For November 20, 2016
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by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord, King of Kings – was executed like a common criminal with a couple of petty criminals. Not very kingly, is it? And then, to add more indignity, more shame; the soldiers knelt at his feet while he was still alive. Not to worship, but to gamble for his clothes.
And the people mocked him, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one.” It amused them to see this carpenter; this rustic preacher wrapped in purple, claiming to be the king of the Jews, the rightful king, the representative of God on earth. They knew what a real king looked like, and this was definitely not it. A real king had power and arrogance and a hint of cruelty, and this Jesus had none of that.
There it is, the crux of the matter for the people then, and if we’re honest, for people now, including many of us. We don’t want a suffering and dying God. We want a strong and powerful one. We want a Savior who can not only forgive our sins, but who will make us richer and prettier and more popular and help insure that all our plans work out for the best. Yes, we want a powerful savior, a helpful God, a conquering messiah, a king who conquers. The Scripture shows us a man who is not anything like what anyone believes a king should be; not then and not now.
A Lutheran pastor I knew had been chaplain in Vietnam. One night he was in his tent when a young private came to see him. The private was newly arrived from the States and was scared, very scared, scared to death. The next day, he was going on patrol for the first time. And he was afraid to die. He cried, he moaned, he cursed, he prayed. He wanted the Chaplain to give him a saint’s medal, a New Testament, some charm or talisman that would keep him safe. He wanted the chaplain to tell him a prayer to pray, a good deed to do, anything to keep from dying. The chaplain said, “Look soldier, there’s nothing I can do to prevent you from getting killed on patrol tomorrow, there is no way I can promise you it won’t happen. There’s only one thing I can do. I’ll go with you.” (Personal story)
The chaplain walked into the jungle unarmed and unprotected to be with the soldier in his fearful world. That’s what Christ did for us, leaving the kingdom of heaven to live with us in the kingdom of this world; unarmed and unprotected, sharing with us in our trials and temptations, our dangers and defeats. That’s why we use the Nicene Creed on this day. To remind us that “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”
We are called to follow our king into places of service and suffering. We are called to live each day in two worlds, two realities, two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. We cannot permanently retreat from the real world which surrounds us with its pain and suffering, its hunger and disease, its wars and violence of all shapes and sizes. We are called by God to imitate Christ and put ourselves into the midst of the world’s need We are called of God to struggle with the world we see all around us, to be active participants in making this world a better place for everyone. We are called to plunge into the secular now, the world, to get in it up to our necks.
Yes, we live in two worlds, and the struggle is to not become so enamored of the one that we lose sight of the other. With Christ the King as our guide, we are called to see the hand of God moving in our midst, holding us up with divine love, pointing and gently nudging us in the direction of doing right, holding us back from danger and harm, filling the ordinary with mystery, so that like Jeremiah, and the Psalmist, the thief upon the cross, we may grab onto hope in the midst of desperate times!
Amen and amen.