Luke 23:33-43; Colossians 1:11-20
Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, God of the Armies, while we have come to have an affinity against violence, we have all been subject to the violent Powers of Sin and Death. Our lives have been closed off to the light. That is until Jesus came, suffered with us and for us and rescued us from the powers of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of your Son. Remind us that Jesus reveals what we may become. When circumstances threaten and people try our patience, give us the power that possessed Jesus to live with joy. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
John Hendricksen traveled to Washington DC to do an interview for The Atlantic. He tells a bit about himself in a story that will come out in print in January.
I started stuttering at age 4.
I still struggle to say my own name. When I called the gas company recently, the automated voice apologized for not being able to understand me. This happens a lot, so I try to say “representative,” but r’s are tough too. When I reach a human, I’m inevitably asked whether we have a poor connection. Busy bartenders will walk away and serve someone else when I take too long to say the name of a beer. Almost every deli guy chuckles as I fail to enunciate my order, despite the fact that I’ve cut it down to just six words: “Turkey club, white toast, easy mayo.” I used to just point at items on the menu.
It did not take long into the article, the story, to find out why The Atlantic chose John. His subject to be interviewed was Former Vice-President, Joe Biden. Hendricksen writes,
Maybe you’ve heard Biden talk about his boyhood stutter. A non-stutterer might not notice when he appears to get caught on words as an adult, because he usually maneuvers out of those moments quickly and expertly. But on other occasions, like that night in Detroit, Biden’s lingering stutter is hard to miss. He stutters—if slightly—on several sounds as we sit across from each other in his office. Before addressing the debate specifically, I mention what I’ve just heard. “I want to ask you, as, you know, a … stutterer to, uh, to a … stutterer. When you were … talking a couple minutes ago, it, it seemed to … my ear, my eye … did you have … trouble on s? Or on … m?”
John Hendricksen and The Atlantic aren’t publishing the piece to persuade you or me to vote for Biden should he win his Party’s nomination. Instead, the subtitle of the article reveals the point,
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his real mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
He’s still fighting a stutter.
So do we, Christians, that is. We stutter. We like to think we may overcome our tendencies to inconsistently represent King Jesus by managing our lives better. We create more personal rules in order to keep from blocking our bodies from engaging in habits and practices that look more like we are still beholden to the Powers from which we have been set free. What we need reminding week in and week out is,
The same Jesus that rescued us from the power of darkness, makes us strong to endure all things and all people with patience. And that is my first point.
Our faltering should help us rethink our tendencies to create enemies of others. Whatever track record we think we have established is always but one act, one decision, away from self-disappointment. When we put ourselves in our own spiritual care, we forget the One who always cares for us. Paul was well aware of our human tendency to return to our own self-righteousness. His corrective was to remind the Colossians that Jesus is above all, supreme.
The resources we need are given by the Spirit and always point to Jesus as the aim of our humanity. Jesus did not come so that we might know how to be like God. Jesus came so that we might know how to be truly human. Our track record already demonstrated how horrible we are at playing god. And, nothing has changed. We are not good at god and not much better at human. Neither our efforts at being god or our attempts at human bring us much merit.
Forced to honestly assess our situation we may find ourselves empty. When Hendricksen talked with Biden the reality of their speech impediments reminded them of the days they experienced shame, even betrayal, that left them with the sense they were all alone.
Stuttering can feel like a series of betrayals. Your body betrays you when it refuses to work in concert with your brain to produce smooth speech. Your brain betrays you when it fails to recall the solutions you practiced after school with a speech therapist, allegedly in private, later learning that your mom was on the other side of a mirror, watching in the dark like a detective. If you’re a lucky stutterer, you have friends and family who build you back up, but sometimes your protectors betray you too.
Rather than a God unaware, the Apostle Paul describes a God who does not betray but comes out of hiding and transfers us into the light.
The same Jesus that left the manger and walked out of the tomb is the One that fills up the world and transfers us from darkness to light. And that is my second point.
Today is both Christ the King Sunday and an end to our Fall series, Us vs Them: Breaking Free from a Faith that Feeds the Enemy Making Machine. We have sought to point out that the Powers of Sin and Death run the world by making enemies. That is one reason Paul describes our hostility toward God so starkly.
