Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ the King 2016 "What God Looks Like"

“What God Looks Like”
Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday, 20 November 2016
St. David’s, Aylett, Virginia

Today’s Collect: 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, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This is the last Sunday on the Christian calendar for this year. It is commonly known as Christ the King Sunday. And I do not know about you, but I am ready to celebrate the end of this year. It was a banner year, a horrible, rotten, messed-up banner of a year. I am ready for it to be over. So forgive me if we jump past December and decide to put a wrap on 2016. We can start over with Advent Week One next Sunday.

So many celebrities I loved and cared about passed, and this ugly election season and the aftermath since the outcome, have all taken a toll on us as a nation and on many of us individually. So many people I have seen online are dreading Thanksgiving because of the heated interchanges they are dreading over a table they are supposedly gathering around to be thankful. And that does not even count if there were personal issues in our lives. I am ready to close the books on 2016.

So, in light of that, I think it is more than appropriate to focus on the main thing. “The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing,” says leadership guru Stephen Covey. And in the church, if Jesus is not our main thing, are we really even the church?

So I would invite you to let go of all the distractions that we have and for the next few minutes, let’s just look at Jesus. Just Jesus.

Since I was with you last on October 30th, I have covered a lot of miles. Two Sundays ago, I was standing in the pulpit of St. Gabriel’s Church in Liverpool. It was a profound and moving time. But something took me aback. In the midst of the service we prayed and promised our support for the Queen, or they did. I am a little too red-blooded American to be okay with that. We have been raised without a monarch. We have never had to bow the knee to another before. I will pray for any and every body. I have no problem praying for a Queen. However, I will not submit and swear allegiance to anybody.  Democratic attitudes are a hard thing to shake. I should not have been surprised, it is the Church of England. But today, I do call us to bow the knee, and give our whole selves to our King, Christ the King.

Three amazing portraits are given today in our readings: a prophecy, a story, and a litany. All three paint a picture of a singular life, that is unique in all of human history. Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Zechariah, in this beautiful prophetic utterance, calls all who heard to the importance of his son’s birth and the one that his son will point towards, his cousin, Jesus son of Joseph.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
The one who is to come, prophesied of old, has finally arrived. Zechariah was convinced, having not spoken for months in response to his doubt over the angel’s message over his son’s birth. Remember he was the father of John the Baptizer and a priest for the faithful. He declares that the time has come, the fulness of time has been fulfilled, and the long-awaited Savior is at hand. He believed, he declared it, and calls us today to faith in him.

And as we look to this Jesus, let us go next to the Gospel, and see what we can make from some of his final moments before his death. They often say that it is in the trial that our true nature comes out, and our Savior’s mettle came forward on the cross better than any other time and place. He was a king, but not of this world; he was a lord, but did not act lordly. All could approach him, and it was never more evident than when the convict hanging beside in his guilt asked for Grace. So often, too often, I hear Christians speaking of people getting their just deserts. Nothing could be more antithetical to the Gospel. Think of the woman caught in adultery and thrown naked at Jesus’ feet. Think of the scorned woman at the well, and how Jesus made her into an evangelist to her own village, the people who looked on her with scorn for past sins. And here, one rightfully convicted and condemned, with his final breaths he asks for a mere remembrance by Jesus, and yet, un-deserved by our standards, he is invited into Paradise. Grace, my friends, Grace.

The miracle of the Incarnation is not that Jesus looks like God, in fact that is what he calls all of us to do and be, but rather, the miracle of the Incarnation is that we see what God is really like when we look at Jesus. There are so many competing views and ideas out there, even amongst us who claim to be following this poor man from Nazareth, and yet in his final moments he is still pouring out Grace, not crying for vengeance. “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing!” “John, look at your mother, now; Mother, look to your son.” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is what God looks like, and we look on in awe. He who could command the legions of angels, he who can calm the storm, he who can call forth the lifeless corpse back to life, he pronounces pardon, he declares Grace.

He is my King of Kings, and my Lord of Lords. And he calls us to do the same.

I go to the New Testament reading last, because it is chronologically after the Gospel. Paul is writing to the Church in Colossae, and giving them an image called the Cosmic Christ by many scholars. It is the preincarnate word at work in the universe, and the litany of attributes are beautiful and daunting to comprehend.
  • Jesus is the beloved Son
This is so important, beloved, Agapetos in the Greek, and like all good things, it begins in love. The love of the Father for his only begotten Son, and from this we can look to the things he does, beyond who he is.
  • in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Through this single life, he opens the door of redemption, flings them wide so that we may enter in.
  • He is the image of the invisible God
When we wonder what God is like, we look to Jesus. Like I said, the miracle of the Incarnation is that God is like Jesus. So often we try to portray God very differently from this.
  • the firstborn of all creation;
He is at the beginning, the spiritual Adam as Paul says in Romans. Jesus was begotten, and that leads us to...
  • 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 came first so that all other things might be. The agent of Creation acting on behalf of the Father.
  • He himself is before all things
This hearkens back to the beautiful introduction to the Gospel of John, which probably was actually written after this was. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Being begotten, not made, as we say in the Creed, he necessarily must predate Creation, as he is not a creature. Therefore he is before all things, light, matter, suns, moons, planets, us.
  • in him all things hold together.
He is the glue that holds the universe in check, keeping it all together. He is the underpinning of all reality.
  • He is the head of the body, the church
We are his body, and our prayer, our calling, our reason for existence is so that he can lead us. It is said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” -Teresa of Àvila May we ever stay connected.
  • he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
As stated, Paul declares him the second Adam, birthing a new race, a new lineage of the righteous.
  • For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. And we may enter into relationship with God through the blood of his cross, we may enter heaven itself, not by anything we have done, but by what he did for us. We like that duly crucified criminal on the cross beside him, we asked to be blessed and Jesus looks at us and says we already have been. We are told that we will be with him in Paradise.

As we come to his table, let this day be one of feasting. And on Thursday, when we feast again, pause, and say thank you for the Great Thanksgiving at this table, at your Table, and one day, at Christ’s Table where we will be welcomed home.

Is he your King of Kings and Lord of Lords? As we hear our friends and family squabble over the pettiness of power and control in this nation which will pass away, remember and celebrate that we are not of this world, and neither is our King. The world is not enough for him, worthy of all honor and glory and power in all of creation. Think on that, and be humbled. Think on that, and be saved. May our King “guide our feet into the way of peace.” Amen.

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Blessings, Rock