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Sermon for Christ the King Sunday 2022

First Reading: Malachi 3:13-18

13“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” 16Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17“They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”

Psalm 95:1-7a

1Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. 2Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. 3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4In his hand are the caverns of the earth, and the heights of the hills are his also. 5The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land. 6Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 7aFor he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:13-20

13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Gospel: Luke 23:27-43

27There followed {Jesus} a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


 Count Your Blessings

The following questions were asked on Tuesday morning at our breakfast meeting, “Who or what has power over us?  Who or what rules our lives?  Who is your king?”  Now if we were in the UK, this last question would be a normal question since King Charles sits on the throne of England.  However, here in the US, this is an odd, seemingly ridiculous question.  Here in America, we practically worship the notion that we are free, that we’re the masters of our own destiny, that we’re in control.  Now before I use a word like poppycock, let me ask a series of questions.

Who controls your healthcare?  Think about it.  Sure, we have insurance, but the doctor’s recommendation and the rules of the insurance company usually determine the care we receive.  Who controls our financial future?  Certainly, we invest smartly, we save, we make wise decisions about what we buy and how we spend our money, but how much control do we have over inflation, over the stock market, over the prime interest rate?  Who’s really in control of our political future?  Sure, we vote, at least I hope you did.  I’m certain our votes were counted correctly, but how much actual influence do we have on who’s in the legislature at the local, state, and national levels?  What about your behaviors when driving your car, flying on an airplane, or even visiting a loved one in the hospital?  I could continue this line of questions, but I believe you get the point I’m making.  Yes, we’re free to make choices, but are we really the monarch of our lives?

When you stop and think about it, we really aren’t the masters of our own lives.  We must constantly live with restrictions and things that curtail our ability to be our own supreme ruler.  Now in some ways this is a good thing.  We have traffic laws to hopefully keep us safe on the roads.  We have financial laws to help control fraud and curtail embezzlement.  We have regulations in place that protect us as consumers and as patients in the health care system.  But even laws can’t always protect us and keep us safe.  Take my mother’s will for example.

I’m the executor of my mother’s estate.  Now one would think this means I have control over the assets she left to her heirs.  Well, yes and no.  When it came to those areas where I had joint ownership, such as her bank account and much of her investments, yes, it was up to me to distribute those funds as she directed me.  However, when it came to her 401k, that was resolved according to the laws, rules, and regulations that govern 401ks.  And now that the 401k has been divided up, I still have little control, because the rules and tax laws that applied to it when it was her’s, follow that 401k for the next few years.

Even in the sale and distribution of the proceeds from the sale of the house, I have little, if any control.  With the passing of my older brother, the estate must now go into probate, and the rules and regulations that cover wills and probate, now dictate how the estate is divided.  Hint, if you haven’t sat down with an attorney and discussed the topic of a will and a living trust, I suggest you do so sooner rather than later.  Your family and heirs will very much appreciate it!  And, while we’re on this topic, from your pastor’s perspective, make sure you take care of things like your funeral arrangements, your final medical wishes, and your burial plans and desires.  The sooner you do this, the better off your family will be.  The death of a loved one is stressful enough, don’t add additional stress by not making plans.

So, I guess the natural questions we must ask then are, if we really aren’t in control, then who is, and what am I really doing when I make all these decisions?  The answer to the first question is of course complex, simply because it all depends on what situation you are looking at.  It could be the courts, the IRS, your employer, your insurance provider, your health care provider, even election laws, just to name a few.  As for the second question, of what am I doing when I make all these decisions, the answer is much more simple, hope.

The vast majority of decisions we make have to do with hope, even if that hope is temporal and temporary.  We choose a fast-food restaurant in the hope that it will fill our belly and satisfy our craving.  We choose a gas station based on the hope that it will be the most economical way to fill our tanks.  We choose a doctor in the hope that we will get the best advice and medical care.  We make investment choices in the hope that we will have sufficient resources to carry us through our golden years.  We choose our elected leaders in the hope that they will govern with wisdom and for the good of the country and by extension of the world.  The problem is, when we really sit down and consider just how little control we have in this life, it can jade us, depress us, or leave us in despair.  So, I suggest we take the time to look at all we do have in this life.

