23 Pentecost C—11/24/19
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Pr. Scott Kramer
It is game day, and kick-off in Philadelphia was forty minutes ago. Congratulations to you if you are a rabid Seahawks fan but are here at worship!
This week, I found inspiration from the Seahawks for today’s Christ the King readings; in particular, this Seattle Times article from Thursday about Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is the recent addition to the Seahawks who was key to their sensational win over the 49ers two weeks ago.
Clowney signed a one-year contract with the Seahawks, so the big question of him, is: Will he stay with the Seahawks or will he leave at the end of the season when his contract is up?
That question sets up Clowney’s memorable response: “Right now I’m just focusing on trying to get ready for this game…I’m really focused on this season. I don’t care about looking down the road.”
Clowney compares his attitude now with the past two years, before coming to Seattle:
“Man, I thought about…what was going to happen with my contract,” he said…I’m done thinking about that. Just take it one game at a time, one season, one play.”
Whether or not you’re a Seahawks fan, or any kind of football fan, we can all relate to spending a lot of our waking hours either in the past or in the future! Whether it’s excitement and anticipation, or fear, worry and regret, it is hard for most of us to stay grounded in the present!
Today is the last Sunday of the church year. Readings over the past weeks have been about the “end times,” with an apparent focus on the future. But too much focus on the future could prevent us from seeing God’s presence and promise and power…in the present!
When the prophet Jeremiah speaks of “shepherds” (kings) who scatter the flock there’s no need to imagine a different time or a different place, either past or future. When I hear Jeremiah, I immediately think of our own time: impeachment hearings, corruption, lies, abuse of power, presidents who plot with foreign governments against their own people: kings who scatter the flock.
When the psalmist speaks of the earth being moved, waters raging and foaming, the earth melting away, I don’t imagine either some event long ago or some far-off future. I think of climate change today, and its implications for children, grandchildren, and beyond.
When I hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion, it sounds to me like a whole lot more than a religious story from the distant past. “They crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left”–red state and blue state, right wing and left wing, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’
They don’t know what they’re doing. True word! Whether it’s our response to presidential mischief, or climate change, or any other momentous event or circumstance of our time, the words of Christ the King from the cross speak powerfully and deeply to me in the world we inhabit, to the time and the place in which we live.
Maybe you arrived at worship today feeling weighed down, burdened, distracted, afraid, whether by national political drama, world events, or even personal circumstances known only to you. Maybe you resonate with what Pastor Andy named in his message last week: a significant grief that keeps you feeling “stuck.”
Sometimes when I feel worried, despairing, or just overburdened, I notice that it’s often at least partly because I’ve convinced myself that it’s up to me to figure out, it’s up to me to fix, up to me to solve.
It’s this temptation that we are faced with on this last Sunday of the church year: “He saved others; let him save himself!” “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself…and us!”
I can’t speak for you, but when I feel worried, weighed down, distracted by the past or the future, a lot of that is a consequence of my belief that it’s all up to me to figure out. And when it’s clear that the problem of impeachment or climate change or economic stability—or maybe for you something closer to home like raising a child or just getting out of bed in the morning—when such things feel too big for me to control or change, then I am tempted toward despair.
Friends, hear again the good news of Jesus Christ: It’s not about you. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold…Be still then, and know that I am God.”
Whatever happens in the world, Christ is King–not Trump, not you and not me. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. This is no promise that everything will be okay. Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” It’s true! A lot of the time we don’t know, and maybe don’t want to know, the consequences of our actions or inaction on others, including generations to come.
So, one might reasonably ask, where is the hope? Our hope is in the one whom Jeremiah says “will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands…” Our hope is in accepting and claiming our identity as a remnant people, God’s beloved people.
When I think of the word “remnant,” I think of scraps or leftovers or discards, as in “carpet remnant.” But to be a remnant people is not to be cast aside, but to be set aside—chosen!—not to receive special treatment and protection from difficulty, but to be an example to the world, for the world God loves.
Remnant people are those called by God to be a sign of God’s love, presence and power in the world. We do so by remembering the stories of God’s faithfulness in the past, and calling attention to where God is powerfully at work in the present–as Jadeveon Clowney put it, focusing on this season, this game, this play. Whether the Seahawks win or lose, that’s the focus.
Whether we win or lose we, the remnant people, also invest our talents, our energy, on the challenges and opportunities of this day and this life. With hope and gratitude at the end of this church year, we anticipate a new season–Advent–in which we will hear again the promise of God’s amazing grace in the one whose name is Immanuel: “God With Us.”