Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Last Words" - El Monte Community Presbyterian Church - Nov. 25, 2018

2 Samuel 23.1-7; John 18.33-37

Dear Friends in Christ, today, we celebrate the last day of the year … uh huh … that’s right, today, the last day … and by now, you’re wondering if I’m ok!

Well, I am ok.
And so are you.
And this is the last day of the year.

The church year, that is.

What began last year in Advent ends today … with the Last Word, if you will … the Reign of Christ Sunday!

Next Sunday, we start all over again … with the First Sunday of Advent … to rehearse the story of God’s love … we do this every year, to remind ourselves of the best things in life, the goodness of faith, the love of God, the unceasing care of God that sustains the universe, and watches over you and me.

Today, Last Words, the closing chapter, the final note of the symphony … that for which we long, that for which we pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Fittingly, the texts for the day feature last words … 

The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. 

David knows what a good and just ruler is … because David was a just ruler, a good man, a man of courage and kindness, wisdom and truth-telling … a visionary and a man devoted to God, and man after God’s own heart.

But David also walked on the dark side … selfish and violent, greedy and ambitious; David had blood on his hands; his personal life was often a mess, and his family paid the price. 
He wanted what he did, and he did what he wanted, and people died because of it.

David knows, in the last days of his life, looking back, thinking about it, considering God … David knows what Israel’s future requires - the future requires just rulers, like the morning sunlight, to gladden the heart of every citizen and maintain a just society.

Throughout the Old Testament, people grapple with questions of government … just like we do … the governed always wonder about those who govern … why is there so much war? and why so much poverty? What’s going on, and who’s telling the truth? Why can’t we get it all straightened out?

From the Book of Proverbs:

 A ruler who oppresses the poor
      is a beating rain that leaves no food.

 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
      is a wicked ruler over a poor people.

By justice a king gives stability to the land …

If a king judges the poor with equity,
      his throne will be established forever.

From the prophet Micah:

What does the LORD require of you
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,
 and to walk humbly with your God?

Isaiah writes:

Give counsel,
grant justice;
make your shade like night
at the height of noon;
hide the outcasts,
do not betray the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
settle among you;
be a refuge to them
from the destroyer.

Amos makes it clear:

 I hate, I despise your festivals,
      and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
      I will not accept them;
      and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
      I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
      I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
      and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

In a little stable in Bethlehem, God introduced to the world a new kind of ruler … and a kingdom to fit … 

A kingdom not of sword and horse, but a kingdom of mercy and kindness.
A kingdom not of land and thrones, palaces and pleasure … but a kingdom of healing and hope, justice and peace.
A kingdom, not for the few, but for the many … not for the privileged, but for the people.

Jesus is good and kind, gentle and wise … but he’s certainly no wallflower …

From Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus engages the times in which he lives … in his hometown, he preaches a sermon that enrages the congregation so badly they try to kill him …

Jesus speaks truth to power … he challenges the religious elite of Jerusalem, he takes to task those who use their religion to defraud widows and orphans … he calls into question those who look down their noses at the poor, the prostitute, and the “sinner.”

Jesus chides the rich as fools … and reminds us all that wealth  is a snare … Jesus looks at the great buildings of Jerusalem, and he’s not impressed … when the righteous show up with stones in hand, ready to kill a women, Jesus bends down and scribbles in the dirt, and who knows what he wrote? but the stone-wielding proud turn away in shame.

Time and again, his words frustrate the powerful, his kindness to the poor embarrasses the wealthy … his entire life upsets the world around him … is it any wonder that the religious elite of Jerusalem and the political powers of Rome collude with one another, to kill him?

Now, at the end, in Pilate’s courtroom - Pilate and Jesus engage in an uneasy conversation … Pilate wants to know who Jesus really is, and Jesus knows that Pilate really doesn’t care … because Pilate is a man of power and war … a man devoted to himself and his career … 

Jesus plays with Pilate … teases him … tests him … Is that what you think? is that what you’ve heard?

Jesus refuses to get pulled into idle chatter or debate … he makes it clear to Pilate that all the trappings of Rome and the glory of the temple in Jerusalem hold no interest for him … Jesus isn’t intimidated by power, nor tempted by glamor.

And then Jesus says, 

My kingdom is not of this world! … 

Good news for us … if our LORD’s kingdom were of this world, it would be just another violent kingdom, a kingdom of guts and gore, greed and grasping, fire and death, hate and harm, bullets and guns … it’s not that kind of a kingdom, it’s unlike anything Pilate loves …

The gospel, you see, calls us to be alert … to be careful what we love, what we admire, what thrills and delights us … when it comes to government, rulers and nations … 

The kingdom of Christ is not of this world … so that it can be completely and utterly for the sake of this world … to redeem what is lost, to repair what is broken, to lift up the poor, to bring down the proud, to shine the bright light of truth in the darkness of lies, to bandage the wounded, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the all of God’s creatures, great and small … to honor what God has created, to love one another, to forgive and to welcome … with open minds, open hearts, open hands.

So that, in our time, and for our nation; in these days, and for the world, we might fulfill the words of Christ, to be the light of the world and salt of the earth. 

Hallelujah and Amen!