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November 2012 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"Love Beyond the Call of Duty" — November 4
"Pennies From Heaven"
— November 11
"God Was Listening"
— November 18
"Enough For Everyone" — November 21, Thanksgiving Eve
"What Kind of King?" — November 25

“Love Beyond the Call of Duty”
November 4, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Ruth 1:1-18, Mark 12:28-34

Did you know there are six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Old Testament? Two thirds of those laws tell us what not to do. The other third, tell us what we should be doing. Six hundred laws were too many for the Jewish people of Jesus’ time to remember. Most of them couldn’t read, either. They had to depend on the experts to know what the scrolls in the temple said what they could do and not do. The Pharisees were scholars of the law. They made it their business to enforce God’s commandments—every last one of them. You may remember how angry the Pharisees usually got, when Jesus spoke to them.

The scribe in the gospel story doesn’t act like a typical Pharisee. He asks Jesus to pick out the most important rule to live by. It’s a friendly question, not a trick question. Obviously, this man respects Jesus as a teacher. For once, Jesus doesn’t have to win a debate. He summarizes the Law for the scribe, with these words, “Love God, and love your neighbor.”

If you’ve memorized the Ten Commandments, you’ll remember that the first four commandments are about loving God, and the last six are about loving your neighbor. Jesus and the scribe seem to agree that no commandment is greater than to love God and your neighbor. But Jesus still challenges the scribe. He says to the man, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” He means, “Friend, you’re not far off, but you’re not there yet!” Knowing the greatest commandment isn’t enough. We can’t simply say that God is love. The way we live out this rule of love is the real test.

Jesus followed that rule, all through his ministry. The poor people of Galilee were the neighbors He loved best. It didn’t matter whether a person was a leper or a tax collector, a woman of the city or a Roman centurion. All were His neighbors. The ancient Hebrew word for unselfish love is chesed. In the English language, we translate chesed as “lovingkindness.” The kindness we Christians show in our everyday lives, isn’t necessarily chesed. Just saying “Hello!” to your next door neighbor—and even being able to say, truthfully, that you’ve never robbed him---- doesn’t necessarily qualify as lovingkindness. Chesed is a matter of degree.

You’ve done some chesed in your life. Imagine installing a generator for a person who hasn’t had power in her home for a week, and waiting for four hours in a line to buy gas for that generator. Imagine supporting people who lost all their belongings in the storm by actually going to Staten Island to help rebuild homes. People are doing these things now, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Imagine driving to somebody elses’ home every day and taking care of their cats, for free. Someone has done that for us, a couple of times. It’s the kind of love we show even when there is “nothing in it for us.”

Chesed models the love that God has for us. When are we showing that kind of love? According to Biblical scholar Katharine Sakenfeld, a deed done on behalf of another person is chesed when it meets three criteria. The action has to be essential to the basic well-being of the receiver. Only the person doing the act of lovingkindness is in the position to provide that kindness. The action has to be part of a nurturing relationship between the giver and the receiver. It is almost never done “out of the blue.” The ultimate deed of chesed, of course, was Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us.

One of the most popular stories in the Old Testament is the story of two widows, Ruth and Naomi. Ruth is a Moabite woman who belongs to a nation that is despised by the Jews. She makes a stunning promise of chesed. Ruth pledges to follow her destitute mother-in-law, no matter where she might go, and to stay with her under all circumstances. It’s not to Ruth’s advantage to do that. Imagine going with someone you love, to a strange country, knowing you will never see your homeland again. But Naomi is old and penniless. Ruth is determined to follow Naomi into Bethlehem. She loves her mother-in-law with a love that will not let her go. This decision is a bold and risky step. Women didn’t determine their own destinies in the ancient world. Ruth follows Naomi and adopts the Lord God of Israel as her God. She becomes the wife of a landowner named Boaz, the great-great grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.

Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

It is not true that the one with the most stuff at the end wins. As the gospel reminds us over and over, we save our lives by being willing to let go of them. Jesus did that. And his great-great-great grandmother, Ruth, did that.

