Reign of Christ – November 24, 2019
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
Jeremiah 31 and 36 (selected verses)
Complementary Text: Matthew 21:12-13
Preaching Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
This morning, we join with Christians throughout the church in observing what has come to be known as Christ the King Sunday. This festival, held on the last Sunday of the church year, is an annual reminder of the truth that in Christ we worship the king of kings, the one who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and in reflecting on that truth we are called to remember what it means to live as citizens of God’s Reign.
Our text today is often referred to as Jeremiah’s “Temple Sermon”, because it was delivered in the temple in Jerusalem and because its message concerned that temple and the people who attended worship there. Like Micah and Isaiah, whose words we have heard the last two weeks, Jeremiah was called to bring God’s message of judgment and promise to people who needed a wake-up call. As God’s chosen people, Israel and Judah had both been given extraordinary gifts as part of their covenant with God: a place to live, a series of laws and instructions about how to live rightly with one another and with God, and, perhaps most importantly, God’s gracious favor. Over time, however, the people had allowed the covenant to become one-sided. Instead of seeking to fulfill the commandments that God had given them and trusting that God’s love would sustain them and their life together, some of the people began to presume that the way they lived was unimportant, and that God’s favor would remain with them even if they had no desire to serve as God had instructed them. After all, God had chosen to make God’s name dwell in Jerusalem, and surely God would not let the holy city and the temple be destroyed! Jeremiah’s word to the people is a call to action: Do not trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord! In other words, don’t presume that you will retain God’s mercy when you refuse to even try following the call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly!
As Lutheran Christians, we are all too prone to this type of thinking. In our fervor to highlight the grace of God that is ours in Jesus, we sometimes worry about even the slightest suggestion that our actions matter in God’s eyes. When we take this to the extreme, however, we risk falling into the frame of mind Jeremiah warns about. There is a difference between trusting in God’s promise as we strive to life faithfully and presuming that God doesn’t care about the way we live or how we treat one another. As servants of the king, we must always remember that the one who rules us is both merciful and just, and that we are called to be faithful to our God and King with our whole lives and to trust that God will bless our efforts with grace and love when we fall short.
I want to highlight the fact that the call to faithfulness is a call that encompasses our whole lives, because this is one of the other problems that Jeremiah was trying to address in his word to the people of Judah. Jeremiah asks a scathing question of his people: Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’ – only to go on doing all these abominations? It appears that at least some of the people had fallen prey to another trend that plagues us in the church today: the fragmentation of our lives. We divide our time all too easily into sections – work and play, family and job, church and world, sacred and secular – and then wonder how things can get so confused. The division between church and world is a particularly harmful distinction, because it harms our life and our faith. Dave deFreese, former bishop of our synod, once told us about his desire to put a big sign above the exits to a church he served that read, “So what?” His point was to call attention to this very problem; to answer the question of how what we do when we gather for worship makes a difference in the life we live out there? If, like the people Jeremiah is addressing, we think that God is content with our showing up on Sunday morning and then living the rest of the week as though we were never here, then our reading for today should cause us to take notice. Allegiance is not a part-time job, but a full-time calling. God in Christ is our king every moment of every day, and we are called to live every moment in God’s reign, so that God’s mercy and love might be known in everything that we say and do.
I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve found that this is really difficult to live out on a day-to-day basis. I’ve talked often about how we live in a world that tugs at us from so many different directions, that demands our time and our energy and our resources almost unceasingly. I’m convinced that this is one of the greatest problems we face as Christians today. How do we remain faithful to Christ our king when we are constantly bombarded with messages that seek to capture our attention and our commitment? Perhaps part of the answer might be found in the first part of this morning’s reading, which recounts Jeremiah’s call to the prophetic ministry. Like many of those called to leadership in Scripture, Jeremiah’s immediate reaction is one of disbelief and inadequacy: “Ah, Lord God! Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6, NRSV) But Jeremiah’s objection is bookended by two of the most incredible words of assurance in all of Scripture: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you… (Jeremiah 1:5, NRSV) “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8, NRSV)
Obviously, not all of us are called to be prophets in the same way that Jeremiah was. But God has called each and every one of us into the Reign of Jesus Christ, showered us with forgiveness and grace and love, and sent us out into the world to strive for justice and peace and righteousness in everything we say and do. That call cannot be revoked; our doubts and fears and failings cannot change the promise and the challenge that God has laid on us in the waters of baptism and the life of faith that we share with one another. We will not be perfect in this life; only our King can claim that track record. But we have been chosen to bear God’s word of grace and peace into the world; we have been given the sacraments to sustain us on our journey; we have been granted the promise of life lived in God’s presence through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. As we are sent forth from this place, let us pray that God would lead us to trust in Christ’s mercy and love, not presume that it is ours; let us remember that we are called to life-long allegiance, not part-time service; and let us never forget that the King of creation knows our very names and promises to be present with us as we seek to do his will today and always. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, our gracious, just, merciful, and righteous King! Amen!