Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, November 20, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

2 Kings 24:8, 11-17+Psalm 47+Hebrews 1:1-9+Matthew 27:11-14,27-37

Just a couple of months ago, we witnessed something we had not seen in almost three-quarters of a century – the change from a queen in England to a king. I have a hunch that most of us in this room were not even around the last time Great Britain had a king.

Now, I mean no disrespect to the dead, and, in fact, admire the late queen for her steadfastness and faithfulness, but what, to residents of this country, is a monarch? We fought a revolution to rid ourselves of such things.

Yet we never quite shed our love of pomp and circumstance, I fear. I mean, how many of us binge-watched Season 5 of The Crown as soon as it dropped last week?

Now, this may be ancient history to some of you, but I will never forget the disdain with which the public greeted Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at his inauguration in 1977 as they strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue and she wore, of all things, a plain wool aquamarine coat and dress ensemble. And four years later, those who reported on such things practically fell over themselves as the Reagans rode in presidential limousine with all the ceremonial of royalty with Nancy in a red pillbox hat reminiscent of the first lady of Camelot, Jackie Kennedy.

Oh, yes, we love our royalty.

But why?

When has royalty ever deprived itself of wealth or prosperity to make sure the poor and downtrodden were taken care of?

Well, that would be Jesus. That would be a king who does not look or act like a king at all. One who empties himself of the power that is his as the One sent by God to draw us all into the embrace of his eternal reign.

Our readings this morning give us the best and worst of what it means to be a king. Over the past several months, we have journeyed through the story of the prophet Samuel and the anointing of Saul as the first king of Israel. Then we had the power struggle between Saul and King David followed by Solomon who both built the first great temple in Jerusalem but who also set the stage for the end of the monarchy. Following his death, the kingdom was divided in two, Judah and Israel, and in fewer than 250 years, both of these kingdoms had fallen, the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BCE and the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 586.

It is this latter that our reading recounts this morning. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon entered Jerusalem, sent all the rich, influential, and powerful into exile, plundered the temple, and left behind those who counted for nothing in the eyes of a king. The story of the Babylonian exile is the central event in the history of the Jews. It was during and just after the exile that the Torah was written, exploring questions of origin and chosen-ness and how things went so badly wrong for them. Once the people began to return from exile some 50 years later, they were set on a course of rebuilding and trying to understand who they were as people of God. And there would not be another king of Israel except those so designated by the occupiers of the lands, whether the Persians or Macedonians or the Romans.

And when the king does come, he doesn’t look like much. He was born in a backwater of the Roman empire to a family of little means, much like those left behind during the exile. From the time his mother proclaimed a new world order, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, this king would he like no other before or since. He spent his time with the powerless and the outcast. He refused to compromise on his mission of establishing a new reign, God’s reign, right here on earth.

But those in power could not abide that. It was too much of a threat, and so they crucified this baffling king and thought the story was over.

We know, however, that the story did not end there. Jesus rose and ascended to heaven and sits at God’s right hand. We Christians believe that he will come again, establishing a new Jerusalem, the City of God’s Peace, here on earth.

Those who would claim that King Jesus was mighty and powerful, a mash-up of Rambo and John Wayne, are simply wrong. Jesus went like a lamb to slaughter, rebuking those who would be violent on his behalf.

It is this Jesus that is our king, the one to whom we give our worship and praise today especially. It is a good reminder for us that our worth, our value, is not to be found in how much we have but in how much we love. Jesus loved us to the end. He showed us what love looks like and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

ASEPSermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, November 20, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas