Christ the King, Proper C
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 23:33-43 Sermon
November 21, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
163 "O Worship The King, All Glorious Above"
434 "Beautiful Saviour, King Of Creation"
431 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
----- "Lift High The Cross"
ARE YOU A FAN OR A FOLLOWER?
TEXT: (vs. 38) “There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
I would imagine that you, along with a majority of the American public are familiar with what is known as "The House of Windsor." This isn't referring to a physical structure, but a family name. And if you aren't familiar with the family name "Windsor," you are most likely very familiar with its most famous individual, and that is Queen Elizabeth II of England.
The family name of Windsor has been around since 1917. King George V created this "house" as it is called by royal proclamation. Previously, the family name was "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha," which was quite a mouthful. Windsor seems much more practical.
Queen Elizabeth II, who is the reigning British monarch, is the daughter of King George VI, and his wife Queen Elizabeth I. You may recall that Queen Elizabeth I, who was also known as "The Queen Mother" died back in 2002 at the age of 102--and what a grand old lady she was too.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Phillip (also known as Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten) have four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward.
And then of course we know that Prince Charles was married to Lady Di, or Dianna Spencer, and they had two sons, William and Harry. And Prince Andrew was married to Fergie, or Sarah Ferguson, and they had two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie. And that's about as much as I'm going to say about the house of Windsor for right now.
Okay, so why all of this talk about the Royal family? We're Americans, right? What does all that have to do with us? Why should we care?
Well, we do care. We watched their grand weddings on television. We were saddened when the royal marriages broke up. We felt the tragedy when Lady Di was killed in the automobile accident. We followed the antics of Prince Harry and his rather interesting lifestyle. We sympathized with the mourners when the Queen Mum died at age 102.
I suppose our affinity with the Royal family might have something to do with America's heritage as a former commonwealth nation prior to the revolutionary war. And even though the history has some hiccoughs, still we've always had a soft spot in our hearts for them.
But even though we highly regard them, and warmly welcome them when they visit the United States, we aren't subjects of the British crown. Granted that the British Commonwealth nations are our biggest political allies, and we have quite a history together, still our allegiance is to the United States of America.
To put it quite simply, when it comes to the British Royalty, we are fans, and not followers. I don't care how highly you might regard them, we'll never be more than just fans, unless we take up citizenship under the crown.
Today we are focusing our thoughts in the direction of royalty. Today is the final Sunday in the Church Year, and our calendars note that it is called "Christ The King" Sunday. As Christians, we need to see Christ as our King, and the Lord of our lives.
I just mentioned that when it comes to British royalty, we are fans and not followers. Is that how we are in relationship to Jesus? Are we fans of Jesus, or are we followers? Let's keep that question in our minds as we look at our text for today.
Our Gospel reading for today is a story we know quite well. It is a portion of the Passion History, where Jesus is crucified between two criminals. But to talk about it at this time of year seems almost out-of-place. This should be leading us up to Easter and not Christmas.
But there he hangs. And the sign that Pilate nailed above his head identifies him as the King of the Jews. Even though what it said is very true, it was placed there as a mockery. What kind of a king would be dying on a cross?
If we think back through the life of Jesus, we know he had lots of fans. When he fed the 5,000 there were those who wanted to make him a so-called "bread king." They had witnessed a miracle, and had come to the conclusion that if Jesus were their leader, they would never be in want for food ever again. He could also heal their sick, and even raise their dead. And if they wanted to have a party, well, all Jesus had to do was say the word, and he could turn wash water that was not fit for human consumption into some of the finest quality wine. Who wouldn't be a fan of somebody like that? Wouldn't he be handy to have around?
But when the fans have to turn into followers, then things take on a drastic change. Simon Peter vowed to follow Jesus, regardless of what happened. But where was he now? The only people at the foot of the cross were his mother and the Apostle John. The others were hiding out in fear. It's one thing to stand at the sidelines and cheer somebody on, but quite another thing when you are following somebody through some very tough situations.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he had been crucified between two criminals who were bearing the punishment for their crimes. Now common criminals aren't known for their superior intelligence or their ability to think things through logically.
There are many examples of stupid criminals I could talk about. One that sticks in my mind was the would-be bank robber who walks into a bank to hold it up. He stops at the counter in the lobby, and writes a hold-up note on a blank deposit slip. After he writes it, he goes and stands in line waiting for his turn to go to the teller.
