11/24/19 THE KING

Luke 23:33-43

November 24, 2019

Radford Rader. D.Min

Westminster by the Sea, Daytona Beach Shores, FL.

Today we are celebrating Christ the King. It may not be the image of the Christ with which we feel very comfortable. It is not politically correct. King is anachronistic, autocratic and male.
1) We got rid of George III a long time ago for good reason, and we aren’t interested in kings and kingdoms.
2) We don’t buy into undisputed, unquestioned authority. We know how it leads to tyranny.
3) Male dominance is no longer a divine right. Those who have suffered abuse by men cringe at such a male, power image. Some fear that this image perpetuates gender injustice.
“King” carries a lot of baggage; but it always did!
King had a checkered history in the Bible. Rare was there a king that any would wish to have rule over them. When Israel asks for a king so that they can be like other nations, Samuel tells them all the reasons they don’t want a king. Kings impose taxes and wage war. They take the brightest and best to serve them. They live regally while oppressing the people. Kings like to become gods and, too often, people listened to them instead of God. (I Samuel 8). With rare exceptions, kings in Israel’s history concurred with Samuel’s warnings.
Rulers in the New Testament times were no better. Of the Herod of Jesus’ birth, it was said, “It was better to be his pig than a member of his family” because he was so paranoid and mad that he killed everyone he thought was a threat to him, even his wives and children. The Pax Romana was still a time when Rome ruled with an iron fist. Any threat was met with violence. King in Jesus’ day did not elicit good thoughts. King never meant justice, compassion, equity, self-giving.
It is true that his judge and executioners label Jesus King. They did it for ridicule, not respect. They were laughing at him, mocking him, challenging him. The elegant robe, the crown of thorns, the inscription “king of the Jews” were all insults to Jesus and anyone who believed in him. They declared that Jesus was without power! He had no armies! He was no king! Herod is king of the Jews; Caesar is king of the world while Jesus is crucified as a common criminal. He is sold for 30 pieces of silver and there is no one to ransom him. He dies powerless, he can’t even save himself! The idea that Jesus is king was a joke to those in power. The idea of a Messiah-the Jewish hope of a new Davidic king-the very promises of God-are nailed with him to the cross. Those who crucified him were agreeing with the crowd, who cried “We have no king but Caesar!”
Surprisingly, the Christians didn’t abandon Christ the King. The kept it because it was subversive language. It was blasphemous. There was only one king and that was Caesar. Caesar declared that he was not only king but god. Caesar demanded ultimate loyalty. All must fear him, bow before him, worship him. Christians responded with “CHRIST IS KING! He is King of kings!” They refused to fear, to bow, to worship. As much as Pilate’s inscription over Jesus was a denial of him, the church’s continuing claim of Jesus’ kingship was a denial of Caesar, the empire and emperor worship. They claimed another king, a greater loyalty. They in effect said that Caesar was not really a king, he was the pretender. Above Caesar stood another before whom even Caesar had to bow.

For the Christians, Christ the King was not a symbol of the status quo. Never was it meant to prop up men who ruled with earthly power and might. It always subverts them. There is another ruler; his name is Jesus. I serve him and him first above all. Martin Luther used it when he said, “I must obey God and not man.” Our revolutionary founders used it to undergird their Declaration of Independence against George III. The Confessing Church of Germany in the Barmen Confession bravely and defiantly stood against Hitler and said, “No! Christ is King!” Christ the King stands in opposition to early powers and every attempt by rulers and governments to control our minds and hearts. It is always subversive because it makes us loyal to the Lord Jesus; it makes us free thinkers; it makes us see more than human law; human authority, human power. We are citizens in another, greater kingdom and we are always comparing.

