Sermon–Christ the King Sunday–November 20, 2016


Christ the King

November 20, 2016

William Bradbury

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

On May 24, 1946 a group called the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, under the leadership of Albert Einstein, sent a telegram to several hundred prominent Americans with an urgent plea that reads in part: “We scientists who released this immense power [of the atom] have an overwhelming responsibility in this world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity’s destruction. We need…a nation-wide campaign to let people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” Einstein, therefore, has been credited with the popular saying, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

I really feel sorry for one couple I know who were trapped in an on-going circular argument over who should be the next president, because there was nothing from the outside to break in and keep this runaway train from going over the cliff.

Martin Luther King put it this way, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Surely we should also know as a species, but mostly don’t know, that you cannot finally end violence by silencing everyone who disagrees with you.

In biblical terms what we need is called metanoia, which is the Greek word for a change of mind, a higher mind. It is usually translated “repentance” but in our culture we equate that with a morality and not how our mind. When Jesus comes into Galilee he says, The time is now, the kingdom of God is here, metanoia—receive a higher mind about what God is doing in Jesus—and believe the good news. In our highly polarized times we so need this metanoia—a higher mind–to break into our lives, because we are caught in paranoia—a madness of the mind. To move from paranoia to metanoia requires a divine break-in so we can be lifted out of the madness that is destroying us.

The good news of the gospel is precisely that: God in Christ has broken into our world to save us from ourselves and to lift us into the mind of Christ. When I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ as a freshman at the University of Georgia the second bible verse I was trained to memorize was from John 10:10: it’s in the passage where Jesus is telling the people that he is the good shepherd that gives his life for the sheep, then he says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Jesus breaks into our imprisoned minds with its negative thinking so we might finally enter our right mind connected to the Divine Life of Triune God which alone produces a fully human life.

There is a Bible for those in prison put out by Zondervan Press with the intriguing title: The Free on the Inside Bible. I’ve been privileged to get to know some men who have been locked up for decades but who in Christ are free on the inside, experiencing the abundant life Jesus brings.

Without this in-breaking we are doomed to stay stuck in repetitive thinking that produces the same result and therefore doomed to miss our vocation as sons and daughters of God, servants of the New Creation.


So how does Jesus lead us into our right minds?—by infusing his vibrant life into our narrow  and exhausted lives in several ways.

Certainly Jesus teaches us: Jesus is the embodiment of the divine mind and he teaches on every page of the gospels how to set our minds on God’s kingdom and to seek it above every other shiny object that attracts our attention. This isn’t the work of one confirmation class when we were a teenager, but the work of a lifetime.

Jesus also models for us what abundant living looks like, since he is the blueprint of a fully human life, a life connected to God and neighbor in perfect surrender and service.

Without Jesus’ ongoing teaching and training to put on his easy yoke, we would still think money, power, and success are the paths to the abundant life.  

But Jesus’ teaching and training, as necessary as they are, can only be successful if they are built upon the work of the cross of Christ. Paul tells us that “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

God’s work of reconciliation through Christ is transferred to us on the cross. Jesus takes our sin and death into himself and in exchange gives us God’s love and God’s life. Jesus is willing to save both criminals dying next to him, but only one is interested in what Jesus has to offer. We call him the good thief but there is nothing good about him—he is a violent man suffering the punishment he deserves—but in spite of this Jesus breaks into his dying mind with the good news.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard in an Episcopal Church and I know I’ve never preached a sermon on the blood of Christ, though it is mentioned at least 39 times in the New Testament, and Paul uses it today in Colossians. I grew up in the South around people who talked about being washed in the blood, but it sounded so primitive and ignorant. And it is until we read it as poetry instead of prose.

Do you remember the first time you gave blood? For me it was a strange experience. I wasn’t worried about the pain of the needle or about passing out—I was far too young and arrogant for that; but I was surprised how strange it felt watching my life pour into a plastic bag on its way to give someone else’s life a needed boost.

Jesus’ blood is both a symbol of his dying for us, and at the same time a symbol of his life flowing into us.

This is the great mystery of Christ the King Sunday—he is the image of the invisible God, filled with God’s fullness, yet our King is also the crucified God, dying so we might come alive.   This is the secret of the communion cup—the divine life of Christ is transfused into our broken bodies and weary souls.

“Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will refresh you”, Jesus says.

But our paranoia tells us we can’t trust outside help. We think we can save ourselves if we just think hard enough. But Einstein was right: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

It is Emmanuel, God with us, who pours out the life of God into us.   

“I am the vine you are the branches”, Jesus says at the last supper. The sap of the vine must flow into the branches if we will ever come alive enough to produce fruit of living a fully human life—a life of surrender to God  and service to the world God loves!

So in a few minutes we go to the altar to receive the life of Christ poured out for us and the Life of Christ poured into us. Let us pray that the Spirit of Christ will remove our paranoia and give us the mind of Christ, so we may humbly and gratefully receive the abundant life of Christ.