An Easter People

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 8th, 2016

Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Alleluia!  He is Risen!

If you’ve taken a moment to glance through your Bibles at the Gospel of John in the last few weeks, you may have noticed something a bit … odd in the Gospel readings.  Not in the readings themselves, but in the fact that these particular texts are assigned to be read now, in Easter.  Easter is a time of resurrection.  We celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we look forward to the time when he will come again in glory and all those who have died in Christ will be raised from the dead, as well.  That’s why we read from Revelation in Easter—we’re celebrating Christ’s resurrection and looking forward to the general Resurrection, which Revelation gives us a vision of.

And that’s what’s so peculiar about the readings from John that we’ve been reading.  Because they’re taken from before Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And not just any time throughout his ministry.  No, they come from what is called the Farewell Discourse, the words Jesus spoke to his disciples after their last meal together, before he was handed over to the guards in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This is Jesus praying and teaching the very night before his crucifixion.  Jesus knows he is about to die, and is preparing for it by preparing his disciples for it.  The disciples don’t know Jesus is about to die, because they’ve been willfully blind to what Jesus’ teachings mean … but even so, they know just how tense the situation is, how much the authorities in the city would like to silence Jesus and his followers.  It’s a time of fear, a time of pain, a time of death, a time when nobody but God could see any hope… and even that hope could not come without suffering.  So why, out of all the times during the year, do we read this discourse during Easter?  The time of great joy and hope?  The time of healing and resurrection and new life?  On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense.

But the thing is, even as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection—even as we look forward to the general resurrection of the dead that is to come—we still have to live in a world filled with death.  Jesus’ resurrection is the foretaste of the feast to come … but before we sit down to the full feast that is heaven, we’ve got to get through life today, first.  We know there is healing to come, but we live in a world of sickness.  We know there is life to come, but we live in a world of death.  We know there is hope and love to come, but we live in a world of fear and hate, where sin and brokenness run rampant and abuse is all too normal.  Like the disciples, we want to know God, and to live in God’s kingdom—but like the disciples, we are still caught up in a world of fear and death.  We are a resurrection people.  We celebrate Christ’s resurrection, and we look forward to our own resurrection and the resurrection of all the dead … but we live in a world of death, and will until Christ comes again.  And I think that’s why these readings from the Farewell Discourse are read in Easter.

The question—the great question, that most of the New Testament revolves around—is how do we live as children of the resurrection in a world broken by sin and death?  How do we keep the faith, how do we maintain our hope, how do we live and speak and act, in a world that is determined to sell itself out to power and greed and hate and lust and fear and all the sin and brokenness there is?

Revelation has two answers.  Revelation is a dream, a vision, not meant to be taken as a literal history of the future but rather as a reassurance of two great truths.  First, that no matter how bleak things get, no matter what horrible things happen—in our own lives, and in the larger world—God is at work.  God is present, God is active, no matter how bad things look.  Just as the disciples couldn’t see God’s hand in Jesus’ death until afterwards, in the light of the resurrection, so too God is present and at work even when we can’t see him, even in the darkest moments there are.

And the second answer that Revelation gives is that we don’t have to worry about the end of the story.  We don’t have to worry about how things are going to turn out.  We already know.  God wins.  Sin and death are defeated.  Heaven comes to earth, and this world truly becomes God’s kingdom as it was always meant to be.  There is resurrection, and healing, and life, and joy, and love, and hope, and all pain and sorrow and evil will be gone.  No matter what happens, no matter what trials we have to live through in this life, we know how the story ends.  Even in the midst of pain and sorrow, suffering and evil and brokenness, even though it kills us—and this world will kill us, each and every one of us—we don’t have to be afraid, because we know how the story ends.  And it’s a good ending, the best ending possible.

