On November 2, 2011, White House press secretary, Jay Carney was asked a question during a routine press briefing. He was asked to explain the president’s belief that government should be helping the American people with the jobs crisis. He replied: “Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves…’” and then he went on to explain the President’s position.
When the actual transcript of the press briefing was published that night, there was a footnote at that sentence. At the bottom of the page, in very small print, it said “The Lord helps those who help themselves does not actually appear in the Bible.”
Jay Carney is not the first person to make this error. According to a Barna study in the year 2000, 75% of Americans believe that the phrase “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.
75% of Americans are wrong. This well used phrase does not appear in scripture. The phrase actually was coined in 1859 by a man named Samuel Smiles, in a book entitled “Self-help.” It is the book credited with starting the self-help movement, which is now worth over $10 billion dollars in total annual revenue.
I tell you this today because as I was studying our Gospel text, the story of Jesus crucifixion, I was reminded that there is a big difference between “self-help,” and “help.” Self-help, in fact, is something of an oxymoron. By definition, help comes from somewhere outside of ourselves. There can be no such thing as self-help. There is self-improvement…but help always comes from someone else.
And today’s Gospel text, is all about help. True help. Real help. For all of us; help for the world.
This weekend, we celebrate “Christ the King” Sunday. The word “King” is an often-used title for Jesus Christ. But this Gospel story reminds us that Jesus not just any King. Jesus is, in fact, a very different kind of a King.
There are symbols and images that we normally associate with a King: A crown, a scepter, a royal court, a castle, and so on. We tend to be fascinated with royalty, because it is such a different existence than our own. We associate a King with power, and authority.
But the vision of a King we find in today’s Gospel is very different. It is a King whose life came to an end on a cross. And the only symbols that are associated with Jesus are symbols of betrayal, and symbols that mock the idea that Jesus had any power at all.
- Over Jesus’ head on the cross, Pilate posted a sign: “King of the Jews.” It was put there not to honor him, but to mock him.
- And there was a crown…but it was made of thorns.
- Those who sat at his left and his right hands were not royal advisors…but criminals, also being executed.
- And the royal court was made up of soldiers, who offered Jesus vinegar and wine, and who gambled for his royal robe.
Jesus was, we remember, put on that cross precisely because he didn’t fit the expectations of the people and the religious leaders, who expected a holy and royal King who would wield power, who would restore the nation of Israel, and who would ascend to the throne and rule with authority and might.
No, Jesus is not the sort of king they expected. And why would he be?
He was born to a poor, teenage mother in a world where she couldn’t even find a place to give birth, he shared meals with all the wrong people; He taught how the last would be first and the first would be last, and how the greatest among us would be those who served others.
No, it’s clear. Jesus was a very different sort of a King, and he painted a picture of a very different kind of Kingdom.
- The Kingdom Jesus describes centers itself on the love of God shared with those around us
- The Kingdom Jesus describes focuses on a radical inclusion, welcoming all regardless of who they are
- The Kingdom Jesus describes does not ask us to help ourselves. It asks us to receive the help of God, and then to help each other. It is not about self-help…it is simply about help.
And the people of Jesus’ time did not expect that he would ask them to play a role in making his Kingdom a reality. And 2000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as his disciples, I think we too forget that we have a role in making Jesus’ Kingdom a reality.
As I stand here before you today, I am carrying two computers. You cannot even see them. One is the phone I carry in my pocket (yes, it’s on “silent.”). My phone has 11 times more memory, 7 times more computing power and 100,000 times more speed than the computers that guided the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon. On my wrist, I have an Apple watch. It is a small, microcomputer. Between these two devices, which are both linked to my laptop through wireless signal, I try, with mixed success, to keep my life on track.
Computers are everywhere.
The computer revolution was brought to us in large part by Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer. Steve Jobs was just 21 when he and Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple Computer. It was revolutionary, because it would fit on your desk.
Jobs and Wozniak weren’t actually interested in starting a computer company; all they really wanted was a salary and the opportunity to continue their work. First, they offered their invention to Atari. Atari rejected them. They offered it to Hewlett-Packard, but Hewlett Packard rejected them. Only Jobs and Wozniak could see the possibilities. So, Jobs sold his Volkswagen and Wozniak sold his calculator, and with the $1300 that gave them they formed Apple Computers.
Jobs soon discovered that if his vision was to grow, they’d actually need someone who knew some something about business. So, Jobs tried to hire John Sculley, then President of Pepsi. It was a ridiculous offer. Why would Sculley leave Pepsi…for Apple? Not a shock: he turned Jobs down. But Jobs wouldn’t take no for an answer. He approached Sculley again. Again, Sculley turned him down. In a last-ditch effort Jobs passionately presented his visionary ideas to Sculley and he asked Sculley a question that got his attention: Jobs asked him: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want to change the world?”
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want to change the world?” “How could I turn that down?” Sculley later said. And this unlikely trio, they did change the world.
And I believe Jesus asks us the same question: “Do you want to change the world?” With none of the trappings of royalty, abandoned by most of his followers, rejected by his people, and hanging from a cross, Jesus had a vision for a different kind of a Kingdom.
Most of us spend our lives making sugared water, going to work to accumulate more “stuff,” and maybe finding space for God and the world in the margins. But Jesus, I believe, asks something different of us. Jesus has a vision to change the world, to transform it into God’s Kingdom right here, and right now. And Jesus’ plan for bringing this Kingdom to reality…it’s us. We are God’s plan.
Jesus knows that we cannot do this on our own. This is why Jesus promises to be with us, and to help us. The cross brought death…but following death came resurrection, new life, and a new covenant…a new Kingdom. And Jesus, this different kind of King, reaches out to us, walks with us, and helps us.
Remember that on that day, on the cross, Jesus could have saved himself. He could have called down an army of Angels to defend himself, and he could have wiped out those who had betrayed him, and the Romans, who sentenced him to death.
But he didn’t. Jesus refused to save himself because he came to save you instead. He comes to help you. He comes and dwells with you in your humanity. And he experiences it all with you…the good, the bad, and the ugly…all the way…to the very end.
The criminal at Jesus’ side begged: “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him “Today, you will be with me in paradise…in my Kingdom.”
When our attempts to “help-ourselves” fall short, we are confronted by our need for one more powerful than ourselves, and we cry out to God, simply for help: Remember us. Remake us. Reclaim us, Lord. And Jesus promises us, “Today, you will be with me in my Kingdom…right here…right now.”
In the beauty and in the brokenness of life, we find a King who assures us that we are remembered. We can let go of relying on ourselves, and we can trust in the God who promises to help us. We are forgiven. We are, in fact, saved. We have a different kind of King, and we are called to live in a different kind of Kingdom, that we get to help create. Our King asks us “do you want to change the world?” Right here. Right now.
Long live the King!