Monday, December 16, 2013

Looking for Blessedness (December 15, 2013)

Looking for Blessedness
Luke 1:26-38; 39-56
December 15, 2013[1]

I love music, but I have not been a huge fan of country music.  So it was quite a surprise to Carol and our daughter Liz when they heard me playing a song that Martina McBride recorded in 2001 called “Blessed.”  In this song, Martina talks about her blessings:
I get kissed by the sun each morning
Put my feet on the hardwood floor
I get to hear my children laughing
Down the hall through the bedroom door
Sometimes I sit on my front porch swing
Just soaking up the day
I think to myself
This world is a beautiful place.

I have been blessed
And I feel like I’ve found my way
I thank God for all I’ve been given
At the end of every day….

When I’m singing for my kids to sleep
When I feel you holding me

I know, I’ve been blessed…

I have been blessed
With so much more than I deserve
To be here with the ones that love me
To love them so much it hurts
I have been blessed…[2]
It struck me that Martina’s song was reminiscent of a Gospel Song published in 1897 that we don’t hear so much any more:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one.
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.[3]
This morning we read Mary’s Song, a song that the church has known through the centuries as the “Magnificat,” based on the opening words, “My soul magnifies the Lord…”  At one level, Mary’s song could be viewed as a time in which Mary was doing exactly what Martina McBride and the Gospel Song writer were doing:  counting their blessings.  Giving thanks to God for the ways in which God has blessed her life.
·         The Mighty One has done great things for me (v. 49)
·         His mercy extends to those who fear Him (v. 50)
·         He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; (v. 51).
·         He has scattered those who are proud …(v. 51)
·         He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble  (v. 52)..
·         He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty (v. 53).
·         He has helped His servant Israel (v. 54)
If you look closely at Mary’s song, you will notice that her list of blessings is not a list of things that God has given to her personally; she remembers the things God has done for her people.  Her list in some ways seems to defy the realities of the world around her.  It looks forward rather than backward.  The people of Israel (or at least some of them) longed for a great liberator who would free them from the power of Rome and restore them to their former days of independence.  Mary’s song expresses the longing of a people to be set free, to see a reversal of roles in which the humble and the meek would inherit the earth.  It is a song of faith and trust in the things that God will do.  Her song foreshadows the ministry of the One she was carrying, the One who would launch His own ministry by quoting from the Prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
So Mary’s song is different from Martina McBride’s.  She doesn’t celebrate personal gifts or personal accomplishments.  In fact, Mary barely seems to mention the baby she is carrying—at most, she mentions the baby indirectly:  “”he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…” (v. 48). 
I wonder if Mary had any idea of the pain that the Child she was carrying would bring to her?  I suspect that she anticipated the questions she would face from Joseph and her family, and the scorn she would face from friends and neighbors.  But did she have any idea of what else lay before her:
·         Did she know that when she presented her newborn infant in the Temple, that an old prophet named Simeon would warn her that her son was “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” and that a “sword [would] pierce [her] heart”? (Luke 2:34, 35).
·         Did she know that while the baby boy was still very young, the family would be forced to flee to Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod?  (Matthew 2:13, 14).
·         Did she know that when she and Joseph would take the boy to the Temple, the boy would leave them to remain in what He called His “Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
·         Did she know that in later years, when Jesus would be told that His mother and His brothers were looking for Him, Jesus would dismiss them with a question:  “Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:38).
·         Did she have any idea of the cross that lay in His future—a cross that would not only take His life, but a part of hers, as well.  A cross from which, as he hung dying, he would entrust her into the care of the disciple that He loved?  (John 19:26-27).
I don’t know if Mary could foresee the heart-breaking moments that lay before her any more that we can see the tears that our own children and grand children will bring to us during their times of growing, struggling, claiming their own independence, suffering their own times of pain.
Whatever was going through Mary’s mind, she does not let it delay her response.  When the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will give birth to the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32), Mary immediately responds with the simple words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary then proclaims that “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48b).  The key to Mary’s blessedness is not to be found in the gifts she would receive or the favors that God would bestow upon her.  At her tender young age, her blessedness cannot be found in the things that she has accomplished in her short life.  They key to Mary’s blessedness is to be found in her complete submission to the will of God.
We often tend to think of being blessed in the sense of receiving gifts from God.  At one level, this is certainly true; but Mary gives us an example to look at our blessedness in a different way.  Our blessedness as the people of God must be derived in the same way as Mary.  It must flow out of our complete submission to the will of God.
Our blessedness cannot be found in material blessings.  God causes “his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).  Jesus warns us against storing up “treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Our blessedness cannot be measured in gifts of life or health.  Death is part of the cycle of life.  “To everything there is a season—a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Our blessedness is found in doing the will of God.  Jesus said that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50).
Do we want to be a blessed people?  Our key to blessedness is to seek and do God’s will.
Do we want to be a blessed church?  Our key to blessedness is to seek and do God’s will for the people of Fluvanna and around the world.
Our key to blessedness is to work to bring forth the Kingdom of God.  We don’t end our spiritual journey by declaring our faith in Jesus Christ—that is only the beginning.  We are called to work for the Kingdom.  It is not a Kingdom which we can bring about on our own; yet Christ enlists us in his work of
·         helping the helpless;
·         caring for the poor;
·         feeding the hungry;
·         providing shelter to the homeless;
·         loving the unlovable, hugging the untouchable;
·         saying “no” to a culture that mistakes physical intimacy for love;
·         saying “no” to a culture that mistakes violence for entertainment;
·         saying “no” to a world that still encourages an “eye for an eye.” 
Jesus himself said that He came “down from heaven, not to do [His] own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).  We can do no less.
If we want to become the blessed people of God, the key is this:  to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness…”  (Matthew 6:33).  Mary said, “here am I, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be with me according to your word.”  May we offer the same response as God speaks to us this day.
May it be so!
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Frost.  All rights reserved.