We don’t always give God our best. Too often, we make sure we have money for enjoyment and comfort first. We buy the stuff we want. And if there happens to be any money left after that, we give it to God. We sacrifice for God and our neighbors, but not as often as we should. Ruth’s story teaches us that it’s not just a matter of knowing what God’s law is. We’re called to live the greatest commandment, by modeling God’s love for others. Ruth worships God as king. She ventures into new territory. She gives up everything to care for a desperate elderly relative. And God richly rewards her for her lovingkindness.

This week, we exercise our right to vote. We love our personal freedoms, and we cherish the Declaration of Independence. But there’s another side to that coin—responsibility to others. Someone once said that joining a church is like signing a "Declaration of Dependence," because a church member is, in effect, pledging time, talents and treasure to the congregation and to God. Nobody is self-made. I am one among many, and so are you. God calls us to care for each other with lovingkindness. God wants our time, our talent and our treasure. With people who can love their neighbors that much, God can do anything. God can do anything with people who trust; people who are generous and faithful and loving. Ruth had that kind of faith when she followed Naomi to a strange land. And Jesus showed us, by giving His life for us, what generosity and faith look like. God wants our treasure because God wants our hearts, our whole hearts.

Faithful God, your grace that enfolds us in this stormy time in our country’s history. Soften our spirits with your unending love, we pray. Your lovingkindness will not let us go, and for that we are thankful. Teach us to love you and our neighbors with sacrificial love. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN

“Pennies From Heaven”
November 11, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Mark 12:38-44

In the 1830s, when the United States was just fifty years old, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled through our country. His government had sent him here to study the American prison system. But he was interested in everything he saw here, not just the prisons. Tocqueville kept a travel journal. It was translated into English and published as the book, Democracy in America. Tocqueville wrote about differences between Americans and western Europeans. He picked out some American "habits of the heart" that he noticed: love of family, the importance of religious traditions, and enthusiasm for democracy.

Tocqueville’s phrase, "habits of the heart," is wonderful. Social behavior in America has changed a great deal since 1830, but some of us still have a strong religious tradition. We tend to be suspicious of that word, “habits,” because it reminds us of habits that annoy us in other people, like biting their fingernails or leaving the faucet dripping in the kitchen. But some habits are good habits. For example, we should be in the habit of exercising regularly. It’s a good habit to say "I love you" to family members. Most of us, here, are in the habit of attending church on Sunday mornings. Good habits give us stability when everything around us starts falling apart.

Dr. Michael McCullough is a psychologist and an expert on the psychology of gratitude. In an interview on public radio, Dr. McCullough talked about the good habit of thankfulness. His research has shown that taking time to express gratitude promotes physical and mental health. He said, in that radio interview, “When we take two or three minutes, every day, to appreciate the things somebody else did for us, we end up feeling better about life in general. We feel less negative emotion. We sleep better at night. We’re more satisfied with our lives as a whole.”

Jesus had reason to know that trouble was in store for Him. He had criticized the religious establishment at the temple a few too many times. In fact, He had said, a day or so before, that this temple the Pharisees had built, to their own glory, would soon be torn down.

Just two days before He was captured and crucified in Jerusalem, Jesus sat in front of the temple treasury and watched people giving their offerings to God. In the temple, offering boxes were hung along the walls of the building. Everybody had to give his or her offering in full view of the crowds. People didn’t write checks then, and there was no paper money. So, offerings were very public. Everyone could hear how many coins you dropped in the box, and they had a pretty good idea what those coins were. They learned to distinguish between the sound of the "mite" and the sound of the "denarius" because, in their weight, those ancient coins were as different as a dime and a silver dollar.

Jesus must have seen quite a spectacle that day at the temple. He saw the scribes and the Pharisees and their families showing off, and He let them know that He thought they were hypocrites. Giving was highly public, not private like it is today. Some folks waited until the holidays to make their offerings. Leaders of the congregation dressed up in fancy clothes and had their children follow them like a parade. Large families had each family member drop coins in the box. Jesus watched the rich accept the honor that, He believed, should go to God.