We don’t have to worry about the end, just the middle.  Just the here-and-now.  Just getting through each day.  And that’s what Jesus was talking about in the Farewell Discourse, as he said goodbye to his disciples and tried to prepare them for what was to come.  How to get through each day, because knowing how the story ends gives hope but that may not be enough by itself when the going gets rough.  And Jesus’ answer is love.  In these three chapters, Jesus talks about a lot of things, but the common thread is love: God’s love for us, and our love for one another.  That’s how we get through the middle times.

Now, when I talk about love I don’t just mean a kind of wishy-washy platitude, and when I talk about sin and brokenness and evil I don’t just mean on a cosmic scale.  I know you’ve all experienced it.  For example, I know you have all seen and experienced how feuds, rivalries, jealousies, and prejudices can build up in a small town, how they can hurt and twist people over and over again.  I know you’ve seen how people turn to drugs and alcohol to solve their problems and hurt themselves and their families and friends in the process.  I know you’ve seen how petty and nasty and mean people can be to one another, even when they smile and hide it behind a nice façade, and the damage that does to people.  And there are members of this parish who have been abused; there are members of this parish who have been raped.  If you have been lucky enough never to have suffered that way, you know people who have—even if they’ve never told you about it.  We have a nice community, a good community, but even in our own homes and hearts and minds there is sin and brokenness, there are victims and aggressors, and oftentimes people who are both.  And the love of God—the love that Jesus asks us to have for one another—is right there in the midst of it.  Not just in platitudes and sayings, but in action.

That love is the love that leads us to be there for people when they need help—when they’re sick, or in pain, or hurt.  That love is the love that leads us to work for a just peace and reconciliation, even when choosing a side and striking back would be easier.  Striking back and lashing out are the easiest things in the world when pain and fear come.  Building walls and closing out problems is simple, too—just go with the flow, follow the world’s advice, contribute to the pain in the world—but that’s not what God calls us to do.  We are called to love.  To open our hearts and our hands and our lives.  To witness to the abundant life and love that God brings.  We are called to heal the world, not add to the hurt.  We are called to be kind when it is easier to be mean, to be forgiving when it is easier to be resentful.  We are called to love in tangible ways, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and brokenhearted, and in all things be Christ to our neighbors.  And when we, together, put God’s love into action, that is when we are most truly a resurrection people.  When love is not just a word but a way of life, that is when we see a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come.  Love is how we live as an Easter people in a world still full of sin and death.  May God teach us truly how to love one another in thought, word, and deed.

Alleluia!  He is Risen!

Amen.

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 26), Year A, September 28, 2014

 

Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever noticed that the cross is everywhere these days? It gets slapped up on billboards arguing for one political position or another. People wear it all the time as jewelry—even people who never go to church or do anything religious will wear it. If you google “cross” online, you’ll see lots of beautiful shining pictures like this one. Light, beauty, respect, worship. Those are all things we tend to associate with the cross. And almost every Christian organization, building, group, book, or artwork is going to have a cross on it somewhere. Like a brand logo in advertising. This is who we are.

Glorious glowing cross
Glorious glowing cross

Which is why people today tend to be so surprised that during the first three centuries, Christians did not use the cross as an emblem. At all. If you go to the Middle East and go to the oldest Christian churches still standing, there are no crosses anywhere. If you go to the catacombs, the underground burial chambers where Christians buried their dead and worshiped in secret from their persecutors, there is a lot of art on the walls. You’ll see murals of worship, of Bible scenes, of saints and angels. But you will not see any crosses anywhere until the fourth or fifth century.

We tend to think of the cross as power and salvation, but we forget that the cross was a torture device.A gory crucifix

A method of execution reserved for the worst of the worst. No Roman citizen could be crucified; that punishment was reserved for foreigners and slaves. And the kind of foreigners and slaves that the Romans most hated, to boot: the ones who were a danger to the existing social order. The ones who challenged the authorities. Revolutionaries, violent bandits, slaves who rebelled. The lowest of the low and the worst of the worst. That was the kind of people who were killed on crosses. It was a long death, slow and painful and public. In those first few centuries, when crucifixion was still a regular punishment meted out by the Empire, Christians didn’t need to paint it on walls. They’d all seen it done to people, every agonizing and horrifying moment of the hours (and sometimes days) it could take to die on a cross. It was not a symbol of glory and power and beauty. It was a sign of weakness and horror.

