Monday, November 21, 2016

"Towards a New Kingdom," Sermon for November 20, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Towards a New Kingdom”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 20, 2016
Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Luke 23: 33-43

        I’m thinking that God has been trying to tell me that our services have been too busy these last couple weeks, so this week we get a little bit of a breather from so much going on before Advent starts.  This is also the time of year when I tend to get hit with a cold and unfortunately, this past week is when I happened to get hit.  ‘Tis the season, nevertheless.  So, if you enjoy the shorter sermons, this is your week!!  Plus, we have Thanksgiving on Thursday, meaning we are getting closer to jumping head-first into the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping and preparation season.  However, today also marks the end of the year for us in the church.  Not the actual end of the year when we watch the giant crystal ball drop in Times Square, NYC, but the end of the church liturgical year.  The church/liturgical year is divided up into the Christmas cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, then the Easter Cycle which is Lent, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost which also has different colors to it.  So if you’ve ever wondered why the colors change on our altar and on the pulpit at different times of the year, that’s the main reason.  Of course, this is also something we can talk about at coffee and conversation on Mondays, I tend to geek out to worship and liturgics.  In between cycles is Ordinary Time, which is marked by the color green, a color we do see a lot of during the year.  But today, we come to Christ the King Sunday, in which we stand at the bridge to Advent once again, as this Church year ends and a new cycle begins.  Throughout this liturgical year, our gospel readings have primarily come from the book of Luke and in this season after Pentecost, we have learned from Jesus about the Kingdom of God through many of his teachings, in which Jesus points us towards a new kingdom. 
        It seems quite ironic that we are encountering a Gospel text that we ordinarily expect to hear just before Easter, as we are now standing at Golgotha with Jesus and two others as they are being crucified upon the cross.  Jesus is being mocked, adding further insult to injury, while the soldiers question whether he really is the king of the Jewish people.  See, in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem in Luke 19: 28-40, he was seen as the new king, and a threat to the people who were in power in the Roman Empire.  Jesus was also seen as a threat to the religious authorities in his time too, but that’s because this whole new kingdom that Jesus taught about would not be like any other, especially for the powerful.  It comes as no surprise that the use of the word “king” in this context by the soldiers crucifying Jesus is more sarcastic and more of an insult to Jesus and his followers, who can only stand by helplessly.  But the words that really stand out, at least for me is in verses 42-43 when one of the two bandits being crucified with Jesus says “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” while Jesus tells him “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise” (CEB).  Jesus is pointing us towards a new kingdom, a new kingdom that awaits us when we follow him and heed his teachings.  That new kingdom that Jesus is showing us is one where salvation and mercy reign.  More importantly, it is how we are living our lives today that will also show us towards a new kingdom. 
        Despite all that Jesus is going through, the gruesomeness of his crucifixion, the mocking and taunts by the Roman soldiers, we see a glimmer of hope in Jesus’s words, “Today you will be with me in Paradise…” (Lk. 23: 43, CEB).  As the New Interpreter’s Commentary says,
like the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame in Jesus’s parable of the great banquet (Lk. 14: 21), the criminal would feast with Jesus that day in paradise.  Like the wretched Lazarus who died at the rich man’s gate (16: 19-31), he would experience the blessing of God’s mercy.[i]

And that’s the main crux of this new kingdom that Jesus is pointing us towards, as it’s a kingdom of mercy, a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of hope.  If we are to back up even further to our reading in Jeremiah, the prophet is pointing to a new kingdom and a new day when he says in chapter 23, verses
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous descendant[a] from David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness
        Even the prophet saw that a new day was on the horizon, although Jeremiah was also talking of a new future, as the present world of that time was corrupt.  Yep, if we think our world is corrupt today, it was corrupt then too!  When we put two and two together, we see that Jesus was believed to be the one to bring that new day to the people, and even on the cross, talks of being with him in paradise in the new kingdom.  Even today, we can still utter, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23: 42, NRSV). 
        Jesus’s message of a new kingdom is a great message of salvation, of being saved when we come to Jesus and ask Jesus to remember us too.  That is the good news, knowing that despite all the calamities of the world and things that go on around us, we can still come to Jesus, we can still confess our sins and wrongdoings to him, as this is the amazing, perfect, abiding love that Jesus gives us from the cross and from what he has taught us throughout his earthly ministry, even amidst the persecution and the violent way he was executed.  This is how we are redeemed when we follow Jesus, as we too can be in paradise with him when we complete this journey on earth.  This is God’s great story to us on the earth of now, a story that should give us hope as Jesus’s followers and disciples.  Jesus’s death is not the ultimate end of the story because he will show us towards a new kingdom, even in his death.
What God will do next is, of course, the heart of the Gospel. In raising Jesus from the dead, God will vindicate him as Messiah and Lord, not to condemn, but to reign in mercy.  This is the gift of a new opportunity to return to God and the gift of the Holy Spirit, renewing the promise "for you and for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:37-39).[ii]
        It is a great time of renewal, especially as we spend this week giving thanks to God for the things of this past year which we are most thankful for, but also to begin preparing our hearts and minds for the new hope that can be born in each of us at Christmas.  Next week, we start a new year in the church once again, Advent in which we .  We start the story over again, this time according to the Gospel of Matthew.  But it is this new kingdom that we can keep hoping for and working towards, even today.  And based on what we see in the news often, perhaps we need this new kingdom here on earth more than ever, where all of God’s children will be in paradise with Jesus, especially all who are considered marginalized by the rest of society.  And so as we gather with our families and friends this Thursday for Thanksgiving, let us continue to remember Christ, our king and the amazing, unending love he showed for us as we keep working towards and hoping towards a new kingdom. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

[i] The New Interpreter’s Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 458. 
[ii] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Luke 23: 33-43 by David Tiede’. November 21, 2010. Accessed November 17, 2016.

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