Sermon for 11/24/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Luke 23:33–43
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. [[ 34Then 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."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Today, is Christ the King Sunday, not only the last Sunday in our Church year, but also our namesake Sunday, …and so naturally, it’s as good as time as any to talk about Bob Dylan.
Actually, I want to talk about a Bob Dylan song, called “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The song describes many various people, or identities one could be, but regardless of any of these identities, like an ambassador, doctor, or even someone named Zimmy, Mr. Dylan goes on to sing, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
For us, gathered on this Sunday, in this place, we certainly know who we serve, the Lord, the King, Jesus Christ. This seems really easy and obvious, not just for us at CtK, but really, for anyone, in the large scale perspective of things, we as humans would tend to choose the Lord, over the devil. For example, when one goes down an aisle of holiday decorations at a store, it’s not like there’s one side devoted to a guy with horns on his head and the other one to Jesus. Intrinsically, Jesus seems to have won the battle with the devil over who is King, even in pop culture.
But while I enjoy Mr. Dylan’s song, and hold its premise to be true, there’s another song out there that does a masterful job in fleshing this concept out, and showing just how much the world does indeed serve somebody, which contrary to our conventional wisdom, is really not Christ the King.
This song that comes to mind, which tells us about who we really do serve, starts with the line “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste…” and is the Rolling Stones song, “Sympathy for the Devil”. Now, if you’re not familiar with this song, after the devil introduces himself as a man of wealth and taste, he then goes on throughout the song to tell how he was around some of the most notorious events in human history, like the one we hear about in today’s Gospel reading from Luke; the moment when Jesus was going through his suffering, and death on a cross. In the song, as the devil takes us through the times in history, where he made sure to be present, and drive the action, the last moments in history referenced are, like our Gospel reading, fitting for this week, as the devil sings about the tragic death of the Kennedys. But in doing so, the devil, as portrayed by Mick Jagger, also reveals who his partners in crime are when he sings, “I shouted out, who killed the Kennedys, when after all, it was you and me.”
Us and him, us and the devil, the idea that together we are responsible for the tragic deaths of the Kennedys, or played a part in so many other horrible events in the world seems a bit far-fetched, especially if we weren’t even born then. Yet, we are participants in this world, whether we like it or not, where death and tragedy are an everyday occurrence, and the devil uses us and the systems we create to further his rule. As we marked with honor and grief the killing of a president 50 years ago this week, we continued to participate in a world where we are more concerned about how cheap we can get a new shirt, then for the hands who made that shirt. We as human beings, continue to participate in a world where the question that is asked during election cycles focuses on national security, not world peace. And perhaps the new Pope, Pope Francis, described the state of the devil’s rule in our world, when he said, “If investments in banks fall, it is a tragedy and people say 'what are we going to do?' but if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that's nothing”. No matter who we are, trust me, even pastors, we serve somebody, and unfortunately, because of the devil’s trickery, because of sins grip on us through every moment of our lives, we do indeed serve this King, this King of wealth, and taste, this king of death and suffering.
But there’s hope, because if we only had those sinful eyes to view the world with, the only somewhat positive way that we could perceive Jesus’ crucifixion would be to have sympathy for this innocent life taken. But as we hear this Gospel, we hear that Jesus doesn’t see with those eyes, we hear that he isn’t so blind to the devil’s tricks. When the criminal on the cross, mocking though he may be, confronts Jesus with one final temptation, that seems obvious to all of us, Jesus doesn’t bite. When the criminal says, if you’re the Messiah, a word for King, prove it by saving yourself, and this person, Jesus Christ, who had stilled a storm and walked on water certainly could have. But Jesus, through his eyes of faith in the goodness of God knew that it wasn’t those miracles, or his preaching ability, or the followers he had once gained that were what made the true King, it was love. And, through the faith of Jesus in the power of God’s love, this cross that Jesus was dying on, was also where he was being enthroned for all of creation, and all of us, as the King.
The devil, the would-be king, and all his empty promises, tried to get Jesus with the empty promise that gets all of us humans. The promise that through our survival, through what ultimately is our own selfishness, salvation can come to the world. But Jesus, isn’t just our King, he is the King of both heaven and earth, the king of eternity, who came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life over to us, so that we may know, taste, and see, what real life is. Indeed, this is the King whose Kingdom doesn’t just try to help those who suffer from poverty, and die of hunger, but raises them up as more valuable than anything you could put a price tag on. This is the King who is not identified by royal rings, but by nail-pierced wounds, the king who isn’t adorned with a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns.
This king, Jesus Christ, doesn’t need our sympathy, in fact, he doesn’t need anything from this world, and came only to give us life, even as it meant his death. But even death could not conatin this King as still he lives, still today, this King makes our world his Kingdom, still, today, this King comes to us giving us his own body and blood and establishing his eternal Kingdom even as we serve someone else.
And still this King establishes that Kingdom, through his merciful grace, right here, among us, and in, with, and through each of us. Today, as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and as we bear that name, may we remember that this isn’t just a name to put on a sign, but to mark our existence. Indeed, may we remember that we have been made this King’s body, the church, following and serving Jesus, sharing his life with all the world, not through our wealth and taste, or even our well-learned politesse, but through our brokenness, our vulnerability, and our compassionate love, we share our King, who has marked us and all of creation with his Kingdom’s sign, the sign of the cross, forever. Hail, to the King.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,