Christ the King does not mean that we understand Christ by comparing him to those who would rule us but that we compare them to him. Christ the King is not “do as I say as he does differently”. We do not find him to have feet of clay or loose morals. He does not live for himself, seeking security from our sacrifice. Rather he refuses to grab divinity for himself and humbling himself, becomes servant of all. He refuses to save himself so he can save others. He calls us to costly sacrifice only from the cross. He leads not for his advantage but for our salvation. King is not what we have seen from managers, leaders, executives and rulers but is the Shepherd who cares for his flock and lays down his life for the sheep.
Christ is what king is supposed to be. He rules in love. He rules in God’s way. Here is one we have hoped for, one we can trust, who rules in justice and righteousness and does not disappoint. Here is the one whom we may love, give ourselves to without restraint, because he will not harm us, will not misuse us, will never desert us. Christ died for us, rose for us, reigns in power for us, prays for us. Alone he stands as one to worship and serve.
As Christians we promise and challenge others to love Jesus above all, follow him without reservation, and serve him alone. On this Christ the King Sunday, the question is again asked of us, “Are we letting Christ rule in our lives – all of our lives – every aspect, every hour, every day?” “Who is on the throne of our lives – our own selves, another person, earthly things or he whom the Lord God Almighty has found worthy and given all dominion, glory and power – he who is King of kings and Lord of lords!

11-17-19 THE END OF THE AGE FORETOLD


Luke 21: 5-28

This past Wednesday I commended those who attended my Bible Study, saying how helpful it was for their Christian learning to attend a class with a study guide written by a highly qualified author—Dr. Eugene March—and a teacher who has studied the passages for 38 years. Today I am commending you for coming to church to learn and worship on a Sunday, rather than Googling answers to Bible questions you may have, or sitting with others who are guessing at meanings alongside of you. Take, for example, the text from Luke today. If all one does is clip out verses 25-28—as I have seen done—and read it as if Jesus were speaking to them here and now, in the 21st century, they would hear:
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations, confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Once again, we do well to remember that we are not the original audience: people in the first century were the original audience. And this passage actually starts much earlier than verse 25. Look at verse 6 for example. In describing the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, where some were admiring its beauty, Jesus said, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” History records that the Temple was destroyed by marauding Romans in 70 AD, led by a man named Titus, under instruction from his father, Emperor Vespasian. So Jesus, for that original audience, is describing a time roughly 50 years in the future, not 1,986 years in the future! But there a people—and there are plenty of them—who read their Bibles in an uninformed or flat-footed manner, that go and tell others: “Look what the Bible says! It says how the world will end soon! The final judgment must be upon us!” And then religious panic ensues, conspiracy theories arise, and people start gathering supplies for the end of days. Let’s instead read our Bibles with good guides!

This week, with an impeachment investigation causing an uproar in our otherwise chaotic news cycles, another high school shooting, as nuclear bombs are likely being made in places like North Korea and Iran, with catastrophic heat for months now followed by record cold weather, uninformed people may raise the anxiety levels that are already present in the human race. They say things like “The end of the world is near!” Or, “The day of Judgment must be upon us!” The entire November/December issue of our denominational journal, Presbyterians Today, has as its theme: “Ways to Ease Anxious Times.” We do live in anxious times. If there are people reading this week’s Gospel lesson without guidance, their anxiety may indeed climb into the stratosphere. Instead, let’s look back into the past to help us be informed about the present.

First, listeners to Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the Temple had two questions:
“When will it happen?” and “What will be the signs of its beginning?”
Jesus responded pointing to three signs. The first was the arrival of people making false claims that they knew the answers. (21:8) The other two signs were warfare and political chaos on the one hand, (21:9-10) and natural disasters on the other. (21:11) [Sharon H. Ringe, LUKE, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995, p.251, paraphrased]

Second, people have talked about nations rising against nations, earthquakes, famines, predictions of stars falling, and people fainting with for centuries. But in Luke, Jesus was addressing people around 32 AD. The fearful “day of the Lord” had been addressed before, and would be addressed many times after Jesus words that day. Here are a few examples:

In 70 AD, Jewish Essenes believed the final battle was at hand, and that Israel was about to be redeemed.
In 365, Hilary of Poitiers a French Bishop, announced that the world would end that year. When that didn’t happen, French Bishop Martin of Tours said the world would end before the year 400. He then stated: “There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born.”
In 500, Hippolytus of Rome and two others said Jesus would return that year, and they based their prediction in part on the dimensions of Noah’s Ark! Go figure.

