Christ the King C Sermon (2013)

Christ the King Sunday
Texts: Luke 23:33-43;
Colossians 1:11-20

‘WE’RE GOING ON A KING HUNT’

Children’s Sermon

Begin by reading the first portion of the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. (1) It’s a story of facing obstacles on a journey: tall grass, a river, mud, a forest, a snowstorm, and finally a cave. In each instance the refrain is,

We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!

Say to the kids: “I like this story because it’s a fun way to learn about something very wise. It’s wise to understand that sometimes in life we have to go through things we don’t like in order to get to things we like, or to avoid even worse things. Can you think of any examples? There’s simpler things like learning to eat your vegetables before having dessert. There’s also things like getting a flu shot so that you don’t get the flu this winter. There will be all kinds of times in life when you have to go through things you don’t like to get to things you like. At those times:

We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”

Dear Jesus, thank you for going through suffering on the cross for me. Be with me when I have to suffer. Amen

Sermon

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes more than any other that the Messiah, Jesus, must suffer. Luke is the only one to have the resurrected Jesus tell two different groups of disciples on Easter that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer. He couldn’t go over it. He couldn’t go under it. He had to go through it. On this Christ the King Sunday, we are confronted with the mystery of a King who reigns by virtue of suffering death as an executed criminal.

Today our healing professions seem to understand much better that a suffering person must face the point of suffering in order to find healing. This is true of many physical ailments, even something chronic. I can do my best to ignore the arthritis in my lower back, for example, hoping it just goes away. Or I can do exercise I need to do, but don’t like to do, to actually lessen the symptoms.

This is even more true of emotional pain and suffering. For example, for people who have suffered trauma or abuse as a child, we now understand that it never really gets healed unless they goes through it in a therapeutic environment of support. Without going through the suffering, the person generally ends up passing the suffering on, whether by abusing others or themselves. Addiction is one example — it often begins as a way to avoid or numb the painful memories of suffering, but then ends up causing even more suffering. Going to Alcoholics Anonymous is having the courage to go through the pain and suffering with others in a way that transforms lives from suffering to healing — and moving from “victim” to “survivor.”

Oh no! This sermon itself is kind of heavy to wade through. But as we behold a king who suffers on this Christ the King Sunday, we can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it. We go through the suffering king to the Risen King as God’s promise — God’s promise! — that suffering is being transformed into healing.

And the King part of the equation also shows how big this thing is. That it gets even heavier. Because our confession is not just that this king is king of our lives. He is King of the whole creation. And so this king is about transforming more than just individual lives but also the human institutions that still lead to suffering — to poverty and war and injustice. And so our boldness to go through the suffering means a willingness to stand up against injustice, too. On All Saints Sunday, we watched a video of Gandhi’s discipleship of Jesus which takes the form of nonviolent resistance to injustice, of being willing to suffer like our king at the hands of unjust institutions. The healing we seek is ultimately for the whole Creation.

It’s easier to see the signs of transformed lives in people who are healing from abuse and addiction. Where do we see the signs of transformed institutions? Of human communities reaching out to alleviate suffering? This may be a tougher call right now, because the crack in the container of our culture still divides between us and them. There’s still so much about our politics and economics that takes “our” suffering and throws it on “them.” There is a long way to go in fighting the structures of injustice. But there are also signs of hope. Of a willingness of communities risking to share the suffering of another community. Of structures over the last fifty years beginning to realign themselves for greater equality along the lines of race and gender and able-bodiness. We see signs of hope when the global village responds to the suffering caused by a terrible typhoon in another part of the world. You and I are called to be leaders in following the King in God’s work of transformation for the whole creation.

We’re not scared, are we? Well, maybe sometimes. But we come here each week to catch the rhythm of hunting for the king in our shared stories and then being sent out to find the king in the suffering in our world seeking healing and transformation. We come here each week to celebrate and be emboldened by the story:

We’re going on a king hunt.
We’re going to take part in transforming lives from suffering to new life.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Oh look. The baptismal font.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve already gone through it!
Splishy, splashy. Dying, Rising. For me.

We’re going on a king hunt.
We’re going to take part in transforming institutions from injustice to justice.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Oh look. The Institution of the Communion Table.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve already gathered round it!
Eating, drinking. Body, blood. Given for all.

We’re going on a king hunt.
We’re being sent out, working together to transform lives.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, November 24, 2013

1. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, retold by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Simon & Schuster, 1989; Anniversary Edition of a Modern Classic, 2009.

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