The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
November 24, 2019
Year C Last Pentecost
Harvest Sunday/Christ the King
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Words of tremendous faith, words to live by.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
The last words of a criminal, the final words before an execution at the hands of a ruthless and violent state. Remember me. Do not forget that I exist. Do not forget my life and what it has meant. Remember me when you come into your kingdom. Not this imperfect kingdom, this dark cloud of power and injustice. Enough of this kingdom. Jesus, remember me—when you come into yours.
And Jesus’ reply: Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. A promise. A vow, from the dying Messiah to a common criminal. A promise, from Jesus to you and to me. Today, we will be with him in paradise. Not tomorrow or in another age, but today. And not by living a perfect life and doing everything right. Certainly not by gaining the approval of this kingdom. No, you will not find the door to the kingdom in the throne room or the bank vault or in the special meeting for perfect people. The kingdom is reached through the cross. When you’re up there, with Jesus, with the criminal. When you have run out of options and there is nothing left. When your heart is broken from the trails of this life. When you have finally come to accept that there is no salvation for the righteous in this profoundly confused and unjust world. When there is nothing left at all but to say: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. That is when you will know the kingdom is nigh. That is when you hear the voice respond, truly this very day you will be with me in paradise.
The word “kingdom” is a strange one to have to deal with in such a deep and meaningful spiritual context. Kingdom—it’s old-fashioned. It manages—in one word—to bring together gender and power that make many of us uncomfortable. Sometimes people use the word “kindom,” without the “g.” But there’s no mistaking it—the word in the Bible can’t really be translated as anything other than “kingdom,” so we’re stuck with it.
And maybe it’s for the best. Because Jesus isn’t a king like the rulers of his time—or any other. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that true power is humility, that to rule is to serve. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus does not inherit his kingdom though a coronation, but by the crucifixion. So when he promises that we will enter his kingdom, he is not proposing a one-for-one swap, a king for a king. He’s not telling us that we will stop kneeling at the feet of the earthly king and bow down to him. Actually, it’s the opposite. Entering Jesus’ kingdom means that he will serve you, because that is where his power comes from. His courtesans and advisers will be the humble and meek, the people of the Beatitudes. In fact, these are the saints. And you can be with them in paradise today, too.
So when we say “remember me,” when we ask to come into Jesus’ kingdom, it’s not the request of a supplicant begging to be let into a rich land. It’s the acknowledgement to Jesus that he has shown us the truth about power, and that we want to live our lives the way he has taught us, under his gracious care, the care of the one who came to serve. And most shockingly of all, that kingdom is right here, right now. It is in our hearts in in our midst. It is right here in this assembly. It can be found in the darkest corners as much as it bursts through high above the altar. “Very truly, THIS day you will be with me in paradise.”
If you believe that this is the day the Lord has made,
If your prayer is true when you ask for our daily bread,
If you believe the words of Jesus to the criminal on the day of crucifixion,
Then you will see that the kingdom of God is right here, and that paradise is the dwelling place of those who love God. Not sometime in the future, but right here and right now. Very truly. This day.
Today is Harvest Sunday at All Saints’ Church. Like kingdoms, harvests are more of an abstract concept to New Yorkers. You may have grown up in an agricultural place, and maybe the rhythms of growing year are in your blood. If that’s the case, then you know that the time for reaping is cause for celebration. It happens only after months of work and care: sowing, tilling, weeding, protecting. When the blade of the scythe meets the stalk, it is a holy and awesome moment. One can’t help but give thanks.
But realities like these are receding into the distance. Kingdoms, harvests…they have become metaphors. But never forget that metaphors and images point to reality in powerful ways. We come together this morning to catch a glimpse of the heavenly paradise Jesus promises the thief. What more could someone ask for in life but to see heaven open up in front of our eyes? It is a spiritual harvest. But as such, it comes only as the result of hard work and dedication, perseverance and prayer.
The Kingdom reveals itself of its own accord, without any help from us. But just because the Kingdom doesn’t need any help doesn’t mean that we don’t need help to see it. That is the work of the Church. And if you’re here today, then you’re doing that work alongside everyone else.
As an act of thanksgiving for this heavenly harvest, this morning we proclaim our faith in the kingdom that is already here and yet still to come. And we have to have a concrete way to do it. A farmer doesn’t just talk about planting seeds; a farmer goes out into the field and plants the seed with their own hand. Today we, too, commit ourselves to the work of this holy community. There is no one but us to do the work that needs to be done to help the world see the Kingdom of which Jesus speaks. That’s what makes us stewards.
In a few moments, we will make our offering to God as we bring our pledge cards to the altar. As you place your card in the offering plate this morning, think about how it is an act of thanksgiving for the promise of paradise that has been given to you. The gift you leave at the altar comes out of the harvest of your labors. But it is also a seed that will be planted for the future.
Let me tell you: I have tithed 10% of my pre-tax salary to the Church for the past 14 years. Every year I give thanks that I am able to do this. I’m generally amazed that I can do it, and it always feels like an accomplishment—and the only feeling I can have about it is gratitude. But now that several years have passed in this practice, I have an even grater gift, because I can see some of the fruits of my offerings. All Saints’ Church is flourishing in ways we never would have imagined. It is a life-giving and holy place where truly the Kingdom of God can be felt. And I know that I have been a part of it. Few things fill me with more joy and happiness. Because you see, when I place my offering in the plate it is not just an offering to God—it is an offering to my future self and your future selves. What a blessing.
Friends, Jesus will remember you when he comes into his kingdom. You will see paradise, perhaps even this day. Let us give thanks! For the harvest is rich. And it is a blessing to be a steward in the Kingdom of God.