[1] Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia on the Third Sunday in Advent.
[2] Brett James, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey, “Blessed.” Published by Lyrics © Chrysalis One Music, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group.  Viewed on the internet on December 14, 2013 at
[3] Johnson Oatman, Jr., “Count Your Blessings,” viewed on the internet on December 15, 2013 at  Public domain.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Devotional Guide on an Icy Sunday Morning (December 8, 2013)

A Devotional Guide on an Icy Sunday Morning
December 8, 2013

With the icy conditions this morning, it is prudent to stay at home.  But even though we are staying home, we are not alone.  Our Loving God remains with us!  I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet meditation as we focus on the tender mercies of our God.  You might want to find a quiet place.  If you have a candle available, the light from the candle may be a calming presence for you as we prepare to worship.
Call to Worship:  Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wonderful things.  Blessed be His glorious name forever, may His glory fill the whole earth.  Amen and Amen.[1]
Opening Hymn:  Sing or read aloud Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (#196 in The United Methodist Hymnal):
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free; 
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee. 
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring. 
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.[2]
Call to Confession:  Let us lay before God and one another the distances between us, the impatience, idolatries, and lack of compassion that form our confessions this day.  For if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.  Yet in mercy, God will forgive us and renew us.  Let us join together in our prayer of confession.
Prayer of Confession:  Gracious and welcoming God, have mercy on Your people.  We confess that we struggle to trust Your incarnation.  We fail to heed Your Word each day in all that we say and do.  We do not see our neighbors, families and friends as beloved children whom You have made.  In Your mercy, forgive us, for we repent of our ways and look to Your power to heal us and raise us up, so that, at the last, You will gather us to You and give us peace.  Amen.
Words of Assurance:  The reign of God has come near; the repentant will be judged with righteousness.  We are forgiven.  Be filled with hope, believing in the power of the risen Christ to bring you to new life.  Rejoice and believe.