So when Paul says that Christ became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross—that’s something. Being willing to die is one thing; it happens. Good people and bad people alike are willing to die for loved ones and for principles. Being willing to allow yourself to be tortured to death … that is another matter entirely. And that’s what Jesus did. Let’s be quite clear on that. Jesus was not just another human. He was human and God together. He was the Word who blew over the waters at creation, and the one who walked on the waters of the Sea of Galillee and calmed storms with a word. If he had not allowed himself to be handed over, tried in a kangaroo court, whipped, paraded naked through town, and nailed to a cross, it would not have happened. But Jesus loved the world so much that he was willing to die for it. And not just die, but die horribly, in a long, drawn-out, ugly death. He loved us that much, so much that he would let that happen to save us.

In our second reading, Paul asks us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus, the same attitude, the same love. To turn away from selfish ambition and conceit, but act with humility and for the good of others.

Humble Pie

Now, humility, that’s a loaded word. And it’s a word that can be used like a weapon. For a lot of people, humility is different for the powerful and the powerless. Powerful people give lip service to humility with false modesty while regarding themselves as better than others. Meanwhile, when people lower down on the totem pole dare to speak up for themselves, to protest when they are hurt and abused, they get told they should be more humble. Submit to authority, no matter what. Not because they need to be humble, but just to shut them up and keep them from bothering people. An abusive husband may talk about how women should be humble, but what he really means is that he wants his wife to just take anything he dishes out. Needless to say, that is not the kind of humility that Paul is talking about.

Paul describes Jesus as humble, but I don’t think the chief priests and the elders would have described Jesus as humble. They wanted him to submit to them. Instead, Jesus submitted to God, which meant standing up to them. In our Gospel lesson today, they came to him to challenge his authority. You see, they were the ones who were supposed to have all the authority in society, and particularly religious authority. They were the ones who set policy, the ones who decided religious doctrine, the ones people came to for advice and judgment. And here was this Jesus dude, this ignorant backwater hick from Nazareth, of all places, who not only had huge crowds come listen to him preach, who could not only do miracles like heal people and feed thousands, he came into the Temple in Jerusalem and upset the apple cart. Literally. Well, it wasn’t an applecart, it was the stalls of the moneychangers and merchants who set up to do business in the outer courts of the Temple and disrupted the worship of those who came to pray.

“Who do you think you are?” the chief priests asked him. “What gives you the right to come in here and criticize us and disrupt things?” They wanted Jesus to back down and apologize. They wanted Jesus to bow to their authority. They wanted Jesus to be humble—by which they meant subservient to them. And if he wouldn’t do what they wanted, well, there were ways to deal with troublemakers. Just after this conversation, they decided that he was too dangerous to live, and began trying to arrest him. If Jesus had backed off and apologized, he would probably not have been crucified. But this is Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is humble, but Jesus’ humility is about submitting to God, not to humans. The way the chief priests run the Temple works—for them. They were very good at keeping things running smoothly and business going on as usual.

The problem was, that very business got in the way of people worshipping God. It drew people away from God, and so it had to go. So Jesus would not back down. Jesus would keep on saying what the people in power didn’t want to hear because they needed to hear it, even if that meant he was going to suffer. And he was going to allow himself to be crucified, to be handed over to death, because he loved all of creation, from the rocks to the stars to the animals to the people of every tribe and race and class and nation, so much that he was willing to die to fix what we screwed up. He was willing to suffer in agony if that was what it would take to open up and expose the sinful, broken nature of the world so that we could be healed.

