24nd Sunday after Pentecost, November 24, 2019
– Jeremiah 23:1-6, Luke 33:23-43
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
On this Sunday, when we celebrate the reign of Christ over our lives, I’m reminded of how much I appreciate the symbol of our church. Good Shepherd. It is that of an orb divided into three sections recalling Christ’s commission to his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8); and a shepherd’s staff rising above the orb signifying the lordship of Christ over the earth. Now while we acknowledge today as Christ the King Sunday, I try to steer away from gender specific language because it’s important we remember that Christ, beyond the person of Jesus or any male likeness of God, is most understood as the spiritual likeness of God in human flesh; the same Spirit that moved Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan to everything else he did that followed; the same Spirit by which the Apostle Paul declared that in Christ you are “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all of you are one.” (Galatians 3:28)
It is also important that we remember the word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” meaning ”God’s anointed” or “God’s chosen one,” a designation often assigned to monarchs who assumed the throne of Israel. As we approach the Season of Advent, we shall encounter several messianic references, especially from the Prophet Isaiah, who anticipated great accomplishments from a future king of Israel that would usher in a universal realm of justice and peace, where all would live in safety, security and without need.
But Jeremiah also had a messianic prophecy. He said, “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. 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.” (23:5-6)
By the way, it is interesting to note that in naming this messianic savior, “the Lord is our righteousness,” Jeremiah was making a critical punch at the present king of Judah, whose name was Zedekiah, which means “the Lord is my righteousness,” as a way of telling his followers that this guy has not lived up to his name.
This messianic realm and ruler of which Jeremiah spoke unfortunately never came about in his lifetime. So, Christians later applied this prophecy to the future realm of Christ. We are still waiting for the realization of that realm.
On this Sunday when we celebrate the reign of Christ over our lives and eagerly await our Day of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to remain hopeful and not grow discouraged. As a nation and world, we have endured darker days. The impeachment proceedings and the presidential primaries that fill our airways are necessary actions our nation must take in determining the character of leadership and course we will pursue not only for ourselves, but for the world in which we live. They help us realize that no one person brought us to this point of national uncertainty. We are collectively responsible for where we are and what we have become in the eyes of the world. We are equally responsible for where we go and what we may be in the eyes of God.
Christ looked down from the cross at his persecutors and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) I disagree. We knew what we were doing back then, and we know what we’re still doing now. We are caught up in an addiction that suffers the guidance of wayward shepherds dancing to the strings of the few fat-cat puppeteers who care more for their shareholders than sharing the wealth with all who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
“With the Lord as my shepherd,” said the psalmist; there is nothing more that I need.” (23:1) How might we incarnate that reign of a divine shepherd’s compassion where all are safe, secure and without need?
Jesus cautioned us not to look for the coming realm of God as an external force. It “is not coming with things that can be observed,” he said; nor will you say, “Look, here it is” or “There it is!” (Luke 17:21) For if the realm of God is something that must be imposed upon us without heartfelt consent, then we run the risk of rebelling and falling yet again from God’s grace. The realm of God must come from within you.
You are the sheep whom Christ has raised into shepherds, blessed with the task of creating the paradise that God has designed to welcome and embrace all in need of shelter from the storm. For God said to the Prophet Jeremiah, “I will raise up shepherds, so that my people will live in fear no longer;” and this is name by which they shall be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (23:4,6)