Gospel Lesson Our Gospel Lesson this morning is from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 3, verses 1 through 12.  As you read these words, listen for the Word of the Lord.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.  His food was locusts and wild honey.
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them:  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”[3]
The Word of God for the People of God.  Thanks be to God!
Meditation:                            “Looking for a Change”
I don’t know if John and I would have gotten along very well together. 
He was a strange sort of character.  He grew up in a religious home—his father Zechariah was a priest—so John would have been raised in the Temple.  John would have gone through the normal rituals of a young Jewish boy—studying in the Temple, celebrating his bar mitzvah at the age of 13.  Something about organized religion didn’t appeal to John.  If he were living today, would he have claimed to be “spiritual but not religious”?  Or did he go into the wilderness to cultivate a depth of spirituality that he did not find in Temple practice?
John clearly had experienced a call to prepare the way of the Lord and to announce the “Good News” but his methods were hardly designed to win friends and influence people.  His style was to confront his listeners with their need for repentance.
I am a non-confrontational sort of guy.  I wonder sometimes if John’s approach of calling the religious leaders a “brood of vipers” was the most prudent way of preaching the Good News.  Maybe they needed a radical wake-up call.  But even more troubling was his habit of insisting that we repent and change direction in our spiritual lives.  Repenting is not something we look forward to.  We do not like to leave our comfort zones or to change directions in our lives, but that is exactly what it means to repent.  It means to “turn around.”  When we are at our wits end, we may find that a change in direction is the only way out. 
I find that the call to repent—to turn around—can operate on different levels. 
First, there is the big decision to claim the name of Jesus Christ.  This is a huge step; but it is only the first step on our spiritual journey.  Many people mistakenly feel that they can offer a prayer of commitment, seeking forgiveness for sins, and walk away with an eternal insurance policy.  If that is all the further they develop in their spiritual lives, they miss out on the opportunities God offers to transform them and change them.
This sort of repentance is an everyday thing.  It also begins with a decision—but it is not a decision simply to try harder to live a more moral, ethical life (although morals and ethics do matter!).  This sort of repentance is a daily surrender of every aspect of our lives to God, giving God control over our lives and opening ourselves up to receive God’s transforming power in our lives.
Last Friday evening, Carol and I went out to dinner with David, Nicole, Ethan and Grace.  Ethan was having a tough time sitting still—restaurants can become boring to a three year-old.  David finally had to have a heart-to-heart talk with Ethan and told him that if he had any hope of getting cookies after dinner, Ethan had to “turn it around.”  He had to change his behavior.  It was only because Ethan was able to make the decision to change his behavior that he was able to enjoy the rest of the evening with the family.
The same thing happens to all of us, but the stakes are much greater than a cookie.  God invites us to open our lives to change so that we can experience what Jesus called “living abundantly” (John 10:10).
On this day, you have some extra minutes to rest.  You can choose to spend those minutes caught up in business “as usual.”  But I hope that instead, you will seize the opportunity to offer your heart and life to God’s transforming love.  Are you looking for a change?  Look for God—Emmanuel, God is with us!
May it be so!
Closing Prayer:  Our closing prayer this morning is a song, Change My Heart, O God (#2152 in The Faith We Sing).
Change my heart, O God,
make it ever true. 
Change my heart, O God,
may I be like you. 
You are the Potter,
I am the clay. 
Mold me and make me,
this is what I pray. 
Change my heart, O God,
make it ever true. 
Change my heart, O God,
may I be like you.[4]
Blessing:  May the life-changing grace of Jesus Christ transform you, may the love of God embrace you, and may the power of the Holy Spirit fill you this day!  Amen. 
Go in peace!
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Frost.  All rights reserved.

[1] The Call to Worship, Prayer of Confession and Words of Assurance are taken from Kimberly Braken Long, ed., Feasting on the Word:  Liturgies for year A, Volume1, (Louisville:  Westminster John Know Press, 2013),p 5-6.
[2] Charles Wesley, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville:  The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 196.
[3] Matthew 3:1-12 in The Holy Bible:  New International Version (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 1499.
[4] Eddie Espinosa, “Change My Heart, O God,” in The Faith We Sing (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2000), 2152.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Looking for the Son (December 1, 2013)

Looking for the Son
Matthew 24:35-44
December 1, 2013[1]

Last night, Carol, Margaret and I were enjoying dinner at Lake Bistro when over the sound system I heard a song from my youth.  In the summer of 1969, I had just completed my sophomore year at Canfield High School.  A rock group known by the names of their lead singers, “Zager and Evans,” had released a song that was their only song to hit the Billboard Charts.  It started out by raising the question
In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find…
The words were a foreboding, apocalyptical look at the future.  Each verse looked an additional millennium plus ten years, and the picture looked bleaker and bleaker.
By the year 6565,
You won’t need no husband, won’t need no wife
You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube.
It seems that Zager and Evans underestimated the pace that technology would take.  It’s only 2013 and some of these predictions sound ominously close.
The sixth verse changes the increment of time—apparently they were running out of words that ended with the letters “ive.”  But they scored points—both in this verse and the following one, with the budding “Jesus Movement” that was springing across college and high school campuses:
In the year 7510
If God’s a-coming, He oughta make it by then
Maybe He’ll look around Himself and say
’Guess it’s time for the Judgment Day.”