If each of us were to make a list of all the things for which we’re thankful, I’m sure that each of our lists would be different—and personally speaking, my list, I’m sure, would be quite extensive.  Give it some thought.  No, do more than that, later today, sit down and actually write out that list so you can refer back to it when things seem hopeless.  There are so many things for which we ought to be thankful, I think we should make a habit of recalling those blessings on a very regular basis.  Think about it.  We give thanks for our freedoms, both from the forces of the evils this world, and the power of sin.  We give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy because we live in this country.  We give thanks for the availability of food, durable goods, health care, jobs, financial security, family, community and for our church.  When you take the time to ponder all we enjoy, we truly are blessed!

When you look at our readings that have been assigned for this week, in many ways they can seem troubling.  However, they also remind us that there are lots of reasons for us to continue to count our blessings.  In our first reading from the prophet Malachi, the Lord reminds us that He hears us and honors those who honor Him.  Starting in verse 16 we read, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.  The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.  They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”  Think about that: The Lord pays attention, writes our names down in a Book of Remembrance and spares us as He spared Jesus from the bonds of death.  God hears, God loves, and God gives us an inheritance in the same way as His own Son.  I certainly think these two passages should go on our list of blessings.  Now consider our gospel reading for today.

Our passion reading from St. Luke’s gospel might seem odd for this Christ the King Sunday, until you consider three things.  First, ponder the fact that Jesus had the power to forgive or condemn.  From the cross Jesus prays to the Father, “forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Jesus could have condemned these men for their actions, but chose instead to forgive.  Second, consider that Jesus had the power to take up His life or to lay it down.  At any time, Jesus could have cried out for the Father to save Him from this punishment, that is our punishment, but instead He willingly endured the cross in our place.  Finally, consider Jesus has the power to give eternal life.

From the cross, Jesus promises to the thief on His right, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43).  Again, if this doesn’t make our list of blessings, then we need to rethink our understanding of our core beliefs.  Now consider our epistle lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, again we can glean some solid reasons for counting our blessings.  Paul prays that the Colossians, and indirectly that we, might be strengthened “with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father.”  St. Paul taught that we should be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  And again, Paul gives us several examples for us to be thankful.

The first reason Paul gives for being thankful is for our inheritance.  St. Paul writes, “. . . giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints . . .”  Paul chose his words here very carefully.  An inheritance isn’t a reward for outstanding merit.  An inheritance isn’t pay for a job well done.  It isn’t something one earns or deserves or creates by one’s own devotion.  An inheritance is a gift—a gift that’s dependent on someone else’s efforts.  You may receive an inheritance not because you’re smart or energetic, but because you had a grandfather who was.  Or maybe, you received an inheritance because you had a grandfather who was never caught.  I’m kidding of course.  Mark Twain is famous for saying that he spent a large sum of money to trace his family tree and then spent twice as much trying to keep his ancestry a secret.

A child can come into a sizeable inheritance simply by accident of birth.  As members of the body of Christ, one of the inheritances of our baptism into Christ Jesus is that we, automatically, immediately, at that moment, become heirs of all that God has in store for His beloved children.  This a staggering fact that many of us have difficulty accepting.  There’s a story going around that illustrates this very point.

There was a believer who wasn’t quite the disciple he ought to be, and he knew it!  In fact, when he finally passed from this life to the next, he was deeply concerned that St. Peter wouldn’t let him through the Pearly Gates.  However, when he got to heaven he was welcomed with open arms.  “Are you certain that you didn’t make a mistake?” the man asked St. Peter.  “You see, there are certain parts of my life of which I’m ashamed.”  St Peter answered, “No, we didn’t make a mistake.  You see, we don’t keep any records.”  The man was greatly relieved and overjoyed.

As he looked around, he saw a group of men over in a corner beating their heads against a celestial wall and clinching their fists and stomping their feet in disgust.  “What’s the matter with them?” the man asked St. Peter.  “Oh,” said St. Peter with a smile, “They also thought we kept records.”  Theologically speaking, this story is full of holes.  However, it does make a good point.

None of us, by virtue of our own efforts, deserve to enter into God’s kingdom.  Our admittance into God’s family is solely because of God’s endless mercy and Jesus’ righteousness bestowed on us.  Our good works, when it comes to earning our salvation and entering into God’s celestial kingdom are “as filthy rags” as the prophet Isaiah reminds us. (64:6).  Our good works are a response to God’s grace freely given and the Bible is clear, the crowns we receive, we will cast at Jesus’ feet in honor to Him (Revelation 4:10-11).  God’s gift of salvation is an inheritance that was bestowed upon us in the moment of baptism.

