Sermon from Last Sunday After Pentecost

November 20, 2022
Proper 29: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Saint Luke 23:33-43

In nomine Jesu!

Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year, which means absolutely nothing except that we are concluding, until November 30, 2025, our nearly-every-Sunday reading of Saint Luke’s Gospel. Luke has gone to great lengths to remind us that it’s more than “the least, the last and the lost” whom Jesus embraces and enfolds into the Kingdom of God. Over the last twelve months we have seen Jesus gather a somewhat motley crew together, from “shepherds, abiding in the fields” to a bandit dying with him on an adjacent cross. This morning I want to remind you of them because, as Jesus gathers, embraces, and enfolds them and us into God’s beloved community, there still is much for us to learn about the shape that community is supposed to take as we seek, this side of Paradise, to be more inclusive. The message is this: In the beloved community Christ calls the Kingdom of God there is more to diversity than mere inclusion.

Remember, for a moment, those Luke tells us are embraced by Jesus and enfolded into Christ’s community: There’s Levi, the collaborating tax collector, called to be a disciple right alongside Roman-despising, collaborator-hating Simon the Zealot. Imagine that conversation! Immediately after that, Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s slave and, immediately after that, raises a devout woman’s dead son. Then follows the parables with their off-beat characters: the Good Samaritan, the prodigals – son, father and elder brother; the nagging widow, the unjust judge, the Pharisee, the publican — to name but a few. Then there are the “sociable:” the first with the proud, conservative, easily-scandalized Simon the Pharisee and the almost-last with his diametric opposite, a vertically-challenged, tree-hugging, tax collector named Zacchaeus. Round this out with several blind beggars, ten lepers, only one of which, the Samaritan (again) is thankful, today’s bandit dying with him on an adjacent cross, and, finally Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the nominally-ruling religious congress, the Sanhedrin, and you have a diverse and dissonant community that looks and sounds exactly like us in Houston, Texas!

Now, we could stop here and celebrate Luke’s obvious point, namely that the Kingdom of God is meant to include all sorts of people. But if we did that, we would miss an even more important application. Jesus, you see, doesn’t merely gather people together. According to Luke, Jesus deliberately points out the most unlikely of the bunch, makes them examples of faithfulness, and celebrates their special gifts! Of the Roman centurion, representing the oppressor, occupying Jesus’ hometown of Capernaum, whose slave Jesus’ healed, Jesus says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Or that selfish, opportunistic scoundrel Zacchaeus who, becomes the paragon of socially responsible giving “half [his] possessions to the poor” and repaying those he cheated at 400% interest! And then there’s those pesky, anti-temple, minimalist, non-messianic heretical Samaritans — one in a healing story, the other in a parable — whose behaviors are labeled “good” and exemplary to follow. That brings us, finally, to today’s “good” dying bandit who only appears “good” in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke reminds us with all these unique characters that Jesus not only embraces and includes diverse and disparate peoples, he also celebrates and holds up their unique perspectives as examples for us to follow and as actions worthy for us to emulate. A community gathered in Jesus’ name is not only diverse; it is also respectful of those on the edges and celebrates the gifts evident on the margins. Society, then and now, works in exactly the opposite way.

On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate a concept — the Sovereignty of Christ — that make our culture and us very uncomfortable. That’s because our normal thought processes contrast anyone else’s sovereignty with our own personal freedom. But that’s not the way Luke sees it. Luke consistently reminds us that, when we confess that “Jesus is Lord,” or “Christ is the King,” we are making, not a personal, but a social, political and economic statement: “Jesus is Lord,” not Caesar, not nation, not wealth, not personal advancement, not crawling over the bodies of others. Luke understands that, in the world we live in, everyone lives under the enforced control of another with consequences for those who live otherwise. For twelve months Luke has been telling us that “it shall not be so among you.” For Jesus’ community, the sovereignty of Christ which embraces diversity and celebrates the marginalized is contrasted with the rule of the world that creates uniformity and celebrates the powerful. To say “Christ is King” is to live as if real authority is derived from stooping and serving, not insisting, and demanding; and that real leadership is exercised from the nadir of weakness — the cross — not from the acme of power. To call ourselves “Christ is King Evangelical Lutheran Church” is to follow this kind of upside-down, counter-cultural lifestyle and apply it to every one of our relationships, and thus to become a diverse and disparate gathering of people, celebrating the gifts of the marginalized, living under the nourishing sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and seeking to lead by stooping to serve.

We may think of this as something to aspire to; the shape of this church in the future; or maybe even something we can’t possibly experience until after we die. But from his cross, Jesus lovingly disagrees. When will Christ’s sovereign rule come? “Today,” Jesus tells us. “With me,” Jesus assures us. And having said that and done all, Jesus breathes his last gift – the Holy Spirit – directly into us; then rise and stays to serve beside us today, tomorrow, and “to the close of the age.”

Amandus J. Derr
Interim Senior Pastor