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He’ll either say, “I’m pleased where man has been”
Or tear it down, and start again.[2]

I had never taken the time to read the lyrics until I got home last night.  I was intrigued to find that the song takes as its title the famous first line—“In the Year 2525,”—but adds the parenthetical phrase “(Exordium & Terminus)”.  In Latin, the word “exordium” means the beginning, the introduction.  In a debate, the exordium introduces and sets the stage for the argument.  As you might guess, the “terminus” refers to the end.  So we have Exordium and Terminus, the beginning and the end, a baby-boomer variation on the theme of “Alpha and Omega” that is used in the Revelation of St. John (Revelation 1:8). It is ironic to me that a song like this would have soared in popularity during the same summer in which a music festival held on a farm about 43 miles from Woodstock, New York claimed to usher in the age of Aquarius. 
Zager and Evans end their ballad on a somber note.
Now it’s been ten thousand years, man has cried a billion tears.
For what, he never knew, now man’s reign is through.
But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight,
So very far away, maybe it’s only yesterday.

The song was a huge hit, but Zager and Evans never hit the Billboard charts again.  They were prophets of a sort, but without honor in their own country.  I wonder if Zager and Evans were aware that when they wrote of “the twinkling of starlight,” that was “only yesterday, they were echoing a message from the Bible, words written by the Psalmist so many centuries before:  “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4, NRSV).  This same concept was picked up in the 1700s by a hymn writer named Charles Wesley, who penned
A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.[3]
It seems like a strange way to begin the holiday season.  Year after year, Advent begins with a solemn reminder that we are not simply looking forward to a holiday of gift giving, of shopping, of decorating.  We are not looking forward simply to the birth of a baby—even a divine One.  Advent proclaims an even larger message—larger by far—that proclaims we are looking for the Kingdom of God.  We recognize that this world has fallen woefully short of the image of God in which it was created, and we look for the day that God will set things right once and for all—the day when, in the words of Zager and Evans, God will “tear it down, and start again.”
People have been looking forward with fear and trembling for a long, long time, wondering where it is going to take us.  They have looked with despair at the state of the world and saw a dystopia, in which the utopian ideals of progress, technology, even freedom and love degenerated into disaster.  Perhaps Zager and Evans could have sung their final verse that day in Jerusalem when Jesus was warning of the days to come.  A day of reckoning will take place.  Just when that will take place remains a mystery.  “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).  On that day of reckoning, “one will be taken and one will be left.”  (Matthew 24:40).  Jesus urged his listeners to “keep awake … you do not know on what day your Lord is coming... be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:43, 44). 
It would be all too easy to read these words and dismiss them as too pessimistic for our world—not in keeping with the joy of the season.  And yet the feeling remains.  The world is not right and we need for God to fix it.  The Advent hymn with which we begin the season expresses the longing and the hope that God will change things.  We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and we plead for God to “ransom captive Israel…”  These are not only the words of a people held in captivity in Babylon 2500 years ago.  These words have echoed through history as God’s people recognized that things weren’t right.
The seventh verse (which we did not sing this morning) pleads:
O come, Desire of nations bind
all peoples in one heart and mind. 
From dust thou brought us forth to life;
deliver us from earthly strife.[4]

Then, despite the yearning, despite the despair, we hear once again a refrain of hope:
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
As we begin this season of Advent in 2013, it could be easy to get caught up in the despair; but today is the time to be lifted by hope.  This could be viewed as an escapist, Pollyanna approach to the season, but I do not mean that at all.  I invite us to hope with our eyes wide open, to acknowledge the problems we face, but to place our trust in the One who said, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, KJV).
You may ask what I mean when I say “hope with our eyes wide open.”  How can we do that?  We practice the present of God in our lives.[5]  We cultivate what William A. Barry calls a “conscious relationship with God.”[6]  We keep looking for the One who promised not to leave us “orphaned,” who promised “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  We place our hope in the One who said “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).  We place our hope—not in One who is far away, but in One who is always with us.  We keep looking for the Son.
I would like to invite you to an Advent Challenge of looking.  This week, I invite you to practice looking for the Son in our lives.  It doesn’t take fancy words.  It doesn’t take knowing a lot of “religious speak.”  It simply takes a conscious intentional decision to look for God in our lives.
When you get up in the morning, when your feet first hit the floor and you stretch and open your eyes, look for the Son and give Him thanks for bringing you to a new day!
When you take that first sip of coffee or gulp down that glass of orange juice before running out the door, look for the Son, give Him thanks for the food and drink that sustain you, and ask Him to help you remain aware of His presence throughout the day.
When you get to work or to school, or when you begin your daily activities at home, look to the Son.  Remember that you are not doing your work for a boss or for an organization or studying to get good grades for yourself.  You are doing your work for the Son.
When others don’t do things the way that you think they should and you are ready to point out to them the error of their ways, look first to the Son.  Ask yourself and ask Him whether the words you are about to speak are being spoken in love.
When you are cut off in traffic by someone and are about ready to communicate your displeasure, look to the Son—you might find Him sitting in the car with you—and ask how He would react in that situation.
When you get upset or angry with a friend and are ready to let your friend know just how much they hurt you, look first to the Son, and ask how to respond in a way that expresses His love for them and for you.
When you find yourself stuck—facing a tough issue and you don’t know where to turn, look to the Son.  Don’t simply ask “what would Jesus do?”  Ask Jesus what you should do.  He is there.  Ask Him.  And wait for His answer.
When you face your own guilt—guilt for the sin in your life—look to the Son, the One who said that whoever believes in Me shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
When you find yourself facing loss, look to the Son, to the One who said “do not let your heart be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
When times around you become fearful, when you wish God would just start all over with this world, look to the Son, the one who said “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
You don’t have to think about the coming of Christ as a threat or as an event shrouded in mystery.  The Good News that we celebrate throughout the seasons of the year is that Christ has come, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  This Advent Season, celebrate with us that Emmanuel, the Son of God, is with us.  I invite you to look for the Son, enter into that conscious, personal relationship with him, and give thanks.
May it be so!

