Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 20 November 2022.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6 (Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture)
• Psalm 46
• Epistle: Colossians 1: 11-20 (The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. In Him all things were created)
• Gospel: Luke 23: 33-43 (Jesus forgives those who crucified Him – promises paradise to the penitent thief)
I wonder how many of us would cook a meal with food that they know to be going off – surely one would choose fresh produce, free of signs of rot or mould?
How many would build their home with materials that they know would not stand up to rain and storm, or the wear and tear of family life?
What about using medicines known not to be effective, or building a ship with materials known to be liable to fail?
No responsible person would do any of these things. So what about building a perfect and godly society using people already corrupted by sin, rebellion against God, determined to have their own way in all things regardless of their effects on other people?
What about building a perfect society with people who have no understanding or education or moral constraint? With people only seeking their own ends and their power over others? Preferably free of any kind of responsibility?
Put this way, we can all see that a mighty project pursued with faulty materials is bound to fail. Only the perfect initiator and manager could ever hope to develop such a glorious aim.
And that is why I am profoundly suspicious of any political movement that seeks to build a perfect community, free of all moral complications or compromises. And the more demanding the originator, the more suspicious I become.
Yet our OT lesson tells of the rebuke of God towards those who were entrusted with the health and safety of His people, and flock. The officials and structures that should have seen to this were also corrupt and self-seeking, more interested in their own gain and comfort, their status and glamour than the simple discharge of the duties given them by God. And they had the law and the prophets.
And so they would be brought to judgment and another would be raised up, this time One who was entirely of God: with Him, in Him, filled with Him, empowered and authorized by Him.
This One would be of the line of kings in the flesh, and He would be of the fulness of God in the spirit. His identity would utterly Godly and wholly Jewish: the two fused into one, neither aspect at war with the other.
This Son of David would indeed by anointed by the Spirit of God – the Messiah – and He would lead by example and teach with humility while exercising His authority over sickness and death.
In the gospel, we are given the account of Jesus on the cross, making complete and total atonement for the sins of the whole of humanity, up to His last breath.
First of all, Jesus continued to forgive, even those who had crucified Him. Other condemned men might have cursed them to the ends of the earth and for all of eternity.
But for Jesus it was different for He was maintaining His personal integrity up to the very last. How could He continue to be the full, perfect and compete sacrifice for our sins if He was then compromised by failure to forgive others as He had taught His disciples to forgive?
And so Jesus’ perfectly sinless life was demonstrated by His act of forgiveness of the Roman soldiers while leaving those who had condemned Him to the judgment of God.
But secondly, Jesus continued to exert His authority to promise paradise to the penitent thief. He was still Lord, even on the cross. Even when bearing fully and personally the sins of all of creation.
Even here, He could still call out to His God and Father, and did so right up to the end.
But this was where His kingship was to begin. If the wise men from the east came looking for the One born King of the Jews, then Jesus died still under the superscription of being Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
Jesus was already King without needing a great ceremony or the trappings of power. His kingdom was already present in those who were His disciples when He died and in the millions since then who became disciples in His resurrection.
Jesus’ kingship is present among His disciples in every age and situation as they spread the word of His life and death and resurrection. It is there as they live in His teaching and ministry and as they proclaim the same life and ministry to others around then.
But there is a paradox here as there is in many other aspects of our faith. It is that He is Lord and King to those who receive and acknowledge Him in this life while still promising the fulness of heaven when we die and yet also promising that He would indeed come again and stand upon the earth: the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and its Temple Mount, the Jaffa Road and the Convention Centre.
He would be there to be seen in all other cities and places of the earth, including George Square and Glasgow Green, Queens Park and the Botanic Gardens.
His rule would be clear and decisive, His judgments pure and unbiased, His wisdom unchallengeable and His perceptions undeniable.
This is the kind of King that we serve – here and now in our lives in the street and the community, the schools and shops, and as we engage in His Name with one another.