Centuries later, Pope Innocent III predicted the world would end in 1260. When it didn’t end then, others predicted that it would end in 1290; when it didn’t end, other predicted the world would end in 1335. Did it end then? NO! You see the pattern.

Up until present day, there have been more than 150 well publicized predictions about the world ending in each of our previous centuries. In the 21st century alone, there have been over 18 such predictions. Shall we walk outside to see if the world is ending? Or shall we do what Jesus keeps telling us to do: to “watch?” The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, wrote these words that Eugene Peterson translated in The Message:
I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would! About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a woman expecting a child. 4-8 But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So, let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart!
There’s the advice we need, and others needed it too! By 50 AD, Paul was preaching this because Jesus had ascended into heaven 17 years earlier, and in each age there is the need to calm down panicked people and focus the faithful. Thanks be to God for such people!
Finally, even John Calvin, in studying these texts, wrote:
[Christ] calls [his followers] back from a curious and unprofitable inquiry as to times, but in the meantime admonishes them to be constantly in a state of preparation for receiving Him…Now Christ designed that the day of his coming should be hid from us, that, being in suspense, we might be, as it were, upon watch. [Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume 21, Baker Books, 2005 reprint, p. 285]
The end of the age will come when the end of the age comes. They question is not: “When will it come?” The question is: “Will we be ready?”
Let us pray: Holy Jesus, as you knock on the door of people’s hearts; or as you make yourself known in the hearts of people who have already invited you in: guide our lives, reassure our souls, and remind the world that, when the time is right, you will return, and take the faithful to eternal life, to be with you forever. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 17, 2019

11-10-19 JESUS’ S.A.T. QUESTION


Luke 20: 27-38

A little boy was sitting in his Sunday School class, carrying out the teacher’s assignment: “Draw a picture of something or someone from the Bible.” As the teacher was looking at the various crayon drawings, she asked, “Tell me about your picture, Billy.” ‘It’s a picture of God,” Billy said. “But Billy,” his teacher replied, “No one knows what God looks like.” To which Billy replied without lifting his head, “They will now.” Maybe we need to embrace the innocence of children to understand what Jesus says to the Sadducees today! Jesus was pummeled with a complicated riddle as you just heard. Riddles have amused children and challenged adults for generations. For example:
“It is greater than God, it is more evil than the devil; the poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it, you’ll die.” What is it? The answer: nothing. Plug in the word and the question becomes a statement: “Nothing is greater than God, nothing is more evil than the devil; the poor have nothing, the rich need nothing, and if you eat nothing, you’ll die!” Or how about this one: “Bob’s height is 6 feet; he works at a butcher shop; he wears size 9 shoes. What does he weigh?” The answer is “meat.” He is Bob the butcher! Or finally, there is the children’s question in this tongue twister: If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick? (It’s a peck; but how much is a peck? Four pecks make a bushel, so it’s a quarter of a bushel! The number of peppers would vary according to their size!) Puzzles like those have been around a long time. They are meant to frustrate and trick the listener. Jesus had grown up with his builder-father working with wood and stone. Many people believe that since Nazareth was so very small, (and there was no tourist trade as there is now,) Joseph and his teenaged son might have found work in the much larger city north of Nazareth called “Sephoris.” There the boy would have been exposed to riddles, jokes, and stories told by tradesmen and the Romans who employed them. So by the time he had grown, Jesus had heard lots of riddles. But Jesus, we believe, also had insights into heaven once he had grown and begun his ministry. One day he was challenged by some Sadducees- Jews in a very high position- who seemed threatened by Jesus’ teachings. One thing we know that Luke tells us: Sadducees believed there was no resurrection; no life after death. And yet in Luke 20, we find Sadducees asking a question about the resurrection! Jesus must have known something was up immediately. He did not take this question flat-footed. And it was a brain puzzler:
28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man[a] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus spotted the trick question; but so many people looking at the Bible on their own read and re-read the question, trying to figure it out. Yes it was true that a man’s unmarried brother would, by custom, marry the widow of his brother since there was no social security or welfare in those days. A widow would customarily marry her dead husband’s brother. That was to provide security for her. Now you know that too, and Jesus knew it, and the Sadducees knew it. But now, the linear explanations need to be left behind; there are no linear explanations about the next life. Just like John Calvin intended for predestination to be a doctrine of destination, not of explanation. Just like people would have had to use their imaginations, not raw information, to figure out what it would be like to walk on the moon before July 20, 1969. After that date, that had first had information. As a fan of ocean liners, before 1985 I remember reading book after book about where the Titanic might have been on the bottom of the ocean; writers believed it would be intact and preserved since it was in one of the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean. There was even a fictional book, made into a movie called “Raise the Titanic,” suggesting that the ship could be raised and floated again, and they depicted the ship completing her maiden voyage into New York Harbor. But then in 1985 ,Robert Ballard actually found the Titanic, broken apart and more deteriorated than any writer had guessed before. Why am I telling you these stories, these stories that compare explanation, and destination, and imagination? Because that’s the way you need to think to understand Jesus’ answer. He has left behind the answer key to the puzzles. He says in essence, life in heaven “isn’t like that.” When my daughter was trying to talk me into pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree while I was a full-time pastor here back in 2008, I spoke to one of the Columbia Seminary professors. “Why would I want to return to seminary” I asked him, “with all the testing, and paper writing, and intense discussions?” And Dr. Roger Nishioka replied to me, “It isn’t like that.” He meant, my old linear view of going back to seminary was nothing like what it would actually be like, returning to work on a Doctor’s degree. And so I went; and he was right; but I had to learn it for myself.

