Texts: Jer 23.1-6; Col 1.11-20; Lk 23.33-43
Unfortunately, something else that has not worn off--that has in fact become worse—is the wave of hateful incidents following the election. Across the country, there are stories of people being harassed, children chanting of “Build The Wall,” women having hijabs ripped from their heads, hateful graffiti and slurs, even some violence. Right here in Gig Harbor, in a grocery store parking lot, a boy was called by a hateful name because his skin is black. Regardless of which way we cast our votes—or didn’t cast our votes—we can all agree that these acts of malice and hatred are sickening and sad. It would appear that there are some sheep in the flock who are already taking after their new shepherd.
There are many around us whose hatred and fear have been stirred up by this new shepherd, and there are many others who fear for their families, their homes, their safety, even their lives. We proclaim Jesus as our king because we believe that he is the one shepherd who can unite us, who frees us from this fear. No matter which way we may have voted, many in the church are now asking ourselves: what comes next? Where is our king leading us?
Make no mistake friends: I am here today to remind you that our king is leading us straight to the cross.
Not tomorrow, not in three days when he rose, not next election cycle, not someday: today. We might imagine that heaven is some far off place where all of our desires and needs are met, where we lounge around in luxurious idleness, but for Jesus, paradise is doing the will of God, even on a cross, for it is on the cross that we are freed from the fear that binds us.
What humanity intended for evil, God used for good: though the cross was our rejection of Jesus and his kingship, he made it is throne, the instrument by which he draws us all together. The death he died on the cross is the death into which we have been baptized. Death gives us no fear, because what is already dead cannot die. Instead, Jesus raises us to new life with him. We arise not as we were, bound by sin and death and all the worldly entanglements and loyalties to tribe or ethnic group or political party or ideology; we arise as resurrected and renewed people, as the body of Christ, as the very kingdom of God.
Luther writes, “That is why we do not pray, 'Let us come to your kingdom' as if God’s kingdom is something that we can chase after or accomplish by our hard work, but rather, 'your kingdom come to us.' God’s kingdom can only come to us; we can’t go up to heaven and get it any more than we went up to heaven to bring Christ down. When God reigns in us, we are God’s kingdom. That is blessedness.” (Luther, WA 2.95ff)
God’s kingdom is not something we seek after, something we try to establish or bring about, it is something we are. When we are baptized, God forms us together into the Church. In Greek, the word church literally means “the ones called out.” As the Church, we have been set aside to be God’s kingdom, to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, release to the captives; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. We have been called by God in a world full of shepherds who divide and scatter to share the good news of the Good Shepherd who will unite his flock and rule with justice and righteousness for all.
So Church, what do we do next? How do we live as people free from the fear that holds the world captive? How do we proclaim unity in world of division? I believe it starts by doing what we have always done. The promises we make in baptism guide us into the future: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus, and to strive for peace and justice in all the earth. What does it look like to live out these promises? Now is our opportunity to find out.
Is this the time to step up our support of local programs already in place to promote welcome and unity in our community, or do we start something new? Do we prepare to support and sponsor a refugee family? Do we start a conversation about becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation to intentionally send a message of love and support to the LGBTQ community? Do we protest at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to attempt to aid the plight of detained immigrants? These are only some of the questions we may be asking ourselves right now. I can’t tell you the answer to these questions, but together in the name of Christ, we will listen for and follow the call of our king.
Where our friends and neighbors and children fear, in the name of Christ we will bring hope and joy. Where there is hatred and anger, in the name of Christ we will announce peace. Where shepherds destroy and scatter the sheep of God’s pasture for their own political and financial gain, in the name of Christ we will call God’s people together and announce the year of the LORD’s favor. We are God’s kingdom. We have seen firsthand the salvation the Jesus brings. We are able to bring good news to the world of the one true shepherd who rules with justice and righteousness because we have been marked with the cross of Christ our king and sealed with his name forever.