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Sermon for Sunday 24 November 2019

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                                                    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.”


Well, we’ve once again come to the end of another church year.  And for many of you, this will be a busy week.  On Wednesday, we have the Thanksgiving Eve service at Antioch, then on Thursday we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and for the brave among us, we have the infamous Black Friday sales events to end the week.  Maybe that’s why they invented Black Friday, to help us burn off all the extra calories we’ll ingest during the Thanksgiving meal.  Hopefully in all the excitement everyone will take a few moments to count your blessings and give thanks to God for His provision this past year. 

Speaking of giving thanks, I heard about one 4-year-old boy who was asked to return thanks before dinner.  The family members bowed their heads in expectation, and they waited, and they waited some more.  After a long, almost unbearable silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, “But if I thank God for the yams, won’t He know that I’m lying?”  Thankfully, most of us won’t lying when we gave thanks this coming Thursday, because God has truly blessed us in so many ways.

The busy week ahead aside, let’s take a few minutes and turn our attention to today’s lessons.  Now I don’t know about you, but the gospel reading for today seems oddly out of place.  Think about it.  Even before Halloween, I saw Christmas decorations on the top shelves in Lowes.  And since that time, there has been ad after ad advertising the “Black Friday” sales helping us prepare for Christmas.  Everything in our lives right now seems to be on focused on Christmas.  And then we have this gospel reading for this morning.

The reading somehow seems more appropriate for Holy Week then it does for Christ the King Sunday.  Aren’t we supposed to be talking about Jesus as our ultimate loyalty, as the One who is the main focus of our lives?  Lent and Holy Week are months away, isn’t the subject of Jesus’ crucifixion more appropriate for Good Friday?  In some ways this is a bit confusing: or is it?

The real questions we need to be asking is, how can I understand Christ as King without understanding His incarnation?  How can I understand Christ as my King if I don’t examine the meaning of His life and His teachings?  How can I understand Jesus as my Lord and King without understanding His passion and death?  How can I appreciate Jesus as the King of my life if I don’t fully comprehend His resurrection?  And finally, how can I celebrate Christ as King of all creation without taking into consideration His ascension back to the Father to sit at God’s right hand in power and glory?  You see, until I stopped and really considered the readings for today and why we celebrate Christ as King on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of today.

So, as we take the time to consider our readings for today, I’d like to ask you to consider all the seasons of the Church year.  And a really good place to start this morning is to once again listen to St. Paul as he describes the role of Christ in our lives in our second reading for today: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether throngs or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:15-16).  This is a great place to begin to understand who Jesus is: Christ is the image of the invisible God.  In other words, anytime we want to look at God the Father, all we have to do is look at Jesus!

When Billy Graham visited American soldiers in Korea during the time of hostilities there, he made it a point to go to the hospitals and talk and pray with those who had been wounded.  One day as he was visiting a hospital, he met a young soldier who was lying face down in a canvas cradle because his spine had been shattered by a bullet.  A hole had been cut in the bottom of the cradle so the soldier could see through to the floor.

While Rev. Graham was talking to him, the young soldier said, “I would like to see your face, Mr. Graham.”  So, Billy got down on his back under the cradle so the boy could look down at his face.  Isn’t that a crude analogy of what God has done in Jesus Christ?  God came down to us in Jesus’ incarnation so that we would see what God is like.  This the first thing Paul tells us, Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  But Paul didn’t stop here.  According to St. Paul, Christ gives meaning to all of creation.

Paul writes that Christ is, “the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities, all things were created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (vs.16).  It’s probably a huge understatement, but I believe Paul is saying to us that Jesus is no ordinary man.

