Based on 2 Samuel 23:1-7, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-37
Martin Niemӧller was born in Germany in January 1892. During World War I he served the German Navy in a U-boat, eventually becoming its commander. Following the war he attended seminary and became a Lutheran minister. Niemӧller supported the rise of the Third Reich until he met Adolf Hitler in 1934. He came to understand the regime as a dictatorship and began to staunchly oppose it and its manipulation of the German Church. One of his most famous statements, however, is about his blindness to the plight of others being targeted by the Nazis. He stated, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Like many in his time who were under extreme pressure and persecution, Niemӧller looked out primarily for himself and those closest to him. He was a pronounced nationalist and anti-Semite, and up until about 1935 these sentiments dominated his rhetoric. As a German citizen, he was protected (for the most part) from targeting, however, his work with the Confessing Church made him a “person of interest”. He was arrested and incarcerated many times from 1937 on for his anti-Nazi sermons – and spent more than 7 years in concentration camps (including Dachau). His failure to follow the charge of Jesus caused him no end of remorse following the end of World War II. He apologized to everyone he met who he hadn’t defended until the end of his life. Here on this “Christ the King” Sunday, our scriptures call us again to consider how it is that we are to follow the charge of Jesus on our lives. Before we consider that, however, we should go to God in prayer.
Chapters 22 and 23 of 2 Samuel contain a “Song of Thanksgiving” from King David. The words of the song detail all that God had done for David to deliver him from King Saul and to place David on the throne. David sings, “…For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside….” David followed the charge of the LORD on his life and was rewarded for his fealty. Our reading today from Chapter 23 contains the “last words” of David. These words speak to his relationship with God over the years of his life – his realization of who God is and that God’s everlasting covenant will continue long after he is dead and buried.
The Revelation of John speaks to us about the kingship of Jesus, “…firstborn of the dead, and ruler of the kings of the earth….” This great king loves us and has taken away our sins with his blood sacrifice. This makes us free to be a holy kingdom of priests who are dedicated to serving the one true God – who was, who is and who will always be.
John’s Gospel has us in the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, where Jesus has been delivered by the High Priest of the Jews. Pilate begins to interrogate Jesus. He asks, “…Are you the King of the Jews?…” Jesus answers his question with a question. In response to Pilate’s further questioning about what offense Jesus might have committed, Jesus states that His kingdom is not from this world, which is why there is no uprising outside Pilate’s building. Jesus ends up stating that He came to testify to the truth, and that those who “belong to the truth” listen to His voice. Pilate did not belong to the truth and thus failed to come under the kingship and charge of Jesus.
Jesus gave different charges to His disciples. In Matthew 10, Jesus calls the 12 and sends them out to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to tell them all that the kingdom of God has come near. They are told specifically to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons and cleanse lepers”. Later, in Chapter 28, His last charge to them was to make disciples of all the world, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey what Jesus himself had taught them. Jesus reminded them that though he was returning to His Father, that he would still be with them for all times.
These charges of Jesus have carried down to our time. These are the things that we are supposed to do as well. The lordship of Jesus on our lives carries with it some tangible duties that we are called to assume once we become part of the Body of Christ through our baptism. If we really believe in the truth of Jesus, then how do we understand and live into the charges that have been placed on us? What does it mean to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons? On top of all that, how are we to make disciples of all the world and teach them all what Jesus taught us (i.e., the things hat we are supposed to be modeling for others)? Glad you are wondering that…let’s break the charges of Jesus down a bit farther.
Curing the sick does not mean that everyone needs to become a medical doctor or one of the myriad healthcare personnel. Sickness comes in many shapes and forms. There are illnesses like alcoholism or other substance abuse, poverty, incest, abuse, poor education, lack of self-confidence, lack of an advocate, lack of opportunity, “this is what we’ve always done”, etc. Those sicknesses are curable through developing deep and generative relationships based on love, understanding and respect. That is one of the charges of Jesus, by the way.
Raising the dead does not mean that we are all going to put the funeral industry out of business and really overpopulate the globe. Instead it means that there are people all around us who are dead to the reality of the promises of Jesus (like Pilate). Who do not understand that the kingdom of God has in fact come near to them, that they can participate in said kingdom, and that they are welcomed in to be priests of the one true God because their sins have been forgiven as well. They are dead to the truth that Jesus speaks when he teaches that all are created with the capacity to love God with all that they are and their neighbors as themselves. Disciples of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit have the ability to bring people back to spiritual life by showing them that they have a Savior who is waiting for them to choose Him over a human-made idol.
The disease of leprosy has been found to be a bacterial infection that is treated quite nicely with a short course of antibiotics. There is a more insidious form of leprosy, however, that is in epidemic proportions all over the world. It is similar to the nationalist and anti-Semite views of Martin Niemӧller and colleagues in 1930’s Germany. It is the marginalization and “othering” of people who do not reflect the ideals of those people who are in power. This othering creates an outcast status for tens of millions of people – and it is based on nothing more than not being in the majority. This dualistic mindset of “Us vs. Them” is still creating lepers, but it is easily treatable with a change in heart. Jesus teaches to love the stranger as ourselves and to offer hospitality. Like bacterial leprosy, the leprosy of marginalization could easily be eradicated as well.
Horror movies have made demons seem like they are evil beings sent bedevil us or to do us harm. The truth that Jesus tells is that we all have demons inside of us. The things that keep us from doing what we should. The self-defeating self-talk that limits our futures by destroying them before they ever get started – or tells us there is no reason to go on living because we are worthless. The myriad of psychiatric and societal issues that we attempt to treat medicinally and medically, but which really require someone who is willing to walk with us to help us to hear the truth that we are loved and perfect just the way we are. We need to hear the truth of Jesus that speaks to wholeness instead of brokenness and hope in place of despair. We need healthy relationships built on love and trust and on a larger narrative than just our own small world views.
We need to belong to the truth so that the truth can set us free. Martin Niemӧller forgot the truth of Jesus and placed his faith in the State. He grew to regret that misplaced faith in the powers of this world and his silence when it mattered most. Today, we have similar choices to make. Martin Luther King Jr said, “…History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people….” The good people, the people of Jesus who are charged to live into His love and teaching – we are the ones who need to speak and act in order to bring the kingdom of Jesus here to earth. Good people of the truth, His charge for us remains…heal the brokenness in the world around you, He says. Seek right relationship with all and remember that I have sent the Holy Spirit to advocate and empower you in your work. We are called and charged to be in service to God through the truth of our King Jesus. Let us seek to live fully into the truth of Jesus that we might fully carry out our charge every day of our lives. Amen!