I have not had the time to convert and make the sermon into an audio or video file. So I post here the sermon manuscript. I apologize for this. I hope to put the audio and video file up soon. Y’all got to see me in the vestments. It trips me out. What a humble place to be, in the pulpit.
SO here is my senior sermon manuscript…
When 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. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And 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!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:33-43
I was in Target the other day looking for something. I honestly cannot remember what. I walked around perusing the aisles. I looked at the new guitar hero game. I walked past the latest Oprah suggested book, and then my eyes meet glory itself. I became Ralphie, that kid from the famous holiday film, The Christmas Story.
Wide eyed I starred…at all 12 inches of heavenly glory, it was Talking Jesus: Messenger of Faith. It was described as: colorful and richly detailed…[this]talking figure brings the New Testament to life…a character that kids can play with and move. The Biblical character comes with a vibrant mini storybook that kids may follow and use to recreate the tales. A delightful “action figure” and fully interactive way for children to learn and participate in religious education. If I had known this two and a half years ago I could have avoided seminary altogether!!! The best part is that Batteries are Included.
I giggled to myself. Jesus is Chinese! It says so on the box, Made in China. So the Son of God remains dangerous to the world today, as now he may contain lead paint. I then went home pleased and ready to work on this sermon.
As I researched for today’s sermon I discovered how difficult it is for Americans to understand kingship. It is impossible for us to understand because we do not have kings. One article suggests that it is due to the weight we place on individuality over collective rights that bars us from understanding kingship. Obviously they have not been to Target.
This past Sunday was Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. Some of you may have heard this text preached some of you may have stayed at home and slept in and caught the morning highlights of Saturday’s college football scores while waiting for the insiders look at the days NFL playoff outlook.
This day, Christ the King Sunday, marks the end of ordinary time and the beginning of Advent in the Liturgical Year. We normally hear a sermon on the power and authority of Christ as we enter the triumphant time of Advent. The all powerful advent. The time when the reconciling victory of conquering Easter Jesus and the meandering ordinary gospel dispensing Jesus is displaced with the mysterious little gift of a baby with all the salvific love we can hope for, gloriously lying in the manger on a bed of hay. With cows, chickens, and three tired wise men standing around making admirable baby talk to the future King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We make haste in our move from the ordinary to Advent. It is as if we are fearful of gazing upon the lifeless body of Jesus. Today’s text in the midst of the holiday revelry forces us to look up at the cross and consider for a moment, who is Jesus? We are forced to look at the birth of Jesus in a different way when we are faced with this text of Jesus on the cross dying so close to the Christmastide birth stories and hymns. We can get caught up in the seasons greeting and miss out on the juxtaposition of death and birth that we must deal with.
There is the babe in swaddling cloths, he is the same person that we hear in today’s text that is being beaten, mocked, and scorned by his people. Jesus the swaddling little babe is being crucified upon a cross. Jesus silently dies with assurance of paradise and dispensing forgiveness.
The John Wayne Jesus of our culture would never go out like that. Jesus with his leathered face, 3 day beard, his well worn hat, spurs jingling, his swagger swaying, and his trigger finger itching would have been more dramatic than meekly dying on the cross and taking all that abuse. Jesus forgives, but he is secretly remembering all of the people that mess with him so he can dish out the proper amount of justice, cold as ice. Jesus is going to do something, right? He is the CHRIST! Our Jesus is John Wayne!
It is difficult to accept the silence. We as the church tend to be more comfortable with the candy coated Jesus wielding the parables, challenging the rich, which we are most definitely not a part of. We delight in the Buddha Jesus as he dispenses peaceful wisdom like Kane from Kung Fu. We will embrace the mighty minority Jesus demanding justice for all oppressed and marginalized folks. Then there is the Disney like character of wise ancient Jesus with all the right things to say that deliver us to insight and best of all a happy ending. We tend to seek anything but the broken, bleeding, dying, human Jesus. Up there on the cross forgiving his tormentors. Blessing the thief.
Jesus is dying on the cross. He is up there bleeding and suffering. He has been mocked, beaten, and scorned. Jesus speaks up for forgiveness, for whom? Folks are divvying up his stuff. There Jesus is dying between two criminals…Jesus says, “today you will be with me in Paradise” then nothing. The pericope ends. We know that Christ calls out for God to take him. We know the silence is not the end of it. But right now, today…the only appropriate response to Jesus upon the cross is silence.
