose. These are the kind of questions that a Sunday like ‘Christ the King’ raise for us as Christians. We ponder the nature of Jesus’ kingship; his power; his wisdom.
And they are odd questions because the nature of Jesus’ power is, frankly, very different from any power that we are accustomed to. We very quickly discover that Jesus is a very odd king, indeed. Let’s start with the nature of power that Jesus introduces. When we think of a leader’s power, it is generally a ‘power-over’ dynamic. The leader holds power over those they are charged to lead. What are some words we might use to describe a King’s power? Words like mighty, majestic, powerful, regal…they are some that we might conjure up in our mind. A King does not show weakness or mercy. A King comes in with devastating might and flexes political muscle over other nations.
In God’s revelation through Jesus, we discover a very different Kingship that God is seeking to establish. Those among us who embrace the shifting towards feminist theology have increasingly been shifting away from the term ‘Kingship’ towards the usage of ‘Kinship’. The usage of Kinship is meant to denote the kind of relationship God wants to have with God’s people. God does not desire a rule that is akin to a King ruling over. In Jesus, we discover that God’s way is that of being with ~ it is a kinship ~ God sent God’s Son to live among us ~ God seeks to be with us in communal harmony.
In the text, there is a reference to Jesus’ Kingship. He is referred to as “The King of the Jews”. This, of course, is a cruel joke that is being spoken. It is a way of mocking and insulting Jesus for being the King of the weakest nation that had been conquered…over and over…through time. In Johan Sebastian Bach’s composition of “St. John’s Passion” there is a very poignant moment that occurs. The community looks to Jesus after Pilate asks him that timeless question “Are you the King of the Jews?” The community’s response is in the singing of the hymn “Oh Mighty King, Great Forever.” Bach’s commentary, and our exploration this Sunday, is one where we quickly learn the nature of Jesus’ power. Jesus responds to questions about the nature of his Kingship saying that “my Kingdom is not from this world. If my Kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.” While our world names Jesus as “King”, we quickly realize that his ‘Kingship’ is very different than any other Kingdom that we follow, or value, or worship. Looking at the life of Jesus in Luke, the gospel that we have primarily focused in this year that concludes today, we begin to realize that Jesus’ Kingship has never been about establishing power or might or dominance…it has been about inclusion, love and grace.
For Luke, the Kingdom of God that Jesus is yearning to usher in is very different. And so, Jesus tells parables about what God’s Kingdom is like. So…what is this new Kingdom like? Well…the Kingdom of God is like the love freely given when a prodigal son foolishly asks his father for his inheritance, and that Father welcomes him home in forgiving love and throws a party. Jesus’ Kingdom is like that!
Or…the Kingdom of God is like a shepherd who cares so deeply for ALL his sheep that when one is lost the shepherd relentlessly searches for that one until it is found. Jesus’ Kingdom is like that!
Or…the Kingdom of God is like a rich one who gives a party when her other elite friends are too busy. So, the rich person throws open the invitation to the poor, the blind, the lame to be part of the feast. Jesus’ Kingdom is like that!
That is the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom/ Kindom that he is birthing! That is the nature of Jesus’ odd power! Jesus’ Kingdom is like that! Indeed, the power of Jesus Kingship/ Kinship is very different than that of the world.
So, we have considered the odd nature of power that Jesus holds. Contrary to the ways of the world Jesus’ power is very different. This shifts us to a consideration of the nature of Jesus’ authority. The text reveals the nature of this other-worldly authority. That powerful exchange with the two criminals beside him being crucified turning to him from their cross as life is slowly leaving their bodies, and saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Do you remember Jesus’ reply? He said: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” We begin to realize that Jesus’ authority is rooted in a Kindom that is not of this world. The cross reveals a God who will meet the humiliation, the pain, the suffering, the injustices of the world and willingly take it on. What kind of Kingdom authority is that? That is the kind of other-worldly Kingdom where Jesus’ authority is rooted. The text that Gary read begins in forgiveness…Jesus, on the cross as he is being humiliated and hurt, saying “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Jesus is speaking to God, telling God that we have a long way to go to understand the kind of world that he comes from. “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”…reveals the world of injustice, and misery, and pain that is inflicted from the top down. Jesus draws his power from a very different world…Jesus reveals God’s world. It is a world of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them”.
It is a world that promises hope: “today you will be with me in paradise”. And as the two thieves are being killed for their crimes, Jesus is there to reveal a love that will transform every evil, every pain, every injustice. The paradise that they shift into will be the paradise of God’s kingdom! I once read a theologian who noted that the majesty of a King is revealed when you look up at him; however, the majesty of Jesus is revealed when the people looked down at him. As the people looked down upon him, harmed him, spat upon him…Jesus’ forgiving love revealed the amazing depth of God’s Kingdom that was breaking in. This is our legacy…this is who we are…this is whose we are!!!
We are now at the ending of another Christian Year. Next Sunday we begin with Advent. Endings and beginnings are always times of evaluation, of goal setting, and considering how we will ‘be’ into the new year ahead, aren’t they? I wonder if this is a poignant time for us to consider ‘how we are living out our faith?” To consider “how we are representing/ being Christ in this little corner of the world?” To consider “how we are the hands and feet of Christ, in action in the world?”
As you know, we are doing A LOT of this kind of pondering in this chapter of our ministry as we prayerfull formulate a ministry plan for the future. And our considerations must, at their very core, take into account – both – how are fulfilling our mission and vision….AND how are further creating this kindom of forgiveness, of love, and of grace here at Northwood. Last week we broke up into small groups and talked about that. This week, I am hoping that during the Music for Reflection Time we will take some private time to consider how we will place Christ as the King and head of the church…how Christ will reign through our being. It is hopeful to see the stickies being populated on the bulletin board. How will further create a building to serve all? How will we further enhance our ministries to serve all? How will we continue to listen to one another through the considerations of change?
We started talking about the new leaders in the world. King Charles taking the throne; Donald Trump running for the presidency. And we considered their power, their authority, and the world that is ruled over by those in power. I wonder what might happen if Jesus was to run for an office of power; I am imagining his platform and what he would promise; and I am wondering how many votes our world would ever give him. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.