You were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds
Following the pattern of this world, not very good at god or being human, we practiced oppositional thinking to everything and everyone. No circumstance of life was good enough and whatever others could do for us was not good enough. When tempted to lapse back into that mode of thinking, we return to participating in the Enemy Making Machine,
Looking back at our Text from the Gospel of Luke we are reminded that humans playing god and not good at being human opposed Jesus the Christ. But, the bigger picture, the Good News in it all is that Jesus left the manger to take on the Powers that kept us in darkness. And he walked out of the tomb leading us into the light. In fact, Paul uses the imagery that would have been welcomed. The victor relocated those who were once subjects to other powers into a new place, under a new King.
Our hostility did not deter God’s activity. Instead, aware that we were captive to the Powers of Sin and Death, Jesus defeated those Powers in his death and resurrection and as Victor and King he transfers us, he relocates us, to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. No longer estranged under the lordship of the Powers,
he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death,
In Christ God makes us what we could not be by playing god and what we did not do in our attempts at being human. This, this is Good News. And those whose aim was mockery, by placing a placard above Jesus’ head, King of the Jews, declared what is true that Jesus is King.
Even as we are now in the light in Christ we live with the remnants, the ongoing temptation, to return to playing god and looking for other examples for what it is to be truly human. In these moments, the pathways to peace opened up for us by Christ are blocked by our lapse into old habits and practices. What comes out of our mouths, out of our lives, does not make connection with our proclamation. We say Jesus is Lord with our lips, maybe. But, our lives betray our confession. We stutter in our declaration, Jesus is Lord.
When Christians stutter, when we return to attempts at playing god and falter at being truly human, Jesus speaks clearly for us. And that is my final point.
Paul points out that our reconciliation in the fleshly body of Jesus through death results
so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.
Jesus speaks clearly for us by what he has done for us. Our need to play god and our lack at being human are made up in Christ. In this new kingdom, the kingdom of the Beloved Son, we have redemption, freed from slavery to the Powers of Sin and Death, and forgiveness of sins, cover for our stutter.
Paul engaged in two practices to keep him from stuttering, to help him keep the pathway to his true humanity in Christ. These are ours to consider for one another and with one another.
Paul prayed for strength that comes from the glorious power of God. This is important. We pray for strength that looks like power. What lay behind Paul’s vision of strength is the life-giving, self-giving, Jesus. It is exactly the opposite of a show of force, the amassing of military might and resources. We pray for strength to win the victory. Yet, for us, Christ has won the victory. Paul prays for a different outcome. He prays the result of the strength of God’s glorious power that will be in us as it was in Jesus.
The word endurance here is the sort that bears up under all circumstances that defeat us. Whatever comes our way, whatever life brings, we find endurance as we model Jesus’ endurance. The writer of Hebrews reminds us,
He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out before him.
Not only do we pray for strength to endure whatever circumstances come our way, but we also pray for patience. This is not the sort of habit that we often think. What is described by the word is really patience with people. We are not talking about waiting for those potentially defeating events to pass by us. No, it is patience with unpleasant people. It is the sort of patience that never loses hope for others, even others whose actions toward us may be unpleasant.
Christians in the early days of the Church would face circumstances that threaten their lives and sometimes they would come through people with whom they could become bitter. Paul prays that the model of humanity lived out in Jesus would be the strength for us to do the same.
Not only did Paul pray for the strength for endurance and patience,but also he also sang. That’s right, he sung.
When John Hendricksen wrote of his interview with Joe Biden he noted,
But now we’re back in middle school. The students are taking turns reading a book, one by one, up and down the rows. “I could count down how many paragraphs, and I’d memorize it, because I found it easier to memorize than look at the page and read the word. I’d pretend to be reading,” Biden says.
For those of us prone to stutter in our living, learning songs that remind us of the faithfulness of Jesus for us become the resource that points to our source of strength. Paul’s hymn begins in verse 15. It is the song Nathan reads every month as we prepare to take the Cup at Communion. The central focus of the hymn is Jesus. We are reminded that it is his kingdom and what sort it is. We find the final stanza,
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen here.