Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Christ the King, Healing the World
They bring Jesus to Golgatha, the place of the skull, and nail him to the cross. There, hanging on two beams of lumber, with people standing around, Jesus sees them and says: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what are doing.” Leaders scoff. Soldiers mock. A criminal derides. Ridiculed, jeered, and abused, nailed to a cross, that is our King. That is the God we worship. That is the scene our church Father’s chose to put before our minds, on this Sunday known as Christ the King Sunday. It is an interesting portrait of a King, isn’t it? Only one man stands up for Jesus, another criminal. He confronts the first criminal saying: “Do you not fear God? We hang here for our crimes, but this man is innocent.” Then he turns to Jesus and says: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus responds. He hadn’t responded to the scoffs and mocks and abuse, not that he ignored them; actually, he just didn’t hear them. Let me explain. You see words of hate, words meant to hurt, words that seek to sever relationship have no resonance in the Kingdom of God. It is as if there is no air through which they can move. Words of hate have no impact where God reigns, because they don’t make sense in a place where love rules. They sound like blah, blah, blah. They did to Jesus. The words made no sense, but he could see, even from the cross, the people’s pain. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what are doing.”
Over the past week the reported incidents of hate crimes have sky rocketed in the United States. Maybe you have heard about this in cities like: Durham, North Carolina, San Diego, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota. But also in schools like: Shasta High School in Redding California, or Southern Lehigh High School, in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. And in institutions of higher learning like the University of Pennsylvania. And right here in Leschi, where friends of mine were told they didn’t belong in a public park by another park goer, because of the color of their skin. In Leschi. And in Newcastle, where some friends of a friend of mine, a bi-racial couple and their child, were dining at Tapatio (ta/PAT/see/o), when a woman came to their table and told them to stop practicing white genocide, and then made a very ugly comment about their child. In Newcastle. And in Renton, where a friend of mine, while dining at Apogee Pub, was asked by the server to leave, because his presence, implying his skin color and that of his child’s, was disturbing the other guests. In Renton. And all in this past week.
Now let me say this; I wish these weren’t the things I was preaching about today. I wish we lived in a country where this kind of ridicule and abuse was so unacceptable that people, (even if people held these feelings in the backwaters of their heart,) would be too ashamed to say them. But that seems not to be the case. Now if you are hearing what I am saying as “political,” or a commentary on our President-elect, please listen again, please recalibrate your hearing. I don’t want to lose anyone to this Kingdom of God message, because they are hearing with political ears, instead of with their heart. So please listen with your heart. Because irrespective of who the President is, this kind of hateful behavior is unacceptable to followers of Jesus. And knowing you as I do, I don’t think there is a person in this church who thinks this kind of ugly hate has any place in our country. Am I right?
And yet here is the tension… If this the Kingdom of God, right here, this near, in Leschi and Newcastle and Renton, where God rules and reigns, how is it that this kind of hate and abuse and contempt is even possible at all? If God is really King, what the heck is God doing? Maybe God has gone away? Maybe God isn’t all that powerful? Maybe God doesn’t exist? Maybe if God isn’t doing anything, we should? I hear that every so often, so let’s step into it before I go back to Christ the King hanging on the cross. Let’s take a look at what “doing something” might look like.
Let’s return to Leschi Park to set up our roll play scenario. Imagine you find yourself there, and you witness a man harassing a woman sitting on a bench who happens to be wearing a head scarf. That is a scene, incidentally, I saw on a BuzzFeed video that went viral. It was produced by a Frenchman to teach people in his country how to stand up against hate. I think it applies here as well. So there you are in Leschi park, witnessing this bad behavior. Here is what a Kingdom of God response would look like: Go right up to the woman, and sit with her, as if she is your best friend. Completely ignore the man as if you don’t even see him. That is called non-complimentary behavior, when we do exactly the opposite of what the abuser is doing. Treat him like Jesus treated the leaders, soldiers and criminal. Don’t even hear him, as if his words have no resonance. And, certainly don’t attack him, because that would be setting your kingdom power against his kingdom power, and, while that may be what he wants, it will only bring more pain to his already sad and pain-ridden soul. If he wasn’t so soul sick, after all, he wouldn’t be saying these things in the first place.
The abusive person’s soul sickness is the same soul sickness Jesus saw in the leaders and soldiers and criminal, which is why instead of striking back at them, he asked God to forgive them.
Jesus, the King, came to heal the world, not divide it, and that is what followers of Jesus are called to do as well. So let’s return to the roll-play scenario in Leschi. You see the abuse happening. Ignore the man, and go sit with the woman, like she is an old friend. Sit with her and introduce yourself. Start talking about anything. Ask her if she has seen a movie lately, or what her favorite restaurant is. Just chat, completely ignoring the harasser. He will go away, and if he doesn’t go away, maybe suggest that you and woman go grab a cup of coffee. Take her to a safe place. Now that may sound tough to do, stepping into a conflict like that. And it will be, but know this: God is with you. Jesus is King. And because Jesus is our King we can to be the kind of people so accustom to life in the Kingdom of God that we actually don’t hear bad language, all we see is the pain that needs healing. That is possible for us because we are a follower of Jesus; we are disciples; which means we practice living our life as Jesus would live it if he had my life or your life. It is possible to become the kind of person who, where others hear bad language, we see a sad and sick soul. And instead of heaping more pain upon the person, we completely ignore them, as an act of mercy, so as not to fan the flames of their suffering. We completely ignore them as an act of mercy.
You have it in you. And more than that God knows you have it in you. Because when God thought about you before the beginning of time, God decided you should be born into this world at this particular point in history. This is where you were meant to be by God. So, if there is hate spewing, and you hear it, know God put you there to stop it. And you know how: Ignore the hater, while befriending the victim; both are acts of mercy. God has endowed you with the capacity for this kind of healing.
Last Sunday we talked about the Kingdom of God and loving our neighbor as our self. I reminded us that our neighbor is the person sitting next to us in the pew. They are our work out partner, training with us to be disciples of Jesus. I also said that our neighbor is anyone we find our self next to. I want to encourage you to step into your neighborhood beyond the walls of this Parish, looking for someone who might need a little Kingdom of God love. Maybe take your neighbor in the pew with you. Maybe the two of you can set up a service where you go grocery shopping with women who prefers to wear chadors. Maybe you find a neighborhood child who needs a friend to walk them to school. Maybe you spend time outside a synagogue or mosque on their days of worship, just to be a friendly face to your neighbor.
We are ambassadors for this Kingdom of God. We look for pain because we are disciples of a King who ruled from a cross. And his way is the most powerful way to bring healing to the world. That is what the second criminal recognized: Christ the King on the cross; and that the poison of hate always points towards an opportunity to share the love of God. And when we do, Jesus responds to us like he responded to the second criminal who turned to him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Sermon Reflection Questions
Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever bullied someone?
What makes you anxious about stepping into a situation where one person is bullying another person?
Could you even imagine being so immersed in the Kingdom of God that you no longer could hear mocking, jeering, or abusive language?
What would it take to be that centered upon God?