33When 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. 34⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And 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!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Christ the King Sunday was started in 1925 by Pope Pius VI to engage society and remind followers of Christ that the reign of Christ is stronger than the reign of the powers and principalities that often govern our day-to-day lives. The reason that I know that is because, this week, I had to look up what, exactly, Christ the King Sunday was all about. It’s certainly timely to proclaim that Christ is King during a time of political transition, but it’s no more true today than it ever has been since Jesus walked the earth. It’s definitely comforting, in a campaign season in which both major parties’ nominees were seen as untrustworthy, to declare that Christ sits on the throne regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. But, again, that’s not new information. Yet, I think that radical nature of God is still something we need to grapple with, because, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we may wish for Christ to be king without understanding what the Kingdom of God looks like. We are more used to living in an empire, in a world with distinct political powers fighting for control over domestic and international affairs, and we know how to live and act in them. We understand how laws work and how they are made (and if you don’t, I suggest you go to YouTube and watch the School House Rock videos). But I think that we would have hard time adjusting to the Kingdom of Heaven.
If you want to know why, just look at our gospel for today. In it, we find the man, Jesus, on the cross, put there by the empire of Rome and the religious elite. It’s not a pretty picture. By this point, he’s been betrayed by his friends, he’s been beaten by soldiers, unfairly questioned, found innocent by Pilate, and yet he’s still there, on the cross. It’s a gruesome sight. Jesus had every right to be angry at the world about this. He had every right to curse and berate and give into misery and despair. That’s what I would do. That’s what we would all expect to do, I imagine. That’s the way of the empire – curse those who curse you, give to those who give to you, befriend those who befriend you.
What is shocking about this passage is not that Jesus is on the cross (the powers he challenged would not go down without a fight), but how he behaves while he’s up there. Instead of living in the darkness of the empire, he lives in the light of the kingdom, his kindom. The generous outpouring of love that we see on the cross defies explanation, it makes no sense, unless we understand that Jesus is living and dying by kindom economics, not empire economics.
Instead of cursing the leaders and soldiers who put him there, he utters these words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His generous life of miracles and teaching, his generous life of healing and traveling, ends in his generous death by forgiving. And the convicted, guilty criminal next to him is offered the same paradise as the Son of God. This goes beyond being nice or being cordial. This behavior, kingdom and kindom behavior, is rooted in generous, gracious, and unrelenting love. Jesus emptied himself and, by that generosity, we are filled. Jesus died and three days later he rose and, by that death and resurrection, we have been given eternal life.
When we, as followers of Christ, proclaim that Christ is King, we aren’t just writing Jesus’ name in on the election ballot. When we proclaim that Christ is King, we are calling for a reform of power. In this reform of power, we find unity in Christ. In this reform, we listen to the oppressed and silenced. In this reform, we forgive those who kill us, we welcome the guilty, we pray for those we disagree with, we love those who do not return the favor. And each and every time we do these things, we are radically, subversively telling the world that our hope is not in political authorities or military power or religious orthodoxy or social status or money.
This is why we are collecting pledges today. This is why today finishes off our stewardship campaign. As we come up to offer our money, our time and talents, we are taking part in a radical act. We are telling the world that we place our faith not in what can save, achieve, or earn, but in what we have already been given in Christ. We are telling the world that our hope does not lie in our ability to live perfectly, but that Christ’s love has made us free – free to live, give, and believe generously.
And I hope you know that’s true. Christ’s love is for you. Each and every one of you, whether you know it or not. I understand that when we come together, that we’re all in a different place in faith and life – some of us are questioning, some of us are spiritually hungry, some of us may be physically hungry, some of us may not feel that we have much to give. But Christ’s death and resurrection have no bearing on that. God’s love is for you. Period. Full stop.
What we give, how we live in light of this new way, this kingdom and kindom of God, is not earning, but responding to, that love. We don’t give simply to maintain a building and pay bills. We give because we believe that God is doing something, that God is continuing to work in the world and that this kingdom which we see modeled in Jesus. We give to our church, our community, and our neighbors because we want to be a part of that work. As we come forward during this next hymn, I want us to remember that. I want us to proclaim that Christ is King joyfully and expectantly. God’s love is working in you and through you. By your generosity, we are able to make that love known together. Amen.