Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost 2019 (Christ the King)
Kit Brinson – Grace
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43
David Jeremiah tells of a man calling his son and telling him, “I hate to tell you this, but your mother and I are getting a divorce. We have been married for forty-five years and we can’t stand each other. I don’t want to talk about it, so call your sister in Chicago and tell her.” His son promptly called his sister and told her the news. His sister was outraged and said that she would handle it. His sister called their father back and said, “Don’t do anything. We will be there tomorrow and we can work this out. Ya’ll don’t need to get a divorce. Just wait, don’t do anything until we get there.” The man hung up, turned to his wife and said, “Well dear, the kids are coming for Thanksgiving…..and they are paying their own way.”
What is the truth about a life in Christ? Paul’s letter to the Colossians is not just an academic exercise, but words and ideas spoken to the problems of real churches with real people struggling to understand a newly embraced faith. When confronted with new ideas, our temptation is to take the unfamiliar and fit it into an existing worldview. For many of Paul’s struggling churches, that means fitting Jesus into the Gnostic understanding of the world.
Gnosticism is an early Greek religious movement that greatly influenced the second-century church. Some New Testament writings (I John) are attempts to answer or refute Gnostic teaching. The word Gnosticism comes from the Greek term gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” Gnostics believed that they had gained a special kind of spiritual enlightenment, which brought with it a secret or higher level of knowledge that only they had. Gnostics tended to emphasize the spiritual realm over the material, and didn’t believe that Jesus Christ could be God, because God could not take human form.
After some folks experience a revelation or read a meaningful book, or take a class, or a seminar, they begin to feel that they have a special knowledge about the love and grace of God. That they are special Christians, set apart. But we know, truly, that love and grace are open and available to everyone, not just the well informed. The better question is - who is Jesus to you?
If and when we know who Jesus is – are we leading or following Jesus? It really can make a lot of difference in how we walk our talk. I began to think about leading Jesus or following Jesus. I think in my spiritual journey I have done both. But I know the times things have worked, are those times I let Jesus be first, when I let Jesus lead my heart, my mind, my pocketbook, my steps.
But don’t we do that when we experience challenging issues in our lives – a loss, an illness, a change in the way things are. We are diligent and observant in the beginning, letting God lead us, but then we become less aware of God’s signs for us, or messages from other people, or teachings from scripture. That is why we need to continually connect to Christ. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We can not bear fruit, we can not be nourished if we are separated from the vine. We can not remain firmly planted in God’s garden if we don’t come together as a community of faith.
Paul says, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, forgiveness of sins.” This marvelous blessing opens this reading and claims Jesus as the source of our power. We are not strong in ourselves, but only as children of God. Jesus is the King and the King’s might is what keeps people strong.
Paul continues, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile himself to all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. What a beautiful weaving of testimony and doctrine. Paul is asserting that Christ is the one who makes the invisible God visible. He is the image of the invisible God. Not that he is a representative of God, but the actual manifestation of God. Jesus is not like God, but Jesus is God. Clearly, the Gnostics would disagree.
The work of Christ seeks not only to reconcile the people to God and free us from the powers of this world, but also to reconcile the Powers themselves to God. It is not enough to disengage from the things of this world, but the call of a Christian life is to seek to transform those systems of power and influence so that they reflect grace, mercy and compassion, those things that we experience in the kingdom of God.
“I never go to church," boasted a wandering member. "Perhaps you have noticed that pastor?" "Yes, I have noticed that," said the pastor. "Well, the reason I don't go is because there are so many hypocrites there." "Oh, don't let that keep you away," replied the pastor with a smile. "There's always room for one more."
We are all works in progress. Jesus knew of our humanity. He experienced it. Paul’s letter is an invitation for us to take stock of our personal lives, who Jesus is for us, where we stand in our relationship with God and our common life together – it is an invitation to see what else may have edged into first place in our lives. It is an invitation to ask God to reorder our lives to suit God’s holy purpose.
Following an enlightening sermon on lifestyle evangelism one family thought they had better do something to witness for Jesus. So, they invited their unchurched neighbors to dinner the following Friday night. When it came to the meal, the hostess wanted to show their neighbors that they upheld Christian standards in their home. So she asked little 5 year old Johnny to say grace. Little Johnny was a little shy. "I don't know what to say." There was an awkward pause, followed by a reassuring smile from the boy's mother. "Well darling," she said, "just say what Daddy said at breakfast this morning." Obediently, the boy repeated, "Oh God, we've got all those awful people coming to dinner tonight."
Who is Jesus, the loving, giving, crucified, resurrected Jesus – who is Jesus to us? Where does God’s truth lead you, where does it lead me, where does it lead us as a community of faith? We, as individuals and as the community of faith must embrace God’s truth. We are called to be Christ’s hands and heart and feet in this world. We are called to rise above the pettiness, the gossip, the hardened hearts, to be present for each other. God loves all of us. Psalm 46 reminds us “to be still and know that God is God.” This psalm has been used at a number of tragic events in our nation’s history – September 11, 2001. Psalm 46 is a great psalm for comfort, especially true on Christ the King Sunday. In our lives, given natural threats and disasters, and the prevalence of war and political unrest, we may well long for a place of delight and protection. God is our refuge. God is not a refuge from the world and its excesses, but God is a refuge in it, in the sense of a reorientation away from self-protection. The psalm takes us through many common themes in the Christ the King readings – sovereignty, protection and power of God. It reminds us the God is perpetually with us.
On this thanksgiving, let us be thankful for God’s work in our lives – our lives in community and show that gratitude in our hands, hearts and feet. As the perfect revelation of God, Christ is the truth, and the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. In following, we are set free to do the truth. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The General Thanksgiving BCP 101
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.