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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Happy New Year!

2016-11-20 Lk 23 33-43 Happy New Year 

Luke 23:33-43 

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  


So you might be wondering, "Why in the world are we reading an Easter passage – Good Friday, actually – here the week before Thanksgiving? Tell you truth, I wondered the same thing. "Did he hit his head or something?" Don't think so. But, if I did, I might not rememberThere's a reason we're jumping aheadIt's not a mistake.  

It's that Jesus doesn't go by your calendar. 

And a new year is on the way. 




What year is it? That's one of the questions they ask in memory evaluations. What year is it and who's the president? That second question's been causing problems, lately. It's not that people don't know, they just can't believe it. 


What year is it? If you lived in Israel, you'd say it's 5777. The Jewish calendar counts time from Saturday night, October 6, 3761 BC, when it was believed God created the world. Jewish New Year started back on October 2, Rosh Hashanah, and you missed it. Happy New Year. 


But there are other calendars. According to the placemats at Chinese restaurants, the definitive source of cultural sensitivityChinese New Year doesn't come until January 28, 2017That's very close to Inauguration Day. It's going to be the Year of the Rooster. And yes, that is a both a hair joke and a spooky coincidence. Happy Early New Year. 


And there are still other calendars. There's also the Christian Liturgical Calendar that tells us the days and seasons of the churchAccording to this calendar, the Christian new year starts next Sunday – next Sunday! – on the First Sunday of AdventIf that seems startlingly early, good. It's supposed to beEarly. And startling. 




Find a Bible. If you can't lay your hands on one, look at somebody else's. Go ahead.  


Find the start of the New Testament.  


Got it?  


OK, put your finger in there and close the Bible around your finger. Look to the left of your finger. See how much more there is BEFORE it gets around the New Testament and Jesus? There's a lot of Bible before Jesus. Jesus was born in the manger, but God was alive and kicking long, long before. There were good times, bad times, prophetic times and poetic times while God was working purposes out, getting everybody ready for the Messiah. I find that very encouraging.  


One, it connects us to our Jewish brothers and sisters, and forebears. It connects us to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ruth and David and Isaiah and Job. We share this holy book. We don't own it. It's not ours. It's not about us. So be humble when you hold this book. 


And, two, it reminds us that resurrection life starts way, way BEFORE Jesus. The church's lifecycle starts before Christmas. And that's good news for anybody who's sick and tired, or sick, or tired, or waitingor praying for salvation, from whateverNew life doesn't start with new birth. Any person who's been pregnant will tell you thatPaul says, in Romans 8:22, "the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves… groan inwardly while we wait for adoption."  


And so, appropriately, the seasons of the Christian year don't start with a party and presents. The Christian life starts with hope. It starts with longing, sometimes long and uncomfortable, painful waitingThe year starts, not with Jesus, but with waiting for Jesus, with waiting – waiting for Christmas, waiting for the SaviorThe church calendar starts by reminding us that Jesus doesn't go by our calendar. We have to wait. 




So, next Sunday is our New Year's DayWhich makes this Sunday – today – New Year's Eve. It's New Year's Eve, people! Woohoo. Party like it's 5799Alas, I see no hats. I hear no tooty horns. I taste no champagne. And that's kind of the way things went for many, many years in the churchThe new year started with Advent, but the old year? The old year went out with a whimper, barely noticed except by priests, pastors, and, of course, choir directors who had to remind their members to change their stoles. Ho hum. That's the way it went. 


That is, until 1925. In 1925, things were not great with the world. Especially in Europe. Fascism, Nazism, Communism, secularism, a divisive nationalism – they were growing. There were dark clouds on the horizon. People could feel it. Pope Pius XI saw itAnd he wrote a decree.  


He wrote,  

"Since the close of the Great War individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace... the old rivalries between nations have not ceased to exert their influence... the nations of today live in a state of armed peace which is scarcely better than war itself, a condition which tends to exhaust national finances, to waste the flower of youth, to muddy and poison the very fountainheads of life, physical, intellectual, religious, and moral." 

Pope Pius XI. "Ubi arcano Dei consilio," ("On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ" or, literally, Where Is the Mystery of God's PlanDecember 1922 


"[…deploring] the rise of class divisions and unbridled nationalism, [Pius] held that true peace can only be found under the Kingship of Christ."  


"For Jesus Christ reigns over the minds of individuals by His teachings, in their hearts by His love, in each one's life by the living according to His law and the imitating of His example." 


Pope Pius XI decided that Christianity should not end its year with a whisper. He proclaimed that the church should mark the end of its year by remembering the end of Christ's ministry, the goal of Christ's kingship, the purpose of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection 




Pius XI designated the last Sunday of the Christian year as Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ. And even Protestants, including grumpy Scots-Irish Presbyterians, said, "Hey, that's a good idea." 


And finally  FINALLY – that's why we're reading these scriptures today. Why does everything about church take so long to explain? Because suffering is good for you. Long sermons build character. Joins you to the cross. 


Observing Christ the King Sunday at year's end reminds us 


It reminds us that we are not the be-all and end-all.  


Reminds us that even in times of suffering and uncertainty, even though the world might seem upside down and inside out, Jesus Christ is King. Jesus Christ is king and we will someday see his glory.  


But not yet.  


There will be waiting. There will be hoping. So we're not going to jump ahead to Easter. We're not even going to jump ahead to Christmas. On the last day of our year, we're staying with the crossWe join our hearts and minds across nations, across classes, across colors, genders, and any other sign of earthly division. We join as citizens under the Sovereign King of All Creation, sisters and brothers united in ChristWe raise our voices, not with crucifying crowds, but with that of the Repentant Thief – the sinner on the cross beside him – praying, "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." 


That's why we read this scripture on the last day. Because it tells us who we are. Because it tells us who Christ is. Anbecause it tells us where we are all headed, no matter what the human year says. 


To God – and God alone – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – be the glory this year, next year, forever and ever. World without end. Amen.