My sermon from November 20th at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church on the Feast of Christ the King.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and all who have gathered for worship, especially those online. We gather on this day of celebrating the sovereignty of Christ to be reminded of what kingship means in scripture. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Our Gospel reading for the day was Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by watching, but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Feast of Christ the King is relatively new addition to the liturgical calendar, officially placed in 1925 by Pope Pius the 11th who sought to comfort a war torn and weary Europe with a reminder of a King and kingdom of peace and goodness with no end. It has since grown to be a very ecumenical celebration across all manner of churches, Protestant churches included. To be honest, all week long as I prepared for the day I’ve been singing, humming and listening to Third Day’s King of Glory from their 2000 album Offerings… here are the lyrics:
King of Glory
Who is this King of glory that pursues me with His love
And haunts me with each hearing of His softly spoken words
My conscience, a reminder of forgiveness that I need
Who is this King of glory who offers it to me
Who is this King of angels, O blessed Prince of Peace
Revealing things of Heaven and all it’s mysteries
My spirit’s ever longing for His grace in which to stand
Who is this King of glory, Son of God and song of man
His name is Jesus, precious Jesus
The Lord Almighty, the King of my heart
The King of glory
Who is this King of glory with strength and majesty
And wisdom beyond measure, the gracious King of kings
The Lord of Earth and Heaven, the Creator of all things
Who is this King of glory, He’s everything to me
We celebrate Christ the King today with a kinda heavy reading from the Gospels, one recalling the day of his murder. What a strange reading for the Sunday before Advent, and yet not all that completely strange! Just before we begin the beautiful season of Advent, we have this harsh reminder of the ugliest day… and maybe that’s the kind of reminder we need sometimes.
I mean, we do like to jump ahead to the good stuff don’t we? Sometimes we need to be reminded to slow down. Anyone have family who has already decorated their house top to bottom with Christmas stuff? Did they do it even before Halloween? Was it you? Hey, no judgement… I promise. Anyone ever had trouble waiting for Christmas to open a gift? How about waiting to give one? I can’t stand having a gift for someone and not giving it! And I’ll admit I’m usually the first in my family to fire up some Christmas music in the car or at home… and I don’t wait until Advent is ended!
It’s good to have a day on the calendar to be reminded of what it means for Christ to be our King… to be reminded of what God’s Kingdom means for us and the world around us. On the day that Christ gave his all, Christ showed us just what it means to be a king! To be a King, as Jesus was a King:
- is not to assert one’s own rights over others,
- is not to dominate,
- is not to exclude,
- is not to reject or to judge,
- is not to choose violence, and
- is not at all like the political figures of the world.
Indeed, we need this reminder when just barely two years ago on January 6th, 2021, “Christ is King” was chanted by some and seen on flags while our Capitol was attacked in open insurrection. Is that Christ’s kingship? No. Never. Truly, Christ our King never leads us in religious warfare or in a violent mob against our neighbors! But our King leads us against injustices and untruths, first those that have taken root in our own lives, and then those that have rooted in the soil of our society. Christ our King is never imposing his will by force.
Indeed, the Christ we see in scriptures is never cozy with the political powers of his day, but speaking truth to power…
- never seeking to dominate, but to serve
- never seeking to assert his own rights over a neighbor, but offering all he had to those around him
- never fearing or fearmongering about people who were different from him, but always spending time with the least expected and least expecting of the people around him.
The true King who is Christ will never be the comfortable poster boy of the powerful or the mascot of the violent and the hateful. But Christ our King consistently calls us who would follow him to pursue lives of healing, reconciliation, service, love and justice.
Christ, who is our King, consistently draws us ever onward, not judging and rejecting us, but refining and shaping our lives ever more into the shape of the cross, that symbol of service, dedication and of identifying not with the powerful, but with the powerless, with those whom God so loves.
It was a heavy day, when Christ our King was murdered. It was a heavy day when it seemed like violence had won, when it seemed as though love had lost to hate. But if you’ll indulge me jumping ahead just a bit, we know the grave couldn’t hold him, and death and injustice had no more a power to end him than it does to end us.
And the King we follow doesn’t call us to a wooden cross on a hill, but the cross of loving one another. He doesn’t call us to the cost of our lives taken at the hands of violent authorities, but to the cost of forgiving one another.
And even when this world does show us its worst, and the violent ones rise up with their hatred and their guns on the streets of our cities, our King still shines the light of healing, the light of love, the light of justice to keep us on the path of peace and of life. So that when the world shows its worst, and it seems that there is little hope or reason for carrying on, we will still shine our light, we will still salt this earth, with the presence of the King of Glory. Who is this King of Glory? His name is Jesus.
- This is the Jesus who announced his ministry as a proclamation of good news to poor, release and restoration to the oppressed and the marginalized.
- This is the Jesus who refused to judge and condemn the one caught in adultery and dragged before him to be killed.
- This is the Jesus who calls us to radical honesty with one another, that our yes be yes and our no be no.
- This is the Jesus who calls us to renounce hatreds and to love our enemies, and who loved his own enemies, even as they took his life.
- This is the Jesus who taught us that loving our God and loving our neighbor was the whole thing, the top of the charts!
- This is the Jesus who taught us that the way to really live this life is found in feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, clothing the naked, and staying close to the sick and the imprisoned.
- This is the Jesus who called the children to himself, those without power or position, when others barred their way… no one is disposable or valueless in this kingdom.