Copyright © 2014 by Thomas E. Frost.  All rights reserved.

[1]Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia on the first Sunday of Advent.
[2] “Zager & Evans – In the Year 2525 Lyrics,” viewed on the internet on November 30, 2013 at
[3] Charles Wesley, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville:  The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 57.
[4] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville:  The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 211.
[5] See Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Brewster, Massachusetts:  Paraclete Press, 1985).
[6] William A. Barry, S.J., God and You:  Prayer as a Personal Relationship (New York:  Paulist Press, 1987), 12.

Looking for the Dawn from on High (November 24, 2013)

Looking for the Dawn from on High
Luke 1:78-79 & 23:33-43
November 24, 2013[1]

What do you see when you try to picture Jesus?  Do you have a visual image that comes to mind?  Who is Jesus for you?
Of course, we have no photographs of Jesus, and no contemporary artist captured the face of Jesus on canvas.  So we are left to our imaginations.  In using our imaginations, we tend to create Jesus in our own image.  So often, artists raised in the Western culture pictured Jesus as a handsome young man with white skin and long, flowing brown hair.  The portrait of Jesus hanging in our Narthex shows Jesus in this way.  This portrait was painted in 1941 by an artist named Walter Sallman.  The original of this painting hangs in a gallery at Anderson University in Indiana.  I read that more than 500 million copies of this painting have been sold, helping to form the image of Jesus in the minds of people all around the world, especially those raised in more evangelical traditions.[2]  I suspect that if you had been raised in “turn of the millennium” ancient Palestine, you would have found this image to be quite disturbing and not at all accurate.
If you were raised as a Roman Catholic, perhaps you were exposed more to images of Jesus that superimpose a picture of his sacred heart that you can see outside his body.  This image is intended to inspire devotion to the love that Jesus poured out for you and for me on the cross as well as in His everyday life.  This image becomes a focal point for the life of love to which Jesus calls His followers.[3]  Protestants may not be familiar with such disciplines of devotion—but to Roman Catholics, devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing less than full devotion to Jesus Himself. 
For many, our image of Jesus is reflected in the windows that adorn this sanctuary.  I have spent countless hours gazing at these windows.  —especially the one directly over my head—the window depicting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I often will sit in the quiet of this room and meditate on this window, wondering at the wondrous love that compelled Jesus to suffer for us, for me.  The face depicted by the artist may not be the actual face of Jesus, but the agony depicted there is real enough for me.
I mentioned last week the huge statue of Jesus in the central Philippines, a statue that the winds of the typhoon that leveled everything near it.  You can almost hear Jesus saying those words, “peace, be still” (Mark 4:39).  That statue has brought inspiration and hope to many as they seek to survive this catastrophe.  Perhaps that is your image of Jesus.
During our Bible Study this past Monday, I showed to those who were present a picture of Jesus as “Christ in Judgment.”  This piece of art was created in the year 1300 and adorns the ceiling of an old church in Florence, Italy.  It depicts Jesus seated on the throne of judgment with arms outstretched.  Nail prints mark his hands and his feet as he pronounces judgment over those in hell below and on those to enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Our Scripture Lessons this morning offer us several pictures of Jesus for us to consider on this Sunday when we focus on “Christ the King.”
Jeremiah offers the image of the “righteous branch” who will reign as king (Jeremiah 23:5).  This portrait of the Messiah emphasizes a reversal of the evil of the royal houses of Kings Jehoiakim and Zedekiah.  They will be called to account as the “shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” (v. 1).  In the writings of ancient Israel, the word “righteous” wasn’t just a legal concept; righteousness had to be viewed in the context of the covenant, with its twin imperatives to love God and love neighbor.  From these two greatest commandments came an understanding that the righteous person cared for the community, especially for the poor and the needy.[4]  As early Christians read the prophets through the lens of their experience with Jesus, they identified the One who said “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) with this righteous branch.  “The days are surely coming,” wrote Jeremiah thousands of years ago.  We continue in the hope that the days are surely coming when righteousness shall prevail.  For many, that Kingdom of love and mercy and justice surround their image of Jesus.
