Scripture: Luke 23:33-43
Already, but Not Yet
Reign of Christ
A dear friend’s impromptu wedding recently brought me back home, to the northern shore of Massachusetts. A small gathering by the ocean, just parents, sisters, and me – the friend – to witness, bless and preside. After the vows were exchanged, kiss shared, matrimony pronounced, first dance danced barefoot on a blanket in the sand, I had an extra hour or so to myself – somewhat of a rarity these days. I took a walk over to a still familiar spot, Cedar Pond, not far from the house where I grew up. Ducking in between the trees, I found the rock where I used to sit overlooking the water.
As I looked out, I was struck by a familiar sight: two Adirondack chairs on a dock across the pond. There they sat, as they had for so many years before, empty, yet appearing to be so full of life, of stories, of memories, I had always been certain. And still, they were there, the wood now slightly faded. There they were, surviving the years. Well-worn and loved.
I imagined, as I had so many times over the years that these two lone chairs are filled – at the end of the day – with a couple looking out over the calm and intimate waters of a small pond in their backyard. Pausing to reflect upon what the day has brought – the good and the bad, the blessings and the challenges.
There’s something about the sight and scene of these two empty chairs that slows down the pace of life; that brings us into the moment, into the here and now. The path of life is actually quite simple in light of a pond, a dock, and a few empty chairs –
Love shared: “Let’s just sit and be together,”
Thanksgiving practiced: “I am thankful for you. I am thankful for your life and that you are in mine.”
Faith exercised: “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we are here. Now. Today – but by the grace of God. And so we trust that all will be well.”
* * * *
So much of our life is future-oriented and forward leaning. We spend a great deal of time wondering and worrying about what tomorrow will bring and how it will all turn out. Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. From where we’ll spend Christmas to where we’ll spend retirement to where we’ll spend eternity.
Where will you spend eternity?
The question looms, yet, on this Reign of Christ Sunday, this Christ the King Sunday, we come to church and we are confronted with the crucifixion (it’s not even Good Friday – the church says, “We are not prepared!”). With the question of eternal consequence hanging in the balance, there is something about this scene (is there not?) in the place that is called “The Skull.” There is something about this scene of three crosses, Jesus, and the criminals that slows down the pace of life; that brings us into the moment, into the here and now. This scene of the King who did not save himself.
“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Forgive us, for we know not what we do.”
And we ask, we beg, we plead there with the criminal hanging on the cross: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
* * * *
Reign of Christ Sunday causes us pause, it causes us to reframe the question. Transformation/innovation/revelation often comes when we reframe the question – ask any teacher.
Not, “How will we get into the kingdom,” but “What is the kingdom?”
Not, “Will Jesus remember me at its gates,” but “What have I done today that’s worthy of Jesus’ memory?”
What is the kingdom? Fortunately, the kingdom rivals money for the topic that Jesus taught and talked most about. “The kingdom of God is like…” how many times does Jesus begin here, “The kingdom of God is like…” What is it like?
It’s like the love of a father for his son who returns home after he has taken the family inheritance and squandered away every last dime. But, alas he is safe. He is home. All is well.
The kingdom of God is like a shepherd who cares so deeply for all his sheep or a woman who values a small coin so greatly, that when one is lost, they go in search for it until it is found.
The kingdom of heaven is like the very smallest of all seeds – the mustard seed – that grows into a great tree and becomes a home for the birds.
The kingdom of God is like a rich man who throws a party, and when the rich people are too busy to come, he invites the poor, the blind, and the lame.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he told them that, “The kingdom of God is not coming in an apocalyptic flash of light. People won’t be waving and pointing, saying, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!”, but Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17:24).
And as his cousin John shouted out from the wilderness, awaiting Jesus’ arrival: “The kingdom of God is at hand. It has come near.”
What is the kingdom? It is already but not yet here. The reign of Christ is already, but not yet now. It is within you and me. It means that we are at once lost and yet found, at once seeking yet being sought, at once sinners yet forgiven, at once fallen and yet saved.
“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And so the question becomes not where we will spend eternity, but how we will spend today.
The question is not how long will the church stand but that the church is standing today – what do we do with it?
What we do in this life matters (“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).)
What we give today and how we live today matters.
The day is here.
The time is now.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Last Sunday I joined several others from this congregation at the Southeast Area’s Fall Meeting, where the featured program was “Perceptions of Youth about the Church.” A panelist of vibrant, excited, and exciting youth ministers answered the million dollar question, the question for the ages: How do you get young people into the church?
And one of the panelist, a young woman, lay leader – the greatest wisdom always comes from the laity – made a bold and poignant statement. She said, “I’m so sick of people in the church talking about how youth are our future. Youth are not our future. Youth are our now. They should be valued for who they are and the gifts and wisdom that they bring now.”
The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. How easily we forget.
We are so focused on the end game, the outcome, the destination, the decision that I do believe we subconsciously wish our youth into the future; we hope they’ll be great and positive contributors to society when they grow up, we hope they’ll be successful, we hope they’ll be faithful, we hope they’ll be generous, we hope they’ll be kind.
Another wise lay member (see, I wasn’t kidding) recently wrote me in reference to a philosopher’s quote that caused me pause, writing that, “The world needs less hope and more love.”
Maybe it’s love, after all, that brings us into the present. That catches us in the net of the moment. Maybe it’s love, after all, that brings us into the kingdom and heralds in the reign of Christ – from the father’s embrace of a troubled son to the searching shepherd, from a party for the outcasts to a home for the birds, from the first dance barefoot on a blanket in the sand to the well-worn wood of a set of chairs on the dock.
Maybe it’s the love that grounds us in the already, but not yet kingdom of God.
It’s the love of Jesus on the cross, awesome and utterly overwhelming, the king who chose not to save himself, but us instead. We, who know not what we do – sinners and fallen – stumbling and fumbling to grasp the love that is in front of us all the while.
We can only conclude that it’s right to give thanks. We do this day and this week. We
give and we give thanks.
~Rev. Leanne Walt