In his book, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg tells the story of a three-year-old girl who was the firstborn and only child in her family. Her mother, however, was pregnant, and the little girl was very excited about having a new little brother or sister soon.
Well the day came when her parents went off to the hospital and a few days later they came home with a baby boy. It was within a few hours of her parents bringing the baby home from the hospital, the little girl made a request: she wanted to be alone with her new brother in his room with the door closed.
Understandably, her parents were a little uneasy about this, but they wanted to encourage their daughters interest in her new sibling, AND they remembered that they had an intercom in the nursery. They realized they could let their daughter do this, and if they heard the slightest indication that anything strange was happening, they could be in the baby’s room in an instant.
So they watched their little girl go into the nursery, they shut the door behind her, and then raced to their listening post. They heard their daughter’s footsteps moving across the baby’s room, imagined her standing over the crib, and then they heard her saying to her three-day-old brother, “Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten.”
Marcus Borg goes on to say: “This story is both haunting and evocative, for it suggests that we come from God, and that when we are very young, we still remember this, still know this. But the process of growing up, of learning the language of this world, is a process of increasingly forgetting the one from whom we came and in whom we live.”[i]
Borg makes the bold claim, that “there is something about the very process of growing up that wounds us.”
Think about how in childhood our sense of being a separated self grows stronger and stronger and our natural desire for independence, testing limits, and reliance upon our own abilities takes root and intensifies.
Think about how in adolescence and into adulthood our identity is increasingly shaped by the culture around us, by outside influences that say who we are and what we are to be like and not be like.
In growing up we learn ways to hide the struggles we face, the failings we know, the doubts we have. Often we spend our energy trying to project to the world around us that we have it all together and that we can handle things on our own.
And when we do this, when we increasingly live our lives from the outside in rather than from the inside out we start to forget our complete and utter dependence upon God and we forget that it’s God’s grace, love, and guiding Spirit that defines who we are, what we are to be like, and what really matters.
“Tell me about God, I’ve almost forgotten.”
Because we do forget. And we need the assurance again and again that we belong to God. We need to be reminded that we are God’s gifted, vulnerable creatures, called to share our hurts and healings, to grow together, and to embrace and learn from our brokenness.
We need each and every day, from infancy to adulthood, to remember the good news of God’s grace found in the sacrifice of our Savior. And these are the things we remember today, on Christ the King Sunday, when we look at a different kind of kingship.
The world’s kingdoms were about power and prestige; Jesus was about service and humility. The rulers of the world were about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation. Kings and leaders of the day, surrounded themselves with fawning followers; Jesus chose the lowly and rejected as his companions.
Even here on the cross, his companions were two criminals, hanging with him outside the city of Jerusalem on a dismal executioner’s hill called “The Skull”. Again, it’s not the place you’d look for a king, but here is Jesus and in this scene Luke illustrates the very nature of his kingship and the nature of our God.
One of the powers of kings was to pardon those accused of crimes. And so some of the irony we see in our text today is that Jesus was sentenced to die for the claims that he was a king and for proclaiming the kingdom of God that threatened the status quo.
And yet even while being nailed to the cross, Jesus demonstrated that it was his executioners who were in need of pardon and he alone had the power to grant it. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” [ii]
We see one of the criminals joins with the soldiers and religious authorities who jeer Jesus, mocking him, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, Save yourself.” The other criminal, however, intervenes, proclaims Jesus’ innocence, and asks that Jesus remember him when he comes into his kingdom.
And how does Jesus respond? Again with a pardon, declaring that today, even now, he would enter with Jesus into paradise. And in those words of acceptance, in that moment of shared vulnerability, the depth and power of God’s grace and love breaks in – and God’s promise of reconciliation becomes a new reality.
What kind of king is this, who welcomes a criminal into his kingdom and offers relief and pardon even amid great agony and pain? Well it’s a king who refuses to conform to the expectations of this world. A king who is not content to rule from afar, but rather comes to meet us in our weakness and need. A king willing to embrace all, forgive all, redeem all, because that’s his deepest and truest nature, that’s who God sent him to be.
Jesus “emptied himself,” Paul wrote. He “took the form of a slave, became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” In Jesus Christ, God emptied himself. God came to us and became vulnerable for us.
Scholar and teacher, Fred Craddock writes with an elegant simplicity. He describes that most-common human occurrence: a child falls down and skins a knee or elbow and comes running to a parent. The parent picks up the child and says—the oldest myth in the world—“Let me kiss it and make it better.” So the parent kisses the skinned place, holds the child in their lap, and all is well. Did the kiss make it well?..No… It was that five minutes in the lap of a loved one.
“What is the cross?” Craddock asks. “It is to sit in the lap of God, who hurts because we hurt.”[iii]
That is what we believe and what moves us so deeply. That the cross is not simply a symbol of human sin and evil; it is supremely a symbol of God’s power and love come all the way down to us, to live our life, to suffer as we do, to share in our vulnerability and struggle and doubt, and to die our death.
Friends this is the King we remember today. This is the King we worship. And the King we follow into God’s world. And I think a part of our following means we admit and embrace being God’s vulnerable creatures too. Following Jesus means we are called to be open, authentic, and honest, allowing others into our lives, into our struggles and celebrations, and caring for them as well.
I know I’m not alone in saying that for me, one of the most beautiful elements of our worship time together has been the Impact Stories shared. They have made an impact on us because they have been humble, heartfelt reflections of vulnerability and hope, fellowship and faith. They have told us about God and what God has done and is doing through this family of Trinity Presbyterian Church and through the neighbors we seek to know and serve.
We’ll have more of these Impact Stories on Sundays to come and if you’ve missed some of the ones that have already been shared then I encourage you to find them on our new website or in our church newsletter.
I really am grateful for those who have shared their stories with us and for all the ways that this congregation makes an impact in the name of Christ by caring for one another, comforting the grieving, teaching the children, welcoming the visitor, clothing the infants, growing, harvesting, and sharing from the garden.
I’m grateful that so much of yourselves are poured out for the most vulnerable and blessed among us, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and the lonely. And I’m grateful for the opportunities we have coming up this Advent and Christmas season to connect with one another and to reach out to our neighbors in need.
It has been said that “We are Christ’s crown.” We are our Lord’s beautiful, battered and broken crown. We are the ones that communicate his kingship, the ones called to follow in his footsteps of humility, love, sacrifice, and service.
Friends, the story of our Lord Jesus Christ, the story of his birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection, is the story of the extent to which God has gone to remember us and to demonstrate endless love and healing grace for you, for me, and for the weary world we know.
And so today, as we gather at our Lord’s Table, as we go out from this place and prepare to step into a new church year, the question we carry with us is to what extent will we go to remember God and to demonstrate our love, devotion, and gratitude, each and every day, for what God has done through Jesus Christ, our Lord, our King.
May it be so! Thanks be to God! Amen.
[i] Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity (Harper Collins, 2003) : pp.113-114.
[ii] www.workingpreacher.org Reflection by David Lose, President Lutheran Theological Seminary
[iii] Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock from Cherry Log Sermons