- This is the Jesus who promised to be with his disciples to the very end, and will stay with us through it all.
So when we read Jesus say “forgive them, they just don’t know what they’re doing” we know we’ve found the King for our lives. When we hear the condemned criminal on the cross treated as a beloved one and welcomed to paradise, we know we’ve found the King for our lives. When we spend time with the Jesus of scripture instead of the flag and the slogans, the Jesus of our faith instead of violent, partisan politics, we know we’ve found the King for our lives.
Who is this King of Glory? His name is Jesus.
We rest in the grace of this King, knowing his love will never fade or fail to carry us through. And we move in the power of his call, knowing that in that pursuit of his love and justice we and our world will one day know peace. Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
One more blog for today, and then I’m off to get other things done…
We wrapped up a month’s discussion on diversity this past Sunday at Church in Bethesda by talking about the dream of Jesus, a dream of unity and love. It is so much easier in times of our diversity to express anger, distrust and judgement… but that is exactly when Jesus comes in and starts talking about love.
You know it’s real when we’re busting out the chalkboard on a Sunday morning, huh? Yes, I could have projected something on a screen, but the sound of snapping chalk sticks on a board is so much more gratifying!
A Sunday Bulletin excerpt from this past weekend:
What does it look like when Jesus dreams? Did he have a dream for us and for humanity that we can see in his life and ministry? It’s not only seen in John’s gospel, but John’s account of Jesus shows us the dream many times… love. He dreamed, and even commanded, that we would love one another, in our humanity, our diversity, our greatness and our brokenness, and in that love we would be one.
This morning, we gather around a table that is meant to be a reminder of and an exercise of unifying love. This is a table where we put others first, where we discern one another as Christ’s body, where we gather for what our faith tribe has often called a “Love Feast.” If only our love would be always tangible enough to sit with and see on a table and taste with our lips and experience as we experience a filling and satisfying meal. Unifying love is the dream of our Christ. Love is the dream and the prayer of our Lord for us.
Love was the example of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Think of the times in the Gospel of John like when Jesus is found talking to someone of the wrong religion, gender, nationality and ethnicity… John 4. How about the time when Jesus masterfully and nonviolently prevents a stoning and says, “Neither do condemn you”… John 8. And when he washed the feet of his disciples, serving and loving them, that included the man to soon betray him… John 13. One of my favorite verses has long been John 13:1, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Good stuff. Good love.
Love was the command of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Jesus famously instructs us to love our enemies… Matthew 5. Jesus commands his disciples to love as he loved, in service and sincerity… John 13. And who can forget the awesome way Jesus summed up Law and religion: Love God and Love People… Matthew 22. In John 13 he not only commands love but says that it is by our loving one another that we will be recognized as his followers.
Love was the prayer of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Jesus not only prayed for a love-bound unity for the disciples in his day, but for all followers who would come later and walk his path… John 17.
Love was the example of Jesus, the command of Jesus and the prayer of Jesus, so we can confidently say: love was the dream of Jesus. When Jesus dreamed, it was of the love we would create among us. That love brings us together, unites us and alerts everyone around that some Jesus-stuff is happening. Let’s embrace the dream and run with it!
Diversity of thought, experience and background are grounds for more love, not less. Diversity among us is grounds for loving deeper, listening better and building bridges… not loving elsewhere, closing ears and burning bridges. Love. Dream on.
Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy
Let’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.
I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.
Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.
Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.
Jesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.
Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)
Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.
Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.
I finished Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” over lunch today. I started it well before Easter, but then we hit the Lenten Season and Holy Week… you know how it goes. So to celebrate a great season finished, Eastertide beginning, and the kids going back to school after a fun Spring Break (WOOT!) I sat down with some Hunan Chicken, my iPad (Nook app) and Bell’s thoughts. I suck at the “simple life.”
Let me just give it to you as I think it is: With “Love Wins” Rob Bell wins.
It’s not a real scholarly read, though I think Bell has done his work in the books. It’s not a theological treatise, though I think it reflects some good theology and theological thinking. And it’s not a big enough book to answer all the great questions it poses or all the choice questions it makes you come up with on your own. And that’s a good thing, really. All in all, it’s a win.
And the critics? The ones who jumped to condemn Bell before the book was even published? Shame. Shame on them. Now that’s not to say that you have to agree with everything that Bell says or concludes. I don’t really think Bell expects all of us to agree. But it’s partly because of the divisive and judgmental voices like those earliest critics that I think Bell wrote this book. Those sometimes mean-spirited voices are often the ones framing our narrative. They are often the mixed message of love and grace until you are found wanting in some area of thought or theology, and then it’s the guillotine, baby! And yes, I spelled guillotine without any help from my spell-checker!
What is Bell trying to do? He’s trying to help us make a coherent narrative of our faith, our scriptures, our hopes and our fears. And he’s doing it in the middle of a highly connected, pluralistic world scene in which the predominant “belonging system” model of faith has not always prepared us to exist and contribute.
Do I agree with Bell? Pretty muchly yeah, I do. ‘Cause I’m very comfortable with the Cosmic Christ stuff from Fr. Rohr and I always side with C.S. Lewis on matters of substance. And because I am not terribly happy with the limitations of the belonging system faith we so often give lip service to while quietly hoping for something more, something bigger and something gorgeously unexpected.
Thank you Rob! Nicely done!