Christ the King Sunday
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Restoration after Exile
23 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The Righteous Branch of David
5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Sermon: “A Gathered Remnant”
You might have heard about Tesla’s recent debut of its new electric truck. You might also have heard that, after that debut, Tesla stock took a tumble. Let me show you why. (Clip)
Someone—or several someones—didn’t do her, his, or their job. Sometimes we get away with it. Other times, though, our mistake is such a whopper that there’s no hiding or denying it. Shattering a supposedly “unbreakable” window is a good example. Here are a few more. (Pictures)
In today’s scripture, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, called the last kings of Judah on the divine carpet for not doing their job. It wasn’t pretty. Since you didn’t take care of my people, God said, now I’m going to take care of you—and not, we can assume, in a good way.
Jeremiah 22:1-3 is a short, powerful summary of a king’s job description.
Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22: 3)
The king’s first concern was righteousness and justice, most especially for the poor and those on life’s edges. The size of one’s armies, the grandeur of one’s palace, the victories won in battle, and even the skill of playing one superpower against the other—none of it mattered to God.
Shepherds were to gather rather than scatter, to bring home rather than drive away. Warning after warning had gone unheeded, and now judgment would follow. The last kings of Judah didn’t do their jobs.
“I spoke to you in your prosperity,” God said, “but you said, ‘I won’t listen.’”
Jeremiah 23 asks if we will. Today, as in Jeremiah’s time, a scattered people desperately search for a shepherd who will gather them in and bring them safely to the fold.
Newsweek published a survey on November 11 that found 60 percent of adults polled said they agreed with the statement that “Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.” The same survey found that many Americans, 67%, are angry with the way things are going in our country. Not only that, 62% are angrier today than they were just five years ago.
More frightening, perhaps, than the aimlessness and anger is the cynicism that often goes hand in hand with them. Webster’s defines cynicism as “a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest.” Cynics live without hope, the anchor of the Christian faith, empty of compassion, distrustful of everyone and everything.
A couple of years ago, Psychology Today published a cynicism test. I’m
going to read three statements. See how much you agree with each one.
- I think most people would like to get ahead.
- It’s safer to trust no one.
- Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage, rather than lose it.
The more you agreed with each of those statements, the higher your level of cynical distrust. The higher your level, the greater your risk of developing dementia as well as cardiovascular disease. Cynicism also increases the risk of premature death anywhere from one and a half to two times.
Without hope, compassion, and trust, what do we have left?
If cynicism is a spiritual and emotional illness, how best to treat it? Pastor Frank Powell, himself a self-confessed recovering Christian cynic, listed several ways.
For starters, we need to challenge our long-held assumptions about what we believe and who God is. We human beings are the only creations of God who can learn and accumulate knowledge. God created us to learn.
That means listening to people you don’t agree with, being open minded, and allowing others to challenge your views. That’s a hard one for me, sometimes, I’ll confess. But it’s oh so necessary.
Cynicism dies where the grace of God lives. That means that, by default, that we should trust rather than distrust everyone.
I’m not saying to run around like Mary Poppins, singing, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” We know that people will hurt and disappoint us. But we can’t give up on people just because they’re as broken as we are.
We’re to treat others the way we’d like them to treat us. You’ve heard that one before, right? If we want others to trust us, then we, in turn, should trust them.
If we don’t want to become cynical, we can’t avoid conflict. The
promises of God aren’t always comfortable.
- God promised Abraham he’d one day be a blessing to many nations. In the meantime, Abraham almost sacrificed his son, left his family, and lived as an essentially homeless person the rest of his life.
- Samuel anointed David king, but David didn’t reign until twenty years later. In the meantime, he ran and fought for his life.
- Then there’s the cross. At the cross, God redeems humanity through pain and suffering and yes, even death.
Cynicism is easy. That’s why a lot of people choose it. But we don’t serve a God who specializes in easy. We serve a God who specializes in taking something hard or difficult and turning it into something beautiful. That’s our job description, too.
Today’s Scripture opened with judgment and closed with the promise of a future leader who would save and protect the people. It doesn’t let us off the hook, though. We, too, must choose.
We often want to blame the ills of society on political leaders or nameless, faceless institutions. But our choices matter, too. Who we vote for, how we spend our money, the way we see God, whether we care for creation, they all matter. Our voices as people count, as does our engagement with others or our cynical lack of it.
So, while we might hope that our political leaders will execute justice and righteousness, in the here and now we have choices to make and actions to take. Our choices and our actions will in part determine whether we find justice and righteousness in the world around us.
I’d like to close with a paraphrase of a Sabbath prayer written by Jack Riemer.
We can’t just pray to God to end war, because God has made the world in such a way that people must find their own path to peace within themselves and their neighbors.
We can’t just pray to God to end starvation, because God has already given us the resources with which to feed the world, if we’d only use them wisely.
We can’t just pray to God to root out prejudice, for God has already given us eyes with which we can see the good in all people, if only we’d use them rightly.
We can’t just pray to God to end despair, for God has already given us the power to clear away poverty and to give hope, if only we’d use our power justly.
We can’t just pray to God to end disease, for God has already given us great minds with which to search out cures and healing if we only use them constructively.
Instead, we should pray to God for strength and determination and willpower, to do instead of just pray, to become instead of just to wish.
That’s our job description. Let’s do our best to live up to it.