These are beautiful and informative words and one could say that Paul is using poetry to teach is theology.  It would be impossible for any of us to fully explore the depths of all Paul is trying to say in the scope of this sermon, but it did remind me passage I saw from a book by Robert Schuller.  Dr. Schuller wrote, I believe in the God who believes in you.  He was dealing with the late Dr. Stephen W. Hawking’s concept of “The theory of everything” or TOE for short.  Stephen Hawking was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University and was considered, by many, to be one of the world’s most brilliant people.  “My proposal,” Hawking said, “is the statement that the universe is a closed system.  We don’t need to suppose there’s something outside the universe which is not subject to its law.  It is the claim that the laws of science are sufficient to explain the universe.”  This “theory of everything” causes people to stop and ask: “If laws of science can explain everything, then where does God fit in?” Now before we completely dismiss Dr. Hawking’s theory as heretical, let me continue.

Dr. Hawking’s credentials are viewed as impeccable.  When he spoke, people listened.  They believe him.  And for those of you impressed with Dr. Hawking’s observations, let me share the rest of his statement: “Even if we had a TOE,” Hawking admits, “we would still be left with one final question.  What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”  And his answer?  “If I knew that,” says Hawking, “then I would know everything important.”  “So, we’re back to the possibility of God,” writes Schuller, “who puts fire not only in equations but in human hearts and souls!”  God does indeed!

For Paul, Christ is the “TOE”, the theory of everything.  To get a picture not only of God but also the meaning of reality, all we need to do is look to Christ our King.  He holds everything together.  His life and ministry give meaning and purpose and fire to this chaotic world.  Without Jesus, the world is a jumble of relative laws and incoherent principles.  And thus, Paul says to us, first of all, that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and, secondly, that He gives meaning to all of creation.  And there’s more.  Paul also tells us is that Christ is the head of the church.  Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty.  Up to this point we might get lost in the philosophical abstractions Paul uses.  But it’s easy for us to understand that Jesus is the head of the church.

Businessman Thomas Haggai tells about a minister friend who ordered some clothing from his favorite Hong Kong tailor.  The reply from the tailor came addressed to: “The Owner, First Baptist Church.”  Now stop and consider that statement for a moment.  As addressed, who was qualified to open the letter?  Who owns the church?  It might seem like a foolish question, or, is it a question that we need to think deeply about.

The story is told about the man who drove into a small town looking for the Church of God.  The stranger asked a man he found whittling on the courthouse steps.  “Church of God, you want?” asked the whittler.  “Well now, there’s a big church over there sometimes called the Baptist Church but it really belongs to Mr. Jones.  He runs it.  There’s a beautiful church on yonder corner some call Presbyterian, but it belongs to Mr. McGregor.  He runs it.  There’s a building around the corner I’ve heard called a synagogue, but Mr. Stein calls the shots there.  Then there’s the cathedral, but Mr. O’Murphy is the boss there.  You know, stranger, I don’t believe God has a church in this town.”  Could it be true that there are some churches in which this little story would be painfully true?  Whose church is it really?  And more importantly, if the church is the people, then who do they belong to?

It goes without saying that I’m not the head of this church.  None of us are the head of Bethel.  With Christ as our King, He is the head of this church.  If we achieve a firm grasp of the truth of that statement, I believe that we would go about things just a little bit differently in the church as a whole. 

There’s a church in the southern United States that no longer exists, due in part to an incident that took place in the church kitchen one Sunday afternoon.  A new family had arrived to take part in their first pot-luck luncheon.  The aroma of fried chicken, cowboy beans, and vegetable dishes wafted through the building.  The unsuspecting wife cheerfully brought her red gelatin salad to the kitchen and headed back to the fellowship hall to join her family.  The moment the pastor said “Amen,” hungry parishioners politely charged for the serving line.  

There were dozens of dishes to sample.  “Where’s our salad?” the woman’s husband asked innocently.  “There must be some mistake,” she said. “I’ll find out what happened.”  She reached the kitchen door in time to witness the queen of the kitchen ladling the last of her salad into the disposal.  “What are you doing?” the newcomer shrieked.  “That’s my salad!”  Without batting an eye, the woman looked up and said, “You’re new to this church.  You’ll soon learn we use only real whipped cream around here, not Cool Whip.”  She hit the switch.  The garbage disposal rumbled and gurgled and sucked the salad down the drain.  That one incident started a significant church battle that escalated into all-out war.

