Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Proper 29, Year C Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians, 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
The inscription over his head said “This is the King of the Jews.” It was meant as mockery, and the soldiers who have just finished nailing him to the cross now they say to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” One of the criminals crucified with him asks, “Are you not the Messiah?”
Those standing nearest to Jesus don’t seem to be clear at all about whether he is a king or not. And small wonder: none of them had expected it to come to this.
What must THEY have been thinking? Was this “Jesus thing” going to be just one more disappointment and disaster on the way to the grave? Had God let them down again? Certainly they were justified in asking if Jesus was really, really a king. Certainly they were justified in asking if God really loved them, and if it made any difference that God did.
I think I can imagine that something like that must have been going through the minds of at least some of those gathered around Jesus that awful day.
What goes thorough YOUR mind when you encounter disappointment and defeat?
Everyone here has met, will meet, and will meet again, with disappointment; and if you are fortunate, that reversal of your expectations will cause you to ask, like Jesus’s first friends, “Jesus, are you our king?” and more importantly, “If you are, how does it matter?”
And having asked that question, you will look at the universe, and you will expect an answer.
We demand an answer. But I think what we get instead is a response.
I make a lot of that distinction. The distinction between answer and response.
The distinction is much more than merely philosophical and rhetorical. It is absolutely critical in understanding what it means to be a Christian.
At the heart of every human being, including all those in this room, is the awareness of the presence of evil in the world. “Bad things happen to good people,” in the words of Rabbi Kushner. And everyone of us who is truly alive will, at some moment, stand facing the universe and from the very foundation of our being will ask “Why?”
I do not know what moment will prompt that question of you, but when your faith is real, and your self is strong enough to claim your humanity, you will look at the horizon of what you can understand and ask, “Why?” “Why is there this disappointment? Why is there this pain? Why is there this death?”
It is the question of every human being. And it is this question to which God’s makes response in Jesus of Nazareth.
Response, not answer.
The question of evil goes unresolved. The apparent unfairness of life remains. The mystery of suffering is not explained away as if we had reached the end of a very knotty Agatha Christie plot.
God’s response to every question of human suffering is Jesus. Not an explanation of who he is, but Jesus himself. The person – not his biography – is God’s answer.
God’s response is not a theological or philosophical formulation. It is the person of Jesus. Jesus was not a theologian or a philosopher. He didn’t even write a book or an essay. He lived a life which isn’t over.
In that moment of doubt or terror which may come upon you. God’s response to you will be the person of Jesus.
Asking that question, in some form, at some level, has brought you here to this place at this moment.
Yes, Jesus is really a king. But Jesus is the kind of king Jesus chooses to be.
He does not offer explanations. He offers himself. His kingdom is not FROM this world, but it is most certainly IN this world.
Every existential question everyone here has ever asked is being responded to at this very moment: and the response is all around you.
Jesus the King has set this table for you. Jesus the King presides at this table and says, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” That is not an answer, but it most certainly is a response.
And at this table, we will see bread broken and wine poured out; and we will recall that those who saw him dragged away and killed, later experienced him alive again and overflowing with peace, and forgiveness, and hope. That is not a direct answer, but it is one heck of a fantastic response.
All around you today are those drawn here by Jesus kingship. The power of that kingship has pulled us out of bed and into community with each other. So that when you are disappointed, or defeated, or facing death in all its many forms, you need not be alone, and if you are afraid, you need not face that fear alone. Christ’s body and Christ’s Spirit are here for you.
That, to me, is the real miracle and the real response from God: that communities like these exist to sustain and support and encourage and hold and – well let’s just say it – to love the likes of you and me. Now that’s not an answer to all our questions, but I submit to you, that it is one earth-shaking, tomb-opening, death-defying response.
God’s response is all around you. Deep within your own heart and deep within the heart of the very person sitting next to you.