The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
November 24, 2013
Daytime TV is the worst. Not only are the shows incredibly stupid, but you have to sit through those terrible commercials from skeazy lawyers. I hate daytime TV.
But do you remember when you were a kid, and you had to stay home sick from school? Even if you were maybe hamming it up for your parents, and you said you were, “sick.” Then, it seemed that daytime TV was a treat. My favorite thing to watch on daytime TV when I was “sick” was re-runs of the A-Team. That show was hilarious. Mr. T had those giant chains. They drove that black van stocked with machine guns. And at the end of every episode after some harrowing adventure, when every thing just worked out beautifully, Hannibal would say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
And don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Don’t you love it when your life plan works out perfectly? You know that plan that you’ve made – the plan in which your kids never get sick, and you never lose your job. You know, that plan. That plan where you never get diagnosed with cancer, that plan where you marry the guy of your dreams and live happily ever after. The plan where your car never breaks down, and everybody likes you for who you are. That plan where everything is rainbows and butterflies.
Because we’re all Christians that plan came together for us. Right?
Because I’m confused, I thought that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. I’ve heard that from television preachers and bumper stickers. And it seems that my plan went terribly wrong. So, not only was I being deceived about my faith in God, but the whole premise of the A-Team was a lie.
We’ve all heard it. We’ve heard that little saying, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Huh. Tell that to the first Christians as they were being eaten by lions in the Roman Coliseum. Tell that to the dying hospice patients that Deacon Bob sees every day. Tell that to millions of faithful Christians in the Philippines, and in Syria, and in Egypt.
Honestly, I have trouble reconciling such evil in the world with my daily proclamation that a loving God created and is in charge of this world. There are billions of people living in abject poverty, unspeakable violence is done to innocent children, and earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes take life indiscriminately. How in the world can we say that there is a loving God in face of such meaningless horror? Such evil? Such malice? How can we say there is a loving God when we try so hard to do the right thing, the good thing, and nothing wonderful happens to us?
I hate to break it to you, but I don’t have an answer. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know why people suffer. I don’t know why there is evil in this world.
But what I do know is that the Lord of this world died on a cross. Why do bad things happen to good people? When we look at the cross, I think we are supposed to ask, “why did the worst thing happen to the best person?”
Here he is, God’s own son, in whom the fullness of deity dwells. Jesus heals the sick, makes the lame to walk, makes the blind to see, and brings good news to the poor and outcasts. And then, there he is, hanging on a cross. On that cross Jesus meets all the ruthless malice, evil, ill-will, and sin humans can muster. The only person that we might even considering saying was perfectly good, dies a brutal death. The only truly innocent man is executed. The worst thing happened to the best person.
So I don’t have an answer of words as to why good people suffer, or why hurricanes kill thousands of people, or why it is that God still loves me, and yet it seems that there is only chaos and heartache planned for my life. All I can do is point to the cross and say, God has been there too.
The God we proclaim is the god who dwells in our pain. The God of the Church is not some disembodied, free-floating god who lives in the ether. The God of the Church is the very god who suffers with us. Who faces evil with us. Who dies with us.
The evil Jesus faced on the cross is the same evil we face day in, day out. But Jesus did not stay on the cross. There is more to the story. Our hope, as Christians, is that the victory Jesus claimed on Easter will also, one day, be our victory. There will be the day when every evil is righted, every injustice recompensed, every bit of suffering is alleviated. That is the day that Christians hope for, and we believe that will happen precisely because it has already happened in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is the first taste of what is coming in full. The resurrection was the down payment of what God intends to finalize; when all will be put back together again. That will be the day that we don’t have to ask – why do bad things happen to good people? – because there won’t be any bad things.
So what about the meantime? What about the child soldiers who are still being brutalized in east Africa? What about the cancer that lurks at our door? What about the good man whose life is cut short by random chance?
This is precisely where the Church steps in. Jesus says to the brigand on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” As the Church, our job is to make that “Today” every day. When evil strikes, our job is to bring a little bit of that future hope to the here and now. We are not going to wait around for Jesus to show up and put everything right. We are to start making things better now, so that when Jesus does show up, the work has already begun.
Our work in the world, be it the Seafarers’ Boxes we sent out last Sunday, the Lazarus project from the youth, giving gifts to poor kids at Christmas, making meals on Thanksgiving, sending aid to the people of West, Texas – all of that stuff that we do now only makes sense because Jesus is risen from the dead. There is suffering in the world, no bones about it, but what the Church says to the world is, “Today, we are giving you the Kingdom of God.” Not in full, but the chips and salsa to God’s fajitas that will come on the Last Day. That is the plan. That’s a plan that Mr. T and the A Team would be proud of.
I know. You still want God to give you the perfect life. Sure, okay, the church might step in when evil strikes and make things better in the present. But wouldn’t it just be nicer if Christians didn’t have to suffer at all? Shouldn’t there be some sort of deal – that if we follow Jesus then everything will be cool?
I hate to break it to you, but today is Christ the King Sunday. The day we celebrate the reign of Jesus over the entire world. And if Jesus, the king of the entire world, ends up dying on a cross, what makes us think that we will fare any better? God loves you. Yes, absolutely yes. God has a wonderful plan for your life. Yes, of course; but the road to glory takes you through the cross of suffering.