Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Gathering, Year C, Christ the King, Jeremiah 23.1-6, Luke 23.33-43

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
At the heart of our theology there remains an incongruous fact.  Kings don’t belong on crosses.  And to see in that suffering and dying in the most degrading way the redemption of the world is to see a whole different reality from what would be natural and expected.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to death declared “This is the King of the Jews”.  In doing so he was likely mocking both Jesus and the Jews.
“Here is your King, naked and hanging from a cross.”
And adding to the incongruity of it all, we, as a matter of faith, believe that it was there on the cross that Jesus achieved the final victory.
That condemned to die, he destroyed death.
That just when all seemed lost, the lost were found.
That in response to this unforgivable sin, crucifying the Son of God, all sins were forgiven for his sake.
None of that makes sense and yet it is the very core of our faith. 
And nothing is more central to the message of Jesus, than the “Kingdom of God”.  That was his proclamation.  “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”
And with those words on his lips Jesus set about the work of gathering God’s children into the fold, like a shepherd gathers the sheep, that they might live forever in the Kingdom of God.
And following his death and resurrection Jesus would send his disciples out to the four corners of the earth to gather people from all nations.  It is work that continues to this day.
When we declare that our God given purpose of our congregation is to “welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community” we are setting ourselves to the task of Kingdom building.
I was reading this last week some observations about the differences between the conservative church bodies and the liberal ones.
In today’s highly polarized climate, you can tell whether you are in a liberal church or a conservative one by the way they describe themselves.
This person went on to observe that if the church emphasizes that “All are welcome” it is a liberal church.  Meanwhile, conservative church bodies often describe themselves as “bible believing” which often times translates to believing certain passages of the bible, more than others.
In this regard, though I certainly believe the Bible, I’m unapologetically a liberal Christian for I do believe that all are welcome, that Jesus came to save all sinners, and that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
At the center of this message is the recognition that when we say “Jesus is Lord” and declare that the “Kingdom of God is at hand” we are making an absolute claim.
Jesus is the only Lord.
He is not merely a king among kings, but the Lord and ruler of all.
His Kingdom extends, not only to the end of the earth and includes all people, but to the farthest reaches of the universe.
And for you, this King died.
But not just for you alone, but for all he died.

If Jesus is King at all, he is King of All.
We live at a time when the world is fractured and divided.  Animosities run high. 
When I was in Russia one of their observations of us as Americans was that we wondered why the world doesn’t like us, but it was clear to them, that we didn’t even like each other.
Well there is just no getting around it, we live in polarizing times.
Judy shared an article with me from CNN in which the author talked about just how polarizing our society has become.  His basic point was that not only are we divided and diverse, but we are becoming more and more segregated as a society.
People are moving, and liberals end up in certain communities and conservatives in others.  The red states are becoming redder, and the blue states are becoming bluer.
His point was that as we become so segregated, the conservatives all talk to themselves and become more and more conservative, and the liberals likewise entertain themselves with the notion of how far to the left they can move.
And we grow farther and farther apart.
The divide is deep.
And the divide is real.

And yet for all the differences, there is one Lord and Father of us all.
If we believe in the Kingdom of God;
If we believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life;
Then when we encounter another person, even if they are vastly different from us, our assessment should be that “this too is a person for whom our Lord did choose to die.”
Recognizing that, that around the globe and throughout our communities and our families are those for whom our Lord died, we are to go about the business, the Lord’s business, of gather them in.
One of my favorite hymns is by Marty Haugen:
“Here in this place new light is streaming
Now is the darkness vanished away
See in this space our fears and our dreamings
Brought here to you in the light of this day
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken
Gather us in, the blind and the lame
Call to us now and we shall awaken
We shall arise at the sound of our name

We are the young, our lives are a mystery
We are the old who yearn for your face
We have been sung throughout all of history
Called to be light to the whole human race
Gather us in, the rich and the haughty
Gather us in, the proud and the strong
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly
Give us the courage to enter the song

Here we will take the wine and the water
Here we will take the bread of new birth
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters
Call us anew to be salt for the earth
Give us to drink the wine of compassion
Give us to eat the bread that is you
Nourish us well and teach us to fashion
Lives that are holy and hearts that are true

Not in the dark of buildings confining
Not in some heaven light years away
But here in this place the new light is shining
Now is the kingdom, now is the day
Gather us in and hold us forever
Gather us in and make us your own
Gather us in, all peoples together
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones

Another hymn, familiar to us all sings the same message:
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
There is nothing more radical about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, than it's radical inclusiveness.
And that is neither a liberal or conservative agenda, but a God thing.
It was not a liberal that died for all.
Nor was it a conservative that so loved the world.
But rather the Lord our God, crucified and risen.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, one of our Lutheran pastors writes:
“Matthew once said to me, after one of my more finely worded rants about stupid people who have the wrong opinions, "Nadia, the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it." Damn.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

If I might be so bold as to add something to what Nadia said, it would be this:
That not only is Jesus on the other side of a line that we draw between us and others, he is working to erase that line and tear down that wall. 
In the book of Revelation, there is a vision of the Kingdom of God and the holy city Jerusalem.
One of the things that is described is the great wall that will surround the City.
But it also speaks about the gates.
Popular mythology talks repeatly about St. Peter at the gate of heaven, deciding who gets to enter and who does not.
But in Revelation, in the description of the holy city Jerusalem, there is one sentence that is truly insightful:
Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
The reason they will never be shut is because God’s entire purpose is to gather us in, not to shut us out.
Jeremiah writes:
It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back.
These words of Jeremiah may refer to God’s gathering his people together and bringing them back from their time of exile in Babylon.  That’s the historical setting.
But it also speaks to the end of time and the Kingdom of God.
God will gather his people from the four corners of the earth, and then, unite them under his gentle and loving reign as King.

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