Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christ the King

Today is designated Christ the King Sunday.  It is the last Sunday in the Christian year.  Unlike our calendars that run from January 1 to December 31, The Christian year runs from the first Sunday of Advent to Christ the King.  Next Sunday, we will turn our thoughts and focus to the coming of Christ.  But for now, we look at the culmination of His life of earth, and what that means for us.  

One of the arguments down through the centuries has been over the nature of Jesus Christ.  Is he human or is he divine?  God or man?  Some believed that he was only a man who received the Holy Spirit at baptism.  Others believed that he was fully divine and only pretended to be human.  Those were the extremes, and there was every possible variation between them.

It was in the 4th century that the church affirmed that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine - that he was of the very same nature as God and was not created, but was pre-existent before time. You know, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made - being of one substance with the father.”  All those things that we say in our creed that affirm the divinity of Christ - they were developed at the council of Nicea.  We also say "born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." Jesus was both human - and divine. We don’t know how that is, but we believe that all things are possible through God, our Father.  

Today our lessons affirm the idea that Christ is not simply a man - but is something more. Daniel shows us the throne room of heaven in the 1st lesson. The "son of man" is given authority and dominion over earth. Christ - Messiah - means anointed one - especially one who is anointed as king.  

If you look at the reported life of Jesus of Nazareth - you won't find him a likely candidate for king. Jesus is very much the "son of man" - Very much human - Jesus was born in a stable - raised in a small insignificant town in a remote part of the world - he worked as a carpenter - and when he took to the road as an itinerate preacher - he didn't stay in grand hotels or spacious homes. He walked the dusty roads - not riding a chariot as nobility did. 

When he said, "foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man (Daniel's term for the Messiah) has no place to lay his head." Jesus is tying into the Daniel image of the coming Messiah - but it didn't quite make sense - because a king was to have absolute power. 

So when he stands before Pilate, it is with the same kind of irony. A king who is in chains - who will be put to death in a most horrible way - and yet - he can say, "For this I was born - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." 

Those who are not of the truth - consider it folly to follow this messiah who was crucified. This is not the way of the world - the world wants  to sees its king as victorious - fighting for right - struggling against all odds to win the day. 

A king commands absolute power - is obeyed without question - rules with authority. A king gives orders and expects his orders to be obeyed. This is not the image we see with Jesus. When he washes the feet of his disciples, he tells them, "I am giving you an example, which you must follow if you would be my disciples."   

Jesus was not the kind of king that the people expected. He didn't go around "lording" it over everyone like the gentiles. He didn't snub the poor, the sick, the homeless, the helpless. He lifted them up and helped them to become better than they were. He gave them hope and new reasons to live.  This was part of being an example for us to follow.

Jesus was given authority in heaven, but he didn't rely on that divine authority. For those of us who are of the truth, have heard his voice and - even though he didn't have to do it, he earned that authority - and our trust and respect - when he dwelt among us.  All the way through the New Testament, we learn that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  We are willing to allow Jesus to be our Saviour - we talk about what he has done for us - giving up his life so that we might live. 

BUT - at the same time, we often pay only lip service to his 'lordship.' We hesitate to call him "Lord" - because that gives him authority over our lives. The world tells us that we need to be in control of our own life. You got to work hard if you want to get ahead in today's world - Self-help books tell us that we can do it all ourselves - We don't need anyone else. 

Both Daniel and St. John speak of dominion - Jesus is given dominion. My dictionary defines dominion as the power to rule - absolute authority. To this end the New Testament calls Jesus, "Lord." 

Giving Jesus authority in our lives means allowing him to be the guiding force in our life. It's about letting go of control for your life and allowing Jesus to be Lord over your life. So often we do something & then we ask God's blessings on what we have done. That's the wrong way around if we are to accept Jesus as Lord.  

This “Holy Day” - Christ the King - is only 93 year old.  It was established by Pope Pius XI and celebrated for the first time in 1925.  Why did Pope Pius institute this day?  It was actually politically motivated.  Mussolini had risen to power and become an absolute ruler in Italy, and Hitler had been released from prison and was beginning to rebuild and re-organize his Nazi party.  Pope Pius was making an overt statement with declaring this as Christ the King Sunday.  He was saying, remember who your true king is - don’t go running after false gods.

