If I had only known

A TV show once told the story of a defense lawyer who represented a man convicted of two brutal killings before a parole board. He was seeking release from prison after serving 14 years. The attorney succeeded in getting him released.

One of the police officers who had been present at the original crime scene as well as the deaf prosecutor verbally gave the lawyer a rough time after the hearing, admonishing the attorney about accepting such representation, that folks like his client were nothing but scum of the earth.

Later in the day, however, each in turn learned that the defense attorney's mother had died of cancer the night before the hearing. Each in turn went with tail between their legs to apologize for their coarse behavior, saying, "If only I had known, I wouldn't have been so harsh, I would never have said those things to you."

Now, I don't know about you, but this gets to me how often this happens in life. In our normal hustle and bustle of daily living, when we are moving too fast or we ourselves are feeling in desperate need of help, we fail to recognize what is happening to others around us - and we forget what it is we as Christians should be about.

Sometimes we load up other people with our burdens and pains by pouring it all out in complaints and accusations. Only later to discover that that person is dealing with his own burden, sometimes heavier than our own. We make assumptions about what someone else is able to carry, when in reality if we had carried it together, we would have both benefited in the process and gained an ally and not an adversary.

I mention this today because as we come to the end of this church year, we are confronted with the fact that Jesus is our King, our - and the eternal realm is our government…not one we campaign into power, nor one that is voted into office, not one we choose to follow, but one who has taken his place on his throne and is watching to see how we respond. And more often than not we make the same mistake with him that we make with other people - we blunder ahead with business as usual, being casual, abrupt, and insensitive. And, then all of a sudden we realize that something very special has happened and it is going on in our own lives with us quite unawares.

Should we not always honor our Lord and our King at all times, not just at special times like Sunday morning. Think of the crucifixion of Christ for a moment - that passage we heard read from Luke a few minutes ago. Just about everyone there from the guards and the Pharisees, to the thief on the cross next to him, taunted Jesus, saying to him, "If you are the Messiah, if you are the king, then save yourself and save us." It is pretty obvious from the gospel story that none of these people recognized Jesus for who he was. And this - it seemed - meant to them that they could abuse him as they were used to abusing any convicted criminal. To them, nothing special was going on, it was business as usual, business without thinking, business without considering what it was that god would want out of them whether or not this man on the cross was the Messiah or simply a misguided fool.

I believe if those who acted this way at the foot of the cross could come back and stand before Christ today - as we can stand before him, they would say to him, "Sorry Jesus, if I had only known, I wouldn't have been so harsh, I wouldn't have said those things to you."

What does it mean to claim that Jesus is our Messiah, our King, our Lord. If it does not mean that we are to act differently? To show him our respect? And to strive to honor him and obey him and serve him at all times. And never more so than when he is actually here with us. But what happens when we fail to recognize that our God and our King is actually here among us? What happens when the King chooses not to show us his throne room with angels proclaiming and trumpets blaring and banners waving and he chooses to be present among us?

Think about what Isaiah said, "He had no form of majesty that we should look at him, nothing in h is appearance that we should desire him, and so it was that he was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and acquainted with grief."

Let me tell you a story. There once was an esteemed Guru who was meditating in his mountain cave. When he opened his eyes he discovered an unexpected visitor sitting quietly before him…the abbot of a well-known monastery. "What is it you seek?" asked the Guru. The abbot recounted a tale of woe. At one time his monastery had been famous throughout the western world. It's cells were filled with young men aspiring to the prayerful life and its church had resounded with the chants of its monks. But hard times had come on the monastery. People no longer flocked there to nourish their spirits. The well spring of young inquirers had dried up. And the church was all but silent. There were only a handful of monks left and these went about their duties with heavy hearts.

Now this is what the abbot wanted to know, "Is it because of some sin of ours that the monastery has been reduced to this state?" "Yes," replied the Guru, "a sin of ignorance." "And what is it that we have not understood?" "One of your number is the Messiah in disguise and you are ignorant of this," replied the Guru. And having said this he closed his eyes and returned to his meditation.

Throughout the long journey back to his monastery the abbot's heart beat fast as he thought that the Messiah - the Messiah himself - had returned to earth and was right there in his monastery. How was it that he had failed to recognize him? And who could it be? Brother cook? Brother Sacristan? Brother Treasurer? Brother Prior? No, not he; he had too many defects, alas. But then, the Guru had said he was in disguise. Could those defects be part of his disguise? Come to think of it, everyone in the monastery had defects. And one of them had to be the Messiah.

Back in the monastery the abbot assembled all the monks and told them what he had discovered. They looked at one another in disbelief. The Messiah? Here? Incredible. But he was supposed to be here in disguise. So, maybe. What if it were so and so? Or the other one over there? Or….One thing was certain. If the Messiah was there in disguise, it was not likely that they would recognize him.

So they started treating everyone with special respect and consideration. "You never know," they said to themselves when they dealt with one another, "maybe this is the one."

The result was that the atmosphere of the monastery became vibrant with joy. Soon dozens of inquiring young men were seeking admission to the order and once again the church echoed with the holy and joyful chant of monks who were aglow with the spirit of love.

Jesus, our Messiah, our king, is here today within the walls of this church, within this community. We owe him our praise, our obedience, our special honor and care, not just in our times of prayer, when in our mind's eye we see him sitting on his throne, but in each minute of each day as we meet him in the faces of those we encounter, in the smiles of his children all around the globe. We cannot say, gee, if I only had known that was you, Lord, I would have treated you differently. Because Jesus says, whatever you have done to them, you have done it to me.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan