Sunday, November 20, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church- Manchester, PA
Luke 23:33-43 & Psalm 46
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. Currently, our gospel readings come from Luke, but starting next Sunday – the first Sunday of Advent – our gospel readings will come from Matthew. The gospel lesson for this Christ the King Sunday takes us back to Jesus’ crucifixion. It seems an odd reading to end the church year, talking about the end of Jesus’ life. Luke points us to a time in history when the entire ministry of Jesus’ life – preaching, teaching, and healing – ended in his death. He spent his whole life showing people how to love and in that one moment in time love was the farthest thing the people around that cross felt. They mocked him by saying if he were really the King of the Jews he would save himself. What kind of king would not fight back? Instead, Jesus was still. He could have moved, but he didn’t. He chose to remain still, hanging in agony.
We don’t like to think of that image of Jesus. We want to run from it, put it out of our minds. It’s too painful. Running from pain and danger is a natural human response. We don’t want to stay there too long. And yet for many people pain is a constant reality. It can be in the form of physical pain or emotional pain, but either way we want the pain gone fast, and when it lingers it takes a toll on the person going through it and those around them. We start to question why this has to happen. We ask why God is allowing this to happen. It can wear us down to the point where we start to even question our faith because it has gone on for too long. If Christ is really King we ask, “Why doesn’t he do something about this?”
It’s really the same question that those who mocked Jesus at the foot of the cross asked. They said if he was really the King, he would have the power to save himself and others. We say it too. “Jesus, if you really cared about us you would do something about this suffering! You would fix the problems we are experiencing! You would make things easier for us! What kind of King are you? How long do we have to suffer? Don’t you care?” I’ve found myself in moments like this too. For all the people I love – and that includes every one of you – I want your pain and suffering to end. In moments when the tears fall heavy, I lament to God. When I read Luke today, I realize in those times I am no better than those who mocked Jesus.
The story of Job in the Bible is a perfect example of this. He was a good man who was plagued with one horrible thing after another. He lost everything – his house, his cattle, his wife, his children – and he lamented or complained to God all the time asking why this was happening to him. The entire book of Job is his painful lament to God in his suffering. Job had every reason to be upset. This man suffered a lot, but in the end after God listened to it all, God basically said, “Stop” “Be still” “Listen Job, who do you think you are to try to understand God or the things you cannot understand?” It stopped Job dead in his tracks.
When my daughters were young and they were about to do something that might harm them, I too had to get them to stop. Instead of yelling “stop” I would say “freeze.” That instantly got their attention and they would literally freeze like statues. They would stop dead in their tracks and turn to me. Then they would listen and hear what direction I needed to give them next. Until they were still they couldn’t hear and would have wound up potentially hurting themselves – like touching a hot oven, stepping on a piece of glass, or about to touch a dangerous insect. Sometimes being still can literally save your life.
The writer of Psalm 46, reminds us that despite the many dangers we may encounter in life, God says, “Be still, then, and know that I am God.” Sometimes God may whisper this to us gently as in the touch of a gentle breeze on a hot day. More often than not in our busy and hectic lives we rarely find time to stop and be still. We can become overrun with fear and feeling out of control we make ourselves busier and busier. There’s always a new reason why we can’t find time to take a moment and be still until God, like a parent who needs to stop their child from danger shouts, “Stop!” “Be still, and know that I am God!” God needs to get our attention. God is trying to tell us that all those things that we are afraid of, all those things that are causing us pain, all those worries that we have are distracting us from focusing on the One who is here with us, Jesus. God is trying to tell us that all those people who are promising us that they are the answer to our fears, all those things that are promising to take away are pain, all those people who are telling us that they can save us are not the answers. “Be still, and know that I am God!” There is only one God and it is not the people or things that hold only empty promises. Jesus is the only one who can save us. We have to be still in order to really understand and experience that.
Jesus knew that truth. That is why he hung on the cross. That is why he was still. Jesus knew this psalm. He studied it in the synagogue. It was written in his heart. He knew that only God could save him. And he knew that God would save him. He just had to wait. Jesus had to stay the course. He had to hang there and be still just a while longer. One of the criminals next to Jesus got it. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He saw Jesus for who he was, the real king. Jesus was not the king the people back then wanted and maybe not even the king the people want today. We want someone who will give us what we want, instead of what we need. Jesus, will always give us what we need. Jesus promised the criminal Paradise and we have that same promise. Jesus hung there long enough to keep us out of danger, long enough to keep us out of eternal suffering, long enough to bring God’s glory to us.
Being still doesn’t mean we are doing nothing. In that stillness we are able to hear God’s voice over the false voices that try and lead us in the wrong direction and we are guided by the Spirit. In that stillness we are able to refocus on Jesus instead of looking only at ourselves and our own wants. In that stillness we are able to feel the presence of God who is with us through every situation. In that stillness we are able to know that God is God, that God is in control and that Christ is the true king. Sometimes being still can literally save your life. Jesus was still long enough to save ours. This week, be still. Feel the presence of the risen Christ who is our true and gracious king. “He has rescued us from darkness. In him all things hold together.” It may be the last week of the church year, but make Christ the first place in your life. Amen.