Summary: PENECOST 25, YEAR C - The Lord of our lives calls us to follow Him where He will lead us. Are we willing to sing "Ride On, King Jesus, Ride On"?
"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 Jesus the King are joined together in a journey towards freedom which the world cannot thwart. 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 and the slave master on one hand, were no match for God with His hand on Jesus. Filled with his Father’s love and power, all the armies of oppression, General Robert E. Lee’s confederates among them, were no match for King Jesus. Sooner or later, they believed, he would overthrow the slave system and they would be set free. "No man can a-hinder me." The singer, though walking with a heavy burden imposed by somebody else, was really traveling with the King - and therefore nothing could ultimately stop their forward momentum towards freedom. "Ride on, King Jesus, Ride on" Don’t stop now, ride on, ride on to victory for all our hopes and dreams rest on your ultimate victory. And so such words remind us of 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 as if from a battle. Everybody but the powers-that-be are on his side, cheering him on. Here is King Jesus. "Ride on! Ride on!" cry of the people with their cheers of hosannas and their palm branches waving. But for Jesus this is not a victory parade, but a journey to ultimate defeat, at the hands of his arch enemy Satan. And so this king would "riding on", not upon a donkey’s back, adorned with praise and adulation, but who instead would upon His own shoulders bear a cross to Hell and back.
"Ride on, King Jesus?" How odd to put those two words together at such a time! What kind of a King is it, who willingly dies a criminal’s death? Is not a king someone with the power to stop such a thing. "No man can a-hinder me?" Seems like the hindering has already passed, and the absolute stopping is at hand with death the master of this tale. Those who gathered at that cross knew the irony of this hour. "This is the King of the Jews," the sign read. The Romans had quite a sense of humor, you know. They weren’t just making fun of Jesus. They were mocking his people. Ride on? Sure, let this cross be your chariot. A joke you say, perhaps it’s so, but the jokes on you. For that cross you raised, was indeed a chariot that only the Son and Father could see. "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 about to change. “Ride on, King Jesus, Ride on!” And so He rode into the mouth of death and suffering. The ultimate act of defeat any earthly king might face. And this was the man that slaves would claim to be their king that by his rule they would sing, “no man can a-hinder me." General Patton once said, “No man ever won a war by dying for his country. You win a war by letting the other side die for their country.” But die our king did George Patton, for you and for me, and in his dying we can sing “no man can a-hinder me." For we who have bowed down to Jesus the king understand that by His death we have been set free from our enslavement to sin. And having been set free we are called to seek the freedom of those still enslaved. Julia Ward Howe understood this call of Jesus the King. As a free white woman she wrote of it in a Civil War Hymn in 1861.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lighting of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.”
A hymn calling for the emancipation of the slaves, fitting words for the mid 18 hundreds. But this is the 21st century, what need have we of this hymn today? Several years ago while I pastored a church in Pennsylvania I was working one Wednesday on a sermon that talked about the church as the kingdom of God on earth. Taking a break I went to do some computer shopping with a fellow minister friend of mine. Steve was a black clergyman who pastored a white church in a predominantly white community. Though I had never heard a word of racism in my years in Millville Pennsylvania, the lack of African Americans in my community always left me with a funny feeling that I just never could seem to put a finger on.