Jesus’ humility led him to allow himself to suffer for the sake of others; it also led him to stand up and speak out and take action for the sake of others. It’s a humility based on love, on choosing to do the right thing even if it will cost you. That’s what the cross is. And that’s the kind of humility that Paul wants us to have. The same mind that was in Christ Jesus, God in human form, who poured out his life to save us. Paul wants us to have the humility to follow God, whether that means standing up to people or sacrificing for the sake of others. It’s not humility for the sake of humility, it’s about doing the right thing, even when that’s hard or painful. It’s about making love—love for God and love for all the world—be more important than our own ego. It’s about letting God work in us and through us even if it’s not convenient, even if it hurts. That’s what the cross means.

We put crosses on billboards and on jewelry, we get them tattooed on our bodies, we put them in our churches and on our walls at home. We share pictures of them on Facebook. But are we willing to walk in the way of the cross? Are we willing to take on pain for the sake of others, and are we willing to stand up and speak out for the sake of others? Are we willing to seriously let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus? Thanks be to God for his work in us, which helps us to walk with Jesus.

Amen.

Breaking the Cycle

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, (Year A), April 13, 2014

Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 27

 

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wow, the readings for today are really an emotional rollercoaster, aren’t they? But then, that’s the story of Holy Week. It starts on a high—Jesus riding into town on a donkey as the crowds cheer—and then it gets really dark, really fast. Jesus is arrested, subjected to a sham trial, tortured, and executed. It ends well, with Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation of the world, but the path to Easter is dark and pretty scary. I hope you will come to the midweek services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, because each part of the story has an important part to play, and none of the pieces can stand on its own.

Take today, for example. Today is Palm Sunday. It’s a parade! Everyone loves a parade! People cheering and celebrating. But think of what Jesus is going through. This parade isn’t just happening at a random time. Jesus’ popularity in Judea and Galilee had been growing; ever-larger crowds had been coming to hear him teach, to be healed, to be fed, to see miracles. The buzz and excitement had been growing, and this is its peak. I have no doubt the disciples were on cloud nine, as they participated in and led this parade, this celebration of Jesus and his ministry.

But consider it from Jesus’ point of view. Jesus, after all, knew darn good and well what was going to happen. He knew how fickle the crowds were. He knew that when he failed to live up to their expectations—when he didn’t give them what they wanted—they would turn on him. The crowds loved Jesus only so long as they thought he would do what they wanted. When they realized that Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t fulfill their wishes, things were going to get really nasty, really fast. And there Jesus is, knowing that he’s riding to his death, listening to people shout praises and knowing that in just a few days they will be calling for his death.

Everyone expected Jesus to be a great prophet, a righteous king like David who would create a political and religious revolution which would put them firmly back in charge. They thought they knew who Jesus was, and they knew what they wanted him to do: fight a war for their nation and create a new golden age. For the crowds made up of ordinary people, that was a great thing to be celebrated. For the political and religious leaders, it was a threat. So the leaders wanted him out of the way, and would do anything to discredit and remove him. And when the ordinary people got disappointed in Jesus, they would let the leaders manipulate them into calling for his death.

And the crowds were guaranteed to be disappointed in Jesus, because he didn’t come to lead a political revolution; he didn’t come to provide a temporary fix for one small corner of the planet. He didn’t come to give them what they wanted. He came to give all creation—all of us—what we need. Salvation, healing, hope, and life, that’s what Jesus came to give. That’s what Jesus had been trying to teach them about all along, but they weren’t listening. They heard what they wanted to hear. They needed salvation, but they wanted free food and miracles on tap. Given a choice between the peace and life of God, and a political and social reform, they would choose politics.

I say “them,” but really, it’s “us,” isn’t it? That’s the way the world works. If you look at Jesus’ arrest and trial, nothing in the world has really has changed in the last 2,000 years. Look at modern politics throughout the world. People still look for easy answers and quick fixes, and will follow anyone they think will help them achieve it—and if that person falls short of their expectations, it doesn’t take us long to turn on them. People still use religion as a tool to try to set up a society that benefits themselves, and use God’s word to attack those they don’t agree with. Powerful people still feel threatened by those who work for change, and they still manipulate and cheat and use their power to get rid of inconvenient people.   That’s how the system works. And most people, by and large, go along with it and just accept it as normal.

