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Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
November 24, 2019 –Christ the King Sunday
The future appears long before it happens this week. Jeremiah cries out with the voice of God to a nation in ruins. The worst has befallen God’s chosen people. They have been overrun and sent into exile.
The prophet speaks in metaphorical language to a people who should have seen it coming. It is the shepherds who have scattered the flock, doing the work of their enemies for them.
They have followed leaders who may have been clever, but they were not wise. They sounded good…told the nation what it wanted to hear…but the result was a steep descent into oblivion.
They have made alliances with neighbors who were not their friends and turned on them… instead of looking to the qualities that had made them great. They settled for easy answers when they needed to look to the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
But they are still God’s people and while God has chastened them, God has not abandoned them. So what will God do with them next?
We have the benefit of seeing Israel’s future clearly….in our rear view mirror…when they can only guess at what awaits them. Somehow, their contemporary, Jeremiah, a prophet, can see it as clearly then as we do now.
He speaks with the voice of the Almighty…and he will be punished for it…more than once. ‘I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.’
He foretells of a day when a righteous branch of their great king, David, will appear among them and lead them back to the greatness that caused them to arise as a light to the nations.
We can see Jesus in this description. A righteous branch of David shall rise up, reign as king and deal with them wisely. But then, we…most of us…knew Jesus before we knew the prophesy Jeremiah gave them.
Nations with great virtues have somehow given their character to humble souls…or souls that have been humbled…to restore them to their great calling in the world.
We might think of Moses, the one who led God’s people from bondage into freedom. But we might also think of Abraham Lincoln, another great soul that grew out of a great nation’s wilderness and led America from a dark heritage of bondage into the bright destiny of freedom.
We might think of the Founders of our country…who boldly proclaimed to a world dominated by kings who held absolute power… that all people are created equal and they are all endowed by their creator with rights that can’t be taken from them…that they cannot sell or give away…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We might think of Queen Elizabeth I who ruled England in the late 1500’s when that island was continually threatened by Continental forces that were more than a match for it.
When things looked dark for her flock, she declared herself their good shepherd. “ I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, a of a king of England, too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns, and we do assure you, in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.”
She would inspire her flock for hundreds of years, at least until the 1930s when a brash young man who had grown to middle age would inspire her people again…and Winston Churchill would quote her warm words at length to their descendants in his History of the English Speaking People.
We seem to want to find easy solutions to problems we face today …just as a young American nation wanted to…just as a young England wanted to…but easy answers are easier to see in distant history than around us here and now.
That is why a prophet 2600 years ago or a queen of England 600 years ago or Churchill 80 years ago can appear to us today as superhuman in their vision and their courage as any of our contemporaries. What they awakened in their neighbors in their day, they can awaken in us still.
It is not the great people who have this gift…it is people who have been humbled by life and still look with faith to the present and into the future. So our call to worship comes to us with the winged words of the father of John the Baptist.
Zechariah was a priest who was selected by lot to offer incense in the temple. He was an old man and like Abraham and Sarah, he and his wife Elizabeth…a coincidence in the name there, I note…were without child.
He was told by an angel that they would have a son named John and he would be great in the eyes of the Lord. When Zechariah asked how this was supposed to happen he was struck silent until his son was to be born.
Mary the mother of Jesus received a similar announcement and when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s unborn child leaped in her womb for joy at being in the presence of Jesus.
That is when Zechariah spoke the words we read together at the beginning of the service…words that echo Jeremiah: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”
He had to be humbled first, just as Elizabeth I was humbled, and Lincoln was humbled, and Churchill was humbled…before the seed of greatness could sprout once again and lead good people forward into the dim light of an uncertain day.
Jesus came from humble people who lived in humble circumstances, and it was his understanding of a lowly life that gave his words even greater weight than they would have had on Pharaoh’s lips.
We read this morning of his final humbling unto death…a fate to which he willingly surrendered himself. On the cross, he was hung upon a tree…a fate that the early scriptures of his people said showed that the person was accursed by God… Crucified between two thieves, he asked God to forgive his executioners “for they know not what they do.”
He gives himself up for people who do not deserve this blessing any more that he deserves their curses, and then prays for the very people who heap scorn upon his open wounds. Greatness…as monumental an instance of greatness as I have ever read about …sprouts from this great humbling of his body…making his soul to shine.
All of this is something we are called to stop and consider as we approach this holy season of Advent…God coming into the world to save a lost humanity…and not just one generation of it…but all generations. And Christ is king.
Look to this human being…this magnificent child of God…who was great enough to die that we might live…to see and hear the height and breadth and depth of God’s love for us…even in the midst of our sin.
The sheep that have been scattered by their shepherds are being gathered together again… and again…and again. Forgive us, for we know not what we do. Send us your shepherd to show us the way.
It is left to Paul again today…as it was so long ago…to point out to us the enormity of the gift we receive every year at Christmas and every day between Christmases:
God “has rescued us from the power of darkness,” he writes to us today,“and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Forgive us, Lord, for we still do not know what we do. We quarrel among ourselves, giving our common adversaries an opening to cause mischief in our world, in our nation, in our community and in our families.
Where is the good Queen Elizabeth I who could stir the soul of a nation with words even when the wolf was at the door? Where is the Lincoln who could show us that slavery enslaved both the master and the servant?
Maybe we do not know there is a wolf at our door…and that we feed the wolf with our anger and bitterness…thinking that we have been victimized by what ‘others’ have done or left undone?
Do we have to wait for another Pearl Harbor to see the same love of freedom that has drawn our forebears from every corner of the world to a land where huddled masses can breathe free.
We think we are up against it because people are literally dying to get into America. No, we are blessed by this testimony to the greatness of the lives we have been blessed with. I think we would be up against it, indeed, if people were dying to get out of this land of the free and home of the brave.
We think we are worse off than those who delivered us into this unthinkably rich way of life. But poor people today have more than the richest person in the world enjoyed 100 years ago…50 years ago…20 years ago.
Today, one billion people…one-seventh of all the souls on this planet…who do not have running water in their villages, let alone their homes…have cell phones. They are Rockefellers and Carnegies and Gates’.
Forgive us, Lord, for we do not know what we do. Forgive us, Lord, when we fail to see all the good we could do if our heart and our hands and your words would one day become one in you, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.
I leave you today with the words of a humble person I knew on the Huntley Project. She was the postmaster at one time and her personalized plate read “UZYRZIP”…which might be a clue to how long ago she had been the postmaster. It is a poem she left behind that haunts me and prods me to do good and be better:
‘Do this,’ He said, In remembrance of Me.’
Then He gave His life to set us free.
With bursting heart that swells within
We take the cup that bears our sin.
We drink the wine and break the bread,
And vow to remember what He said.
Oh, how He must cry in anguish now
For the empty cup, the broken vow.
We accept the cup so freely given;
He only spoke two words of admonition.
Listen now and hear his plea –
‘Remember Me – Remember Me.’
May I remember him every time I think of Ginger Macrow. I remember Ginger every time I think of Christ my King.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.