Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King – November 21, 2010
Since 1925 when Pope Pius the XI wrote the encyclical instituting the Feast of Christ the King, the Church has observed this holy day on the last Sunday of Ordinary time – the Sunday before the season of Advent begins. As hard as it is to believe – especially given the incredible fall we’ve enjoyed here in Connecticut this year – we are just a few short weeks away from Christmas.
We’ve already heard the Christmas music in the mall, the ring of Salvation Army bells outside the grocery store, and we’ve seen the ads for all sorts of new electronic gadgets – the giving of which is supposed to show how much we really care for someone.
The pressure to “do” starts mounting. We plan, we decorate, and we buy – filling our hours with what our culture seems to expect from us.
The Church asks for something different of us, however. Our Christian tradition asks us to take some time – to wait awhile – to consciously prepare a place deep within ourselves for the celebration of Christ’s birth to occur – to take four weeks for reflection, contemplation and wondering. We are given four weeks to ask ourselves what it means that God came to us in the person of Jesus.
And just before the Church asks us to wait, the Church reminds us that the little baby we place in the crèche is actually the Messiah – Jesus the Christ – Christ the King.
While there are those of us who have a strong distaste for anything that smacks of a patriarchal monarchy – perhaps we’ve read too much historical fiction to have a stomach for any kind of kingship – I think it is important for us to look closely at what kind of king Jesus was – and perhaps even more importantly – what kind of kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus. What kind of kingdom did God want to establish and how did God go about it?
When I was a middle school kid, I was introduced to something called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” It was a little booklet produced by Campus Crusade, an evangelical organization that purports to explain God’s salvation through 4 fundamental “laws.” The entire 3 by 5 inch booklet can be read in about four minutes. The crucial question it asks, illustrated with a stick figure of a chair is, “Who is on the throne of your life?” There are two options according to this script – there’s an “S” for self or a cross, meant to represent Christ.
One winter weekend, I joined several dozen other teenagers on a bus headed to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Armed with a stack of these little booklets, we were supposed to invite total strangers into a conversation about these four spiritual laws – ending with an invitation for the unsuspecting man or woman to invite Christ into their lives and to sit on the throne of their hearts – an airport altar call.
When I think back about that experience, I get kind of creeped out. I had no idea what I was doing at the time – and frankly I was much more interested in the cute boy I met on the bus than I was with sharing something I didn’t understand with complete strangers.
I had a totally different experience this week when I was talking about Christ as King and God’s kingdom with the kids who attend “Not Sunday, Not School.” We started with a conversation about kings that included words like royalty, riches, majesty, greed, gold, owner, red carpets and rules.
Then we read at least a dozen portions of scripture having to do with God’s kingdom. It didn’t take long to see that God’s idea of a kingdom is very different from our understanding and experience of monarchal empires.
Jesus did a lot of teaching about the Kingdom – there are the parables that suggest the Kingdom’s worth, and those that suggest that the Kingdom begins in very small ways and grows to astounding proportions. There are teachings about how the last will be first in God’s Kingdom, and about how difficult it is to enter God’s kingdom. At the same time there are teachings that suggest the Kingdom is not so much a thing that will be realized in the future as it is present all around us and even within us now.
Last week at the 11:00 service, Fr. Tombaugh took a theological high dive into the deep pool of eschatology – the study of the end times. He explained that the whole notion of time in God’s economy is a complicated business – sometimes seeming to move in a linear fashion, moving from the past through present and on to the future, while at other times seeming more circular and rhythmical – grounding us into the “eternal now.”
If we understand the Kingship of Christ and the establishment of God’s Kingdom in a linear fashion, we are likely to emphasize the past and crane out necks to look forward to what is yet to come.
We know all too well that our world bears little resemblance today to what a loving God would have had on the drawing board in the first place. So we look back. A loving Creator invited the whole of creation into relationship – into a dance of joy, mutual respect and peace – but things got messed up. But because of God’s love – because of who God is – God did not abandon the mess.
In time, God made a new plan – a plan that was also motivated by love – a to restore what had been lost, a plan that was costly. God would decide to take on human form – flesh and blood, skin and bones in order to re-create the original plan. But we know what happened to that body: blood was shed and death had its way, but only until God said “NO!” A dead Jesus would not be king. The mystery of Jesus’ new life in the resurrection not only defeated death, it was the crown that identified Jesus as king and it allowed the kingdom to expand.
It was Jesus’ friends who, after experiencing the resurrection, got busy. Filled with the Holy Spirit, gifted with courage and remembering Jesus’ teaching – they learned how to continue Jesus’ work – they learned to be builders of the kingdom that Jesus had begun. They told everyone they could about the God’s love; they learned how to forgive, and they learned how to be forgiven. They welcomed others into their midst and shared their possessions. A small band of rag-tag men and women turned the whole world upside down.
They knew Jesus had promised to return and they assumed his return was imminent. They were eager for what they assumed would be the culmination of Jesus’ work – an earthly kingdom where justice and peace prevailed and love was to be the only law of the land. There was a beginning and an end – a linear kind of divine movement and they were stuck in the middle.
But were they really stuck? They were certainly clear about the past – they had walked the roads of Palestine with Jesus; they had heard his teaching and seen his power. They watched him die and they experienced his new life after the resurrection and they looked forward to a new heaven and a new earth.
But even while they were waiting, they were not idle. They were not stuck. Having tasted the goodness of God, they were busy building – placing stone on stone – creating and sharing good news on top of good news. They continued to build the kingdom they had already experienced in part while at the same time they waited for it.
It begins to look like a pattern – God choosing human beings to be the builders of the divine kingdom in a multi-dimensional reality of past and future, grounded firmly in the present.
It seems to me now, that the idea portrayed by a cross on a stick figure chair in that little booklet I carted around the airport isn’t a very good picture of God’s kingdom – or of Christ’s kingship. A one-person chair, even one that looks like a throne doesn’t cut it. Perhaps it makes more sense to trade it in for a love seat – a seat big enough for the King and another.
Could we find a way to settle into a loveseat with God right now that fosters deep conversations about the past and the sharing of visions for the future? Is there such a thing as a loveseat that is both comfortable enough for the waiting to which we are clearly called, but that also has some metal springs sticking through it to cause enough discomfort to remind us of what really needs doing if the Kingdom of God is to be fully realized?
Let’s look back with gratitude and forward with hope – but let’s not get stuck thinking all we have to do is wait. Let’s keep clearing the fields of injustice, let’s dig deep to find ways of establishing peace and righteousness. Let’s be reconciled with each other, with our selves and with God.
As God’s beloved, we are part of the Kingdom already. And today we are invited and empowered once again, just as Jesus’ first friends were, to share in the building of God’s Kingdom. While it may be costly – it almost always is, it is the best invitation we could possibly receive. Let’s RSVP together – with all that we have and all that we are. Amen.