Via Crucis XI Sculpture by Franco Fiabane. Image by brtsergio via Flickr
Another liturgical year has come full circle, and here we are gazing at Christ our King, whose power is made perfect in weakness. Here is a sermon for Christ the King, Year C.
Jesus, Remember Me
A Sermon on Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King—Year C
What an odd thing it is to focus on the crucifixion story at this time of year! The holiday season is getting into swing. Beautiful decorations are going up. The mall parking lot is full. People are working at creating a Christmas atmosphere, warm and sentimental. The prevailing message sounds like this—and I’m quoting from the Coldwater Creek clothing catalog: “simmer wassail on the stove ’til the whole house smells of apples. Catch the joy in a child’s eyes. Light one candle. Or many. Marvel again at the power of song to lift the human heart. And sing for all you’re worth. This holiday, take comfort in the simplest of pleasures. For this is the season of sharing. Of giving. And finding quiet joy in the closeness of all those dear to your heart.” It sounds very cozy and inviting.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, and indeed, a baby king, a sweet little boy will receive some attention in a few weeks. But here is a pitiful man, strung up on a cross, with a sign that reads: “This is the King of the Jews.” (more…)
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Painting: Zakae by Niels Larsen Stevns. Image via Wikipedia
My congregation and I will be visiting with Zacchaeus this week. I’m not sure yet what’s going to surface. At the moment I’m pondering all the “stunners” in the text, including Jesus’ stunning act of grace and Zacchaeus’ stunning response: big-time repentance and big-time generosity. It makes the grace I try to offer seem pale and lukewarm, and the same thing when it comes to my own repentance. Here is a sermon I preached on this text in 2001. Perhaps it will contribute to the conversation as you and your congregation visit with Zacchaeus this year.
“I Must Stay at Your House Today”
A Sermon on Luke 19:1-10
It is hard to imagine any Jew choosing to work as a tax collector for the Roman government. But that is just what Zacchaeus, Matthew and many others did. Roman authorities decreed how much money was due. Then the collectors charged that to the people, plus extra to pay themselves—sometimes a LOT extra. That was how they made their living. The system was corrupt, and it bred resentment among the citizens. No group of people was hated more than tax collectors. It was bad enough to participate in the system. It was even worse to betray your own people for the oppressor.
It is hard to imagine Zacchaeus choosing to be a tax collector, but perhaps he didn’t have many options. The text makes a big deal of how small Zacchaeus was, how unusually small. It makes me wonder whether he had an illness, or injury, or genetic condition that prevented him from reaching a normal height. If so, and if people then were like they are now, he probably got worried over: “Oh, he’ll shoot up one of these days,” his concerned mother would say. Or worse, Zacchaeus got teased: “Hey, shorty!”
Perhaps Zacchaeus had physical limitations, or perhaps he was one of many sons in his family, and there wasn’t enough of the family business to go around. Maybe there wasn’t any place for him. All this is to say I wonder whether Zacchaeus had much choice in the matter. Maybe it was either tax collecting or begging. Take your pick.
Zacchaeus had done well at it, made it big in that way at least. The result was that his physical needs were more than met, and his family’s needs, if he had one. But the result was also isolation. Zacchaeus was of little account in the neighbors’ eyes. They had no use for him. If they saw him coming down the street, they crossed over to the other side. Zacchaeus had certainly made a living, but he hadn’t made a life. There’s a difference. (more…)
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Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom via Flickr
I am tired of the incivility and contempt that permeate public discourse. I was also pretty tired of it during the 2004 election season. Looking back at that year’s sermon on Luke 18:9-14, the gospel lesson for October 24, I see that the ugly political climate was much on my mind. I found a key to preaching the text in the pericope that follows. Here’s the sermon in case it might help you get ready to preach about the pharisee and the tax collector this lectionary go-round.
I’m ready for this election to be over. Maybe the candidates always treat one another with contempt, but it seems to me that this year they have been especially scornful of one another: lobbing contemptuous barbs at each other, flashing scornful looks, smearing each other’s character. And I’m not just talking about the presidential campaign. The campaigns in our state have sounded pretty ugly. I heard pieces of some of the gubernatorial debates, but there was little real constructive debate. It was mostly finding every way possible to slam the other candidate. David Crabtree of WRAL was moderating one of those events, and he asked the candidates to name three positive points about the other candidate. And they couldn’t do it.
The tension is showing up in the electorate, and some religious leaders are feeding it. They’re coming right out and saying so-and-so is THE Christian candidate, and if you’re a real Christian, that’s who you’ll vote for. People for one candidate are saying, “Our candidate’s got the right position on moral issues like abortion.” People for another candidate are saying, “Wait a minute! That’s not the only moral issue. War is a moral issue, too. Our candidate’s got the right position there.” On and on it goes. And good Christian people are calling each other’s faith into question. “Thank goodness we’re not like those other people!” they say to those who agree with them. “Our side is the one that’s really serving God’s purposes.”
I think Abraham Lincoln was right as he reflected on the war between the Union and the Confederacy in his second inaugural address. Each side prayed to the same God. People on each side believed that God was on their side. Lincoln said, “The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
We’re seeing extreme contempt in the political campaigns. But contempt also comes in everyday forms. Maybe it’s because it just feels good, temporarily at least, to feel that we are better than somebody else.
To people who had a habit of regarding others with contempt, Jesus told a parable. (more…)
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Painting by James Tissot
In God’s eyes there is no “just a” as in “we’re just a small church.” When I hear people in small congregations use those two words “just a,” I suspect that a spirit of weakness has hold of them. Like the bent over woman in the synagogue in Luke 13, small churches often have a hard time looking the world in the face. Christ the healer is at work doing something about that. Here’s a sermon I preached on Luke 13:10-21 some years ago. Notice that the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast immediately follow the healing story.
“Stand Up Straight!”
This story of Jesus is one of my all time favorites. And now it is especially poignant because my father is in the same fix as the woman in the story. He is bent over, and he feels too weak to stand up straight.
The Greek text says that a spirit of weakness had crippled this woman. For eighteen years it had held her down, so that she couldn’t stand up straight. Nowadays she would probably receive a diagnosis of scoliosis or osteoporosis. Think of what that means. Pain. Spontaneous fractures in her vertebrae. Think of what being bent all the time did to this woman’s lungs and her other internal organs. Think of what this woman had to do to her neck to be able to see. She would have to bend it backwards, like this, or else turn sideways and look at the world from the side. It took so much effort to look up and see that she spent most of the time looking at the ground.
Even worse, perhaps, than the physical suffering was the emotional suffering. In Jesus’ day people believed that disability was caused by a demon, and that it was a punishment from God. Just as they do now, people stared. They avoided her. They wondered what in the world this woman had done to deserve such an affliction. It was a source of shame. (more…)
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