November 20, 2022

"Crown of Thorns or Crown of Gold”

Rev. Scott Landis

Luke 23:33-43

This Sunday known as “Reign of Christ,” or “Christ the King” Sunday is the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Next week we begin the Season of Advent. And the march toward Christmas is on! Hard to believe, isn’t it? [Pause]

I have always approach this Sunday with mixed emotions. There is a part of me that loves the notion of Jesus the King – but there is another part of me that cringes whenever I hear those words in song or in prayer because my idea of “King” is so different from what he embodied or modeled in his life and ministry. MY image smacks of imperialism and might suggest that “my religion is better than your religion,” or “my God is bigger, and more powerful than your God.” Strength and power, privilege and might come to mind, as well the idea that the one who has the most money or the most toys in the end – wins.

I find that notion of superiority or domination even more troubling given the rise of Christian Nationalism in our own country – an expression of Christian Superiority rising out of the White Evangelical Far Right – an expression of Christian Faith which has completely distorted the whole concept of Jesus’ ministry as expressed in the Gospels.

So, what do we do with this idea? What do we make of this emphasis on the Kingship of Christ? How do we understand this challenging paradox between the “Crown of thorns and a Crown of Gold?” [Pause]

We had a fascinating discussion about this in our bible study the other day on Zoom. I invited those present to think about their understanding of a “King.” I then asked them to shift that a bit to reflect on their idea of “King Jesus” or “Christ the King.” You might want to take some time to do the same. And if you do that rather than listen to what I have to offer your time will have been well spent. [Pause]

The scripture passage recommended for today’s service may seem like a strange one for this time of year. Often read on Good Friday, the passage does help us to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ understanding of his role and authority.

Just before this scene, you may remember, Jesus was brought before Pilate and then Herod. When he stood before Pilate, he asked him “Are you the KING of the Jews?”

Do you remember Jesus’ response? He said, “That’s who YOU say I am.”

Pilate SO wanted him to proclaim his kingship so he could then accuse Jesus of treason and the possibility of mounting an insurrection to the Roman authority. But Jesus didn’t take the bait. He would not accept the Golden Crown. Instead, he was humiliated with a Crown of Thorns that demonstrated that he was not above anyone. Rather, he came as servant of all – the one who said repeatedly, “MY kingdom is NOT of this world.” He refused to be looked UP to until he was lifted up from the earth and put on a cross. [Pause]

In Jesus we find a servant king who bowed down to wash the feel of his disciples. Who was born not in a palace but in a stable. This king was not one who surrounded himself with “the rich and famous.” No. This king ate with sinners, hung out with the marginalized, and forgave the sins of those repented of their wrong doings.

This is the king who would leave the ninety-nine behind and search for the one lost sheep – and keep on searching until the one who was lost was found. This king blessed the children, gave women a seat at the table, and taught a way of life based on love rather than a codified set of rules that were enforced by instilling fear.

This king came riding into Jerusalem not on horse (a sign of military strength) – but on a donkey (a beast of burden).

King Jesus redefines kingship. His kingdom would never be manifest on the earth. In fact, we only catch glimpses of it when we see folks feeding the hungry, housing those with no shelter, providing clothing to the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned – and yes, even donating toiletries for a ministry like “A Cup of Cold Water.” In short, King Jesus challenged us to offer the same “servant leadership” that he embodied. He expected this to be our kuleana – as we gather as his surviving body (the church) to help bring a healing balm to all in need.

That’s why, when I saw the images and expressions of Christian Nationalism in an attempt to overtake the Capitol on January 6, 2021 – I was appalled. Not only was I deeply disturbed by the violent attempt of certain individuals to “take back” what they were convinced was stolen despite all evidence to the contrary. I was deeply offended at their using the name of Jesus and the language of Christian faith as their prime motivation and right to do what they were doing. Nothing could be more antithetical to the message and ministry of Jesus Christ.

When we see these kinds of activities in our country, we have to remind ourselves of two things: 1. Jesus did not and never would use violence to usher in the kind of community he envisioned. And 2. It is our responsibility as people of faith to embody the kind of servant leadership that a church, community, nation, and world require as we live out the mandate of love. [Pause]

Several years ago, there was a rather slick advertising campaign that made a lot of money in Christian circles. The campaign was centered around the simple slogan WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? I remember at the time wrinkling up my nose and rolling my eyes at what I saw as a passing fad. I never purchased nor wore the rubber WWJD bracelet indicating my participation in the fad. I thought I was above all that, but I’ve begun to have second thoughts.

We see so much distortion and misrepresentation of Christian faith in our world today. Whether it is the pressure to kneel with teammates in prayer at the 50-yard line of a football field or the idea that it is our right – in fact our responsibility as Christians to “take back our nation.” From whom or what I really don’t understand. Somehow it has all gotten jumbled as the separation between Church and State seems to blur more and more each day.

Perhaps that campaign was not such a bad idea after all. Maybe we, who claim to follow Jesus, ought to ask the question regularly, “What Would Jesus Do?” Maybe we should be more mindful of OUR actions and hold others accountable for THEIR actions based on the mission and ministry of Jesus as it is described in the bible – particularly when they call upon his name to defend a certain level of superiority or to get something we feel we “deserve.” [Pause]

Christ the King - the Servant King - offers us a very different reality of what it means to love for, care for, and bring relief to a hurting world.

There is an important Jewish concept that sums this up beautifully. The idea of Tukkun Olam. It means simply “to heal the world.”

It is our responsibility to ask not only “what would Jesus do” but to do everything we can to answer that question with our action. Tukkun Olam – heal the world. May we do so with strength and humility.

While the reign of Christ might not be what we initially imagine when we envision Christ’s Kingdom, it may be the best path forward as we look to Jesus’ life example in our attempts to heal the world.


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