That’s the reality that Jesus came to change. But it can’t happen by using the same tactics. It can’t happen by political or social revolution. Revolutions come and go, and sometimes they make things worse and sometimes they make things better. But even in the best of times, that fundamental brokenness remains, and in this world no good thing lasts forever. The only way to break the cycle is to heal the brokenness, and that’s what Jesus came to do.

That’s why Jesus rode into Jerusalem, knowing it would mean his death. Because that death would break the cycle. That death would nail the whole stinking system to the cross and provide the cracks for God’s kingdom to break in the world. And the resurrection that followed would widen those cracks so that when Christ comes again all of creation will finally be free from sin and death. We will be free from sin and death. But it comes at a cost, a cost Jesus paid willingly. It comes on Maundy Thursday through Jesus’ feeding his disciples—feeding us—with his own body and blood and commanding us to love one another. It comes on Good Friday, when Jesus was tortured and executed on a cross, abandoned by everyone. And it is shown on Easter, when Jesus rose from the grave, the firstborn of the dead.

Knowing all that, Jesus chose the salvation of the world. He rode on towards his own death, while the fickle crowd cried Hosanna. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

What kind of a King is he?

Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

 Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last day of the church year, the day we celebrate Christ’s reign over all the world.  We celebrate the coming kingdom, and we celebrate the one who will bring it in to us.  But kings and kingdoms are pretty far removed from our day-to-day lives; after all, we don’t have kings here in America.  About the only time we think about royalty is when the British royal family has a major event like a wedding or a new baby, or a scandal that makes tabloid headlines.  So what does it mean when we say Christ is King?  What does it mean when we say we are waiting for Christ’s kingdom to come?  What is a king supposed to be like, anyway?

In the ancient world, shepherds were a common metaphor for kings.  Shepherds took care of their flocks, kept them together, protected them from harm, and made sure that they got enough good food and water.  Kings were supposed to be like that: taking care of their people, uniting them, defending them from enemies and establishing civic order, and making sure that resources were fairly distributed.  Of course, there’s a huge difference between a human king and a shepherd: the shepherd is a lot smarter than a sheep, and knows what’s good for the sheep better than the sheep do.  A human king, however, isn’t necessarily any smarter than any of his subjects, and doesn’t know better than they do.  In fact, you can expand that to all political leaders.  Our presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, are not inherently any smarter, any morally better, than the average joe on the street.

We may not know much about kings and kingdoms, and most of us don’t know as much about shepherds as people in biblical days, but it’s not hard to understand God’s point in today’s first reading.  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.”  God is complaining that the kings and priests who are supposed to take care of and lead God’s people have failed.  Worse, they’ve done the opposite of what they were supposed to do.  They’ve scattered God’s people instead of gathering them in, they’ve driven them away instead of seeking out those who are lost.  They have abused the people they are supposed to be leading and protecting.  In other words, they’ve been bad leaders.

It should not take much thought to come up with modern leaders who have done the same.  How many have focused on short-term good rather than long-term good?  How many have chosen partisanship over cooperation and the greater good?  How many of them have chosen to spew slogans that appeal to a small core constituency and alienate everyone else, instead of finding common goals and working towards solutions most people can support?  How many have chosen comfortable lies over hard truths?  How many have chosen to benefit themselves instead of working for the good of those they’re supposed to lead?  How many have taken the loyalty they are given and used it for bad purposes?  Political leaders, religious leaders, social leaders—all have tended to fall prey to the same problems.  All have tended to focus on themselves to the detriment of the greater good.

