Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year
(Proper 29)

Text: Colossians 1:15, 20
Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things…. Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.

The crucified King

Things are not always what they seem.  What seems to be the most obvious can be awfully wrong.

An organist was practicing one day in a great church in Europe. A man came up to the organ and asked if he could play. The organist looked at him and thought to himself, “I shouldn’t let this man play, just look at him, he is unshaven, his clothes are dirty, and he looks like a bum”. So he told the man no. But the unkempt stranger asked again and again.

Finally the organist let him play thinking he wouldn’t play very long, after all what does a bum know about organs. The bum’s fingers danced over the keyboard in a way the organist hadn’t heard in his lifetime. The stranger played on and on. The organist was spellbound. When the stranger got up to leave, the organist could not contain himself and shouted, “Who are you, what is your name?” As the stranger, who looked like a bum slowly walked away, turned over his shoulder and said, “My name is Felix Mendelssohn.” The organist gasped.

Things were certainly not as they appeared to be.

The gospel reading today is another one of those cases where things are not what they seem to be. 

We heard the account of Jesus’ crucifixion as recorded in Luke’s gospel.  We are told how Jesus was nailed to a cross between two criminals. 
He is weak from all the beatings;
his clothes are stripped from him and soldiers gamble for his robe;
he suffers the mockery of those standing around the cross. 
They call out, “If you are a king, then save yourself”.  They laughed at his weakness and inability to save himself, they joked about his claim to be a king and now his unkingly naked body was nailed to an instrument of torture – what a joke and what a good laugh they had – a king on a cross – what a ridiculous idea!

But there was one person who saw something in Jesus that no one else saw.  In spite of the gashes in his flesh from the whip, the nails, the wounds, the blood, the nakedness and the shame, one of the criminals crucified with Jesus recognised a king. 
He said to Jesus,
Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” 
Jesus promised him,
“Today you will be in Paradise with me”.

A strange king indeed – suffering, weak, humiliated, despised, rejected and dying.  But the death of this unlikely king made us friends with God through his death.  God was going to stop at nothing to break down all barriers between him and all people.  He was even prepared to let the King of king and Lord of lords die in order to make everything right again between him and us.

This is where Paul’s letter to the Colossians picks up the theme of the kingship of Jesus.  The apostle goes to great lengths to emphasise that Jesus is God's Son; he is everything that God is.  Through him “everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities” were created.  If he is the creator of all these then, he is also lord and king of everything in heaven and on earth.  Paul goes on to say that Jesus is not only king of every part of creation, he is also head of the church; “he is the source of the body’s life”.  

After he has described in length that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings he goes on to describe something very peculiar about this king.  Things are not what they seem.  This king is all powerful, above all things, the lord of all and master of the whole universe, with multitudes of angels at his beck and call, living in the perfection of heaven.  Yet it was not above this king to get down and get dirty. 

In some fairy tales you hear how a king dresses up as one of the peasants and lives and works with them in the local village because he is tired of the fuss of the royal court.  But Jesus doesn’t just dress up to be like us, he is one of us.  He takes on our human nature and lived among ordinary people especially sinners and outcasts, including lepers and the demon possessed.  What happened to him could hardly be regarded as being kingly. 

He died on a cross.  Just grasp the magnitude of this.  The King of kings and Lord of lords, God's Son, died on a horrible human instrument of torture and death.  Not only that, he died for all those who are enemies of God because of the evil things they did and thought (Col 1:21).

In his usual clear and precise way, Paul says, “By means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence” (1:22).  That’s worth repeating to make it sink in.  “By means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence”.

Today is the last Sunday of the church year and it is traditional to talk about the end of the world, the end of our life here on this planet as we know it and the certain judgement of God on the Last Day.  When we think of the last day we are led to think about who and what is ultimately important for us all as we live out our lives every day. When everything in this world no longer has any value for us, who or what becomes our most important treasure as we face the future.

This image of the servant-king that Paul and Luke paint for us is so important as we face the prospect of coming face to face with the holy and righteous God.  There’s no denying that we are sinners. 
There’s no getting around the fact that right up to the last day of our life we will continue to sin in thought, word and deed. 

The Bible makes it quite clear that our sin condemns us and we would have no chance of surviving the judgement of God on the last day.  But Paul makes it clear that there is nothing to be afraid of.  Christ has died for us.  Jesus is master and king over sin, death and the power of Satan to condemn us.  Jesus’ death has made us friends with God again and made us holy, pure and faultless.  Our sin has been wiped away.  Forgiven.  Forgotten.  We will be welcomed into heaven.

Isn’t that what happened to the man dying next to Jesus.  In his moment of deepest agony, Jesus tells the criminal who sees in Jesus a king – a king whose power and authority far exceeds that of Pilate or even death - that his sin will no longer be held against him.  “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.  At a moment when all would seem to be hopeless and without a future, Jesus is truly a king.  He pardons and assures the man that he will be with him in Paradise. 

The word ‘paradise’ indicates a garden or a park, the kind a king would have.  No earthly king would invite a robber or murderer to walk in his garden, but Jesus, the king, died for that man and made it possible for him to be “holy, pure, and faultless” and welcome.  When we die or when the last day comes, we too will be welcomed in to Paradise because Jesus has made us “holy, pure, and faultless”.

Jesus came to call us all to trust and believe in what he has done for us through his death and resurrection.  He invites us to place our hope in him and be comforted by him when fear about the future grips our hearts. 
We have a living King.  He has taken care of sin and death and promises a future.  Without a doubt, there is a future after death and after the end of this world.  Jesus promised the man next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. 

We have a servant-king who died for us and rose from the dead, who has done everything possible to ensure that we need not fear what will happen.  At the end of everything, we are safe.

Kings and crosses don’t normally go together but in the case of Jesus they do.  Jesus may have been raised to the highest place and given the name that is greater than any other name (Phil 2:9) but this mighty king cannot be separated from the cross on which he died saving you and me.  As Paul so nicely summarised, His Son became a human and died. So God made peace with you, and now he lets you stand in his presence as people who are holy and faultless and innocent” (Col 1:22).

Worship this king of reconciliation.
There is more hope in his little finger, than in the power and pomp of all the kings and presidents, emperors and prime ministers, parliaments and cabinets, that ever were, are, or will be.
There is more power to change us and our world in his reconciling humility, than in all the battleships, bombers, and armies that kings, presidents and parliaments employ to change the world.

Worship this different kind of king, this Jesus, and trust him.
This is our king – nailed to a cross to rescue us from the powers of darkness and sin.
This is our king – risen and ruling, and “openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th November 2013

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