Father John Powell in his book, Unconditional Love, tells about when he was serving as a chaplain in Germany.  A dear nun, 87 years young, was assigned to care for his room.  He says that every time he left the room, even for a moment, the good sister cleaned it.  She would wax the floors, polish the furniture and so forth.  On one occasion when he left the room for a short walk, he came back to find her on her knees putting a final sheen on her waxing job.  He laughingly teased her, “Sister, you work too much.”

The dear, devoted sister, still kneeling, straightened up and looked at him with a seriousness that bordered on severity.  She said firmly, “Heaven isn’t cheap, you know.”  No, our salvation was anything but cheap.  It cost Jesus his life.  Eternal life, because we receive His righteousness, is part of our inheritance.  We don’t earn it, we simply receive it because of God’s amazing love for us and because of Jesus’ obedience to the Father even to the cross.  Too often we forget that if heaven was based on merit, none of us could ever come close to earning our way in.

When we accept God’s grace in faith, our salvation is assured.  Our obedience of God’s commands, our walk of faith, and our works of righteousness, are simply our joyful response to all God has done, and is doing in our lives.  We have so much to be thankful for, we need to daily remind ourselves of all that God is doing for us.  That’s the first thing for which we can be thankful according to our text—our inheritance.

The second is for the Incarnation.  St. Paul writes, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation . . .”  A little further he writes, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he may be pre-eminent.”  St. Paul is, of course, talking about the risen Christ.  Without the incarnation, God becoming flesh and reconciling the world unto himself, there would be no inheritance.

A young boy came to a missionary’s side and said, “I love you and I want you to have this.”  He pulled from a straw basket the most beautiful shell the missionary had ever seen.  As the missionary admired its beauty, she recognized it as a special shell only found on the far side of the island, a half day’s walk from the village.  When she asked the boy about this, he smiled, and said, “Long walk part of gift.”  Crucial to everything we believe as Christians is this truth that God loved the world so much that He made that long walk to come from where He was to where we are.

Emmanuel means, “God with us.”  As we begin the Advent season next week, it’s good for us to remember that when it was impossible for us to reach out to Him, He reached out to us.  God gave us this tremendous gift, Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us.  God incarnate, that’s the second thing all Christians can give thanks for.  We’re thankful for our inheritance, for the incarnation that makes that inheritance possible, and finally, we are thankful for our inclusion in the family of God.

God has reconciled all things unto himself, says St. Paul, making peace by the blood of the cross of his Son.  John Haggai in his book Lead On, tells about Dr. Claude H. Barlow, a missionary to China and one of the most revered foreigners to work in that land.  A strange disease was killing the people.  Since there had been no research done on this disease, Dr. Barlow conducted his own research.  He studied the disease, filling a notebook with his observations.  He then procured a vial of disease germs and sailed for the United States.

Before he arrived, he took the germs into his own body, then went to Johns Hopkins University Hospital to be observed.  Dr. Barlow became very sick.  He allowed his old professors at Johns Hopkins to use him for experimentation.  A cure was found, which a healthy Claude Barlow took back to China with him.  His efforts saved countless lives.  When asked about the experience, Dr. Barlow replied, “Anyone would have done the same thing.  I happened to be in the position and had the chance to offer my body.”

Only a person with a very special kind of love in their heart would make that kind of sacrifice.  It’s that special kind of love from the heart of God that holds this world together.  Without that love, we’re all lost in sin and destined for destruction.  Thank God that love, His love for us, does exist.  Yes, we live in a troubled, anxiety filled world and as much as we would like to think that we’re in control, we’re not.  We’re all bound by things over which we have little control.  However, in baptism, we became part of the body of Christ.  We became inheritors as God’s children of Jesus’ loving obedience on the cross.  But most of all, we have hope.

This hope isn’t a hope that’s temporal and temporary, it’s the hope of eternal life.  Because of God’s amazing love, and Jesus’ incarnation, we have the privilege of serving the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made and in whom all things will be reconciled.  As we pause this coming week to give thanks and as we look forward to the coming Advent and Christmas seasons, take the time to stop and write out that list of blessings.  If you’re like me, it’s gonna be a very long list.


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