Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Ride on, King Jesus

Message preached November 24, 2013
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Luke 23:33-43

Order of Worship

listen to this in mp3 format

Ride on, King Jesus, no man can a-hinder me,
Ride on, King Jesus, ride-on, no man can a-hinder me.
I was but young when I begun, no man can a-hinder me;
But now my race is almost done, no man can a-hinder me.

         So begins an old African-American spiritual. In it, the singer and the King are joined together in a journey which cannot be thwarted. Imagine what it might have been like for a slave to have sung those words back during the Civil War. Disenfranchised by the powers-that-be, his or her eyes were upon the real leader. Arch-enemies - the devil on one hand, the slave master on the other, were no match for God. All the armies of oppression were no match for King Jesus. Sooner or later, he would conquer the slave system.

         “No man can a-hinder me.” Notice, it wasn’t “no man can a-hinder thee” (that is, Jesus), though that certainly was the truth behind the song. The singer, though walking with a heavy burden imposed by somebody else, was really traveling with the King - and nothing could ultimately stop their forward momentum together. “No man can a-hinder me.”

         “Ride on, King Jesus.” Our biblical memory takes us to the triumphant entry of our Lord through the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We picture him seated upon a colt, like a victorious monarch returning home from battle. Everybody but the powers-that-be are on his side, cheering him on. Here is King Jesus. “Ride on! Ride on!” is the cry of the people with their hosannas and palm branches. However, that moment was not a victory parade. The battle had only begun. The fiercest hours lay ahead. The real “riding on” took place, not upon a donkey, but on a cross, the story of which we just heard from Luke’s perspective.

         “Ride on, King Jesus.” How odd to put those two words together at such a time! What kind of a King is it, who dies a criminal’s death? A king is someone with the power to stop such a thing. “No man can a-hinder me” ... seems like the hindering is already passed, and the absolute stopping is at hand on this ride-for-your-life. Those who gathered at the cross knew the irony of the hour. “This is the King of the Jews,” the sign read. The Romans had quite a sense of humor. It was a squad of soldiers from this occupying force who put that sign up. They weren’t just making fun of Jesus, whom they had just strung up on a cross. They were mocking his people. Do recall that Jesus was a Jew. Ride on? Sure, let this cross be your chariot.

         Of course, our faith speaks another kind of joke, a deeper irony. That cross was, indeed, a chariot - only no one knew it at the time. “If you are a king,” some onlookers jeered, “save yourself.” They thought it was hilarious. Like Goliath, they were laughing at the very moment when the battle was at its climax. Were the powers of darkness behind the scenes likewise doubled over in hysterics? The misplaced glee was contagious. Even one of criminals also being crucified could not contain himself. Facing his own horrid death, he echoed the joke. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself ... and us!”  (sarcastically:)  “Ride on, King Jesus!”

         Did the second criminal, the one who did not laugh, catch the real joke? It says he saw the injustice. It says he was appalled at the innocent dying alongside the guilty. He was honest about his own lot. He deserved such a death in his own eyes, but Jesus did not. And then he spoke that cryptic line, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Was this fellow saying “Ride on, King Jesus!” or were his words those of a man who has given up? “Remember me,” he said. How peculiar to tell a dying man to remember.

         Speaking of remembering, do you recall Anne Frank? She was that Jewish girl whose diary has inspired millions with her refusal to give up hope in the face of death? Melissa Müller’s 1998 biography of Anne shed new light on her last days at the Bergen-Belson concentration camp, based on material released 50 years after her death there. While the published diary ended with her arrest, still standing tall, it seems that toward the end she was broken like so many others. She had lost hope. Who among us would not lose hope also in such horrid circumstances? The powers-that-be, many of whom bore the name “Christian,” allowed this 15 year old to die of starvation and disease in that prison camp. What a terrible irony that those who, at least on the surface, claimed Jesus as King, had a part in the death of this precious child of God.

