Seeking a Larger Selfhood

Nov 20, 2022

Sermon 11-20-22
Christ the King Sunday
Text: Luke 23:33-43
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Sometimes when I’m editing the weekly bulletin, before it’s printed, I find myself singing the hymns. If it happens to be a hymn I particularly like or find meaningful, I may accidently sing it loud enough that someone in the office – including long-suffering Nancy – can hear me.   
     Since I do not have the lovely voice that Pastor Sandy shared with us in her sermon last week, hearing me proclaiming God’s word in song could be a bit startling. That would have been particularly true this week as I sang with gusto a much-loved phrase of one of my favorite hymns. “Crown him the Lord of years, the potentate of time, creator of the rolling spheres, ineffable sublime.”
     Now that’s a mouthful – the potentate of time – that is, the ruler, the sovereign, the leader of every hour, minute, second that is, that has been, that will be. It’s a perfect image for Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate that Jesus reigns, and that God’s kingdom has come, in part, and will one day be brought to completion. “All hail, Redeemer, hail!”, we sing, “For thou hast died for me!”
     Given those shouts of praise, then, why is today’s Gospel lesson what it is? In it there is no triumphant celebrating with the white-robed faithful or King Jesus, majestic in a golden crown. Instead, he suffers on the cross, a crown of thorns piercing his flesh, with criminals as companions. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, ridicule is being thrown at him as he suffers.
     The leaders of the Jews scoff at him, “Let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one.” The Roman soldiers mock him, giving him sour wine and sneering at the inscription above his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” “If it is so, they laugh, then come down from that cross!” Then comes the sarcastic cry of a common criminal, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
     But, perhaps worse than the ridicule is the silence. The people, many who know him and have followed him, stand by watching. They do not jeer, but they also do not defend Jesus. Perhaps they just cannot grasp what is happening as they stand there watching. Didn’t they witness Jesus raising a man from death to life, and giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf? How could this be?
     Yet, these dire images are not all there is in these few verses; they also help us understand what it means for Christ to be King.
     Jesus is a King who forgives, even as he suffers. He forgives the Jewish leaders, the soldiers, the outspoken criminals and silent crowds, but more than that, through him, all of humanity is forgiven.
    As commentator Chelsey Harmon proclaims, “God’s forgiveness is the great un-doer in our lives, the beginning of our transformation. Here on the cross we see that clearly: Jesus’ very act of being there undoes our failure to be with God; it is the work of forgiveness.” (1)
     Forgiveness is a defining characteristic of Christ as King. The second description of what it means that Jesus is King is reveled in his compassion and acceptance for one who the world has condemned. The “other” criminal, the one who did not jeer at Jesus but proclaimed our Lord’s innocence made a request, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To which Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It’s interesting that this is the only place in the New Testament that Jesus uses the word “paradise”, perhaps because his own suffering was so great at that moment that he needed to be reminded of just how perfect eternity would be.
     This act of compassion in the midst of his own dying affirms that in the kingdom of God those who are dispossessed, lost, last, least, downtrodden are of primary concern. The criminal did not have to ask to be remembered for it to happen; Jesus would never forget one such as him. That’s the type of King he is. The criminal’s vague hope of being remembered is made a concrete reality by Jesus.
     On the cross, the quality of Jesus’ kingship was revealed. Being the Son of God did not mean what those who taunted him thought it meant, writes Scott Hoezee. It did not mean exercising raw power, proving his identity through some razzle-dazzle that would spell the end of pain and suffering for himself. The truth is that Jesus in one sense gave in to those taunts on the cross.  Being the Son of God, Christ the King, meant suffering and dying. (2)
     As our Season of Pentecost journey ends, Jesus shows us how to be less distracted and more devoted disciples; it is by imitating him in an upside down display of power, which involves sacrificing, serving, forgiving, and showing compassion and acceptance. One might call it a “larger” way of living.
     I recently read a book titled The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman; it was recommended by my friend who grew up in North Carolina and had read it as required reading at some point while studying that state’s authors. It was one of my favorites of the year because of the way it was written using the language of the mid-1800’s and the dialect of the North Carolina mountains.
     The story was good too, as it focused on the trauma experienced by the characters who had fought in, and whose families had suffered, in the Civil War. A primary question throughout the book was who among their neighbors had betrayed the family and caused suffering that was life-altering. They dreamed of the revenge they would get when they discovered the culprit!
     Well, they did, nearly 30 years later and the question of revenge loomed large. That’s because a religious revival had recently swept through their county and Mark, a significantly injured party due to the earlier betrayal, had confessed his faith in Jesus and committed to following him. This meant, did it not, that he would have to forgive rather than retaliate? He is reminded by his wife how he had gone up to “mourner’s bench” at the revival and pledged to follow Jesus, who forgave those who did him harm.
     Now I’ll quote the book: “Maybe so,” Mark says, “but I never meant to pledge away my manhood.” (Which, evidently, he felt would be maintained through justified retribution.) But, then came these wise words from his father-in-law, Jesse Moore. “Why, you only pledged away your selfhood, son - your narrow little self for a larger manhood. And now … you’ve been called to keep that pledge.” (3)
     We all pledge ourselves to imitate Jesus, the Potentate of Time, who on the cross show us that larger selfhood; he is Christ the King. AMEN
  1. “Sermon Commentary on Luke 23:33-43” by Chelsey Harmon, November 20, 2022,
  2. “Sermon Commentary on Luke 23:33-43” by Scott Hoezee, November 20, 2016
  3. The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman, Wakestone Books, Newport, TN., 1962, pg. 290