He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 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.
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
Did we read the right gospel? Isn’t today Christ the KING?
Isn’t today a baptism? We’ve got two little sweet peas over here and we’re reading about the crucifixion?
Today is the day of the liturgical year when we particularly recognize the reign of Jesus Christ, the power of God among us in and through all things.
But the image of Jesus that we are given in the gospel to understand that he is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation,
in him all things were created,
he is before all things,
in him all things hold together,
he is the head of the church,
he is the beginning,
the firstborn in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…
And the gospel tells us that we see and know and understand Jesus Christ in the moment of his suffering, his dying, his humiliation.
We might feel angst at the distance between Colossians and Luke, the beautifully poetic proclamation of Christ’s greatness on one hand and the ugliness of cruelty, pain, mocking, and death on the other. But that tension is the deepest and hardest truth of our baptism. We join Jesus through the story of his suffering and we join him in resurrection life.
So today’s proclamation of the power and glory of Christ Jesus is not power and glory as we might expect it. It’s not celebrity or wealth or unquestioned control. Power and glory, success, flourishing, all take on a different meaning in the gospel, in this baptismal life. And we see that most of all, the reign of Christ is over the hearts and minds and lives of those who commit to follow in his radical way of love.
In baptism, we make vows to move away from evil and harm, from power over others, and commit to trust in and proclaim God’s grace and love as we have known it through Jesus. We promise to seek out that divine presence in other people and celebrate it in one another, to make God among us the defining feature of our common life. In a culture that preaches louder and more, that cajoles us to buy and upgrade into happiness, to only look out for ourselves or those nearest to us, these promises of baptism make about as much sense as a criminal king, an executed god.
These families choose to baptize their children and commit them to this strange, counterintuitive life. They are promising to do everything you can to raise their children to give themselves away, to live lives of loving and peacemaking. They are handing them over to die and rise with Christ. They give them to this community and acknowledge that they are not theirs alone, and that can be a frightening thing.
It is certainly a solemn thing, as it is for all of us who will make these promises again this morning, to hear these frightening words from the gospel and give ourselves to this story, this discipleship.
But take one hand, if you are able, and put it on your heart.
Take another hand, if you are able, and put it on your belly.
Breathe a little bit deeper.
Hear the Holy Spirit breathing and speaking her peace and power to you.
Hear the Spirit affirming that this hard road of love,
this upside down way of Christ our King,
this path is the only one that leads to resurrection.
This is the way of love.
When we put this baptism into practice, and allow the Spirit, as the old hymn says, to tune our hearts to sing God’s grace, we might begin to have the courage to live fully in Christ, and see that his reign is in the most surprising and ordinary places.
The reign of Christ, the Kingdom of God, doesn’t look like the biggest crowd. It’s not the most money, the most likes and follows and retweets, it’s not the loudest voice or the most self-justifying logic. The kingdom of God, so the saying goes, belongs to the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, those who face trouble for doing the right thing.
The reign of Christ is here in the sock and button teddy bear our family received for our baby, a gift from an acquaintance and former classmate of mine serving a sentence in the maximum security prison outside Nashville, supplies bought at commissary mark up, then stitched and stuffed with so much love and attention for a baby he’ll never meet.
The reign of Christ is here in the dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made each afternoon at the downtown library, when the librarians realized that their after school tutoring programs couldn’t help teenagers who are too hungry to learn.
The reign of Christ is here when you show up for a funeral.
It’s here when you’re wiping kids’ bottoms and mouths.
It’s here when you’re being a listening ear for someone going through difficulty.
The reign of Christ is here in the kernel of courage it takes to stand up to bullies. It’s here when you decide that the racist or transphobic joke stops here and now, and speak truth and love even when it’s hard.
The reign of Christ is here in 30 Thanksgiving dinners given by this parish to families through the Orchard Knob schools.
There are so many images and stories in the gospel accounts about this reign of Christ, and most of them are surprising. In one, you might remember Jesus’ disciples were wanting to sit at his left and right hands. They are jockeying for power positions with their teacher and friend. “Ahem, did you mention a Kingdom?” They want to make sure they have the most prestigious positions in it. In the gospel of Matthew, it’s the mother of James and John who asks Jesus to promote her sons. Now that’s embarrassing.
But what does Jesus tell them? Well, in Matthew and Mark he warns them of how hard this thing is, that they might not understand the strangeness of this kingdom. But in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus perceives that the guys are bickering over who’s the greatest, who gets to be the most powerful alongside King Jesus, you know what he does? Jesus puts his arm around a little child, and drawing the disciples’ attention to her, says, welcome this child in my name and you welcome me. The least is the greatest. This is the reign of Christ.
So as we receive these little ones today into the household of God, let us also receive them as icons of Christ to us. They are witnesses to the paradox of power and weakness, they are all the wonder of God in flesh among us, glory and power in the smallest and most unexpected places.
And as we celebrate the rule of Jesus Christ, and honor his everlasting power in and through all things, let’s follow the example of our littlest brother and sister at the font, and worship God in the rededication our lives to this baptism, to this way of love.