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Sermons

A New Beginning

11/25/2018 Christ the King The text is John 18:33-37.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  I can’t remember where or when I first heard these words, and I certainly can’t remember who first spoke them, but those words seem appropriate on a day like this – for today, we end one year and begin another.

At the end of a year, if you are like me, you tend to think about the future.  Every New Year’s Eve, I take a moment or two to think about what happened during the last year – the events that took place, the decisions that I made, and the choices that I discarded.  Then, I think about how things could have been different.  After this, the past is put to bed as I think about what lies ahead, hoping that the coming year ahead will even be better for me than the one that is coming to a close.  This forward look will be especially profound for me this year, as I will be facing significant life changes, and so will Emanuel.  It will be both scary and exciting at the same time.

With the thoughts of the past and the hope for the future still fresh on my mind, on New Year’s Day, I try to start the new year off right – not by watching parades, or by making a bunch of resolutions which I won’t keep, but by doing simple things, like making some important phone calls, pulling out neglected paperwork, cleaning the house, writing letters, and grooming the dogs.  New Year’s Eve and the day that follows is a hopeful time for me.  It’s a time to close the book on one year and to begin a new year with a clean slate.  For, that day is the first day of the rest of my life, and I certainly want whatever lies ahead to be better than what was in the past.

Today, we mark the end of a year.  No, there’s no need to check your calendars or to question whether I’m having a very big senior moment.  I know that this is not December 31st.  It’s the last Sunday in November.  BUT it is also the day in which the church year comes to a close.  It ends as we remember how the slate has been wiped clean for us by Jesus who washed away our sins on the cross, and how our hope for the new year and all years to come is found in Christ’s kingdom, not in what we have here on this day or in what we can do for ourselves in the year ahead.  God made a choice for us when Jesus came into the world, and God’s choice trumps any decisions we may make.

It’s pretty clear from our lessons for today that Jesus’ kingdom is different from anything we have experienced in our lives.  Kings and queens have come and gone, and have all but disappeared from our modern world.  We have the memories of past tyrants and fairy-tale monarchs and the woes of the Windsors, the British royal family, to entertain us, but Jesus’ kingship is different.  Unlike the figureheads of today, useful for making inspiring remarks and opening shopping centers, Jesus is Lord of Lords.  He holds the keys to an everlasting kingdom where pain and sorrow are vanquished and death is no more. 

The Andrew Daughters (The Kingdom of Jesus, CSS Publishing) describe this kingdom:

 “What kind of a Kingdom has Jesus?  No castle nor palace has he. No congress nor parliament sitting, deciding what laws there will be. Perhaps he has need of but two laws: Love God and your neighbor as well. To obey them is all that is needed, as all of the saintly can tell.

 He has neither army nor navy, no air force to guard the frontiers to keep out the strangers unwanted and maintain the enemy’s fears. Immigration he seems to encourage, of some quite disreputable, like fishermen, publicans, sinners. To such he is hospitable.

 It seems there’s no revenue service or taxes we must calculate. He surely cannot run a kingdom on what we put into the plate! No 1040 form comes in April to fill out before the fifteenth, with penalties charged for nonpayment, beginning upon the sixteenth.

 No currency’s here with his picture, no coinage engraved with his name. And where are the posters and slogans proclaiming his power and fame? And I see no trappings of kingship, no robes made of velvet and fur, no crown made of gold set with diamonds, to befit our supreme arbiter.

Jesus said that his kingdom was really not what Pilate had thought it had been. It was not of this world. And its glory was not of the kind to be seen. For those of us here in his kingdom, there is one other thing we have known: of the kingdoms around in his lifetime, it’s the only one left with a throne.”

 For, you see, King Jesus is not like the monarchs of old or like the blood-thirsty tyrants who control with an iron fist.  He has no need to consolidate power, prove his worthiness, and control his subjects through intimidation.  Jesus is in the business of forgiveness and grace.  So, instead of wearing a golden crown studded with jewels, his reign is marked with a crown plaited out of thorny branches.  Now, some might feel more comfortable with a president or prime minister than with a king.  Yet, as Katharine Whithorn puts it, “Whoever heard of someone kissing a frog and it turning into a handsome senator?”  President Jesus or Chairman Jesus doesn’t have the same authority as Christ the King. 

This benevolent king is deadly serious about us and our world, about our lives and the lives of those around us.  He confronts us with our own actions and convicts us by God’s truth, a truth which can leave us squirming in our pews if we think about what we have done and left undone.  And yet, when push comes to shove, it is Christ who wages war single-handedly against the most powerful adversaries of them all – sin and death.  He dies as our scapegoat, becoming the sacrificial lamb, and in his victory, shown forth in the resurrection, we are given new life.

So today, and every day, is the first day of the rest of our lives.  We have been forgiven and saved by Christ who comes to us in the body and blood we share at his table.  We are his subjects.  We have a leader for whom we did not cast a vote.  There is no need to recount here for we have not chosen him.  Christ has chosen us.  God has blessed us from the creation of all things and made us subjects of an absolute monarch who loves us enough to die for us.

So, what will you do with the first day of the rest of your life?  There is no better day than today to review the past and start the year fresh by doing some simple things.  Turn to the Lord and look into the face of Christ the King.  For, when you do you will see the truth about yourself and the eternal heart of God…and you the truth will make you free to serve those around you.

Ask not what God can do for you as God has blessed you with the promise of his kingdom.  Seek what you can do for others and trust in the promises of God through Christ the King.  For, the kingdom is ours through faith.  It is an everlasting kingdom where Christ reigns supreme and his promises remain unchanging from year to year to year. 

Believe, trust and serve, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

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