Here are my thoughts for Christ the King Sunday (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6, Colossians 1: 11 – 20, and Luke 23: 33 – 43.
Some opening thoughts about this piece. When we are instructing/teaching/preparing people to give a sermon or a message, we often tell them to make their references relevant to the audience. I know that a couple of months ago I gave a message and one person commented that they did not a single individual who I referred to (though the list included Isaac Newton) and I have a habit of using songs from the 60s and I have absolutely no knowledge of today’s music.
So this piece comes with a caveat; it may be that you had to have been born before 1950 to truly understand some of what I have written. Those born after 1960 will have no memory or idea has to how this words came to be and those born between 1950 and 1960 will have some knowledge but not the exact knowledge that those ten years older might have.
As it happens, I am in that bracket of those born between 1950 and 1960. I have a memory of what transpired but it is not a very clear one. During the past few days, as we have watched countless shows about what transpired 50 years ago in Dallas, we have heard people talk about where they were when they were told that President Kennedy was dead. I know that I was somewhere in North Junior High School in Aurora, Colorado. I know that I sat with my parents, brothers and sister for much of that weekend watching all the events that took place. But I don’t remember what class I was in at North, nor do I have any recollection of what my parents might have thought or said.
That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t affected by all that transpired those four days. In fact, everything that took place from 1960 to 1963 had a direct effect on my life and the lives of my classmates and counterparts.
I was coming of age in 1963 and would, over the course of the next eighteen months, carry out the decision to seek the God and Country award in the Boy Scouts. It would be that decision that let me begin part of the journey that I take today.
Because it was the early 1960s, there was a great deal of emphasis on mathematics and science education and, with the space race opening before our eyes, I saw a career in the sciences as a possibility. In the spring of 1965 I would create a science fair project based on Newton’s Law of Gravitation and a trip to the moon in an Apollo space craft (one that was eerily prophetic when the fuel cell exploded on Apollo 13).
We who grew up during those later days of the 1960s were beneficiaries of the vision and thought of John Kennedy. We were taught and encouraged to see outside the box of traditional thought.
We grew up seeing opportunities to go beyond the boundaries of our land and outside the atmosphere of this planet, to see beyond the moon and planets and to the stars. We were beginning to since new opportunities here in this country and around the world.
Equality was beginning to have the meaning it was meant to have when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The threat of nuclear war and the total destruction of the world was still present but opportunities to seek peace were growing, both at home and abroad.
There was a struggle to find answers but there was a hope that “New Frontier” that John Kennedy spoke of was going to be reached. There was a hope that no one would go hungry or be sick or be homeless.
Some might say that those dreams, those visions, that hope died at 1 p. m. Central Standard Time on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. I am not sure that is true. There were still opportunities to see and fulfill the dreams and visions of those days. But I think that over the course of the next few years, it became harder and harder to do so.
By 1968, when I graduated from high school, the answer to so many problems was not peace but war. And the cost of teaching and thinking creatively was driving it out of the schools. And while true equality for all was the law of the land, its enforcement and acceptance was still difficult.
And now, some fifty years later, we no longer see beyond the boundaries of earth’s atmosphere, we no longer have vision of voyages to the stars as something other than science fiction.
As a society, we still measure equality in terms economic status, the color of their skin, their sexuality and their gender. We say to those who are somehow different that they do not have the same rights and privileges that we have nor do they deserve to somehow think that they should. We tell those whom we consider less worthy than us that they can have the rights and privileges that we have provided that they become like us and yet we seldom give them the opportunity to achieve that outcome.
In our apathy and ineptitude, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction. We, as a society, say that we are Christians and that we believe in the Bible. Yet, as a society, we have no clue what are the words of the Bible or what they mean and we are as apt to use some sort of Old Testament thinking and say it represents the words of Christ.
We take the words of a 17th century bishop and make them the words of the Bible and the age of the earth and mankind. We take the words of a 19th century pastor who offered a vision of the end of the world and make them the words of a 3rd century evangelist. And we do not allow our children to question either of these errors.
We no longer are capable of thinking outside the box because we don’t want to live outside the box. We see a world in which yesterday was better than today and we have no interest in even knowing what tomorrow will bring. We ask no questions for we fear the answers.
The title for this piece comes from the passage from Luke. Three men were crucified on Golgotha that day that we have called Good Friday. Our focus needs to be, of course, on the one in the middle, Jesus Christ, for it was His death that evening that means everything to us.
I think that there is a point in time in our lives where we are faced with the situation that the two men who suffered alongside Jesus. It may not be the life and/or death situation that each of them faced but there is a point where we have to make a decision, a decision that both of those men had to face. And so, the question arises as to which one are you?
But we have to decide which of the other two men that were by His side that day we are. Are we like the one who ridiculed Jesus, who asked, as did so many others, why He did not call out the army of God to save Him? Or are we like the other individual, who understood why he hung from a cross as well, but also understood that Jesus offered a new vision, a new promise, a new hope, even in the last minutes of his own life?
The words from Jeremiah for today (Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6) easily speak to each one of us today. Some will hear those words and know that they have answered the call; others will hear those words and think that they apply to others but not them. Those who hear but do not listen are like the first man on the cross, unable to see or understand the vision and promise of the Gospel.
There are those in Jeremiah’s prophecy that live today. They are the ones who see tomorrow, who understand what it means to have Christ in their lives. They may be the ones who getting “dirty” helping others. They see the role of the church as more than a meeting in a fancy building for one hour on Sunday. They have put Christ in their lives and, as Paul writes to the Colossians, are learning and do the work of Christ.
Yes, this is hard work and sometimes we get tired of doing it. And in a world that sees today as the best it is ever going to be, that sees divisions and inequality as the norm, it is not easy to keep doing Christ’s work.
We are at a point where we must make a decision. Some say that we no longer have the luxury of time; that if we don’t make some decisions at this time, we will never have the time to correct the errors of our ways. Instead of Sheol in the afterlife, it will be in the present. We will, in our own stubborn way, made Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” a reality.
But, as Paul points out, there is another option and that is to follow Christ and continue the work that was begun some two thousand years ago.
So, on this day, when our focus begins to change to the coming of Christ, we have to ask ourselves where our vision might be. Are we like the one who could not see the Hope in Christ and who died that night on the Cross? Or are we like the one, who in those last moments of his own life, found Paradise in Christ?
We have that singular opportunity. Which of the two are you?