Then Jesus saw a woman, in widow’s robes, standing outside the treasury. She dropped two small coins in the box. She was not a poor widow; she was poor because she was a widow. In first-century Palestine there was no such thing as a rich widow. Women were totally dependent on male relatives for their livelihood. To be widowed meant not only losing someone you loved, but more tragically, it also meant losing the one on whom you depended. Widows were forced to live off of the good graces of anyone in the community who might give them a meal here, and a little money there.

The widow didn’t seem to notice the people around her as she dropped her two coins in the offering box. Those coins were all the money she had. Jesus pointed her out to the disciples. Together, her two coins were worth less than a fourth of a cent in modern American money. It would have taken a hundred and twenty-eight times what she gave, to equal one day’s wages for a workman of Jesus’ time. But she didn’t care if her offering left her literally penniless.

True generosity comes from giving away gifts from the center of who we are. Giving because we want to be admired, doesn’t have the same spiritual value as giving what really matters. True power comes from knowing what is at the center of your life, and giving from that center. That’s what Jesus did when He gave his life for us.

None of us are as poor as that widow. But many of our members are impoverished in terms of time. And yet, they are generous when it comes to serving God. The average American worker works two hundred hours more, each year, than American workers did in 1973. So often we see the person who worked all week, sometimes late into the night, showing up on Property Clean-Up Day, or singing in the choir, or bringing baked goods to serve at our polling place on Election Day. These are gifts given from poverty, just like the widow’s pennies. The church desperately needs the gift of volunteer time from all its members.

Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate Veterans’ Day. Many of you have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some volunteered to serve and others were drafted. Some came home with medals and others never came home--like my uncle Ralph, whose plane was shot down in the Pacific in World War II.

Veterans have changed the world. Like the widow in the gospel story, our veterans risked all they had. They defeated Hitler. They defeated Japan’s Pacific Empire. They stopped the North Koreans. They fought for democracy in Southeast Asia. They caused the iron curtain to fall. They have fought terrorism in Afghanistan. No veteran could have done any of those things alone. But together with others, they have changed the world. We each need to do our part. People who join forces can make an incredible difference.

Once I read a children’s story about animals in the forest who were arguing over how much a snowflake weighs. None of the animals seemed to know. So they thought a snowflake must weigh nothing. But the wise old owl spoke up. He pointed out a branch nearby. It was full of snow. The owl knew what would happen because had seen it. One snowflake would eventually land on that branch—just one more-- and cause the limb to break. A snowflake by itself doesn’t weigh much. But, when it combines with other snowflakes, it is powerful, indeed.

God’s grace is all around us, but sometimes we’re like the Pharisees. We worry about things that don’t matter. The widow has a lot to teach us about worship. May God bless us in this season of our lives, with genuine hearts and with grateful spirits.

Let us pray. Almighty God, thank you for your many blessings. May the gifts of our time, talent and treasure be pleasing to you, and may they accomplish your purpose in the world. AMEN

“God Was Listening”
November 18, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

I Samuel 2:1-10

The season of Advent begins in two weeks. Are you ready? I’m not prepared for Thanksgiving yet, let alone Advent, but I’m planning to enjoy both holidays. The poem Donna read to us, from the Old Testament, is one of my favorite scripture readings for Thanksgiving. “The Song of Hannah” is a joyful psalm of victory. Women were the ones who sang songs of victory after battles in those days. We can find quite a few of those songs in the Bible, starting with the song of Moses’ sister Miriam in the book of Exodus. Hannah’s song begins the first book of Samuel. It’s a thousand years older than the “Song of Mary” (which we sometimes call the “Magnificat”) in Luke’s gospel. I’d like to tell you the story behind Hannah’s song of praise, and the spiritual battle she went through in order to be able to sing that song.

