Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – The Reign of Christ Comes

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.” (Luke 23:33)

What reign of a king starts out like that? With the king dying? Almost seems like it is backwards and upside down, doesn’t it? That’s not a unique perspective, but taken from the title of a book, “The Upside Down Kingdom” and it examines Christ’s ministry and how it was not at all what was expected.

“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” (Verse 34)

Forgive them for doing the incorrect thing. I have been challenged by the sentiment lately – I think beloved reader you can guess why. It is something I am learning to do. I suspect it will take time to perfect that learning, and I am praying that the Lord God continues to instruct me on it.

“And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders 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.” (Verses 35 – 38)

But the focus of and in this passage is Christ, and his coming to his time of reign. And not about me and my needs.

“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.” (Verses 39 – 41)

I am reminded once again of this year’s theme – confession, penance, and forgiveness. None of us are perfect and all are deserving of condemnation. And apart from Christ, I believe, we are condemned. In the eyes and judgment of God that is based on absolute perfection we have all fallen short. But, thanks be to God, in the Lord’s perfection is perfect love.

“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.” (Verses 42 – 43)

Christ’s reign is like no other kingly reign. It is not confined to time or place; it ignores or supersedes any other rule or law. Its rule is exacting, but its grace, mercy, and forgiveness is unending. Without it all of humanity is lost. But with it if we will but accept it, embrace it, fulfill it, and live it out – we will be saved! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Those who do a good job, and a not so good job, of “shepherding” the Lord’s sheep

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1 – 2)

Who are these shepherds who have so injured the sheep of the Lord’s pasture? Judging by the context and comments from Jeremiah 22, I suspect it is the ruler’s of the Lord’s people at the time Jeremiah was written. The implication, so I assume, is that if the rulers had done a better job the Lord’s people would not have been taken captive and scattered throughout foreign nations, mainly Babylon. And the rulers of the nations were punished, both by their kingdoms being taken captive and they themselves suffering.

Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”(Verses 3 – 4)

The story of the Israelites/Judahites who became the Jews was not that simple a story line – rescued and gathered up, and returned to their lands to be fruitful and multiply. Nor was it an easy time of waiting for the good shepherds to be raised up. And there was a long wait until the Good Shepherd came to the Lord’s people and perform that final and eternal rescue.

I am writing this on election day (yes, writing ahead), and I like everyone else in the United States and around the world are waiting to see who the next president will be. It will not be, however, a “righteous branch of David.”

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Verses 4 – 6)

This week, as you remember, we are looking today this Sunday as the Reign of Christ Sunday. How wonderfully ironic and coincidentally that it comes after election day in the United States. But no more so than if it were election day in any other nation. The Lord told the chosen people (through Samuel) that they should not want and pine after a king who was like the kings of other nations.

By the time you read this, beloved reader, we will know who has been elected president of the United States. And I am ever mindful that whoever it is, that the Lord has already raised up the best shepherd and leader that we will ever need. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Epistles Passage – The Reign of Christ established! (As if there was any question that it would be!)

This week, beloved reader is the last week in this Revised Common Lectionary year. Or to put it another way, after Thanksgiving we start a new lectionary year, and so this Sunday is the last Sunday before we start Advent. I don’t know about you, but this last few months have gone quickly, and it is hard to believe we are coming to the end of another lectionary year. Gone will be lectionary year C, and we will be starting on year A, which is actually the beginning of the cycle of the lectionary years.

This Sunday is the Reign of Christ Sunday, and special attention is given to the inauguration of the Christ’s reign which is actually the reign of God also. This is the God who sent Christ, as opposed to other understandings of God. Paul does well when he says of this God . . .

. . .that God will strengthen you with his own great power, so that you will be patient and not give up when troubles come. Then you will be happy and give thanks to the Father. He has made you able to have what he has promised to give all his holy people, who live in the light. God made us free from the power of darkness. And he brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son. The Son paid the price to make us free. In him we have forgiveness of our sins.” (Colossians 1:11 – 14)

Of course, it is not exactly my place to commend or critique what Paul says about God (I have however critiqued what Paul says according to his own understanding!) What I meant in a truer sense is that Paul’s view of God and his theology concerning God is liken to my own.

No one can see God, but the Son is exactly like God. He rules over everything that has been made.
Through his power all things were made: things in heaven and on earth, seen and not seen— all spiritual rulers, lords, powers, and authorities. Everything was made through him and for him.” (Verses 15 – 16)

Paul does, however have a “unique” way of phrasing things, and connecting ideas. It can be hard to follow and parse out. Basically, the God who sent Jesus sent an aspect of the God-self, and what Jesus was/is is what God was/is/will be. I don’t know is that easier to understand.

The Son was there before anything was made. And all things continue because of him.
He is the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning of everything else. And he is the first among all who will be raised from death. So in everything he is most important.” (Verses 17 – 18)

I am reminded (don’t ask me how/why beloved reader, just go with the metaphor) that the Spirit of God is perceived as breath or wind. It is everywhere, bringing life and going as it will. God has always been known that way, both in the Old Testament/Hebrew and the New Testament/Greek. That is why as a tenet of faith, one should accept that God is Christ and Christ is God.

God was pleased for all of himself to live in the Son. And through him, God was happy to bring all things back to himself again— things on earth and things in heaven. God made peace by using the blood sacrifice of his Son on the cross.” (Verses 19 – 20)

The reign of Christ is then the reign of God – the God that was revealed through Jesus Christ and returned to being the Lord God who is over all things. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – The Reign of Christ: what it is and isn’t (The Gospel Passage)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:33-35)

I am never quite sure how to understand and interpret Jesus being brought before the civil officials. Some passage in the gospels say that Jesus did not defend himself when questioned. Others, like this one, seem to have the type of interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, Sadducees and other such people.

This Sunday, being the last Sunday in the liturgical year (where has the year gone!) is Feast of Christ Sunday. It is fitting then to focus on Jesus’ reign, and the latter verses of this passage do just that.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (Verses 36-37)

John is a gospel that asserts Jesus in all his Divinity and power. It is not surprising then that the Jesus Christ in the passage is assertive with Pilate, where in other gospels Jesus has a humbler tone. In this, Jesus is an enigma. Our Lord Jesus can and is so many different things to different people and different beliefs. Are they all the truth?

I am not suggesting that our Lord Jesus should be confined to just one type of Messiah. But how are we to know if our view of Jesus is “the truth”? When scripture is read and interpreted, how do we know that our reading and interpretation is the the truth? Mennonites believe that the Holy Spirit helps us understand and interpret scripture. And I have found that to be very true. But even then the question hangs . . . how do we know? I wish I could give you, beloved reader, a definitive answer. I cannot. However, I strongly feel if we keep reading, seeking, and pursuing what is the most true we will not go astray.

There is one more reading for this week, and then verses that are specifically for Thanksgiving. Then next Sunday we start in on a new lectionary year – Year C. It is a year where we seek and do penance, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. The story of the prodigal son is referred to frequently. I will have more to say tomorrow.

May you, beloved reader, continue to seek our Lord Jesus Christ – seeking the truth that was and is revealed in His Reign. Selah!