I, for one, am glad such things like that never happen here at Bethel, but it seems incredible that such a thing could happen where Jesus is head of a group of people and that’s the point.  In that southern congregation, Jesus was obviously not seen as the head of that church.  The woman operating the garbage disposal was.  None of us is the head of this church.  According to St. Paul, we are the body of Christ.  We are not the King.  We are the King’s servants.  Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the head of the church!  And when the Body of Christ remembers this one important fact, then the body functions with love and support to accomplish the work of God’s kingdom.

Explorer Ernest Shackleton and his party sailed for Antarctica on the very day that England declared war on Germany in World War I.  At their first port of call, Shackleton wired back that he and his party were prepared to abandon their expedition.  Shackleton received a one-word reply from his government: “Proceed.”  The cable was signed by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.

There are times when we’re tempted to give up the fight against the forces of evil and injustice in this world, but word comes from our Commander-in-Chief: “Proceed.”  Christ is the head of the church, and as our Lord and King we listen and follow His instructions.  There’s one thing more that St. Paul says about Christ our King:  He is the reconciler between God the Father and humanity.  

St. Paul writes: “For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (RSV).  Here’s the crescendo to St. Paul’s majestic hymn to Christ:  Jesus has reconciled us to God through His death on the cross.

A Russian fable tells of two men, a wealthy man and his servant, unable to reach their destination before nightfall due to a blinding blizzard.  The next morning friends searched for them and finally find the master, frozen to death, face down in the snow.

When they lifted him, they found the servant, cold but alive.  He survived and told how the master had voluntarily placed himself on top of the servant so the servant could live. Max Lucado tells this story in one of his books and then adds, “. . . Jesus is the master who died for the servants.  He is the general who made provision for his soldiers’ mistakes.  He is the Son of Man who came to serve and to give His life for a ransom, for you.”  That of course is our King in all His fulness.  Jesus made it possible not only for us to see what God is like, He has made God accessible to us.  He has bridged the gap between God and humanity. 

A wealthy man who was a powerful and popular man in his town died.  At his funeral there were many prestigious people from the political and business levels of society.  As these people drove up the road to the cemetery, they saw a huge throng of people walking up the roadway.  The sidewalks were so filled with people that many had to walk off the curb into the street.

A man in one of the limos wondered to himself, “Are all of these people coming to the funeral of Mr. Jones?”  All the people that were walking were simple people and didn’t look well-dressed.  As they neared the front of the cemetery, the crowd thickened to where a police escort had to make way for the limousines.  Finally, the man’s curiosity got the best of him.  He poked his head out of the window and asked the officer, “Who are all of these people?”  “They’re all here for the woman’s funeral,” the policeman told him.

The man in the limo was shocked.  “What woman?” he asked.  “Who could be so important?  Who is she?”  “Did you pass the school on the way here?” the policeman asked the man.  “Yes, we did,” the man answered.  The policeman responded, “She was the crossing guard for twenty-nine years.  These are the families of all the children she took care of all those years.”  One could say that St. Paul is saying that Jesus is our crossing guard.  He is our bridge to the Father.  By His death on the cross He has reconciled sinful humanity to its Creator.  That’s why we celebrate Christ the King this last Sunday of our church year.

But this celebration, this day set aside to honor Christ as our King, cannot be fully understood until we look at the big picture.  His incarnation at Christmas, His life, Holy Week, Easter and His ascension to power at the right hand of God, are all important parts of understanding Jesus, the mission He accomplished from the Father and the fact that He is the head of the Body, the church.  Moreover, He is the image of the invisible God and He gives meaning to all of creation.  He is the one who in His death reconciled us to God.  And this is why the church year comes to a glorious close as we celebrate Jesus Christ as our Lord and King!


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