Sunday, November 20, 2022



Above him was an inscription that read,

“This is the King of the Jews.” The rulers

sneered at him. The soldiers jeered at him.

One of the criminals reviled him.

Luke  23:35-43


Surely, you have heard the expression “God’s ways are not our ways!” It means that God thinks differently from the way we human beings think and God does things differently from the way human beings do them.  We see the most dramatic example of just how differently God thinks in today’s Feast of Christ the King.  Christ our King is presented to us, stripped and naked on a cross, dying in agony between two common criminals, spit running down his face, a sarcastic note nailed above his head, a “crown” of thorns mockingly hammered into the blood-matted hair of his head for all passers-by to laugh at!  Now that’s not exactly how we picture royalty! That is certainly not what we saw recently on TV at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II! We are used to seeing kings powerful, pampered and pompous!  Our King is different, very different!  “He bore our infirmities.  He endured our sufferings.  He was pierced for our offenses. He was crushed for our sins. His chastisement made us whole. His stripes healed us.” Without doubt “God’s ways are not our ways!” God does not think the way we think!


However, this unusual “king” thing is only one example. God has always done this kind of stuff!  Centuries ago, when God began to prepare a people from whom he would send a savior, he chose Abraham and Sara, two childless senior citizens with a couple of their feet already in the grave!!  After choosing this people as "his" people, they ended up enslaved in a foreign country.  Even when they are led out of slavery, God picks a man with a speech impediment to lead them. Even his messengers the prophets were, more often than not, hesitant, even whiny, sometimes. One had a dirty mouth. One tried to beg off as being too young and inexperienced. Another tried to run and had to be swallowed by a whale and spit out on the beach near Nineveh. Their most famous and beloved king, David, was a murderous bigamist!  Even when the birth of the Savior of the world came, he was born not from among the rich and educated, not at a state-of-the-arts birthing center with the best of doctors, but in a barn, to a teen-ager, pregnant before marriage, away from home, after riding for miles on donkey back! It just keeps going and going!  Even before his birth, Mary predicted that God’s ways would not be our ways. “The rich are pulled from their thrones and the poor are lifted up from their manure heaps.” 


Again, in his ministry, we see that God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus was a layman, not a clergyman. He was kicked out of the synagogue, rejected and hounded by the religious establishment. His closest companions were a personnel department’s worst nightmare: a hated tax collector, a liar, two mama’s babies, an agnostic, a former terrorist, and a petty thief, to name a few!  His closest friends were a motley collection of the marginal type: prostitutes, lepers, the un-churched, women and children, and the dirt poor of every kind.  The gossip about him was that he “welcomed sinners and ate with them,” helping him earn the reputation of being a “glutton and drunkard.”  That’s certainly not what most people expect of God! But, “God’s ways are not our ways.”  Even his final “big entry” into Jerusalem was not in a gleaming chariot with white horses or on a golden throne carried by slaves. No, he enters on the back of a jackass as people chanted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  


No wonder most people missed this king. They were looking in the wrong direction. They thought they knew how God would act. They thought he would act as they would act.  As one preacher put it years ago, “In the beginning, God created us in his own image and likeness and ever since we have been trying to create God in our image and likeness!” Instead of thinking as God thinks, we try to make God think the way we think. No wonder we experience God as absent, more than present, in our lives! We keep trying to make God reasonable, we keep looking for God among the rich, the beautiful, the self-righteous and the powerful!  No wonder Christianity is dead in countries where power, prestige and money are prized, but alive and well and growing in countries where the poor, the powerless and the suffering live. The latter understand how God thinks!  The former is still trying to get God to think as they think! The rich and powerful and beautiful and so-called smart people think they can do without God. The poor and powerless know that they need God!


One the most common ways we do not think as God thinks is when we think that God is absent when things go wrong and present only when things go right.  Looking back over my own life, I can say with confidence that it was during those times that God seemed most absent is when God was actually most active! I could not see it at the time, but it is crystal clear from hindsight! (1) As I look back over my life, especially over a very painful childhood lived out in an atmosphere of almost daily psychological abuse. It was painful and I would not want to go through it again, but I have come to realize that God was certainly using it to prepare me for helping hundreds of others as a priest. I can say with certainty that that experience, and the triumph over it, has helped my effectiveness as a priest more than any other thing! (2) When I was sent to the home missions right after ordination, I certainly felt at the time that God seemed to have abandoned me. In reality, looking back, God was extremely active at that time in my life. God was preparing me for my life’s work as a preacher, as a "revitalizer" of parishes and as a person sensitive to religious prejudice. Looking back, I have realized over and over again, that that period of my life was preparing me for what I have been doing ever since!


On this Feast of Christ the King, a feast in honor of the king that is the reverse of how we think of kings, we are challenged to think differently about God. It’s message is simple: God’s ways are not our ways, it is precisely when we feel God most absent, is when God is most present! So I say to all of you who have things going on in your life that you don’t like, things that make you feel that God is absent, just wait! Trust God! I believe that you will someday realize that, even in times of loss and tragedy, God is very active.  Scriptures tell the story in a million ways: God’s ways are not our ways! Contrary to popular opinion, breakdown is a sure sign of a breakthrough, there is a crown on the other side of every cross, resurrection on the other side of death!   That heart attack may just wake you up to what’s really important! That relationship breakup may be the best thing that ever happened to you! That firing may just take you to the best job you ever had! That unexpected death may bring you closer to others!  Ugly ducklings today may just turn out to be swans tomorrow! Getting what you want may turn out to be your worst nightmare! That child that disappointed you most may just turn out to be the child that makes you most proud! That feeling of God being absent, may be the beginning of feeling closer to God than ever! Never underestimate the value of a so-called tragedy!  God’s ways are not our ways!     









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