Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Welcomed by God

When I was an intern the church I served had a nursery school and every morning the kids would gather and we would sing songs, read Bible stories, and pray.
Often we would sing the song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
And every time we would sing that song we would sing the verse with each kid in it.
He’s got Jacob in his hands…He’s got Jacob in his hands…He’s got the whole world in his hands.
And every time the kids as we sang this song would shake their heads no.
I wonder if we sometimes feel this way.
That our lives are carried away by forces greater than us, but that it could not be God.
Today is Christ in the King Sunday and what it is about is recognizing that God has the whole world in his hands…that God has all of us in God’s hands.
Because as it says in Colossians this morning” And through Jesus Christ God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

For the last three weeks we have been talking about what it means to live as ourselves in God’s grace.
We heard that God’s grace frees us to be who we are as we are, and that we are given the power to live as saints, that God’s grace means living without fear.
We end our sermon series in an appropriate place talking about the reign of Jesus.
Today we will be talking about Jesus as our King.
We have to say up front that this is really hard to talk about.
It is hard to talk about because we simply do not have any experience with Kings.
The first time I was the pastor during a Christ the King Sunday I made the mistake of asking the kids at the children’s sermon if they could name any Kings?
After a long silence finally one kid blurted out, “Burger King”.
After another long silence another kid said, “King Kong?”
It was apparent that they did not know any Kings.
In America where we rejected the rule of Kings from the outset we have not known a King since George III.
So why do we have this as part of our liturgical year?

In 1925 after the First World War in response to over secularization and nationalization the Church decided that people needed to be reminded about who ruled their lives.
We all have something that rules our lives.
Most of the time we don’t recognize those things, we don’t name them.
We pledge allegiance to our country, to our freedom, to our ability to make and spend money.
Christ the King attempts to get us to recognize the true source of lives.
That Jesus is ruler of heaven and earth, and ruler of our lives.
That when we say that God has the world in his hands we can say yes with confidence.
This is a hard concept for us because Americans don’t want to admit that we are ruled by anything, or that anything but our individual choice is in charge of our lives.

But Jesus rule is not like those other things that rule us without us knowing it.
Jesus rule is about something more.
It is about something deep in us, around us, through us.
In naming it, in giving our lives over to it, we don’t become slave but become free.
The popular image of church is that it is the place we come to be told what not to do.
It is where we come to be told who we can have sex with and at what time, where we should spend our money, what kinds of words and actions are expected of us in a civilized society.
I disagree.
Church is where we come to be welcomed, to be free, to be ourselves, to live in God’s grace.
It is the one place in this world where I am truly myself.
And today Jesus welcomes you into paradise as yourself.
On the cross Jesus welcomes a criminal, a guilty man into paradise with him.
On the cross Jesus ask for forgiveness of those who are mocking him, crucifying him.
Think about that act.
I have trouble sometimes forgiving people who mess up my order at a restaurant.
Jesus forgives those who kill him.
And today Jesus welcomes you, forgives you, and sets you free.

I would like for us to think about the criminal on the cross for one minute.
The one who Jesus welcomes into paradise.
Here is this criminal who was free to steal and kill, and do whatever he wanted to do in this life.
But in summiting to Jesus he becomes welcomed and truly free.
Freedom is not about being able to do whatever we want whenever we want.
Freedom is about giving our lives over to others, to God.
It is an interesting paradox.
In searching for who we are we only find it in submitting our lives to others.
This is what faith gives us.
It gives us a place to live free.

Jesus as King is not about demanding things from us but rather about inviting us into something greater then we can imagine.
It is about a Kingdom of grace, not about the rules that we know in this world.
It is about a Kingdom where grace is operating all the time.
The Kingdom is about a father who makes a fool of himself by running after both his legalistic son and runaway son.
A woman who throws a big party after finding one coin.
A Shepherd willing to leave 99 sheep to find one.
A Samaritan willing to risk his own life for someone he should dislike.
A worker who gets equal pay for less work.
The Kingdom is about you and me this morning.
It is about this time right here that we share together.
The kingdom is about this time, this one hour, where we are welcomed by Jesus into paradise.
If you want to know what God’s kingdom looks like look around.
Because this hour we recognize that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and we surrender our lives to that truth.

I think to some people this is a very hard thing to explain.
How does coming to Church give us freedom?
We have to wake up early on Sunday, fight with the kids to get in the car, come and sing songs we might not like and listen to a sermon that might put us to sleep or wish that we were asleep.
How does it benefit me to serve on a committee, or work to make the church better?
How does it help my life to be involved in a faith community where I have to give my money, time, and energy, when I can worship God anywhere at any time?
It seems to most that we are locking ourselves into a life of slavery.

Those of us who have been involved in the Church our whole lives know better.
In submitting to the one who died for us we have been freed from all the other things that pull and tear us apart.
We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away or defiled.
Our money will someday be gone, our careers will someday be over, our kids will someday grow up and move out (hopefully), our parents will someday die, political ideologies and parties will change, our sports coaches will someday retire.
One thing will remain constant Jesus will always be there for us.
Even while dying on the cross Jesus thoughts were not about himself but about us.
Jesus was thinking about our salvation or need.
Whatever happens in our lives Jesus is the one thing that we will be able to count on and know.
And the Church is the place we were experience and know that permanent invitation of welcome.
Today you will be with me in paradise.
Today we are forgiven and welcomed into new kingdom of grace.
Today we can be with Jesus in paradise, simply by submitting to God’s grace and love.
Nothing else needs to be done on our part just by being ourselves we are receiving the welcome of God.

God has the whole world in his hands…
Yes it is true!
Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth and we are welcomed to participate in this kingdom of grace.

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