Being Remembered

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Molly was just a kid. She didn’t know why the bitter cold Chicago wind blew through the holes in Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 7.23.23 PMthe side of her dilapidated house. Molly didn’t know that not everyone had rats mating in the rafters above their beds at night. Maybe the other kids huddled around their wood stoves in one room because it was too cold to be in the rest of the house.

They didn’t say. 

She only knew that the other kids laughed at how she dressed in hand-me-down pants, thrift store tops, and old lady shoes her aunt got her for free.

A twinge of guilt comes over Molly when she thinks about the time she dropped an open can of peaches on the floor. Her mother was soooo angry. Her mother said, “Molly! You careless child! What were you doing? You dropped the last can of fruit we have!”

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Sarah could feel the disapproving eyes on the back of her neck when she swiped her Oregon Trail card to pay for the groceries. Then it was the tap tap tap of the well-dressed professional woman’s fingers on the counter…

The tapping cut into her very soul as Sarah dug for and counted out pennies to buy a twenty-five cent candy for her three-year-old.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

At forty-five Delia still struggled to have a normal sex life with her husband. Bob was a good man but he didn’t understand why she sometimes cringed when he came up behind her too quietly and touched her shoulder. 

Delia didn’t like surprises. She’d had too many of those from her mother’s boyfriends when she was growing up. Some of the boyfriends were nice and never touched her but Mom seemed to have a knack for finding the wrong man. 

There was one boyfriend who moved in for two years. He seemed to take pleasure in coming to Delia’s room every night after Mom was asleep. 

Delia didn’t feel safe during the daytime either. He would shove himself up against her while pretending to give Delia a fatherly hug. He would do it while Mom was making dinner and give Delia a look that dared her to say anything.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Frank had good days and bad days. Folks in town didn’t understand why he went through stretches of time — especially in the winter — when he never stopped in at the pub for a beer with the boys. His wife grew impatient with his seeming inability to do anything around the house.

She told him to get his lazy butt off the couch but putting up the storms just seemed like an impossible task.  Frank couldn’t explain why he had no energy. No pep. No desire. Frank just knew he was depressed. It took every ounce of energy he had to go to work at all.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  

***

It seems kind of odd to have this passage in the lectionary on the Sunday before Advent. Why would we want to look at Jesus dying on the cross? It’s not like we even get the resurrection. We just get a depressing story of the One the disciples thought would restore Israel, hanging on the cross between two criminals.  

Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year is traditionally marked as Reign of Christ Sunday, sometimes it’s called Christ the King Sunday. As someone who has a low christology, meaning that in my personal faith, I relate to the human Jesus more than the divine Jesus, . . .

I’ve often found this special Sunday of the liturgical year to be less meaningful than others. The imagery of a king does not speak to me. I know it holds great meaning for others but for me, not-so-much.

Raised in a denomination that grew out of the American frontier, I find it hard to think of Christ as king. Christ as guide, that’s cool. Christ as teacher, that works. Christ as model, absolutely. Even Christ as companion works for me.

But I struggle with the concept and image of Christ sitting on a throne with a crown and scepter. Perhaps I’m too egalitarian, too ingrained in our American experience in which leaders are elected. 

And, so, perhaps I’m more fortunate than the disciples when I try to understand this passage from Luke in light of Christ the King Sunday. Unlike the disciples, both the apostles and the other loyal followers of Jesus, I understand that Jesus is not a king in the ilk of David. He’s not a king who will restore the earthly kingdom of Israel.

Now…Like you, I know the rest of the story. This king — this messiah — who comes to us as an itinerant rabbi, who eats with tax collectors and the oppressed is not gonna kick Herod’s tooshie back to Rome. For the apostles and other disciples, the cross was a shock! The king to whom they and we claim allegiance, is dying on a cross unable, in the words of his tormentors, to even save himself. 

What does this pericope, this section of Luke’s gospel tell us about the king we call savior? What do we learn about the kingdom of God, about what I call God’s realm?

First, we know Jesus is not going to kick Rome out of Israel. Jesus’ kingdom, God’s realm is not a military power. Of course had we been listening to Jesus as he wandered the countryside, we would know this already. As Nancy Lynne Westfield points out,

Jesus spends more time talking about the Kingdom of God than any other topic or issue…Jesus spent much of his ministry describing the kingdom of God as having different rules and different expectations from the rules and laws and penalties of humanity. (Feasting On The Word, Kindle loc. #12487)

Second, Jesus doesn’t stop thinking about and caring for others — for us — even as he is dying.