Once upon a time, in ancient Palestine, there was a man named Elkanah. He lived in the hill country, outside the town of Shiloh. Two wives belonged to him. In the patriarchal society of the ancient Hebrew people, I do mean, “belonged.” One of his wives gave birth to many children. His other wife, who happened to be Hannah, could not bear children—and she was in late middle age. She was despondent and depressed about that. Hannah had lost count of the number of relatives who asked when she and her husband planned to start a family. One after another they had said to her, "Well, Hannah, don't you think it's about time? Your mother is counting on some grandbabies."

Hannah had once enjoyed visiting the village well, every day in the morning, and visiting with women friends. Now she dreaded meeting them. Why? Because someone would always ask her, "So, Hannah. How's it going? Are you 'with child' yet?" One way she could avoid having to answer their question with “no,” was to stay away. She began to draw water later in the day, in order to avoid the questions—and the pity—of those other women.

Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, tried to encourage her. He told her how much he loved her, every day. But all Hannah could hear was the ticking of her biological sundial. Hannah got more and more bitter, as time went on. She thought God was punishing her for some unknown sin. Women in the ancient world didn’t have the lifestyle choices open to us today. In the male-oriented culture of Hannah’s time, the job of a woman was to have children—particularly sons. In those days, every Hebrew wife was expected to give birth to at least one son. That son would be expected to live long enough to carry on the father's name. Hannah’s people believed that was the way they would live on after death.

Elkanah would ask her, "Why do you weep? Am I not more for you than ten sons?” Her husband meant well, but he didn’t understand her frustration. After all, he had children by Peninnah, his other wife. Peninnah was what we’d call a “bad winner.” When she saw Hannah, she paraded own sons and daughters in front of her and gloated. That made Hannah feel even worse.

Hannah began to turn her anger toward God. Her head told her that God stood by her in her sorrow, but her aching heart couldn’t feel His presence. She often cried herself to sleep at night. Finally, in her desperation, she went to the temple at Shiloh, spoke with the local priest, and had a heart-to-heart talk with God. She prayed one of those "let's make a deal" prayers. "God, if you will only give me a son,” she prayed, “I will give him back to God to work as an apprentice to the priest in the temple.” That was the bargain Hannah proposed. To us, this seems strange. She was promising to return to God what she wanted most in all the world, a son, if only God would give her that son.

I’m pleased to tell you that this story has a happy ending. God granted Hannah the desire of her heart. A son, Samuel, was born to her. Samuel’s name means, “the one asked of God.” Hannah proclaimed her joy and gratitude in a song to God. Today’s Old Testament reading is the song of worship Hannah sang when she brought Samuel to the temple to lend him to the Lord. Because of this sacrifice, her son Samuel grew up to change the world. He became a priest, and later was anointed as leader of the Hebrew nation. As priest, judge, and prophet, Samuel would be the most significant person in the history of the Hebrew nation between the time of the judges and the monarchy. He is the one through whom God chose David to be King of Israel. David’s “many-times-great” grandson was none other than Jesus.

Unfortunately, not all men and women have a reversal of fortune, like Hannah and Elkanah did. Couples who can’t have children are on a difficult journey. We can give them a great gift by what we say to them, and by what we don’t say. Be willing to listen. People who are disappointed with their lives, need a listening ear.
Hannah’s story is about the power of prayer. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but it’s up to us to renew that faith with prayer. Even if God doesn’t bring us a positive answer, God walks beside us every step of the way.

We don’t always know the end of the story. Only God knows that. It’s a safe bet that both joy and sadness are in store for us. The trigger that releases the power of the Almighty is faith. Time and time again we hear Jesus say in the gospels, “Your faith has healed you.” It is faith alone that transforms pain into joy. Even when it seems like things couldn’t be worse, we must have patience. Because of God’s gift of Jesus Christ we can be sure that, whatever the future holds for us, God will be in charge.

