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Sermon of Reverend Susan Nagle
Pastor Nagle

Mystery, Meaning, Morality

Christ the King - Sunday, November 20, 2016
Luke 23:33-43
34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And 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!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,


not M&M, plus one more
Not Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing
but a way to look at the Christian life

Never think of faith as links in a chain because a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and everyone has weak links. But my life’s work is to tell you, to assure you where I find assurance, that God does not abandon you at your weak points, and God never turns away from you at your moments of weakness, even if that weakness is doubt.

So ,imagine 3 concentric circles, and at the center is Mystery
What can we know about God?  We need to start by admitting the mystery of our creator and sustainer. Now wait: don’t get nervous. I’ll get to the Christian faith soon. But something we share with all the world’s religions is that we want to perceive the mystery that we call God, though there are many other names.

Now here’s the first stage of Christian faith, which we share with Judaism.  We declare that the only way for us to know God is for God to choose to reveal himself to us. We don’t choose to name many gods to clarify all the parts of nature that we observe.  The amazing thing about the Jews, especially the story of Moses, is that God cares, as revealed in the exodus from Egypt.  God is not contained in the cycles of nature, but in going forward with us into a promised future. 

So into this human predicament of mystery, God pours himself, fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, by saying: here is my kingship: I am so devoted to you that I will become like you, proclaim the truth to you, and even die rather than abandon that truth. Yet, I will show you that even death cannot stifle me. Nor will it stifle you.

That said, what is the second M?  Meaning.  God, in the flesh, speaking truth, dying to defend it, and rising to assure us of God’s heart gives meaning to our lives.  In the midst of the mystery, you are now able to see the meaning of your life. 

That core firmly established, the final M is Morality.
Morality is not the center of our faith. It follows only AFTER God’s revelation in the Law and in Christ. 

One of the best purposes of the law is to show us how much we need Christ to forgive, to offer grace, to give hope.

If you made morality the center of the Christian faith, it would exchange the meaning of life to a simple: DO GOOD.  And it would exchange the mystery for a set of rules. And we wouldn’t need Jesus for that.  So the third and always the third M:

Mystery.  Meaning.  Morality. 
And that morality is guided. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. There are other sources for rules to live by, but for the Christian, the true guide is God the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit points to the meaning, which points to the mystery.

You can almost take the 3 M’s and say that they signify God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.  And look how that works.  Morality has many variants, but the most agreed upon list, the most solid is the 10 commandments, the first of which sums up all the others: I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods.  MYSTERY!

So if I had a dollar for every time in life I’ve heard someone say: She’s a good Christian –or- He’s a real Christian and he’s very nice, I could take you all out to brunch/lunch.  Please don’t make morality the core of our faith.  Certainly niceness is not the core.  Think of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. 

Now think about today’s Gospel.  A man is nailed to a cross for having stolen something. We don’t know what.  He’s sometimes called “The Good Thief”
[but if he were a good thief, he wouldn’t have gotten caught.]
  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” he says.  And Jesus tells him they will be together in that kingdom. It’s not because he was good, but because he was repentant and humble.  For him it’s not about morality but Meaning! The meaning that relationship gives us. 

During communion we will sing these words: Jesus remember me, We’ll sing it over and over in soft voices, -sing harmony if you can- and make it a constant prayer as we come to the altar to receive the body and blood of Christ.