Because it was taking a rather long time, the bank robber decides to leave the bank, and walk across the street to another bank. He goes up to the teller, and passes his note to her.
She looked at the note, and saw it was written on a deposit slip from the bank across the street. So she tells him, "I can't accept this here, you'll have to take it to the bank across the street."
So the bank robber grumbles a bit and goes back to the bank where he originally was. And sure enough, the police walk right up to him and arrest him as he was standing in line waiting his turn.
The criminal who was on one side of Jesus had just about as much intelligence. As the three of them were hanging there, he mocks Jesus. "Aren't you the Christ?" he asks. "If you are who you say you are, then save yourself and save us!"
It was certainly within Jesus' power to do that. The Bible tells us that he could have called ten thousand angels at his disposal, and the situation could have been completely changed. And if Jesus had indeed done what this one criminal asked him to do, you can bet he would have been a huge fan of Jesus. But being a fan does not make a person into a follower.
The other criminal was the intelligent one. He knew what was going on. And he also knew that as a follower of Jesus, he would have residency in heaven for all eternity. The intelligent criminal places his very soul in Jesus' hands, knowing full well that Jesus saw him as a precious child.
The second criminal finds it hard to comprehend the first criminal's lack of intelligence. What an idiot he was! Verses 40-41 of our Gospel lesson records what he said: “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
And then he says to Jesus in verse 42: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He became a follower of Jesus, and not just a fan. He knew that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, and the one he need to follow.
In our world today, there are lots of Jesus fans out there. Amongst the non-Christians, even the Muslims will say that he was a good person and a great moral teacher. So will the modern Jews, the Hindus, the Bahai, and the Unitarian Universalists. These people certainly aren't followers. These are the more obvious examples.
However even amongst those who are Christians, we have far more fans than we do followers. Have you ever seen one of those huge Christian revival assemblies? A speaker will shout through the loudspeaker at the crowd, "Do you love Jesus?" And the crowd will shout back "Yes!" And the speaker will repeat a bit louder, "I can't hear you, do you love Jesus?" And the response is louder, "YES!" And this back-and-forth banter will continue until the people just can't scream any louder. Are these followers or just fans caught up in the emotion of the moment?
This is a question that we need to be continually asking ourselves as well. Are we followers, or are just fans? Are we standing at the sidelines saying, "Yeah, you go get 'em Jesus, we'll cheer you on!" Or are we right there in the trenches with him doing his work and building his Church?
A lot has to do with the attitude of our hearts, and how we regard his kingship. Jesus needs to have the rightful place as Lord and King of our lives; and in order to have that position, he also needs to be our Saviour.
The difference between a fan and a follower of Jesus is a matter of faith alone. Jesus our King has gone to battle on our behalf. He has defeated the powers of death, hell, and Satan and removed that curse from our lives. He has kept God's law perfectly for us. He has paid the price for our sin. And he has opened the door to heaven for us.
This is all something we accept through faith alone. Through faith we follow him all the way to the cross, where we see our sins crucified right there with him. As a follower, we know we can lay all of our sins right at the foot of the cross with the knowledge that he has completely removed them from us. This is the reward of faith that a follower has.
The House of Windsor has always been something of interest to the American public. We'll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a British subject, and speak respectfully about the Queen. We can even compare British citizenship and American citizenship and not see a scrap of difference between the two, except for one thing. The Americans are fans, and the Britons are followers. We don't pledge allegiance to the Queen of England.
Christ is our King. He is royalty, descended from David's royal bloodline. As it says in Luke chapter 2, Jesus was of the house and lineage of David. Jesus is rightfully identified as the King of the Jews, not just because of his human ancestry, but because of his position in relationship to all of humanity. Our king is indeed our Saviour, and he has this position in our lives through faith alone.
As we go about our work in Christ's kingdom, we need to do so as followers, and not just fans sitting on the sidelines cheering him on. When Jesus called the Apostles, he said to them, "Follow me." That's the same thing he says to us today. In John chapter 12 verse 26 Jesus says, "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." Jesus also says in Luke chapter 14 verse 27, "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
So are we followers, or are we fans? Being a fan might seem to be the easy way to go, but the reward of the follower has eternal benefits that far outweigh whatever difficulties we might encounter. Christ's kingdom is built by followers like you and me who are committed to him and his cause. Therefore, remember the words of the hymn writer: "Rise up, O men of God, the Church for you doth wait; her strength unequal to her task, rise up and make her great."