Most of us are better at asking for help than at being thankful for what we receive. Hannah led a thankful life, after Samuel was born. Although she would go on to have five more children, she had had no way of knowing that would happen, when she sang her song of praise. Hannah did the right thing. In her despair, she turned to God in prayer. She spoke from the deepest longings of her heart. There is no question that God was listening to her prayers. She knew that God was big enough to handle her frustration and her despair. As she waited in silence, Hannah learned that prayer is more than asking. It’s more than just saying nice, perfunctory words to God. Prayer is hearing God and responding, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

The words of Jesus, in today’s gospel reading from Mark, echo the song of His great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Hannah. They remind us to hang on when life seems hopeless. We don’t know the end of the story, and perhaps we never will. Jesus teaches His disciples, and teaches us, to accept our limitations, to count our blessings, and to trust in God’s grace. For His grace, let us be thankful.

Lord Jesus, help us to discern your will in all the events of our lives, good and bad. Give us faith. Help us to pray! Transform the gifts that you give us into service for someone other than ourselves. Use our lives in your service. AMEN

“Enough For Everyone”
November 21, 2012, Thanksgiving Eve
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 6:25-35

Did you know that forty-eight percent of Americans would like to skip the holidays entirely? In other words, some of our friends and neighbors would rather not celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. Celebrating takes too much time and cost too much, nearly half the people in a recent survey said. Isn’t that sad? But we know how hard it can be for an adult in America to get off the holiday treadmill. Our high expectations for ourselves in November and December can drain away the joy. I can imagine Jesus saying that people who multitask in the Advent season, are off the mark, almost as much as people who ignore Thanksgiving and Christmas entirely. He’d say we might not realize it, but we’re all hungry, and it’s the kind of hunger loaves and fishes, and even turkey and gravy, won’t satisfy. We are hungering for the bread of life. Belief in Jesus is the only way to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

The holiday frenzy, that officially begins this week, reminds me of a comment I once heard from a tour guide in Europe. He had noticed, time after time, that, when he started his tours in London, the Americans on his bus would already be reading about Paris, the city that was two days away on their itinerary. When his group got to Paris, they would study their guide books to learn about Rome, instead of looking out the windows. When they arrived in Rome, the tourists would read about Athens on the bus between the Coliseum and Vatican City. Does this sound like a vacation or a treadmill? Tourists and Christians, of all people, should be able to live in the joy of the moment.

It’s the night before Thanksgiving, and here we are in God’s house to give Him thanks. Every worship service is a Sabbath time, even on Wednesday. Forget what you have to pick up at the Giant tonight. I will forget to worry about Sunday’s sermon, which I haven’t written yet. Let us all be thankful for the gift of Jesus Christ, for He is the bread of life.

Never was Jesus faced with a crowd so obsessed with work as the five thousand men, women, and children who followed him from the hillside to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It was the greatest show they had ever seen, the banquet on the seashore, when He and His disciples produced the endless loaves and fishes. They’d tracked Jesus down after He’d left in the night, in a boat with the disciples. When they found Him on the other side of the lake, the people begged Him to tell them what work they could do for God. They probably thought they were impressing Jesus by working so hard to find Him.

The crowd was fixated on their own needs. These people knew what real hunger was like. Most Middle Eastern farmers worked every day, eking out an existence in the dry soil, just to put some bread on the table. You can guess how excited they were, to get a free meal of loaves and fishes, not only for themselves, but for their entire families. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to follow a man who creates meals for five thousand people, by magic! Give us more of your wondrous bread, they said. Give us bread that will never end.

They loved Him for his miracles. They hungered and thirsted for more loaves and fishes! “Jesus, what will you do for us?” they wanted to know. The people asked Him more questions, and those questions were the same: “What’s in this for us?” They had missed the point. He wasn’t that kind of leader—neither a politician nor a military leader nor a magician.

That night, in His first “I AM” sermon, Jesus urged the people in that crowd to seek a parent-child relationship with God, through Him. The Greek words that begin Jesus’ discourses in the gospel of John, are "ego eimi," "I am." We start and finish with that truth. God is in us, and for us, and with us, and that changes how we work in this world. Our North American culture encourages us to spin our wheels as fast as we can. Society pushes us to get a lot of work done and to rely on ourselves. The message of Jesus was, and is, just the opposite: Slow down and let me feed you with heavenly food.