God is pictured as The Ancient of Days – the Alpha and Omega – an absolute ruler, pure and wise and holy.  Jesus is pictured as a human – coming through the clouds – the one who was pierced – whose throne is a cross.  He is the holy one who has been given dominion and authority over all creation.  Our earthly kingdoms will pass away to make room for the kingdom of God.  What place does this “son of man” occupy in your home?  How do you acknowledge Christ Jesus in your heart?  And how does his “lordship” play out in your life?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Becoming Saints of God

Listen to the sermon.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary’s words, her lament, rings true in our hears.  When someone we love dies, the human side of us often wants to ask why and to rail at the unfairness of it all...  And sometimes it is unfair from our point of view.  But what we consider a tragedy for our own personal life, the Lord considers a victory.  From his viewpoint, it is a victory over death - Our loved one has made that transition to the plane where we are intended to spend our real life - eternity. 

In today’s lesson, Jesus does two things to take the focus off of himself: He prays to God and he allows the people around him to hear his prayer so that they will understand that it is God who raised Lazarus from the dead.  The second thing he does is to allow the people standing around to have a part in this raising of Lazarus.  He has them roll away the stone and then he has them unbind Lazarus.  

This act is as important as, and a reminder of, creation.  Jesus speaks the word, he calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and Lazarus comes forth.  Lazarus comes from the darkness of the tomb, from the abyss, into the light that shine in the world.  Out of darkness, God brings light.  Out of death, God brings life - abundant life.

Our lessons today have a delightful way of working together.  Our first lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal reading, written during that 200 years before the birth of Christ.  In the Old Testament, you can read several stories of faithful servants of God who were taken up into heaven without tasting death.  But you will notice that God’s promises to Abraham (descendants and land and cattle) have to do with what happens here on earth, without mention of any sort of afterlife.  This idea of an afterlife is being presented here in our lesson from Wisdom.  This is where the idea of eternal life begins to emerge.  “The Souls of the Righteous are in the hand of God.”

It talks about the traditional view of death - “In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction...”   That is the way a lot of the world sees death - final and decisive.  

But our lesson goes on, “But they are at peace, their hope is full of immortality, they will receive a great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself...”  It says here that “Those who trust in God will understand truth - AND the faithful will abide with him in love - FOR he watches over his elect.”  (According to my commentary, this was written about 50 years before the birth of Christ and therefore not dependent on him.)  The Book of Wisdom tells us that being made in the image of God includes sharing with him in immortality - the Godly, the ethical will be granted eternal life.

Next we have Psalm 24, still in the Old Testament, talking about what it takes to ascend the hill of the Lord.  I’ve been attending a Bible Study in Alvin that focuses on the relationship between heaven and earth, especially as understood in the Old Testament.  The word we translate as heaven can mean either the sky, or that place where God resides - so from earliest times God was believed to be off in the sky somewhere.  Therefore the people would go to the high places - on hilltops - mountaintops to be near God.   Moses met God on Mount Sinai.  Elijah went to the mountaintop to meet God.  Temples were placed on the highest point in any area so as to be close to God.  Even this place were we are meeting today, Temple Sinai, was named to denote the desire to be close to God.  It has always been man’s desire to be near God - Even the Tower of Babel was a plan to try to draw near God. 

But here’s the grace - in our Gospel lesson, Jesus demonstrates God power to be present here on earth - by raising Lazarus from the dead.  God now resides among his people - here on earth, right now - not in some far-off heaven or some future time.  God’s saving grace and desire to be among his people is demonstrated in this act of mercy.

And this idea of God’s desire to be here with us is reinforced in our lesson from Revelation.  Did you notice that it said the new Jerusalem, the Holy City was coming out of heaven?  God’s desire is that heaven and earth to be together and he wants his home to be among us.  Do you remember  in the beginning God walked on earth in the Garden of Eden and talked to Adam and Eve. It was a place where they could be together and interact.  And ever since our fall from grace, God has been trying to find a way to regain that relationship, that friendship with us.  

Today is known as All Saints Day – my favorite hymn talks about the Saints of God.  It really reflects Paul notion of ‘saints.’  Paul used the word ‘saint’ to speak of the believers who were being saved: Everyday people who lived their lives for Jesus Christ.  One was a doctor, one was a queen, one was a shepherdess on the green – and all of them saints of God and I mean – God helping to be one too.  One was a soldier, one was a priest, one was slain – and there’s not any reason why we shouldn’t be one too.  

They didn’t just live in the past – they are alive today and all around – they are the ones who love to do Jesus’ will.  And you can meet them in school or on the road, swimming or sailing, in church or on trains or planes, even at Wal-Mart or Starbucks, because the saints of God are just like us.  Each time we choose to be merciful, each time we extend a kindness, each time we share compassion, we grow in grace and in stature on our way to becoming Saints of God.