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King of kings and Lord of lords

  • November 20, 2016
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for November 20, 2016 (Christ the King, Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Jeremiah 23:1-8; Canticle 16; Luke 23:33-43

Title:               King of kings and Lord of lords

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5).

My friends, what difference does it make in your everyday life to claim Jesus as your King and your Lord?

Our seven and a half year old foster-child asked me an interesting question yesterday. He often asks such questions – it’s pretty standard for seven year olds! We were driving and he asked me about Adam and Eve in the garden. And then he asked, “Nathan, what does the word ‘Lord’ mean?”

You know, that’s an excellent question! What does “Lord” mean? He honestly does not know. It’s not part of our regular vocabulary. In fact, I doubt it’s a word that a child would EVER use outside of a church setting. Or even that we adults ever use outside of a faith context.

What does the word “Lord” even mean?
And what does it mean when we say that this Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross is in fact the King of kings and the Lord of lords?

We start today, on this last Sunday of the Church Year, with the prophet Jeremiah, who harshly criticizes the last kings of the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem.

These sons of David were still ruling over the people, at least in theory acting as royal shepherds who cared for and tended to the flocks of God.

But in reality these false shepherds cared more for themselves than for the people.

They did not follow the will of God in their leadership. So the LORD promises to raise up a new shepherd, a new King who will faithfully execute justice and righteousness in the land.

But what does that actually look like?

Since the examples of bad leadership are far more common and easily accessible, what IS the image of the faithful King, the righteous Lord?

Well, imagine a master painter who was preparing to reveal a large masterpiece which is designed to present precisely that image of the righteous shepherd King to the eyes and minds of the public.

Imagine that you happen to be present when this grand revealing is set to take place.

Now the curtain is pulled back. Lo and behold, what you see before you is a picture of the image presented by Luke in our Gospel today.

THIS is the masterpiece! Can you see it? Can you picture it?

Three crosses on a dry and rocky hillside, standing upright in the hot sun. Small crowds of people stand around, unsure of what to do or where to go.

On the cross in the middle, though clearly struggling in pain, there is a man who prays and who says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

But now, you may wonder, is this the correct image? Did the master painter get it right? How can THIS be the image of the King of Kings and the Lord of lords?

When most of us think of a king, we probably think of some medieval monarch who sat on a high throne and carried a big sword, waited upon by servants in court.

One who reveled in wealth and power, forcing others to obey his will and whim.

Like King Henry VIII, in his silk leggings and royal luxury. After all, nearly all of our shows and movies give us this kind of image, especially if you watch “The Game of Thrones.”

For us, kings are synonymous with power, the power to coerce and the power to kill.

But there is a much older, more primeval idea of kingship. This deeper understanding sees the king as the representative of the people.

And when the people are suffering or in need, it is the king who must sacrifice in order to restore balance and harmony.

In many ancient societies around the world, this original vision of kingship required at times even the sacrificial blood of the king, because it was the king’s blood which ensured the life and health of the people.

Luke’s masterpiece goes back to that much older and original image of a king who freely offers himself as sacrifice on behalf of the people.

What does it mean, then, when we claim this Jesus of Nazareth, this sacrificial Lamb, as our King?

It means that we have experienced our healing, our restoration, our freedom because of his sacrifice, his body and blood given for us.

But what does that title of “Lord” mean after all?

The standard definition is of a person who has power and authority over others.

This may be more difficult for many of us, for who wants to give up control and authority over their own lives?

We are living in a time when fewer and fewer people around us have any mental space at all for the thought that someone else might be the Lord of their lives; that someone else may have authority to make decisions over their lives, and have power to direct the outcome of their lives.

People have always wanted to be in control, but we are in a time when our technologies feed that desire and enable us to pursue ever increasing power over our lives.

To claim Jesus as Lord is to voluntarily give away our power, control and authority to this King who came 2000 years ago to set things right.

Let me say something now that may sound a bit controversial.

To me, the very nature of faith means that I accept the possibility that I may be wrong.

In the letter to the Hebrews, it is stated that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

My conviction, my assurance is that the world was made right, was redeemed by the Lamb of God who offered himself on the cross, and who now governs all humanity as the Second Adam, the firstborn from the dead, in a way which is beyond my understanding.

But I accept the possibility that I may be wrong. I believe that this faith claim is rational and historically valid and supported by a wide range of evidence. But, still, I may be wrong. We may be wrong. I accept that.

Nevertheless, I cannot imagine a better way to live!

When my heart beats for its final time, when I die and am set free from these limitations of mortality and I see God as God truly is, then even if our claim about Jesus of Nazareth is found to be wrong, I would not change a thing about how I have lived my life.

I cannot imagine a better way to live. I cannot imagine a better LORD to have.

Now that Bob Dylan is a Nobel Prize winner, maybe it’s perfectly kosher for me to quote him here in the pulpit.

And I will! Because he explained our human reality quite clearly.

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody…It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

You see, to take Jesus as my Lord is much better than being Lord of my own life!

It’s much better than giving control to some other man who thinks HE knows what’s best for me.

Even if we are wrong about all of this, I will gladly serve this Jesus Christ who chose the path of sacrificial love and who invites you and me to walk in this same path with him.

My friends, what difference does it make in your everyday life to claim Jesus as your King and your Lord?

Let us consider that each one of us is on a cross that we cannot escape.

Let’s face it: life on earth is not fair.

We are hanging alongside of Jesus with the two thieves in the midst of a world where there is no justice. And we will be here on the cross until we die.

Now, we can look at the challenges and struggles of life with bitterness and rage and self-pity, like the first criminal hanging beside the Lord.

“Aren’t you the Messiah? Why don’t you do something? Why don’t you fix all this? Come on God, and save us!”

We can shake our fists at heaven, convinced that we deserve better than this!

Or we can share the vision of the second criminal, the one who recognized his own complicity in the problems of life. The one who was willing to ask for help.

We can say: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus, be my King, be my Lord.

Jesus, help me to make sense of this crazy life.

Jesus, use me in your work to restore all things.    PAUSE

And if we do that, by faith we know that we will hear him say, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” May it always be so. Amen.

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