It’s no wonder God gets upset.  It’s no wonder that God chooses to act.  In Jeremiah, he tells of a day when the bad shepherds—the bad kings and politicians and priests—of this world will no longer be in charge.  “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  That righteous branch is, of course, Christ Jesus our Lord, God’s son, whom he sent into the world.  And the reign of Christ will not be completed until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  But that reign will come.  The day will come when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  The day will come when true righteousness and true mercy are the rule rather than the exception.  And on that day we will know the joy of living in God’s kingdom.

It’s interesting to look at the Gospel reading for this day, when we celebrate the Christ’s Kingship.  What does it mean, that Christ is king?  What kind of a king is he?  Well, it turns out, Jesus is not much like the human kings and leaders that we’re familiar with.  Jesus Christ is a crucified king.  And that’s proof of how different a leader Jesus is.  Think about it: human kings and presidents have bodyguards, people whose entire job is to protect them, and, if necessary, to die for them.  Jesus is just the opposite.  Instead of asking that people die to save him, Jesus dies to save his people.  Human leaders have many reason for asking others to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the leader’s sake.  Surely, any of those reasons are infinitely more true of Jesus.  By any objective measurement, Jesus was more important and more worthy than any human being.  Yet he didn’t ask others to save him; he went willingly to his death to save everyone else.  He put our good over his own.  He died so that we might live.  He rescued us from the power of darkness so that we might be citizens of his kingdom.

And this great gift was not just for a chosen few.  Jesus sets aside his power and glory for the sake of all people: even the criminals beside him have only to ask to receive the gift of the kingdom.  And the people who have taken Jesus, put him on trial knowing he is innocent, and sentenced him to die—they, too, receive the gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  They don’t deserve forgiveness.  They are in the process of murdering an innocent man for their own benefit, to get him out of the way.  The criminals being crucified with Jesus?  They didn’t deserve forgiveness, either—at least one of them freely admits that his crimes deserve the death penalty.  Jesus doesn’t tell him, “no, really, it wasn’t that bad.”  And Jesus doesn’t tell the people who are putting him to death that “oh, it’s not that big a deal.”  These are real sins.  They are doing a deeply horrible thing.  Jesus doesn’t try and whitewash it or diminish it.  But he does forgive them.  He does tell the criminal that he will be with him in God’s kingdom.

The soldiers mocked him as he forgave them.  “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” they said.  They couldn’t imagine a king who would act like Jesus.  They couldn’t imagine a king who would value his people more than his own life.  They couldn’t imagine a king who would endure humiliation and pain for the greater good.  The leaders who had trumped up the charges that led to Jesus’ arrest mocked him too.  They had felt threatened by Jesus, because he was different.  He didn’t fit into their nice neat categories; he didn’t follow their lead; he taught with authority and spent time with tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t act like they thought a Messiah should.  They couldn’t imagine that God would choose to humble himself for the sake of his people.  They couldn’t imagine that God would allow his chosen one to die.  They couldn’t imagine the kingdom of God beginning with the death of the one who came to bring it.  They watched the greatest act of love imaginable, and saw only failure.  Their king was right there in front of their eyes, and they could not see him.

Can we?  Or do we take Jesus for granted?  Jesus Christ is Lord of All, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace.  We say the words, but do we mean them?  Are we willing to give our allegiance and loyalty to Christ who died for our sake, or do we give him lip service while following our own whims?  Are we willing to admit our sin and guilt and accept his forgiveness and the Kingdom that Christ brings, or would we rather scoff because God’s kingdom doesn’t look like the kingdoms of this world?

God loves us, every one of us.  And he knows our strengths and weaknesses, our needs and wants and fears, even those we don’t know ourselves.  Unlike the leaders of this world, God has far more wisdom and understanding than we do, and more compassion as well.  While the leaders of this world fall prey to their own flaws, God heals us and makes us whole.  While the leaders of this world scatter and divide people, God brings us together and reconciles our differences.  While the leaders of this world are willing to sacrifice others for their own good, God sacrifices himself for us, so that we may have peace bought through the blood shed on the cross.  That is what makes Jesus Christ the King of Kings, the Lord of All, the Prince of Peace.

Amen.