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34a CEB

 I confess that when I am suffering, even if only from a nasty cold, I am less empathetic and less concerned about others. It’s not that I’ll cease to care about you when I’m under the weather but I am less likely to think about you. It’s not something of which I’m proud but it is true.

In Jesus, however, is a ruler who despite torture, beatings, mockery, and certain death prays for his enemies as he is dying at their hands. The Realm of God is a place of undying love. It is a place in which we are all beloved of God.

Third, we learn in this passage that God in Jesus remembers every single one of us. We learn that even a criminal who in his own words is “rightly condemned…[and] receiving the appropriate sentence for what [he] did” (Luke 23:41 CEB) is beloved by God!

Notice the sequence of events between the criminal who asks,

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t require a catechism class. Jesus doesn’t require recitation of a creed. Jesus doesn’t require the criminal to say, you are the only way to God. He doesn’t require the “correct” theology or that the criminal join the UCC. Jesus doesn’t even require baptism.

What Jesus does is, he responds immediately saying,“I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43b CEB

We learn that God’s Realm is open to the most incorrigible, those who have committed heinous acts, to mothers who scold children who drop peaches, to child abusers, and impatient professionals in the grocery line.

God’s Realm is open to each and everyone of us. Grace is grace is grace is grace.

 Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

*** 

Molly’s mom was doing the best she could to hold the family together. Food was expensive and they had very little. She felt so guilty every time she thought back to the day she reamed Molly out for spilling those peaches.

It was just so hard to make ends meet. They were on food stamps after she’d been laid off, they were out of cash, they were out of everything…and it was still three days until her Oregon Trail card would be reloaded.

She wished she could tell Molly how sorry she was for that day, but she was just too embarrassed and too ashamed.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Phyllis was in such a hurry that day but she had to run into the market for just a few things. She got in a slow line and then — THEN — the woman in front of her whips out her Oregon Trail card. “Must be nice,” thought Phyllis. I have to make ends meet AND pay for her!

The woman in front of her looked so much more “put together” than Phyllis felt. Phyllis wished she could be casually doing the groceries with her children. She wished someone else would pay for her groceries. 

Instead she was on the way to a high-pressure meeting. 

Phyllis didn’t realize until the woman was on the way out the door that she’d been tap tap tapping her fingers on the counter.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Joe was in prison. He’d gotten sloppy. He’d molested the wrong child and he’d been caught. 

Joe had found Jesus in prison. A lot of folks thought it was a ploy to get parole sooner. They didn’t think he was sincere. 

Though Joe still had desires for kids, he understood that it wasn’t ok behavior. Joe was genuinely sorry for what he’d done through the years. Anyway, Joe found Jesus in prison. And he realized that regardless of what he desired, it was a sin to act on it. He realized that it was wrong to hurt others. 

He also knew that though he didn’t deserve it, Jesus forgave him. The prison chaplain called that grace.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Finally, after three years of his friggin’ laziness, Frank’s wife kicked him to the curb. He just laid around the house. She couldn’t get him to even go out for a beer with his friends let alone take her out dancing or put up the storm windows.

Someone suggested he was depressed but she knew better. Frank was just a lazy good-for-nothing and she threw him out.

She wasn’t sorry either. She had to take care of herself. She had to start living her own life.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

***

We are all sinners. Sometimes we ask forgiveness. Sometimes we know we should ask forgiveness and we don’t. Sometimes we’ve hurt others and we don’t even realize it.

Always God loves us. Always God nudges us, trying to get us to listen and change. Always God pushes us to forgo judging and empathize with others. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.

Always God loves. Love doesn’t give up. It doesn’t say, “yes, but”. It encourages us to right behavior. It nudges us to mimic Christ. 

But always Love forgives. Love is grace.

We’re often uncomfortable with this kind of grace, this kind of love. It seems so impractical and over-the-top. We want to set boundaries for love. Writes Nancy Lynne Westfield,

This kind of forgiveness is a challenging notion for many of us. Part of our inability to believe and trust the forgiving power of God’s grace and mercy is our inability to believe that other people deserve mercy. We want to judge whom God lets into heaven. (Feasting On The Word, Kindle loc. 12492)

But in the unfolding realm of God, we are called to live by different rules. In the unfolding realm of God, we are all beloved.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

[And] Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 CEB

Amen.

***

This sermon was preached by Tim Graves at the Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ on November 24, 2013. Tim took the SNAP Challenge during the week prior; he was on the final day of the experience on the day he preached this sermon. The text for the sermon is Luke 23:33-43.

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