November 22, 2015 "From Him, By Him, To Him, For Him"

posted Jul 5, 2016, 3:54 PM by David Hawkins
Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Sermon: "From Him, By Him, To Him, For Him" 

I don’t know if you knew this, but today is kind of like New Year’s eve, for the Church.

It’s the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next Sunday we start Advent, which is the season of preparation, a season of prophecy, of getting ready for the Birth of Jesus Christ. Of course, that leads us into Christmas, and then the whole cycle starts over again, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, you know how it goes. 

And in between the holy seasons, we have ordinary time. In fact, that’s what we just came out of, several months of ordinary time, the time that is between Epiphany and Lent, and the time that is after Pentecost. 

This is just a side note, but the word ‘ordinary’ in this context doesn’t mean ‘plain’ or ‘unexciting’. In this case, it comes from the word, ‘ordinal,’ which simply means ‘counting’. Like ordinal numbers. And that’s how you might see it listed in some church bulletins. For instance, last Sunday was the ‘33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time’. You may have noticed that I usually just put ‘Ordinary Time’ in the bulletin, it seems less formal. 

But now, today, the year is about to start over. Does it feel like it? It’s strange, isn’t it, that our Christian year and our secular year don’t line up. They’re just a couple months off, but I know that for me, January 1st feels much more like a new beginning than the 1st Sunday of Advent does. 

And I wonder if it should. I mean, if you think about it, both calendars are really arbitrary decisions made about days and dates that don’t really signify anything truly new, except for what we make it. 

So, why does our secular calendar gets so much more attention? Is it because of the big party? Maybe we should have some sort of gigantic party at midnight tonight to mark the end of the Church year. 

Tell you what, the Butler’s are in charge of the beer, and the Lewellen’s are in charge of the Scotch. The Craig’s are in charge of BBQ and appetizers. I’ll bring some of my famous Colorado-style chili, you know, the kind with the beans, and a couple of bottles of wine. Let’s meet here at the church, and let’s slide into the new year in style!

Well, maybe not. That just seems weird. But fun! But weird.

Anyway, today really is the last day of the Church year. Christ the King Sunday. And we don’t have any big celebrations to mark it. At least, not like Easter, or Christmas. Not like Good Friday. We don’t have any particular, unique way of saying that Christ really is the King of our lives. 

There isn’t a ceremony, a ritual, a liturgy, there isn’t any concrete act that we perform that says, firmly, convincingly, that Jesus really is the Lord of everything we do. There isn’t anything that we can show that really proves this to anybody.

Except, perhaps, our lives? 

And maybe that’s why this day doesn’t get as much attention as the others do. It’s a whole lot more work. And it’s not nearly as much fun.

After all, each of the church seasons throughout the year have their own special cachet. Each of them have something uniquely attractive about them. 

Advent is mysterious, what with all the prophecy and whatnot. Prophecy is always exciting, you can make it say what you want it to say, what you need it say. Prophecy is the very word of God, who can argue with it? And when it fits a particular political agenda, that’s all the better. 

And Christmas, well who doesn’t love a baby? And this baby, in particular, is the birth of joy itself, the promise of peace, of welcome and forgiveness. And even though our modern culture, with its black Fridays and grey Thursdays and a seemingly endless Holiday shopping season, has lost something of what Christmas is all about, we still feel a sense of the hope that the Birth of Jesus brings to all people, not just Christians.

And then, Epiphany, the season right after Christmas, reminds us of the uncomfortable truth that the infant Jesus and his family were refugees once, seeking asylum in Egypt, on the run from a political tyrant. And whether we want it to or not, this story informs our current national debate about Syrian refugees. 

Yep, I’m going there.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t an argument to be made for national security. But, I am saying that a Christian argument has to include the fact that our faith, from Abraham to Jacob, to Moses, to Ruth, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph has depended on the kindness of strangers to refugees. If there hadn’t been relief for refugees in our past, we wouldn’t be here in our present. In the light of our own heritage, we cannot claim Judeo-Christian values in rejecting those who look for shelter in our lands. 

There are other arguments against welcoming refugees, or course, some of them pretty compelling. There is real danger here. And our national leaders have a constitutional and moral duty to protect us. But we, as Christians, can’t help but remember our own story when we look at the helplessness of others. And if that’s not enough to soften our hearts, maybe it’s helpful to remember that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus Christ himself. 

At least, that he what he said. 

This has to be the framework of the debate, at least for those who call themselves Christians: the tension between the obvious call to offer hospitality to the refugee and the need to maintain the security of the nation. I don’t have any suggestions about how to do that, but I can’t help but feel like a blanket moratorium on refugees goes against everything that we stand for. We can do better than that. We have to do better than that.

OK, enough meddling. 

After Epiphany, when we observe Lent, we remember the suffering of Jesus, and there is something visceral about his death that touches us at the core of our being. Jesus experienced the very worst of what happens when we give in to our fears, he was betrayal by a friend, he was abandoned by his community, he was tortured by an imperial power, he bore the weight of humanity’s sin, and then he died a horrible, prolonged death. 

The Passion story of Jesus is scandalous, riveting, shocking, even, and we can’t help but get caught up in it. The strangely named Good Friday service is dark and frightening, and it reminds us of the incredible lengths to which God went to bring us home. 

Which makes Easter morning such a liberating surprise. At Easter, we are again reminded that Jesus did not stay on the cross, that he has risen, that everything that God promised has come true. The grave has been opened, the gates of hell have been thrown down, and Jesus Christ is alive. We need not fear death, it’s been beaten, and the empty tomb proves it.

But even that’s not the whole story. The early church found themselves under incredible persecution, and just like us, they needed a helper, a guide, a tangible presence to get them through it. We celebrate Pentecost to remember that God sends himself as the Holy Spirit to encourage, to inspire, and to bind us to Jesus Christ in the sacraments of baptism and communion. 

We are not left alone in our distress. Even in this time of confusion, in this world of terrorism and chaos, God is still with us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever, world without end, Amen, Amen.

And so against these kinds of celebrations throughout the year, today’s church holiday hardly stands a chance, amirite? Against these showstoppers, Christ the King Sunday is kind of an anti-climatic way to end the year. When we compare today to some of the other church seasons, it kind of falls short. 

But it doesn’t have to. 

Because maybe the point of today isn’t to proclaim the message that Christ the King, but to live it. Maybe the point isn’t so much to teach, or to remember, but to enact it, to put it into practice.

And that’s a hard thing to do. Because the reality is, it’s way easier to sing about a baby Jesus than it is to do something about Syrian refugees. It’s way easier to talk about being a Christian than it is to actually do the things that are the mark of a Christian, to live every day in a world that demands compromise, to live everyday in a world that expects us to bend to fear, to yield to popular option. 

It’s way easier to go through the motions of being a Christian than it is to actually do the things that involve cost, that involve danger, that involve taking risks.

But that’s what today is all about it. And if you think about it, that’s what our whole Christian year is about: Prophecy, Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Holy Spirit, everything that we read, everything that we preach, everything that we say about who we are as followers of Jesus Christ leads to today. 

Our time, our talent, our tithes, our way of life. Our decisions, our politics, whether right or left, find their roots in today. Our participation in the life of the community, of making Plainview a beautiful, a loving, a giving, a wonderful place to live. Our everyday interactions with each other. Our willingness to forgive as we are forgiven, to extend the grace of Christ to friend and foe alike. 

It all comes down to today. It’s not about remembering, or observing. It’s not about celebrating, or proclaiming.

It’s about doing. 

Now to the Holy One
who is at work within us,
accomplishing far more than we could ever ask or imagine,
now and forever. Amen.