There was no way for Jesus to answer non-believers in a linear way. They didn’t believe in that life anyway! But Jesus knew others were listening in! So he said this:
“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in [the next] age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

You might want to ask Jesus some convoluted question about which relatives you could see in heaven; or ask if there are really pearly gates, or if there are actual streets of gold. You might also want to ask if your ex-wife will be there, or your former husband will be there? Or will they be in the other place?” And Jesus might say something like my professor said to me: “It isn’t like that.” Jesus might explain more, with words like: “When you are in this world, those are things you think about, perhaps a lot. But Heaven is nothing like what you are thinking about! I won’t explain it to you now! You’ll have to experience it for yourself!” We may hope we’ll have wings in the next life; we may hope that “when the roll is called up yonder [we’ll] be there!” Perhaps Jesus is saying to us: “Don’t worry about what you think it will be like! You can only imagine!” Maybe the answer is at the beginning of my message, in the small hands of a little boy, or a little girl, drawing God.

Let me close by reminding you of the Christian group MercyMe’s song, “I Can Only Imagine.” Maybe that is the best answer to what life in the resurrection might be like:

I can only imagine, what it will be like when I walk by your side,

I can only imagine what my eyes will see when your face is before me.
Surrounded by your glory what will my heart feel will I dance for your Jesus
Or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall,
Will I sing “hallelujah,” will I be able to speak at all, I can only imagine.

Few poets, songwriters, or authors have captured the wonder, the mystery, and the other-dimension nature of being with Jesus in the resurrection like that song does. If you set aside the flat-footed questions, and the linear riddles, and let your right brain engage, your creative imagination might imagine what it’s like to see, and even to draw, God.
Let us pray:

We can only imagine what it will be like to be in your glory, of God. Help us to look for the kingdom with fresh eyes, remember Jesus’ words: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner November 10, 2019

