Sermon from 14 November:

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:32-43

Don’t look now, because we’re celebrating the Reign of Christ – “Christ the King” Sunday – and later we’ll sing “Crown Him With Many Crowns,” but Luke says we’re wrong. Luke specifically excludes crowns from his stories. He doesn’t even include the ironic crown of thorns earlier in Jesus’ crucifixion narrative (Luke 23:11). So ignore the stained glass windows that have the conqueror’s and victor’s crowns, because Jesus doesn’t get either if you ask Luke. Luke really wants to raise the issue of royalty, which is the whole reason for reading this text today. What does true “kingship” look like?

Luke excludes the crown (I think) to reinforce that he’s not talking about kingship as we think about it. He’s not talking about any king as such. At the same time, Jesus is all about “the kingdom of God.” He is and will be the ruler of God’s kingdom. But he does this without a crown. What kind of king doesn’t have a crown? Or an army, or any interest in saving himself from death? Jesus goes to his death with forgiveness on lips; his final act of defiance is to plead for his murderers’ pardon. That’s no way to get elected. What kind of king “rules” like this? Luke means it: no kind of king we expect.

One character gets it. The repentant criminal asks Jesus to remember him when he comes as king. This is the last person to believe before Jesus’ death. It’s not just a death-row change of heart, it’s an instance of remarkable vision. Jesus didn’t look anything like a king, and he sure didn’t have a crown, but that’s what this criminal claims about him. And Jesus finally answers someone’s question and claims a kind of kingship. This man dying on the cross is the king of Paradise.

Two weeks ago, a church in Baghdad was attacked. This week, the parishioners and other Iraqis in solidarity came together. One worshiper said, “We’re not afraid. They gave us blood and we give them forgiveness.” They refused to let violence win. They weren’t scared into submission, but they weren’t lashing out with return violence either. Not all the Christians managed this response, but the best of all religious people find forgiveness bubbling up from within.

That’s Paradise. That’s righteousness. That’s what it means to live in God’s kingdom. It’s a realm without borders, serving a king without a crown, who rules by grace rather than power. The service of this king is forgiveness and humility for all people. The taxes are thanksgiving and justice, building your life as if all people have a right to what they need for life and happiness.

God’s kingdom is freedom. Whoever (and whatever) claims power over your body, to kill and destroy, God’s kingdom grants freedom for your soul, to love and serve. Nothing else can claim your soul when it’s given to God’s kingdom.