Sermons That Work

His Name Is Righteousness, Christ the King (C) – 2004

November 21, 2004

His name is righteousness.

Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!

There are few places in the Eucharist more moving than these words from the Sanctus that we sing Sunday after Sunday. As we intone them we echo Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who, centuries before them, echoed the Psalmist and the prophet Zechariah. These beautiful words are affirmed by the triumphant evocation of glory and Christ’s supremacy found the apostle’s letter to the Colossians.

He is “the firstborn of all creation,” the writer cries in the ecstatic pericope in today’s epistle. “He is the beginning,” Paul, or one of his disciples, continues, “the firstborn from the dead.” Glory and power and assurance move through this epistle. The time for fear has ended. The time for hope has arrived. Let us pay attention and be thankful.

In the twenty-third chapter of Luke chosen for this day, the evangelist tells the profoundly moving story of three men dying on crosses. One of them is angry, the second repentant and aware, the third is “the firstborn of all creation,” but he too is dying on the cross. And the repentant man recognizes the difference between them, sees through now clouded eyes the sign above Jesus’ head, This is the King of the Jews, and despite what his eyes reveal—another dying man—he makes a strange request of Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” But Jesus gives him much more, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Ah! A glimpse of who Jesus is, offered at this most hopeless of moments.

Jesus rarely revealed his divine authority. He chose the way of justice, love, and humility in the short earthly life that led him to the cross. But here and there we find a few glimpses of the glory: the stories of his birth hinted at what the writer of the Colossians affirms years later—“for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created. . .” a glory he had known before—“he, himself, is before all things”; the sudden appearance of the Holy Spirit at his Baptism and the words only the privileged few heard, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11b); the transfiguration for the chosen three disciples; the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with cloaks and leafy branches spread before him to the accompaniment of Hosannas; and, finally, this moment at the crucifixion when he assures the penitent thief of a place in Paradise. Let us hold on to these images as we look at our own situation.

We have had a troubled year of war and death and fear and much bitter division in this country and the world. By the time this sermon is read, the results of the election will be known; there will be triumph on one side and grief on the other, with the accompanying conviction, on the losing side, that the ones who won will bring disaster to us all. Because in many instances the election was looked at as a fight between good and evil, we all have a tendency to think that victory for the other side, the side we rejected, represents evil. And even we Christians forget what the writer of Colossians declares—that, “Christ is the Lord,” but not as the current popular religiosity understands that title in order to intimidate people who are not like-minded.

The Lord of the New Testament stories shows his lordship through serving, healing, and doing justice—nearly alien concepts in a society that prides itself in being “the greatest country in the world.” We must look at these lessons carefully.

Jeremiah is unrelenting in his harsh indictment of false prophets and leaders who mislead. “It is you,” he tells the shepherds, “who scattered my flock and have driven them away.” He was addressing leaders of Israel who functioned as both political and religious personages. Leaders beware!

In the Gospel passages we have two presentations of how a leader who obeys God totally, who is indeed a man of righteousness, behaves toward the flock. The passage in chapter 19 shows us one who has chosen the way of humility and compassion: the triumphant entry on a colt followed by his grief over Jerusalem’s faithlessness; the second passage shows us a dying man who is called king but is recognized as such only by a thief. It is left to the writer of the Epistle to the Colossians to pull it all together and to give hope to those of us who feel despair over world conditions.

The words describe in celebratory manner the one whom Jeremiah considered the shepherd after God’s own heart. “His name is righteousness,” he tells the desperate people of the time, and in Jeremiah’s day, one’s name meant the essence of the person. Jesus fulfilled that hope and his given name—Savior. “He is the image of the invisible God,” the writer of Colossians tells us. How do we know this? John tells us that the Son made God known to us. (John 1:18) If we take these words to heart, and really look at Jesus the Christ, how can we lose hope over an earthly leader? “The exact imprint of God’s very being,” the writer to the Hebrews calls him. (Hebrews 1:3b) Why don’t we pay attention to these words? If Jesus the Christ is the image and imprint of God, what is it that we see in this image, this Lord? Not the triumph of military power and of money as the world sees it, but triumph over the powers of darkness, as the Gospels see it. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

In addition to redemption, the word peace dwells in this image of God. This is the most difficult of all concepts to accept. There are so many promises for peace in the scriptures. What has happened to these promises? Where is peace? These are troubling questions for serious people. He made “peace through the blood of the cross,” says the writer of the Epistle. It was the sacrificial death of Christ, the Lord of righteousness, that offers us this peace.

This is not peace as the world sees it. And this is not triumph as the world sees it. In order to receive peace and know the triumph of Christ, we need to see with the eyes of faith and hope and love, and we need to rejoice in the victory of the one who died in order for us to live. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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