Colossians 1:11-20 ~ Luke 23:33-43
Today is kind of like New Year’s Eve for us in the church. Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday in a new church year. Even though we’re a little more than a month ahead of the secular calendar, here at church we’ll do some of the same things that we all do at home at the end of December. We’ll change out the calendar—or in this case, we’ll start a new series of scripture readings that focus on the gospel of Matthew, instead of focusing on the gospel of Luke as we’ve been since last December. We’ll change out our decorations—except that in the church we call them paraments. Today we have white for this Sunday when we celebrate Christ as King; for advent the color will be blue, as we focus on the hope we have for Jesus’s coming.
There’s one other thing that some folks do when New Year’s Eve rolls around…they make resolutions. When we turn the page on a new calendar year, It feels like a new beginning, so it seems like a good time to focus on the ways we want to make our lives better. These resolutions might center on better discipline around our eating or exercise habits, or maybe managing our time better, or watching less TV.
We could think about make New Year’s resolutions here in church too. We could resolve to come to church more regularly. We could resolve to do a better job following the 10 commandments and read our Bible every day. All good ideas but…
Just like the December 31 New Year’s resolutions we might make in a few weeks, we know how these new church year resolutions would go. We might manage to keep the new discipline for a couple of days, or maybe even a couple weeks. But, before too long, just like the new diets and TV schedule, we’d probably fall back into our old habits. We have great intentions, but…well, nobody’s perfect. We’re humans and we fail. And I’m afraid that’s the end of the story when it comes to our diets and bad life habits. We do the best we can, but sometimes we’re just not going to be able to make much of a change.
But let’s go back to our focus for today on Jesus as King. If Jesus were a normal kind of king, he might be expecting us to make our resolutions and to keep them! If he were a particularly benevolent king he might give us encouragement or maybe some kind of incentives. Remember the President’s Physical Fitness awards for school-aged kids? That was a big deal back when I was a child in school—of course, I was never one of those kids who could reach that achievement, but it was a way for the president of the United States to encourage young people to be more active, since we know that in general, being more active is more healthy for our bodies. So Jesus the benevolent king might create a reward system for us. The “Christ the King Ten Commandments achievement awards.”…maybe we would get a star on our chart if we manage to keep all Ten Commandments for a week… or maybe a day.
But wait…my Lutheran danger signals are going off big time! As much as Jesus our king might want us to behave well and keep the 10 commandments, a reward chart sounds way too much like EARNING God’s favor…and we’re right back to where we started: we just can’t do it. Try as we might, we just can’t keep our new year’s resolutions to be better Christians. Our sin gets in the way. And Jesus our king knows that; he knows we can’t keep our new year’s resolutions no matter how hard we try.
That’s why Jesus is the kind of king who rules from an unlikely place…the cross. Jesus doesn’t sit on a throne to show everyone how powerful he is, wearing rich robes and a jeweled crown. Jesus is at his most powerful as he hangs on the cross—his head encircled by a crown of THORNS, not jewels, his body naked as the life drains from him.
It’s there, on the cross, that Jesus tells the sinner hanging beside him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” There’s no time for Jesus to give the thief an exam, to quiz him on how well he knows his Bible stories and catechism. There’s certainly no time for a chart with stars to see how he does in keeping the 10 commandments—including the one about stealing. No questions at all; the thief shows Jesus that he trusts him by asking him to remember him in his kingdom, and Jesus makes the resolution.
And that’s the beauty of the kind of king Jesus is…he makes the resolutions so we don’t have to! And of course, there’s a really big difference between Jesus making New Year’s resolutions and ours—when Jesus makes the resolution, it’s guaranteed! Jesus isn’t going to let those resolutions slide after a couple of weeks. Jesus says it. And, like the thief hanging on the cross beside Jesus, we can know that we’ll be with him.
So even though an achievement chart won’t work for us, we can take some advice from all this talk about resolutions. We can trust Jesus, we can trust that Jesus is the kind of King who will make resolutions and keep them, and that those resolutions will always be for our best good.
What does it look like to trust Jesus? We know we can’t measure it by our behavior—we should always TRY to be kind and loving, but sin will always get in the way. I heard a good suggestions recently: be sure we’re putting Jesus first in our life. Whatever we choose to do, does it keep Jesus first? We can ask this question in our individual lives. When it comes time to make a decision, large or small, which option keeps Jesus first? We can ask the same question when we make decisions as a group: does a particular course of action for St. Peter keep Jesus first?
After we finish worship today, we’re going to re-convene for a business meeting. Our constitution says that certain things must come before us for a vote. Whatever we might need to consider, whether it’s a large matter or relatively small, the question we should ask is: will Jesus be first if we make this choice? That’s how we can honor Jesus as our king—and it just so happens that if we keep that question in mind, our choices will keep us closer to God and will show our neighbors that we trust God.
So if Jesus is our king, ruling from the cross, we might wonder where we’ll encounter him. The thief who was crucified next to Jesus didn’t have any trouble finding him, but the crucifixion isn’t something that’ll happen again IRL as the young folks say—“in real life”. But we do have a chance to encounter Jesus every week–right here–around the table. Here at the table, Jesus the king is present. Jesus is proclaimed our king and savior—even as he comes to us as the meal itself. Here we can put Jesus first, receive him, and hear those words: “today you will be with me.”
And so let’s enjoy our New Year’s Eve, remembering that Jesus makes all the resolutions we need—and no worries about him keeping them. Remembering that Jesus asks that we do our best to trust him, keep him first. And Jesus knows we’ll fail…but we’re invited back again and again, to this table that is God’s great gift to us, to hear the words “Today you will be with me…”
November 20, 2016 ~ St. Peter Lutheran Church, Trenton OH