11-03-19 LEARNING FROM A TAX COLLECTOR

LEARNING FROM A TAX COLLECTOR
Luke 19, 1-10

Several years ago as a summer Sunday School series during Fellowship Hour, I created lessons based on episodes of the “Andy Griffith Show.” I called them, “Messages from Mayberry!” One episode I could have used, but didn’t, is the one called “Citizen’s Arrest.” I still laugh when I watch it. Gomer Pyle reports deputy Barney Fife for making a U-Turn in the middle of the street when he wasn’t’ on official business. The Christian message, when I write the lesson for it, is U-Turn. U-Turns in life look like repentance; some people have turned away from Jesus, and then turned back to Jesus. Others never found Jesus until later. There are famous people who have turned their life around when they found Christ. Actor Kirk Cameron was in the television show “Growing Pains” that aired from 1985-1992. He was an atheist. But he converted to Christianity as an older teenager and now has written Christian books and starred in Christian films. Did you know that although baptized as a child, author C. S. Lewis abandoned Christ and the faith as a teenager? He continued to be an agnostic until age thirty when he began to write his influential books like Mere Christianity, the Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters. Novelist Anne Rice, author of Memnoch the Devil among other books, started her life in Catholicism and left it, describing herself to others as an atheist. Then in 1998 she returned to the Church and to Christ, writing her most strikingly different series of books, called “Christ the Lord.” Her journey, however, was circuitous. Citing differences with the Catholic Church on social issues, she now believes in God but calls herself as a “secular humanist.” That a hard comparison to square! Maybe her journey is actually not a U-Turn, but a lot of curves and bends in the road! Finally, there is another example of a U-Turned life: John Newton, the writer of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” As a grown man he was a sailor and slave trader. At one point in his life, he had a conversion experience, actually becoming a priest and an abolitionist. Talk about a turnaround! He wrote “Amazing Grace” for use in a New Year’s Day sermon based on 1Chronicles 17: 16-17 and preached on January 1, 1773. New Year’s Day! No football bowl games on TV then! And people came to hear him! What a great day for U-Turns! Newton wrote: “When Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts, we endeavored to shut him out, till he overcomes us by the power of his grace.” [Glory to God: A Companion. Westminster/John Knox Press, 2016, p. 616.] What great examples of U-Turns those are.

But the Bible has U-Turn stories too. God must relish those who are lost and then found. In Luke 15 as I mentioned last week, Jesus told the story of the prodigal son, a young man who insulted his father, asking for his inheritance before his father has died, and then he waste it, coming back to grovel in a classic U-Turn. And today, the story of the tax collector is another U-Turn story. Listen to what Christian Educator Donald Griggs and Professor Paul Walaskay, both of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, wrote about this wee little man named Zacchaeus:
Traders moving goods in and out of Judea were required to stop at the border to pay a customs tax. This made Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, a relatively wealthy man. …To the average peasant, he was rich. And was also short! [Luke’s Gospel from Scratch, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, p. 41.]

Jesus asked to go to his house that day. Did he have a plan when he said those words? We don’t know what Jesus thought, but we know what Jesus did: he transformed Zacchaeus. The Bible is sparse on details, but we know that in his home, breaking the bread for a meal while townspeople looked in, something powerful happened. When Jesus sits at table with others, extraordinary things often happen. In Luke chapter 24, for example, when the risen Lord Jesus was on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was invited to stay with two men since the sun was going down. As Jesus sat with two men for a meal, Jesus lifted the bread, and blessed and broke it. Then the eyes of the other two were opened, and they recognized him! Wonderful things happen when Jesus is at table with others, as he is with us today. What happened at the table of the wee little man in Jericho? Zacchaeus changed into a generous and—dare we say—grace-filled man! What a difference from who he was!

Today, wonderful things can happen to us too.
First, we are connected by mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. You can remember them, let their names roll through your mind, and feel as if you are among them.
Second, there might be some here today who are ready for a U-Turned life: all you may have needed is a description of what that can be like—you know, the before and after—and to know that you are in good company if you choose to make the change.
And third, in today’s prayer, Radford will be praying for you; at the end of the service, you can speak with one of us about any decision you make. Jesus is with us today. How do I know that? Jesus said in Matthew 18: 20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” If you renew your desire to, as pop singer Anne Murray once wrote, “put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters,” doubts can be replaced by faith; discouragement can be replaced by hope; and anger can be replaced by love, all because of God’s amazing grace. God is with you; the Lord is on your side. May that knowledge still any troubled souls today.

Jeffrey A. Sumner November 3, 2019