Who Shines?

Who Shines?

Luke 23:33-43

We’re talking this month about What Really Matters, this week asking the question, “Who Shines?”

James Howell tells of an experience he had recently.  He is a reasonably well known UM preacher in some circles but he was surprised to receive an invitation to speak at a national gathering of African American Pentecostal Christians.  He arrived at the appointed time and place and his host greeted him warmly and indicated that they were going to sing one more song and then he would be introduced to speak.  Of course the song then took 45 minutes, and at one point all the worshippers just kind of went off in their own direction and his host began simply to put his head back, raise up his arms and say over and over again, thank you Lord Jesus, you’re so beautiful Lord Jesus, thank you Lord Jesus.  Howell says the last time I had spoken that directly to Jesus was earlier that morning when I got out of bed and said, Jesus, my back hurts.  Who shines?  Beautiful savior, ruler of all nature, who makes the woeful heart to sing.  Who Shines?

This Sunday is the Sunday before thanksgiving, but within the Christian year it is also called Christ the King Sunday.  Its interesting, the Christian calendar is always a little off kilter with the prevailing secular calendar, sort of with the culture, but sort of not.  Today is actually the last Sunday of the Christian year.  Next Sunday we start the year over again with Advent and Christmas, but today is the culmination.  It’s the culmination as well of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem in Luke.  Everything Jesus has said, everything Jesus has done, everything has been pointing to this moment.  The king, the absolute ruler is in his place.  Who shines there?

I want to let you know up front that what I hope you take away from this is not necessarily a practical kind of thing like meditate on this, munch on that, mull over this.  I have a bit of alliteration for you, you know, where everything starts with the same letter, but really all I want is to inspire you today by the beauty in time and eternity of who shines.  It is our king at his most kingly, our ruler at his finest moment on the planet.  It is the greatest deed done by the greatest person at the greatest hour the world has ever known .  So lets look at two things: Appreciate an absolute irony, and be ambushed perhaps by an astounding grace.

First when we look at who shines in Luke 23 you can’t help but appreciate an absolute irony.  An irony is where what would seem to be happening or should happen is the absolute opposite of what actually happens.  What’s really happening is the God of the universe defeating sin and evil and loving the world in an unprecedented way.  What seems to be happening is this group of some religious Jews and some secular Romans conspiring together to protect their petty little turf by putting a total loser in his place.  The Pax Romana gave some great things to the world but if you dared question their authority they had this crucifixion thing that swiftly surely unbelievably cruelly let you know who was in charge – or so it seemed.  The silliness of petty people mocking the God of the universe for not coming down from the cross and saving himself is palpable.  For the Romans to put a sign saying King of the Jews on Jesus’ cross was the ultimate adding of insult to injury.  It was to add to unconscionable physical torture a spiritual insult to both Jesus and the nation Israel that cut the heart of their most deeply held values.  And Jesus said, Father forgive them for they know no what they do.  Who really shines here?

Can we not only appreciate an absolute irony here – may we not also be ambushed by an astounding grace?  I was at a cemetery meeting not long after the resolution of the American Legion’s lawsuit against the church and I said something of a forgiving and conciliatory nature toward the American Legion and an attorney at the meeting looked at me and said wow, a man who actually lives by his convictions.  Of course I was encouraged by that but the reality is that if he knew one small fraction of the times I haven’t and don’t live up to my convictions he would’ve far far less impressed.  And yet what we have here is a man at his worst, weakest, most tortured hour of his life, the most spiritually and physically tortured that a human could conceivably be – not only living by his convictions but demonstrating a courage and a ferocity of love that ought to just blow us away.

Jesus is crucified here with two criminals and one joins in the petty insulting of Jesus, the other sees, perhaps hopes something else is shining and takes a different tack.   Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.   Do you know what it is in your weakest most vulnerable moment to be ambushed by an astounding grace?

A colleague tells about a guy in his church who had a fellow firefighter tell him faith in Jesus is for weak people.  He said I found that ironic coming from a fire fighter.  You know, I ride by our fire house every day and I’ve never felt ashamed that I can’t handle the destructive power of fire on my own.  I’ve never thought, man this town is full of weak people because we have to trust in some people with equipment and training greater than ourselves.  In fact we justifiably admire firefighters because they have committed themselves to taking on the power of fire at personal expense.  Christians are those who know that there is a power of sin and evil and its consequences that we can’t handle on our own.  That is not a cause for shame because there was this man who at great personal expense vanqished that power n the cross.  When someone is rescued from the flames, they’re not thinking about their weakness, they’re overjoyed that someone would risk it all to save them [Dave Dorr, on Resurgance.com].  Do you know what it is to be ambushed by an astounding grace so astounding that all you can do is say thank you?

A year ago last May John Ortberg attended the graduation of one of their children from Asuza Pacific University in California.  They also were part of a special gathering of about 50 people, mostly people who had graduated from APU 50 years ago and a few faculty.  At one point they brought out 3 graduating students from that year’s class who had committed to spending the next 2 years serving the poorest of the poor in India.  The students thought that this was a special commissioning service for them.  But the president of the university turned to the students and said an anonymous donor is so moved by what you are doing that he has given a gift to the university on your behalf, in your name.  He looked at one student and said your school debt of $105,000 is forgiven, paid in full, the kid immediately starts to cry, 2nd student, your forgiven your debt of $70,000, 3rd student, you’re forgiven your debt of $130,000.  All three students had no idea this was coming, ambushed by grace, blown away that someone they didn’t even know would pay their debt.  The whole room was in tears [John Ortberg, in the sermon “Patch ‘Em,” Menlo Park Presbyterian, Menlo Park, California, 17 May 2009].

When we get it, when we grasp who really shines in time and eternity, not only can we appreciate an absolute irony, but we ought to be ambushed by an astounding grace.  What do you suppose those students did with that?  What can we do with it?  I want to suggest it ought not to driven by a need to compete.  We ought not to be driven even by a need to excel.  If we get it.  If we see who shine we ought only to be driven by an insatiable need – simply – to say thank you with our lives.  Today, he said to the man, as he is saying to us, you can be with me in paradise.

A few years ago in a different town we used to go to a very nice restaurant maybe once or twice a year.  It was pricey but worth it for a special occasion.  We were there once and before I could ask for the check the server said, your meal has already been paid for so don’t worry about that.  Later she said, someone else has also paid for coffee and dessert so go ahead and enjoy.  To me, at that time in that place it was more than just a nice gesture, it just blew me away, I felt ambushed by grace.  It drove me that night and continues to drive me every time I wonder if I’m strong enough to handle things to the foot of the cross and hear him say once again, father forgive them, forgive him, today and forever, you, dude, are with me.

Appreciate an absolute irony, yes.  Feel ambushed by an astounding grace yes.  But all I can ever really do is say, ‘you got me,’ and ‘thank you’ with my life.  This week will you join me in that?

Who shines?  Jesus does, and always shall.

Rev. Dr. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church

Smyrna, DE

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