         “Remember me,” the second criminal said to the dying Jesus on the cross. Funny thing is, this nameless man has been remembered for two thousand years, just as we continue to remember and honor a courageous young woman who would have been 84 years old now had she lived. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

         Jesus replied, “Amen,” a word which is less the ending of a prayer than it is the beginning of something new. “Amen,” that’s what we translate as “truly,” but I wonder if an “amen” isn’t better here. “Amen! I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” In the middle of one “hell” of a day - and if any day can be spoken of as such, that day fit the description. Christian scripture and tradition tell of our Lord descending to the very gates of hell itself to set the captives free, to break the power of sin and death upon his “chariot.” In the middle of one “hell” of a day, Jesus promised heaven. “Amen,” he said, “you will be with me.” There’s plenty of room on this horse.

King Jesus rides a milk-white horse, no man can a-hinder me;
The river Jordan he did cross, no man can a-hinder me.
Ride on, King Jesus, no man can a-hinder me,
Ride on, King Jesus, ride-on, no man can a-hinder me. 


         Today is the last Sunday in the Christian year, did you know that? Our tradition as Brethren doesn’t get all bent out of shape by high and holy days, but there’s something to this business of marking time a bit different from the rest of the world. Think about it. January 1st is the usual starting place. Did you know that January is named after the Roman god, Janus? One could say that, in some ways, Caesar still reigns in our calendar. To mark the days a bit differently is to listen for the beat of another drummer.

         As I said, today is the last Sunday in the Christian year. Next week begins the season of Advent, a time for repentance, like Lent. In this coming season, we focus upon the anticipation, the waiting for Christ to come. This isn’t just a matter of waiting for Christmas Day, though that’s certainly a part of it. It’s also, and perhaps more importantly, a time for hungering and thirsting, for looking ahead to the day when God’s Kingdom will fully become a present reality, when those words of Jesus to the second criminal on the cross will become true for all God’s people. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Amen, I tell you... Ride on, King Jesus!

         In the Christian year, today is called “Christ the King” Sunday. This is, in fact, the culmination of the year, its pinnacle. What better way to end a year in our tradition than to focus upon the leadership of Christ Jesus in our lives! For those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus - without Christ, where would we be? For those who look to King Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we have to ask - apart from him, how would we have the courage to face another year, let alone another day? In what would we hope, without him? Furthermore, apart from this greatest gift we have ever experienced, where is the basis for real thanksgiving on our part?

         When we take an ornament off the tree in the entryway and buy a gift for a child or a mother in the shelter at the Family Crisis Center, we aren’t just bringing back something for them to open on Christmas - as important for their well-being as these gifts may be. We are also pouring in our hope, the hope we - who claim to be followers of Jesus - find in Christ. We are also sharing courage, that strength with which we are endowed by God, praying that a family can rise from a crisis and ride on to something new.

         When the slaves back during the Civil War sang of their King Jesus riding on, life was anything but a paradise. In many cases, it was sheer hell on earth. King Jesus wasn’t just in some great “by and by” to them, though. He was riding on even then, and no man could hinder him, or those who rode with him. Believe it or not, even though they knew the promise was in the future tense, they lived it as if it was now, even in the middle of their living hell. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Isn’t that what we want to share with others - the kind of faith that helps folks in the here and now to “ride on,” aiming toward a better tomorrow?

         Of course, in order to share such a gift, don’t we need to believe it is possible ourselves; don’t we need to hold onto the promise; don’t we need to keep our own eyes focused upon our “King Jesus”? The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians that, “Through him” (that is, Jesus) “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross,” his chariot, if you will. (Col 1:20) Ride on, King Jesus! The key words here are “reconcile” and “make peace.”

         When we “lift high the cross” on this last day of the church year, we do not wield it like a sword with which to “smite” anyone who gets in our way. Too many Christians have done that down through the centuries, triumphantly crucifying others in Jesus’ name. “No man can a-hinder me” doesn’t mean we use our beliefs as weapons. From such attitudes and actions we should be turning, repenting during this upcoming season of Advent, as one year turns to the next. Why? Because in the midst of this upcoming season of repentance which begins a whole new year for us, there comes that familiar song of heaven, ringing out “peace on earth and good will to all.” Can you hear it on the horizon? It  also sings out “Joy to the world.” Please note, the lyrics do not say, “joy to only us.” Are we listening? “Ride on, King Jesus, no man can a-hinder me.”

©2013 (adapted from 1998) Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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