This is the last Sunday of the Church Year which recent tradition has often labeled Christ the King Sunday. The gospel lesson from the year we spend in Luke is a preaching opportunity I relish. The criminal on the cross is the bane of the theologian, but I’d bet one of the best remembered by ordinary folks. He scrambles everybody’s system, but he holds out the greatest hope. And of course is rests simply on the Grace of the King. It rests on sovereign choice. This sermon for Christ the King Sunday, is a meditation on that King’s Choice. Why is rightly causes fear…and why it should cause love.
Two of the traditional attributes of God are His Sovereignty and His Goodness. This sermon reflects on the conflict those appear to produce today. I can’t help but look at our culture and see a people who are, against what they actually say, aware of God’s sovereignty but don’t believe or trust in His Goodness. Take Christopher Hitchens for a second, his biggest applause line was always, “God’s a bloody tyrant”. His logic doesn’t work. Just because someone is a tyrant doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (Don’t even try, it’s an applause line appealing to felt emotion and not logic.) But, in almost every level of culture the same idea is expressed. Keanu Reeves calls God “a kid with an ant farm” in the B-movie Constantine. A little more heady, the Walking Dead, about a resurrection of sorts, keeps returning to themes of tyranny and tribalism. Only the tribes with a strong leader survive. The mantra of a generation appears to be “don’t judge me” and the noticing of something is taken as akin to tyranny. Nietzsche called Christianity a religion of slaves for a couple of reasons: a) the first reasons was the God used his power on the side of the slaves against the “supermen” but that leads to b) God is the only “superman” or the only tyrant allowed to stand. What these all share is an attribution of power to God, but not goodness. Hence my final line “zombie apocalypse of tyranny”. A God who was only powerful, who was just the resurrection, would do something like that. And that is our cultural bug-a-boo, we still have an idea or a feeling of the power of God, but we have lost faith in the Goodness. And we have lost faith with the Goodness because we have severed ourselves from Christ and the body of Christ.
It is only in the incarnation of Jesus that we can fully observe and take in the goodness of God. Unlike our power, God uses his power for good. And that includes the bestowing of life on all who believe. Jesus is the resurrection (power) and the life (goodness). And that life is not tyranny but “full of grace and truth”. But the only place you find both the resurrection and the life is connected to the body of Christ which is the church. Connected through Word and Sacrament, proclamation of forgiveness and incorporation in water, bread/body and wine/blood. Rejecting the church is rejecting Jesus. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting the goodness of God. The power is still naturally know by looking out the window. But the power alone isn’t enough. We need law and gospel. We need power and goodness. We need the resurrection and the life.
We are scandalized by the patchy nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. It appears capricious. It appears unfair. Even the Baptist asked – “are you the one?” But isn’t the the real test of faith? When you trust in the goodness of God even when events look contrary? “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me” is what Jesus sent back to John in that prison hole. The restoration has started, but its not complete. The Kingdom comes where and when it wills. But the blessing of the Kingdom affix to the lowest – the good news is received by the poor. The one who is not scandalized is blessed.
To me, this gets at the core of modern problems. We are scandalized by a God who retains sovereignty. Even the authority to do nothing. We do not accept ourselves as poor. We can’t answer with Peter – “where do we go?” We have trouble seeing with Paul’s eyes – “If Christ is not raised, we are to be pitied.” We think we have better options.