... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

The Reign of Christ Year C
Message November 24, 2013

Radical Change, Radical Hope, Radical Prayer

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle (Luke 1:68-79; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

We come today to the end of the liturgical year and what a year it has been! With turmoil both within the church and without, we have witnessed many of the portends spoken of in the various apocalyptic lections spread throughout the year and the culmination in the call to radical change.

In the secular sphere we have seen and heard the drastic changes in politics, especially with the fiasco of the Toronto municipal scene. There for sure has been radical change – stripping a mayor from most if not all effectual power and authority. In the business sphere there have been mega mergers, re-structuring of multinationals, calling-to-task of several environmental destroying giants and so on. Everywhere there are calls for change. Will they be effectual? Will they be radical? Only time will tell!

However, in the theological sphere we are reminded of other calls to radical change that have been, are and will be effectual. Starting with Jeremiah we hear not only a call for radical change but one which is being experienced in the prophets’ own time. As we have witnessed in many of the political leaders in the past 100 years: be they dictators, monarchs, sultans, presidents or mayors: there has been no lack of false shepherds. In much the same venue were the kings of Israel and Judah leading up to the time of Jeremiah’s prophetic utterances.

From the time of Solomon, and some might even say David, each successive king strayed further and further from God’s ways and directives. Sure there had been a couple like Uzziah and Josiah who had attempted a return to a right keeping of covenant, but by and large each king had sought greater and greater personal power, authority and prestige. All this would culminate in the downfall of the Kingdom and an exile of the people from their homeland. And Jeremiah informs us of the radical change God is about to initiate. Immersing ourselves in the text we see a flow from Divine judgement to covenantal promise, from a description of the present to its solution and from how humans have messed up to what and how God is able and willing to accomplish.

Jeremiah extolls the accusations against the rulers of both Judah and Israel. They have systematically destroyed and ravished the people driving them to seek refuge in countries other than the lands God, through Abraham to Moses, had promised them. Various kings of both the Northern and Southern nations of what was once a united Israel had made rulings and policies resulting in ever greater poverty for the ordinary person and in ever greater instability in the lands as a whole. Their participation in revolts and subversions would eventually lead to the Babylonian invasion. But even more damaging than the political and economic scattering, was the theological scattering as king after king sought after the gods of neighbouring nations attempting to incorporate heathen practices into what had been laid down in Mosaic Law. Thus we come to see that idolatry was the last straw. Judgement was given. These false shepherds, these leaders who had corrupted the people the land and the covenant would be brought down themselves scattered and then disinherited. However the people would not be bereft. Any time you remove leadership, authority or, direction, there is a natural human tendency to anarchy – each person for self. God makes judgement but doesn’t stop there. Divine promise puts in place the alternative – the people will be returned from the foreign lands, there will be another exodus from the dispersion and upon their homecoming they will be blessed with abundance, prosperity and growth.

The situation in Israel and Judah had reached rock bottom and its salvation was not only to be difficult, but would be lengthy. Yet the promise for a return was there and this time the leadership would be righteous and the new king would have wisdom and would display mercy in all dealings with the people. What the human leaders had so messed up by their governance, God was promising to re-make – to re-create and to re-covenant.

What Jeremiah saw as occurring over a 70 year period we now look back and see it having been much longer, and the new righteous king not being in the expected format or style of the traditionally envisioned monarch. The righteous king would come as a baby born in poverty and raised to give humanity a radically changed outlook on what kingship truly means and how sovereignty under such a kingship might mean for all people.

In Luke’s beautiful song spoken through the voice of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, we are regaled with the attributes of this wise king, this righteous branch of David. This new king would be the saviour of the people from the ravages of sin and all that is evil. In him God’s mercy would shine forth and the covenant re-made. Under him we would become devoted servants living in holiness righteousness and without fear of being ravaged as in former time and under faithless false shepherds. We are to know and accept this as truth because Zechariah goes on with the connection to prophesy as to his son’s calling which would, some 30 years later, be fulfilled when he baptizes Jesus and calls others to follow the lamb.

What Zechariah has spoken is confirmed in Pauls’ opening to the Christians at Colossae, where he praises the universal and cosmic dimensions of Christ who is the first born of all creation, the head of the body, the church and in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Paul sums up what this radically new kingship and kingdom mean for those called to be in Christ. For in Christ God has reconciled all things to himself and given us strength to cope and contend with all things present. It is in Christ that God moves us from the reign of terror evil and false shepherds into the realm in which we inherit peace forgiveness and a place and part with the saints of light.

The Gospel reading at first seems out of step with the other three as it sweeps us from the encouragement and hope offered by the others to the ethos and dread of the crucifixion narrative where we witness the taunts of the leaders while Jesus hangs on the cross. As we celebrate the reign of Christ Sunday it might not at first glance seem appropriate to be contemplating this awful scene. Yet it is this very scene which proves Jesus’ rightful inheritance as Messiah and King. It is a radical change and a radical re-defining of what kingdom and kingship really mean. The leaders once again are shown to be the false shepherds scoffing at him and showing their true colours being more concerned for themselves than for the people whom they are supposed to serve.

Three times Luke shows us that Jesus is taunted once by the leaders, once by the soldiers and once by one of the criminals. In a very real sense these three taunts are a reminder that even at the close of his earthly ministry Jesus is confronted by evil and temptation similar to when he was tempted at the commencement of his ministry. And where the angel ministers to him after the wilderness experience, the other criminal does here. This criminal under condemnation for his crimes sees in Jesus the true king and so rebukes his comrade declaring Jesus to be innocent and seeking forgiveness. Talk about radical change! And with that change Jesus promises this man presence with him in Paradise, a Persian term for the king’s hunting grounds and adapted to refer to the eternal heavenly Garden of Eden. The import of course is that Jesus is king and his kingdom is open to all who call on him, confess him and turn from paths contrary to God’s will.

As we close out this Christian Year we hear the call for change, we glimpse the hope God is offering and we look forward to the Kingdom Christ has brought. And we pray with all our strength, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!”