The words of Zechariah offer us another image:  “a mighty savior” (Luke 1:69) by whose hand the people would be “saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:71).  Zechariah’s image of Messiah seems to be more political, with a measure of military might, as well.  I will give Zechariah the benefit of the doubt to say that those political and militaristic hopes were combined with spiritual hopes, as well.  The point of being rescued from the enemy—whether from Rome or from others who would hold us in oppression—is that we “might serve him [the LORD God of Israel] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).  “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).  Although this passage may not give us a physical image to picture, the poetry of the “dawn from on high” depicts a kingdom of light and love and hope. 
But the third image we find in our Scripture Lessons this morning stands in sharp contrast.  It is the image of Jesus on the cross. 
A few weeks ago, I was working in my office at home and Ethan, our three year-old grandson, was playing in the room.  He began looking at the various things that I have in the office and he saw an image of Jesus on the cross.  He asked me who the man was.  When I told him it was Jesus, Ethan was dumbfounded—he couldn’t understand that Jesus, who fed the hungry and beckoned the children to come and sit on his lap would be treated this way.  I have a hard time imagining that, as well.  In this image of Jesus, we see darkness and death.  We do not see the military triumph of the King of Kings; we see a man mocked as “King of the Jews.”  We don’t see the vengeance of One who would save us from our enemies; we see the compassion of One who, from the cross, says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  But if we look carefully, we can see streaks of light breaking through the dark sky.  We see hope, hope that is offered to a dying thief, to whom Jesus speaks the words of promise, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Paradise—not a land of fantasy, but God’s garden, the relationship with God for which we were created. 
This is the great reversal that Luke shows to us over and over again.  Through Christ, God’s “light shines in the darkness and the darkness [cannot] overcome it” (John 1:5).
So many images of Jesus.  So many different perceptions of Jesus.  Who is Jesus to you?
In the 19th and 20th Centuries, Biblical scholars spent a great deal of time trying to separate what they saw as the Christ of Faith and the Christ of History, looking as detectives might look for evidence to support their understandings of who Jesus was.  Albert Schweitzer, the great theologian and physician, saw the folly of this task.  In one of his landmark works, Schweitzer wrote that
Jesus comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not.  He speaks to us the same word:  “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time.  He commands.  And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.[5]
Perhaps you see Jesus this morning as triumphing over the wind and waves.  Perhaps you see a fearsome Jesus, presiding over the judgment of sinners and righteous.  Perhaps you see Jesus of the windows, feeding the five thousand, or praying in the Garden. 
Perhaps you see a branch of righteousness, or the dawn of the morning sky, or perhaps you see a suffering figure on a cross, offering words of hope to a dying thief.
Our King of Kings appears to us in many different ways and places.  Yet he speaks to all of us—Follow me.  His words are not so much a command as they are an invitation—an invitation to join in the Kingdom that is to come, and already has started.  Christ the King invites you to live abundantly, in relationship with God the Father of us all.  If we keep looking for the dawn, if we listen, and if we follow, we shall surely see Him, not just an image as through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).  We “shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). 
Thanks be to God!
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Frost.  All rights reserved.

[1] Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia on Christ the King Sunday.
[2] See “The Warner Sallman Collection,” viewed on the internet on November 24, 2013 at
[3] “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus” in New Advent, viewed on the internet on November 24, 2013 at
[4] See Walter Bruggeman, Reverberations of Faith:  A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 177.
[5] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, NY:  Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), 401.