Sermons
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November 22, 2015, 10:00 AM

Fear isn't Christian - The Last Sunday of Pentecost: The Sunday of Christ the King


Christ the King Sunday

Last Pentecost

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    Now that I have been ordained for a couple of years, I have found that I am amassing a small but credible library of sermons to glance through to see if there were any previously under-developed or unexplored facet of the readings which might improve my preaching. And as this is the Patronal feast of our parish—The Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Advent of Christ the King Sunday (although really, it’s confusing to me to have your “patronal feast day” honor the Son—perhaps this is our Filial Feast day…)

    And so I was looking over my previous sermons on Christ the King Sunday, and I realized that I can be found to preach about the cultural impairments that prevent we, as Americans, from truly understanding the consequences of not just an Total Monarchy, but the Absolute Monarchy of Christ. We have to borrow experiences from Game of Thrones or the latest PBS mini-series depicting the Tudor dynasty to even begin to comprehend what an absolute monarchy would mean in our lives. After all, if we are proclaiming Christ’s Kingdom…we are also proclaiming our desire to live under the rule of a King, the perfect King in Christ. 

    But for whatever reason, I couldn’t write a sermon about that for this morning. I have been simply too distracted by the acts of terror around the world in the past week, and so thoroughly disappointed in our culture’s response to these atrocities to hone in on a message about Christ the King Sunday. For some reason I found myself going back and forth through the Church calendar looking for a way to find explain my own reaction to the terrorist events in Lebeanon, Paris, and Mali over the past week. Today is actually the last Sunday in our liturgical year. Next Sunday, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent—which is also the First Sunday of our new Liturgical year. And so, in my mind, I have found myself wandering between the message and themes of Pentecost, of Easter, and of the upcoming Christmas season. And all I have been able to think about is the link between fear and faith. 

    And to be honest, my wondering around the Church calendar reminded me a lot of when I tried out for the High School Volleyball team. When I was a freshman, my high school started a Men’s Volleyball team, and for some reason, I thought I had as good a shot as any to make this new team. As no one had really played much volleyball, the coaches opened tryouts by explaining that they wanted players who were good at listening and taking instructions. They told the forty of us that during practice, three whistles meant that we were to stop whatever drill we were practicing and begin to run clock-wise around the gym. Another whistle blow meant that were were to sit down facing the coaches, and two whistle blows meant that we should turn around and run counter-clockwise. 

    And so, the tryouts began. There were jumping drills, lessons on how to pass and bump, and after about 40 minutes or so, we heard three whistle blows, and we all promptly started jogging clockwise around the gym. After a lap, the coaches blew two quick whistles, and everyone immediately took a seat. 

    Everyone but me. 

    I turned, and started running counter-clockwise. And at first, I was absolutely convinced that I was right, and as I jogged around for the first half-lap, I motioned to my friends to get up and join me…two whistles meant we needed to change directions. 

    No one joined me. 

    Can you imagine the sound of one pair of tennis shoes squeaking across a gym floor with forty some pairs of eyes staring at you??? I could feel the coaches’ eyes on me. And so, I was left hanging—I ran five laps around the gym before someone yelled out “Warren! Sit down you idiot! We can’t get going until you sit down like you should!” To that, the coach mercifully responded, “Warren is the only one who remembered the directions…the rest of you need to get up and run with him!”

    And so, I’m not sure if it was pride, relief, or some combination of both to read the title of our newly installed Presiding Bishop’s response to the terrorist tragedies around the globe: “Be Not Afraid.” 

    Be Not Afraid. That, in essence, is the whole point of Christ’s message to humanity, and it must certainly be cornerstone of His Kingdom: Be not afraid. 

    In a few short weeks, we with gather back in this sanctuary on a cold and dark night to hear a message of hope from Luke’s gospel. 

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

    Fear not! 

    Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savor, a King, Christ the King. 

    The more I read the gospels, the more I am convinced that the entirety and purpose of Jesus’ earthly mission was to assuage the collective fears of humanity. When we are anxious about our physical needs, Jesus appeared to feed the hungry and to heal the sick. When we are fearful about our spiritual lives, Jesus taught us 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

    Lastly, in our most vulnerable, existential fears about life and death itself, Jesus reminds us that we are more than merely crude matter—that we are luminous beings. That God will bring our souls safely home.

    Thus entirety of Jesus’ ministry was meant to release us from our fears, and the message of Easter Morning is that we can trust Jesus’ message. 

    Holy Week is there to judge between our fear and our faith. Good Friday is all about fear. Crucifixion was a horrifically painful instrument of death. It was such a gruesome way to die, that Jewish leaders believed that anyone who died in such a manner was accursed, literally cursed by God, to die in such a way. But Easter Morning confirms that faith is greater than fear. 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

    From his birth in Bethlehem to his resurrection on Easter Sunday, the entire message of Christ’s life is this: Be Not Afraid!

    What Easter Morning proves is that Jesus’s teaching about God’s love for humanity is the truth. As Paul told the church in Rome: 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    There is nothing as potently destructive to human relationships than fear. Fear leads to anger, which transforms into hate. Hate, ultimately leads to suffering. Suffering, in turn, becomes the fear of future suffering, and the cycle begins anew. But the Good News of Christ is that we are liberated from that destructive cycle of fear. The Good News of the Christian message is that trust, that faith, that love are all more powerful and ultimately more real than fear. Marianne William described this liberation from fear and how faith can transform us perfectly when she wrote:

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.”

    If we are to bear the mantle of serving this world as Christ’s followers, then the litmus test of our discipleship must be as to whether our service liberates others from fear or retreats into doubt and despair. 

    I was, I am, incredibly disappointed by our culture’s response to the recent acts of terror in Beruit, Paris, and Mali. Where other countries and cultures around the world responded to this crisis with resolve and commitment, the United States was alone in its fearful reaction to these attacks. We are no longer the “Home of the Brave,” as we saw the so-called leaders of this country retreat into the predictable pattern of fear and blame. But if there is any lesson to be learned from the life of Christ—it is that fear-mongering is simply Un-Christian.

    Being a faithful Christian is not about wrapping yourself in the divine protection of the Almighty. There is absolutely no guarantee—none whatsoever—that having faith will somehow serve as a kind shield generator in your life…protecting you from the horrors witnessed around the world this past week. What faith gives us is, is the confidence to see that God’s hand is at work, even in—especially in!—the darkest corners of our lives. It is, as Julian of Norwich promised, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” What that means is that, for the faithful, if it is not good, then it is not the end. 

    And today, we end where we began: with the collect assigned for this morning:

    Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin and ruled by fear, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.

    There, in God’s Kingdom, with Christ as our King, we shall live freed from fear and united in faith under his most gracious rule. 

Amen.


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