What can we say? Jesus is dying on the cross. His death is a cosmic change. The schism between Creator and creation is being filled with the physical death of Jesus. Jesus Christ’s death alters existence itself. This is not a cartoon fairy tail. His death crosses the existing sanctions of death and claims a new reality. In a very real way the death of Jesus breaths new life into all of creation. Nothing we say is adequate in response or appropriate. We don the mourner cloak and mourner with the others unaware at this moment in the fabric of time, this cosmic altering phenomenon. We are silent and mystified, in awe, and confused. Jesus died. Jesus died.
What an odd place to talk about the death of Jesus? Right before we enter in to the majestic mysterium of advent and the birth of Christ, we pause here at his death. No adjective, noun, verb, or expletive can describe what is at stake in that pause. Silence is all we can offer. Silence is what God desires. With tears in our eyes, jaws dropped, or lump in our throats we wait. We wait for the birth of the promised hope we just left dying on the cross. That is one heck of a leap! We are asked to pause in silence and wait on God. Can we trust? What can we do? What just happened? What is at stake here?
We are left speechless with Christ on the cross. Between the sobbing and mocking the noise perhaps dies down as Christ slowly dies. I have heard that silence is the first step towards transformation. Silence is the prerequisite for invoking and receiving the grace of God. Without silence how may discernment and respond to others needs be revealed to us? Silence stifles the self-righteousness spawned from our bustling social activism and assuredness of possessing the truth. Silence shakes our foundation.
There Jesus is on the cross, dying. There his followers are below him. Those that love him, walked with him, ate with him, and were willing to die for him. All were somewhere in awe. The scriptures have no glorious moment of rescue by the disciples. There was no distraction and escape with Jesus clinging on to life in the back of a wagon or astride on a horse. Jesus dies and all are left wondering, alone, and silent.
Silence allows us to hear and see suffering and understand that we cannot be the solution…because we are part of the problem. Thomas Merton the ever thoughtful and profound child of God said, “The purest faith has to be tested by silence in which we listen for the unexpected, in which we are open to what we do not yet know, and in which we slowly and gradually prepare for the day when we will reach out to a new level of being with God. True hope is tested by silence in which we have to wait on the Lord in the obedience of unquestioning faith.”
Silence is not something that we catch like the flu. Silence is a discipline that is hard fought and won in the dominate culture of the western world with sacrifice and commitment. Actions that are seemingly absent from the fabric of today’s fast paced popular culture filled with ipods, e-mail, ifriends, e-books, mobile phones, mobile friends, mobile lives, and mega this or super size that. We do not have the time to be silence or we must schedule it in our PDA’s.
How is silence fruitful for the church? What good is silence to us?
Mother Teresa was once interviewed by a reporter. She was asked what she does during her time of prayer. She responded, “I listen to God.” The reporter was a little shocked so he naturally asked, “Well what does God do?” “He listens back,” she replied.
What a profound statement in the midst of our fast-paced technologically advanced globally diverse user friendly world. With so much space and technology that enables us to be still. We tend to fill/occupy/schedule every nook and cranny of our lives. Silence is the grace of God which like butter inhabits the nooks and crannies of our toasted little muffins.
In the psalm for today verse 10 reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” What a powerful statement. With all of the academic power we have at our disposal. With the thought of finals just over the horizon. With the prospect of graduation just there on the tip of our tongues. With the celebration of the birth of The Christ child just a mere 25 days away. With the hope of a better, painless, joyous, living world just within reach. Pause. Heed the Word of the Lord, “Be still and know that I am God.” The silence reminds us that God is God and we are not.
The silence slows us down, if only for the moment. It delivers us in to transformation. We arrive in silence to be utterly and cosmically altered by our Beloved God, to be transformed and witness the reconciliation of Creator and creation. Right before our eyes the profane becomes sacred.
Let this time focus on the pause. Be the person next to Jesus on the cross. Witness the world go by. Witness the shame, the insults, the withered faces of anger and jealousy, the perplexed looks of compassion and sorrow. The lustful hunger of destruction and humiliation.
There is no room for John Wayne Jesus. He is not going to overpower the guards and blaze his way to free himself and everyone else being held captive. No matter how much we desire this. Jesus will set the captives free. Jesus does become king. But he does not ascend to the throne. We see kingship as a seat of power on a throne. Jesus is ruling his kingdom nailed to the cross. For Jesus is nailed to his throne. Jesus will die on his throne and it is in this that paradise is revealed. Rest assured paradise is waiting. Let go of your image of Jesus. Quiet your response to his death. Just for this moment in time. Pause. Reflect. Assess. Witness. Mourn. Be still. Be silent. Jesus the Christ says, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”