Nov. 22, 2020

Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020      Pastor Barbara Thrall, CTKE

In the name of Christ, our king, our shepherd, our savior.  Amen.

First, thanks to everyone who participated in yesterday’s dedication of the tree and stained glass window in memory of Pastor Karen.  Thanks to Jim who crafted the window, to the choir who first proposed the tree and then Liz and Kevin and the Memorial Fund donors who made its planting possible, to Buffy for the brownies, to Dawn our secretary for the printed papers, to Joanne, Fran and their helpers for the hospitality.  It was wonderful to see you and be with you on that happy occasion, and we are richer for it.  God bless you all.

Deacon Pat, as you have no doubt noticed, is a smart person.  She has a point of view that I really appreciate and I think you appreciate, and her insights make us think.  In a conversation recently she pointed out something that is obvious but had not occurred to me- that this particular parish, this blended congregation celebrates Christ the King at the close one season, today, right before the beginning of Advent next Sunday, and celebrates Epiphany at the close of the short Christmas season.  Two bookends on a beautiful, nostalgic, meaningful, busy time of year.  A time full of stories, of images, of festivities and wonder.  A time that the Spirit has arranged in a special way for us here in this church.

So today is the Sunday of Christ the King, a day devoted to the post-resurrection, triumphant monarch who rules over us and the entire universe from his place in the highest of heavens, at God’s right hand.  That is the Jesus, the Christ the King the church holds up for us today.  But this is, by all accounts a strange sort of King, this Jesus the Christ.  St. John tells the story of Jesus having fed the 5,000 on the hillside by the Sea of Galilee.  The people were so impressed and so thrilled by Jesus’ miracles, by his healings and his multiplying of those loaves and fishes, that Jesus feared they might take him away by force and make him king.  Jesus was having none of that, so he fled, (I’m out of here!) because he knew that was not the king they needed, nor the kind of king he was meant to be.

He would be the kind of king who serves from the heart.  Over 50 years ago when he turned 21, Prince Charles of England was interviewed on prime-time TV and asked about his hopes and aspirations as the heir apparent to the British throne. I remember Prince Charles saying, with considerable humility, that what he hoped to be throughout his life was – useful.  Not majestic, not wise, not wealthy or learned, but useful, of use to his people and the world.  Not a bad answer for a young man back then, one with a great weight imposed upon him that in fact, has not been fully realized to this day.  Who would have thought in the late 60s that Charles would still be waiting for his crown?

And yet, like Charles, I believe Jesus on that Galilean hillside aspired to be useful, and a good deal more than that.  He refused to be made king before his time because Jesus had a lot of things yet to do, and because his own mandate was to add a dimension to the aspect of king that Prince Charles was hinting at.  Jesus was meant to be a servant-savior-king, one who feeds, heals, and shepherds us, who guides, guards and protects us, who gathers us, directs us and always points us toward life.

That life can show itself in many ways.  As a religious person I have sometimes been given things that others don’t know what else to do with.   One time I had a friend at church whose name was Tricia, and her husband, Chuck, was Jewish.  They were very happy in their marriage, and Tricia brought Chuck to all the church parties, all the fairs and festivities and he was really well liked.  Their son was born, and then their daughter and everything was going along fine, so we were a little surprised when Tricia announced one day that she had decided to convert to Judaism so that they could all worship together as a family.  It was her choice, and our goodbyes at church were bittersweet.  Then along came Christmas and I got a knock at the door.  It was Tricia with a present and when I opened it, I found what’s known as a Christus Rex.  A wooden cross that hangs on the wall, about ten inches long, with a beautiful pewter Christ imposed on it, depicted in long robes with a crown on his head.  The victorious Christ the King, reigning from the cross. I was speechless.  Tricia said, “I wanted you to have this.  Now that I’ve converted I don’t need it any more.”

Yes, apparently Tricia didn’t need it any more, and that stung, but I think we need it, we members of this Christian faith of ours.  We need Christ the King, who both serves us, and challenges us to serve others.  We need Christ the King, who brings out our best, and in oneness with him elicits our generosity, our faith in a future with him, our caring, our willingness to really see the poor among us and to serve them. We need this tangible sign that the cross and the grave did not win, but ushered in a new kingdom with Christ as its head.

When you think about it, those of us who belong to churches hold this Christ and his kingdom very dear.  When we pledge, when we commit to give to a church, our church, we are using a time honored sign, our money, to say we believe in a future that has God’s promises in it.    We believe in this enterprise called the church because of what we have seen it do, because of what it means to us here and now.  We believe in this enterprise called the church because we know what it is capable of being, because of what we know it means to others who are not of this flock.

I’m thinking of those fed by you at Loaves and Fishes and at the Cathedral in the Night.  Of those warmed by your quilts, of those tutored through the ACTS tutoring program. Of those baptized into Christ’s one holy, catholic church; of those who sing the joys and sorrows of a gathered people.  Of those who will receive gifts this Christmas through your generosity and kindness.  Of those who know we are Christians by our love.

We believe in this enterprise called the Church and that’s why we honor and worship Christ the King, that’s why we serve in his name, that’s why we make our financial commitment through this parish to the capital C church that makes a difference in the world.  And you know what, it’s an honor to do that.  It’s a blessed privilege to lay these offerings of our life and labor before our sovereign Lord and to receive his grateful thanks.

One last image.  Down in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City there is an ancient sarcophagus on display.  At the center of that long, coffin-like stone box sits a figure of Christ on his throne of glory.  On his right hand are the sheep and on his left are the goats, just as the gospel of Matthew describes the scene.  We visitors to the museum all stood looking at it, and then a blind man, who had permission to examine the sarcophagus with his hands, made this observation, one we sighted people had missed.  “The goats are all pulling back from the figure in the center, while sheep are all leaning in toward him”.

In our response to Christ the King and his church, may we always be leaning in.  May we always know that presence of Christ in the good shepherd, Christ the King, Christ the one who is coming.  May he inspire us to gifts of faith that build up the kingdom over which Jesus rules.  May our giving reflect the place Christ has in our hearts and homes, and the hope we have for the future of not only this parish, but of our Christian life together.  God bless you for your care and love for this church, this body of Christ.  God bless you and thank you, in the name of Christ the King.  Amen.

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