In other words, Jesus offered the crowd a different way of life. They would never be able to satisfy their hunger with accomplishments or possessions. The true bread a person needs, He said, is the bread that becomes eternal life. He invited them to become one with God, the way bread becomes part of our bodies in nourishment when we eat it. Jesus urged them to seek God’s love, God’s word, and God’s vision for the world. “I am the bread of life,” He said. Come, listen, seek, eat.

Jesus often does this in the gospel of John. He turns our earthly needs, and our earthly desires, away from ourselves and toward the things which are eternal. He reverses people’s priorities. The good news is that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. It’s so easy to get confused and to believe that worship is about us. I remember thinking, at one point in my younger days, that the supreme test of an hour spent in church is to get something out of it, and not to waste time in getting on with my weekend after leaving the sanctuary. And yet it is my duty to tell you, and to also remind myself, that worship is not about us. God is the audience for our songs of praises, and for our prayers. God loves us so much that He sent his Son to save us, to be with us, and to give significance to our lives that we cannot give them on our own.

To those of you here who work very hard all week, I invite you to stop, not just your body, but your thinking about what you’ll do next after you leave here. Breathe slowly and deeply. God wants to feed you tonight with the Holy Spirit. To those of you here who are trying to discover how you can serve God, wherever you are, stop, and give thanks, for God wants to ground and root you in joy and peace this Thanksgiving.

To those of you who live with an inner nagging worry that whatever you do it is not good enough for God, to those of you who feel guilty that you have not done enough for your family, your colleagues, the community around you, for peace on earth, or for God—don’t punish yourself that way. God invites you just to be in the presence of one who created you and desperately loves you and can take away your worries. God can free up all that energy for wonderful experiences of faith and love and gratitude during the holiday season.

To those of you here who are tired of working so hard to get everything just right--- God is up to something new in you. He is speaking in a new way to you, waiting to hear you laugh, and to sing. God will touch the skeptical or fearful places in you, gently, with peace and thanksgiving.

To those of you who are beginning to search for what Jesus is all about, I repeat His invitation. Come, listen, seek, eat. His Word gives life. Praying, reading the Bible, praising with word and song, giving from your heart, and doing good deeds—through all these means, we are nourished. Christ blesses us with purpose for our lives that far transcends our to-do-lists, and even our accomplishments. Jesus, our daily bread, is the one constant that we can count on. Thanks be to God!

Almighty God, this night we return thanks to you for all we have and all we are. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN


“What Kind of King?”
November 25, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 18:33-38a

Today is Christ the King Sunday. What’s your image of a king? A man dressed in robes and wearing a crown? We may think of a king as a wealthy person who lives in a castle with servants guarding and protecting him. A king has total authority.

Jesus defines the word, “kingship,” in today’s reading from the Gospel of John. This is a painful story of the most humiliating moment in Jesus’ ministry. Pontius Pilate is the one dressed regally in this courtroom drama—not Jesus. Jesus stands before Him in a torn robe, having been beaten and flogged. Pilate asks Him, “Are you a king?” The word, “king,” gets repeated six times in as many verses. “King” is a highly charged word for us, just as it was for Pilate. Why? It makes a statement about power—who has it, and who doesn’t.

“Christ the King Sunday” is the newest of holy days on the church calendar. It’s only been around since 1925, when Pope Pius the Eleventh introduced it to the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican wanted to challenge the dictatorships that were gathering strength in Europe—those of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. To political extremists, the message that Roman Catholic leaders hoped to send on Christ the King Sunday, was that the totalitarian states would never rule supreme over the hearts and minds of Christians. We Protestants adopted Christ the King Sunday as our own, later in the twentieth century.

In our gospel passage, Pilate, the Governor of Palestine, called Jesus to a private room to interrogate Him. This cruel dictator had absolute power over life and death for all the Jews. As the crowds waited outside for Jesus’ verdict, the governor asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Why did Pilate ask Jesus this question? Was he being sarcastic? Perhaps he was---- but there was more to the governor’s question than that.

