First Congregational Church
November 24, 2019
Thanksgiving Sunday & Christ the King Sunday
Luke 23:33-43 & Colossians 1:15-20
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who have been around a while, I’m betting that at least some of you know that I have a thing about words and how they are together. And I love me a good oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp, awfully good, civil war, clearly confused. Even the word, oxymoron, is oxymoronic. It is a combination of two ancient Greek words: oxys, which means "sharp," and moronos, which means "dull" or "stupid."
There are some pretty famous people that have come up with some great oxymoronic sayings. Bing Crosby came up with the notion that "We're busy doing nothing.” Andy Warhol said, "I am a deeply superficial person.” Insightful Henry Ford said, "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business." And hilarious Winston Churchill said, "A joke is an extremely serious issue.” (Did you catch the punny added oxymoron - hilarious - Churchill?)
There is no humor in the fact that today is the last Sunday of the church year, which is also designated as Christ the King Sunday. There is a tinge of the oxymoronic in this designation, coming right before the new church year that begins with Advent - which starts next Sunday. It almost insensitive - putting one of the hardest parts of Jesus’ life - or, I should say, death - right before we celebrate his birth. And yet, here it is.
It’s also interesting that the people who come up with the lectionary list of scripture passages picked the one we will hear from Colossians. Members of the congregation at Colossae may have been incorporating pagan elements into their practice, including worship of elemental spirits. Elemental spirits are/were creatures like fairies, goblins, gnomes, elves, leprechauns, tree people, brownies and the like, who possessed supernatural powers. So the letter to the Colossians declares Christ's supremacy over the entire created universe and encourages Christians to lead godly lives.
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Thank you, Cathy and Rob. If you haven’t noticed, I included this weird graphic in the bulletin. This is the sort of thing that grabbed my attention in seminary. In those nine verses from Colossians, the most important one is verse 18 - the line that begins with the letter ‘e’. Christ is the head of the body, the church. The line before it - verse 17 - describes what being the head of the church is like - as does the line right after verse 18 - lines d and d1. Lines c and c1 sort of go together in the build up - and down - of that important verse 18, as do the other pairings of letters. It’s nerdy, but it’s also artistic in a sense.
Pastor Chelsey Harmon, of Christ Community Church (CRC) in Nanaimo, BC, Canada, pointed out that “the structure gives us the same feeling that the words do: Christ surrounds everything, is before everything, in everything, after and at the end of everything. And everything is in Christ. We look out from within Christ and all we see is other Christ-touched things.” That’s pretty cool, too.
This observation of the lines doesn’t necessarily change any meaning of any of the words that Rev. Chelsey called a hymn, but it is pretty awesome, if that sort of thing charges your brain. But it does give you an idea that there is a greater depth to the mere black and white arrangement of letters. Add to that the fact that there is probably no other congregation in the entire world that would have such a point lifted up makes all of you rather special.
Sometimes - maybe even often times - maybe more often than we realize - life is a lot about that idea of opposites or pairings coming together. For instance, this week I realized that the bad news was that it’s was cold, dark, and cold and dark. The good news was that we got glimpses of sunshine every once-in-awhile, all-be they brief. The bad news is that in Barrow, Alaska, there will be no sunsets or sunrises for two months. The good news is that we don’t live there.
A woman entered an ice-cream store on the Kansas City Plaza, and after choosing which flavor cone she wanted, she looked up and found herself face to face with Paul Newman, who was doing some filming in town. He smiled and said hello, but her heart was pounding so hard that she could hardly speak.
She paid for her ice cream, left the shop, walked out into the plaza, and at last realized her purchase was nowhere to be found. Going back into the store to see if she could retrieve it, the woman ran into Newman again --this time on his way out.
"Are you looking for your ice cream?" he asked, and when she nodded, he said, "you put it in your purse with your change."
Kingdoms are ruled by kings. Funny that we don’t call them queendoms, but that’s maybe for another day. In our historic, human experience, we know that kingdoms are time sensitive. In this book of black and white, we know that God’s kingdom is not time sensitive, but beyond time - eternal, even.
Sometimes we get distracted by life - the ups and downs of being human - and we forget that we are a part of a kingdom where love is stronger than fear, where Love reigns supreme. We don’t always live out the life we were designed to live - one not lead by an imposing soldier on a war horse, but a promised Savior Messiah, who came to heal and make wrongs right.
This Wrong-Righter showed us ways to live through this life by living above it. Christ demonstrated for us the incredulity of asking for God’s mercy on those whose job it was to kill him. Christ demonstrated the choices we often have in life in determining our paths, even when it seems like the goofiest, most impossible possibility.
Being fully human, and at the same time, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation had the power to save himself, but chose not to. Even in that moment, he had the power to determine his path. We don’t always get such a choice, but a lot of times we do - even when we don’t think we do. In that moment, Christ didn’t have to ask for mercy that day, but he did. Majestic mercy from the middle of a garbage dump while hanging on the tree of death. Humble Majesty - that is allotted to us far more than we realize.
There is also the added irony that in this country, we will celebrate a holiday this week that has the very essence of it in its name. Even in that, the name is not Thanks-taking, but Thanks-giving. It is likely that none of us need reminding that the giving of this thanks can certainly be given to and for those who sit with us for dinner on whatever day your important people decide to celebrate. It is hoped - and my prayer - that a good many of us will remember that the greater thanks is for the One who has given us so much more for which to be grateful.
Even so, I will encourage each of you - and myself - to remember in the coming week that no matter how insensitively another may have treated you or how cruelly you may have treated yourself, that we take a moment or two to see from Christ’s splintered throne the King who gives life in the midst of death, and hope in the face of despair. As you journey through life’s difficulties and joys, we have the added ability to live with an awareness that no matter what happens to you or others, you can live with hope and in living with hope, live in Christ’s kingdom. And for that, too, we can be grateful. So let us do just that.
Holy King of Majesty, we thank you for the richness of this life that allows us moments to escape what might ensnare us - to grant us appreciation and gratitude for all you have done for us throughout time. Thank you for your Son and your Holy Spirit, your family that is our family. Thank you for those who love us and want the best for us, even when we sometimes stab ourselves in our own foot. In those times when we have failed to see and be your humble followers, we ask for your mercy and forgiveness, that we can live freer and more able to be humble, majestic forces of love and grace and mercy and healing for this part of our lives as well as for eternity. Thank you for the richness of being your children. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.