It had to happen sometime: I used a Sesame Street reference as a sermon title.
“One of These Things Is Not Like the Other”
Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King Sunday
November 24, 2013
First Christian Church
If you are interested in politics, this was a week to remember. On Wednesday, we learned that Harry Reid, a Senator from Nevada and the Democratic Majority Leader invoked what has been called the “nuclear option” with regard to Senate rules. For over two centuries, the Senate had a rule that nominees to various offices had to have the approval of 60 members of congress, a supermajority. The Nuclear Option changes the rule to allow a simple majority, 51 members, for nominees to be confirmed.
The reason for going nuclear was that the minority in the Senate, in this case, the Republicans, have blocked a number of judicial and executive appointments. Now, these candidates should sail through.
The reaction has been predictable. Democrats are in favor of the rule change. Real work can get done, they believe. Republicans are not so enamoured because this effectively gives the minority party very little leverage. Cries of “naked power grab” were quite common.
Hypocrisies abound in this story. Eight years ago, it was the then-Republican majority in the Senate thinking about going nuclear and the Democrats who were against it. A last minute bipartisan deal staved doomsday. There was an attempt this time to avert the Big One, but that effort failed.
This week was also the 50th anniversary of the assasination of John F. Kennedy. I believe last Friday, the 22nd was the exact day when that awful event happened. I wasn’t around when that took place, but it was fascinating to hear some of the background concerning the event. National Public Radio rebroadcast a piece by the late Walter Cronkite walking people through the events of the day.
Today is the final Sunday of the Church Year. The year starts with Advent and ends with this day, which is commonly called Christ the King Sunday. This Sunday ends up framing what Advent is all about. We are reminded that a King is coming to set the world right.
In the passage from the book of Jeremiah, we find that God is not happy. Speaking through Jeremiah, God is upset at the most recent kings of Israel. It’s important to note that the Israelites tended to see their kings like shepherds. In other parts of the world, the king was seen more as a god. That’s why we see the prophet likening to kings to shepherds- bad shepherds. God brings judgement on these kings, these shepherds who have scattered the sheep, misled them and just basically abused them. God says that God will attend to these incompetent kings and bring comfort to God’s people. Jeremiah starts talking about a new king, a shepherd that will comfort God’s people, ruling with justice.
Now, Jeremiah was writing for a Jewish audience, not a Christian one. So, a Jew might not see this the same way we will. That said, Christians do see this new king as Jesus Christ.
Some people are a bit uncomfortable calling this day Christ the King. It sounds a bit too authoritarian and triumphalistic. It’s hard for us to reconcile the image of a powerful leader with one who lived in the backwater of the Roman empire take care of the sick and outcast. For those who don’t like the concept of Christ as King it is a bit puzzling to see a “king” serving others. After all, we know what a king is, and Jesus ain’t it.
The concept of Jesus as King is troubling really to all of us. We know what a king is and while we Americans don’t have a king or queen, we do understand what it means to be powerful. The President of the United States has power. He or she isn’t a king, but just because they are elected, doesn’t mean we don’t bestow a king-like aura on them. We know that kings, or any leader is a powerful person. Jesus? The guy who talks about loving our enemies? Not a king.
We only read a short passage of Luke today, but this text places us in the last few hours of Jesus’ life. We see him being arrested and facing the Roman leaders. He is humiliated and then forced to carry his cross to the Place of the Skull. As he is nailed to the cross, the soliders mock him, placing a sign that says “King of the Jews” and offering a toast of sour wine.
How in the world could this one be king? He has no power even to save himself from this humiliation.
But let’s go back to how the God and Israelites see a king. The king is not a god, but a shepherd, one that takes care of the sheep and protects them from harm. King Jesus doesn’t rule like other kings. Instead Jesus brings healing to the sick, food to the hungry and sacrificing his life for the benefit of all creation. This is a king that doesn’t act like a king-god, but a king who is the Good Shepherd, the one who cares for all of us.
When I was growing up, I like most kids, watched Sesame Street. There was a segment from the 1970s where one of the cast members would start singing a song called “One of these things is not like the others.” You would see four things: three of them are the same, and one is something totally different. As we saw these objects you would hear the song:
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Jesus is not like other kings. As we enter this time of Advent, please keep this in mind. We will be hearing about this king as told by the Prophet Isaiah. One these Kings is not like the others. Let’s find out how. Thanks be to God, Amen.