A little background can help us to understand what was happening. The Jews of Jesus’ time were not a free people. They had no authority to proclaim a king. Palestine was a province of the Roman Empire, and for anybody other than Emperor Augustus Caesar to declare himself king would be seen as a threat.

Earlier in that same week, the common people had shouted, “Hosanna,” as Jesus rode through the streets on a donkey. They had tried to make Him their king. It was the week of Passover when the Jewish population multiplied tenfold in the city. The crowds were rebellious and angry at this time of year. That’s why the chief priests in the Jerusalem temple feared this man. They needed the governor to carry out Jesus’s execution. The leaders of the temple accused Him of treason, a crime punishable by death under Roman law. They told Pilate, “Jesus claims to be our King.” That’s why Pilate, as the local representative of Rome, had to question Him. So that’s why the governor’s first question to Jesus was "Are you the king of the Jews?"

Jesus answered by saying, "My kingdom is not from this world." Pilate responded, "So you are a king?"—he didn’t see that Jesus was defining the words, “king” and “kingdom” differently from the way Roman officials saw them. Jesus answered carefully: "You say that I am a king." He was the king, but the king of a different domain--- the coming kingdom of God. Jesus told Pilate, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Jesus’ words led to Pilate's mocking reply, "What is truth?"

There have been Christian rulers who have tried to be public servants, and done well at it. I know of two kings who reigned in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s, trying to rule as Jesus might do.

During the Second World War, London was the site of bombing raids. Buckingham Palace, the home of King George the Sixth and Queen Elizabeth, was hit at least once. The royal family could have been killed. Most people who could afford it, had left London, or at least, they had sent their children out of the city. The palace staff had made secret plans to send King George and his family to Canada. But he and his queen chose to stay in London. Queen Elizabeth said, “The girls will never leave without me, I will never leave without the King, and the King will never leave.”

Shortly after the Battle of Britain, King George was inspecting a bombed-out neighborhood in London. As the king was walking through the rubble, an elderly man said to him, “You are here in the midst of this. You are a GOOD king.” King George’s presence in London during the blitz encouraged the working class, who had no choice but to stay. A good king suffers with his people. Jesus is THAT kind of king.

We find another servant leader in King Christian the Tenth of Denmark. When his country was occupied by Hitler’s forces in World War II, the Nazis ordered that Jews had to identify themselves with stars of David. In the King’s eyes, one Dane was the same as another. So King Christian put on the Star of David himself, and he let it be known that he expected his subjects to do the same. The next day in Copenhagen, almost the entire population of the city wore the Star of David. Denmark saved ninety percent of their Jews from extermination.

On the last, terrible day of Jesus’ earthly life, Pilate allowed Jesus to be crucified. The words, “King of the Jews,” were posted on a sign over His head. The irony was that Jesus was, and IS, our king, now and forevermore. King George and King Christian had tried to follow Jesus’ command to be servant leaders. They did well under great pressure. The question for us today is, “Will we make Jesus the Lord of our lives in the coming year?”

Jesus Christ is Lord! These words were the first creed the Christian church ever had. To be a Christian then, and to be a Christian now, is to make the same affirmation. If we say that Jesus Christ is Lord, it mean that we are prepared to follow in whatever direction the Lord chooses to lead, even if He goes to places where we’d rather not go. If we say that Jesus Christ is Lord, we affirm that His priorities are our priorities. If we say that Jesus Christ is Lord, we promise to worship and pray and sacrifice. We will never let rules get in the way of the needs of other people. If we say that Jesus Christ is Lord, we are prepared to give Him loyalty which we will give to no other person. Let us be content with our first affirmation of faith: Jesus Christ is Lord!

Lord, you have entrusted to us the work of completing your kingdom. May we embrace your spirit of selflessness, and may we help to establish your reign of peace in this time and place. Give us faith to live in a way that honors you and shows the world who we believe you to be—Christ, our King. AMEN

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