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. -- As I have shared, probably enough times that you are all sick of hearing it, God seems to go to great pains to make sure that I “get it” each week. Usually, there are one or two lessons to which it is obvious He wants to direct my attention. This week, however, will stun even those of you tired of hearing it.
This week, as we gather in worship, we celebrate the Last Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, also known as Christ the King Sunday. In the church year, this is our New Year’s Eve party. As Americans, we might find this Sunday a bit difficult to accept, particularly at a time when we are all giving thanks for the recent elections in which we were allowed to participate (though admittedly I am simply thanking God that there are no more commercials until the caucuses pick up). It is in our DNA, I think, to oppose kings. We were founded, after all, in protest to a king’s actions. Our form of government was deliberately created to avoid any individual possessing too much power. We sometimes like to claim that our greatest export is our democracy (besides, as our trade balances show, the rest of our goods are way too expensive to be bought by anyone).
So we gather this week, mindful of the fact that God calls us into His kingdom, that He will remake our bodies and give us eyes to see what He sees, ears to hear what He hears, hearts to love what He loves, and so on. One day, we hope to be admitted into a kingdom with a ruling king. But the promised ruler is not just a king; He is not just a Lord.
How do we know? Luke starts us off in the right direction. Think back some months ago. Jesus has been approached by two Apostles asking to be seated at His right hand and His left hand when He comes into His power. The other Apostles are mad. They should have thought to ask Jesus first. But Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking. His coming into power, His coronation, will be unlike the coronation of any king in human history. And today, we read Luke’s account. Notice as well, the taunts of those present. Think of their diabolical nature: “If you are the Son of God, “if you are the Messiah,” then save Yourself. Of course, Jesus is the Son and the Messiah. He certainly had the power to save Himself. Yet His purpose was first to serve and to save us. By force of will, despite our taunts, He stayed nailed to that cross. The two thieves might have wanted to come down, but Jesus could have made it happen by a simple thought. Yet for love’s sake, for mercy’s sake, He stayed and absorbed the taunts. And because of His faithfulness, He is exalted! He is King of kings and Lord of lords. All things, we are told, will bow before Him and His authority. But, not just yet . . .
We, you and I, are sent into those situations we described last week, and given the message of hope to proclaim. You and I are called to remind the world that this is not all that there is. The hopelessness that we feel, the hurt we experience and cause, the pain that agonizes us—it is all passing away because our Lord is coming to make all things new. And He, unlike every other ruler on earth, has the power to accomplish whatever He wills! Better still, nothing is beneath His notice. There were many more examples of His saving grace this week, but two incidents really stood out.
As most of you know by now, I was on my way to the Cathedral with glasses for Nzara when the phone rang. Dick, of Bernice and Dick on our prayer list, had killed himself while we gathered and praying for healing. It is hard not to care for someone when we have prayed for them for years, but it is harder still when one has been given the privilege to reap where others have sown. Since the days of Kathleen, parishioners had invited Dick and Bernice to come to church. Both admitted that they gave all kinds of excuses until it was too late. By the time they realized they needed God, Dick was too sick. So I was invited out. I wish I could claim profound insights as to Dick’s mental state. He had, among other diseases such as COPD and some facial nerve problem, the so-called “suicide disease.” He was racked by pain. He could not sleep. It hurt to breathe. No position was comfortable. But in my visit, I was able to remind him that this was not what God had intended. God felt his pain acutely. And Christ had died to heal even that terrible disease.
Now, less than a few days later, a family was in mourning. Friends and neighbors were asking the questions that no one wants others to ask. Guilt was running high in that neighborhood. If I’d only . . . I wish I would have . . . . maybe then he’d be alive. Somehow, Dick had gotten hold of a shotgun and a shell, and he ended the pain. Now I found myself in a room with police, with a coroner, with other first responders, pitying them and their job. And it was my job, my calling, to speak His power of redemption even into this mess.
You might be wondering what can be said at those times. I must admit I found myself wondering as well. But as I found myself thanking the first responders and the coroner and empathizing with their jobs, I found myself speaking against the guilt of the family. What Dick had done was senseless and tragic, but God was so powerful, so sovereign, that He could redeem even that. And slowly, over the course of the week, it became apparent that He did. People who had had no appetite for church for many years suddenly found themselves confronted with the realities of their lives. Did their friends, did their neighbors even know that they were Christians? What did they believe? Was church just something to do to pass the time, or was it something of infinitely more importance? Was God really good? If so, how could He allow this to occur? By the time of the funeral, I had lost count of the number of important conversations I had had. Heck, I had even forgotten some of the names, though not the faces. Yet, even those who rejected God admitted that His existence would be the only thing that could make such tragedies into a way to force humans to reflect, to discern, and to choose. Life serving Him? Or life serving themselves?
Of course, lest you go away this week feeling sorry for a family and really wondering if God is at work in the world today, we received another lesson. Thursday, Michelle called Vern to say that she had figured out a problem. We had not ordered all the food we were supposed to have ordered. In other words, people were not going to get food that they were expecting and for which they had paid, and at Thanksgiving to boot. To say that there was some stress would be a life. We had spent hours reconciling the orders and double-checking our math, and a book with more orders had been found. Thankfully, Michelle and Vern bore it all as I was too tied up with the funeral. And yet, our sovereign Lord was already at work.
“Father, could you find people that need some turkeys for Thanksgiving?” I was asked by a member of another church. Like you, I laughed. Little did I know. This disciple had asked his boss to donate the turkeys that the employees did not need. And thankfully, mercifully, the boss agreed. Saturday rolled around and I found myself confronted by two caring Christians worried sick that people would go hungry. I already had 5 turkeys. You had been generous at the end of October for Clergy Appreciation Day. Annette had cut the Discretionary check. We could buy another turkey and the ‘fixins (that’s southern for all the potatoes, green beans, stuffing, and other stuff that goes with the meal) and make sure nobody went hungry on Thanksgiving. Problem solved. Yet His ways are not our ways, and we sometimes often forget that.
By the time distribution was over, I had too much food. People had donated meals to offer thanksgiving to God for your prior service to them. They were paying it forward and trying to be a blessing to others in need. And so, we who expected to be short 6 boxes found ourselves 14 boxes to the good. Instead of lacking 6, we had 8 boxes too many. And, yes, we still have 5 more turkeys in need of those fixins. God does not only provide, He provides abundantly!
Brothers and sisters you and I are a sent people. We are a people that live in a world in which we do not belong, proclaiming the power and resurrection of our Father in heaven and His Son. When the rest of the world is forced to lament the sufferings or shrug them off as too powerful, you and I are called to remind ourselves, one another, and any who would listen that He has already begun the recreation and that nothing can overcome Him. And nothing, no single person or thing can thwart Him. And unlike kings who calls others to serve them and to be supplicants, our king adopts us. Our king makes us firstborn children and promises each one of us that we will be inheritors of the firstborn’s double portion. The world might tell us to expect the scraps, but our Lord promises us the choicest portions. Our Lord promises us abundance. And our Lord promises to prepare us to face anything that opposes His will with hope, with love, and with determination. We weep with those who mourn, we cry with those who cry, we hurt with those who hurt, but we give thanks to God for making us His and giving us the message of His love and His grace to proclaim to the world around us. And we thank Him that He is a king who led by example who first saved us, that we might be reshaped into ambassadors of His love and heralds of His power!