Monday, December 2, 2013

Jesus, remember me

Luke 23: 33-43, NT page 89 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leader scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Sermon There are at least two ways to look at something, and maybe you could so far to say that there are as many ways to look at something as there are people to look at it. Last Thursday during Disciple Bible Study, a three hour Bible study course that includes all kinds of homework but that gives anyone who takes the course a true knowledge of scripture, Lee Brown, one of the participants, told the class about a friend of hers who never went to church and who never brought his family to church. There are a lot of ways to look at this situation which is becoming more and more common. You can accuse these people who never make it to church of not taking their faith seriously, you can say that they are missing out on the joy of being with other believers, there are more than two ways to look at their situation, but when Lee asked her friend why he doesn’t have his young children in church, he told her that they were home churched. Things have changed in the world, and while home schooling wasn’t an option you heard much about 20 and 30 years ago, the rise in home schooling shows that there is more than one opinion when it comes to education just as there is more than one opinion when you look at all kinds of things. Take my grandfather’s goat for instance. My grandfather was raised in a place called the Caw-Caw Swamp, a rural part of the Low Country of South Carolina filled with alligators and deer. And where there were alligators and deer so there were hunters, both legal and illegal, and that’s where my grandfather’s father came in. My great-grandfather was a game warden in the Caw-Caw Swamp who arrested poachers among other things. And that’s where my grandfather’s goat came in. It was my grandfather’s job as a young boy to raise goats that his father would use as bait to catch poachers. The goat would be tied to a tree near the road, and whenever a truck pulled to a stop to shoot the goat from the road my great-grandfather the game warden of the Caw-Caw Swamp would be there to arrest him. You can tell a lot about the Caw-Caw Swamp based on the fact that pulling over on the road to shoot animals from your truck was such a problem that my great-grandfather spent all his time preventing it. There are at least two ways to look at something, but in this case there are not, the Caw-Caw Swamp was that kind of a place, so my grandfather’s job was to raise these goats. And he knew that these goats would be used by his father as bait. That was the sad reality – in order for his father to do his job of stopping illegal hunting, something had to be sacrificed, and in this case it was a goat. I’m sure my great-grandfather saw it as the necessary sacrifice of doing this kind of job, but my grandfather as a young child didn’t see it that way. He raised these small goats, and he would talk to them. Out there in the Caw-Caw Swamp there weren’t many friends to be made, so he told his goats everything he had to say. When he was sad, he told his goat why he was sad. When he was happy, he celebrated with his goat, and there was one particular goat that he went so far as to name Daisy. When my grandfather knew the time was drawing near when his father would need to tie Daisy up out by the road, my grandfather couldn’t face it. Instead he developed a plan – he would take Daisy away from the house to some place where neither one of them would ever be found. This place had green grass for Daisy to eat and my grandfather would watch her eat that grass and he would live on the milk that she would produce. You see – to one person this goat was just the cost of doing business – no poachers would be caught if a goat didn’t die. But to the other person, this wasn’t a goat at all, this was a friend. The same is true for all kinds of other things in our world. I am convinced that there is so much disagreement in our society simply because we aren’t seeing anything the same way. There are those who look at education differently – and because we look at education differently those who are for private schools and those who aren’t can’t begin to have civil conversations about education because while they are both looking at the same exact thing they do not look at it the same way. The same is true for simple things, like the question any of you are asked at Bucky’s when you go through the line: “roll of cornbread?” My answer is both, but not everyone looks at even bread the same way. To those with wheat or gluten allergies, a roll looks like an upset stomach but to me it’s just delicious. Then we have abortion, birth control, and gay marriage - there are those who call the death penalty justice while others call it murder, and in our second scripture lesson for this morning, here we have a man sentenced to death – and some saw this event as his great humiliation while we call it part of the greatest event in human history. The cross itself is a symbol that you can look at differently. To the Romans, that cross was their electric chair, it was how they exercised capital punishment. But it was more than just that because they always did it publically – when you rode or walked in to a Roman city, instead of a great sign from the Chamber of Commerce saying, “Welcome to Galilee, we’re glad you came to see us,” a visitor would ride into town and would know by the men and women hanging on crosses on either side of the road that this was a place where one should not step out of line. The cross was the symbol or order, what they called the peace of Rome. It was a symbol of justice to them as well, and more than that, the cross was the great symbol of their power. But there are at least two ways to look at something. Today we consider the cross and do not see Rome, as those who crucified him are not as important now as the one who was crucified. Nor do we look at the cross and see a victim, a powerless criminal – for God has taken this symbol and made it into something else. God has taken this symbol of humiliation, of powerlessness, and made it the great sign of God’s strength. While the citizens of the Roman world saw this symbol and thought of Roman power, we all here look at this instrument of death and see nothing if not a throne for the King of Kings. And this is the power of God – to take something as humiliating as death on a cross, to take something that was so clearly the end, and turn it into something else completely. Today is Christ the King Sunday, so today we consider the cross, not as a symbol of Roman power but of divine power – we see it today not as a symbol of death even, but as a symbol of everlasting life. We celebrate Christ the King Sunday and we acknowledge him as Lord of all, but we also acknowledge that because of who Christ is, there is always two ways to look at something. Consider the choir’s anthem, for they sang it well. Christ is a paradox of sorts, just as life has become a paradox because of Christ. Today you can look at divorce and see the clear end. You can look at your divorce and see failure, but if God took an instrument of death and made it an instrument of life, why would you not look at your divorce with new eyes? It could just as well be a door opening, so why call it anything else? Then there are those with depression, even those who have, because of their depression descended into the deepest sadness. And there they lye convinced of their humiliation, convinced that their failure has been made clear and that worthlessness is certain. But if Christ can take the great symbol of humiliation, the symbol that Rome used to show their people that the power of Rome was greater than all other power – if Christ can take that symbol and make it not a sign of humiliation but a sign of victory, why not look at depression through the same lens. A cry for help can get you the help that you need, so why look at it any other way? Don’t you see that bankruptcy doesn’t have to be the thing that they say it is? Because of Christ, don’t you see that nothing has to be what the world has told you that it is? And you are not who they say you are even. Because of Christ, because he is King, the powers that seem to govern this world have lost their power over you. You are no longer who they say you are nor are you defined by their terms that the world imposes. If the world has been telling you that you are too old to be beautiful, too fat or too thin, know that you are not defined by who they say you are but by who God says you are – and to God you have been made in the image of divinity. If the world has been telling you that it is too late, that you are too far gone, that it is over, know that the great Roman tool for silencing dissenters and bringing their power to an end became to God the great sign of new beginnings – where Rome preached death God preached life so why would you give up now? If you are sure that sin defines you, that hopelessness has overcome you, and that sadness has swept over you and covered you up – look here and know that no power is as great as the power of God. Christ is King. He is Lord of Lords – and you are not who they say you are - no more than he was who they said he was. Halleluiah. Amen.

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