Sunday, November 24, 2013

"You Will Be With Me in Paradise": Christ the King 2013

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.  And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,  and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 

It is a bit strange to encounter the crucifixion on the last Sunday before we enter the season of preparing for the birth of the One we're killing today. Next weekend, we'll start hearing stories of preparing the way for the One who will come on clouds descending. THAT sounds like a king, doesn't it?  Certainly more than this stuff about public execution and mocking and scorning.

And there you have it: the kingdom of Christ is anything but the expected.  As I've said before on this blog, Christ the King is a non-conformist, a rebel, a genderqueer, a weirdo.  He knows what the rules are, and how they came into being, and he knows that those rules more often than not have served to tie everybody all up into knots with lots of "No" "Not at this time" and "That's the way we've always done it."

It is an interesting juxtaposition to have the readings for this Christ the King Sunday coming at a time when the "church news" headlines have been filled with the story of the 30-day suspension of Rev. Frank Schaefer of the United Methodist Church.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Rev. Schaefer had the audacity to preside at his gay son's wedding in Massachusetts back in 2007.  Now, in 2013, the United Methodist Church, which still holds fast to the idea that homosexuality falls outside the teachings of Christianity, has suspended Rev. Schaefer and is giving him 30 days to "reflect" and presumably repent of his action which violated the laws and canons of the denomination.  Given that Rev. Schaefer has other gay children, and he pulled out a stole colored in rainbows, I somehow doubt that he plans to take them up on that offer.   Rev. Schaefer knew the rules, and he knew what he was doing was going to get him into trouble with the denomination. And he doesn't need thirty days to consider a different way.  At his trial, he said: "I cannot go back to being a silent supporter.  I must continue to be in ministry with all people and speak for LGBTQ people.  Members of the jury, before you decide my penalty, you need to know that I wear this rainbow stole as a visible sign that this is who I am called to be." (closing statement, #MinistryOnTrial)

It is refreshing for those of us who are LGBTQ and among the "lost and scattered" sheep that the prophet Jeremiah speaks about to listen to the words of a Methodist minister who understands the meaning of laying down one's life for one's friends.  Rev. Schaefer did not physically die, but he is risking a kind of death in not being allowed to function within the Methodist church as a pastor.  As one who has been through that difficulty of giving up a career that had become enmeshed in my sense of self-identity this type of situation definitely qualifies as a kind of death.  But, just as with the robber who hung along side Jesus, I feel Rev. Schaefer will be with Christ in Paradise.  That Paradise, for the time being, will be in the company of the many lost and scattered sheep of the LGBTQI community, and our friends and families,  who will look to him as the real shepherd who will bring them safely home, and closer to the banquet hall with Christ, a king like no other.

In the very likely event that Rev. Schaefer finds himself no longer a United Methodist, I imagine another denomination, such as the Episcopal Church, would prove to be a welcoming place for him.  We seem to be the home for those who cannot find rest in any other place.  Come, taste and see that God is good. 


No comments: