Christ, our King

Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday we begin a new church season and a new church year with the beginning of Advent. This is a day we acknowledge and remember that Jesus is the Lord of our lives and ruler over our decisions. He is our first and our last, our beginning and our end, our all in all. And so we crown him with many crowns, our king of kings, our Lord of lords.

Christ the King Sunday often gets lost in the shuffle as it happens right around Thanksgiving and right before Advent. Yet, this is one of the most important days of the church year. Do you know how this festival of the church began?  Christ the King Sunday is not an ancient festival like Easter or Christmas. In fact, it is less than a century old. It was established by the Pope in 1925. Europe was in chaos. The seeds of evil that were to produce the terror of the Holocaust and World War II were being planted. Against all this chaos and evil, the Pope established the Festival of Christ the King to declare that Jesus Christ is king. The day began as a reminder that Christ is our ruler and the one whose voice we listen to first and above all others. And we need that reminder still.

So if Christ is our King, if Jesus is our Lord, then what does that mean?

Well, if Christ is our King, then violence and anger are not. Christians treasure peace. Jesus, after all, is known as the Prince of peace. If Christ is our king, then we look for ways to live in harmony, to speak peace-fully, to lift each other up, let go of grudges, and make room for each other. I like how Martin Luther talks about this in his explanation of the eighth commandment. He wrote, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.”

If Christ is our King, then nation, president, or even family is not. Christ commands us to speak respectfully of leaders and to be true and honest and faithful to our families, but Christ is the one to whom we turn for wisdom and direction. If leaders or family members try to direct us in ways that are opposite of what Jesus teaches, then we do the hard work of respectfully disagreeing and working for change and justice.

If Christ is our King, then our stuff is not. Our Christian faith is intimately connected with how we spend money, whether we like to think it is or not. We can’t separate the two. How we spend, how we give, how we worry about money – all of it says something about what we think of Jesus’ words to us about generosity and simplicity. I don’t say this to conjure feelings of guilt, but to remind all of us, to keep wrestling with this. Keep asking ourselves each day if our spending and our collecting and our giving is in line with our faith in Jesus Christ. I wrestle with this all the time – do I need that new book or can I exercise some patience and get it from the library? Do I need this new style of black pants, even though I already have six other pairs of assorted other styles in my closet? Does my giving back to God of my time and resources reflect the myriad of ways my family has been blessed in the last year with health and a warm home and everything we could possibly need? Jesus is Lord, my stuff is not. Are we living like this is true? Keep asking that question.

If Christ is King, then I am certainly not. This Christian life is one of surrender. To submit our lives to Jesus is not easy – especially when the holy spirit seems to move us in so many different ways. If this were not true, we wouldn’t have so many denominations, so many people so fired up about what God really says about this or that. Some of my dearest friends who are also Christian see certain issues very, very differently than I do. Within our own congregation we surely do as well. And most of us have some friends or family who are not Christian, they may hold to a different belief or may claim to have no belief at all. With everyone, we look for ways to build bridges of understanding and harmony whenever possible. Ask questions, share our faith and listen to others as well. We don’t judge because that was never a job God entrusted to us. In James chapter 4 it reads, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” So we let God do the work of judging and we do the work of caring for God’s people – all of God’s people.

And if Christ is King, and I am not – then it means I am no more deserving of comfort and warmth and love and peace and a home or any of the things I treasure – I am no more deserving of those things than anyone else. It was Jesus Christ, our king, who taught us about humility, about letting others have first place, how to heal with gentle hands and words, to be ridiculously generous with grace and mercy and kindness.

 That means that as a follower of Christ, until everyone does have enough, and until everyone is treated justly, there is much work to do. Every day we do bits of that here – every time we collect funds or food for others, every time we visit folks in the nursing home or those who are homebound, every time we work on projects to make our community better, every time we share Jesus’ love and acceptance through a kind word or a helpful gesture – especially to those who live on the margins, those whom society is not treating justly, we are showing Christ is our king. 

Now all of this is great and we know it’s true – this is what we have been taught our whole lives as Christians. But we might be thinking, what do we do when we live in a world that seems to teach the exact opposite of all of this all the time. Most of what we see – from media to leaders to people around us living quite differently – treats violence and anger and material possessions and self as gods, not Jesus.

I’ll tell you one thing. It’s a super simple thing – but it’s the thing that helps me when I feel overwhelmed by the hate speech I see on television or frustrated by my own materialism or worried about the future for our children. It’s a two-part prayer, really – First, each day I pray God helps me really see others. To get my focus off of me and onto the people around me, that God will help me this day to see a need, a hurt, an emptiness somewhere around me that I might be able to do something about. Then, the second part of the prayer is that God gives me the wisdom for something I can do to help. It might mean praying for that person or need, it might mean sending an encouraging note or phone call, it might mean stopping to see someone or volunteering my time. All I know is that the more often I practice this, praying God gives me the vision to see others and the needs around me and then the wisdom for some small thing I can do to help, the easier it gets to focus on being the kind of change I want to see in the world rather than just festering over all that is wrong.

Christ is our King. His grace sets us free to be God’s people in this world. I’ll pray for you and you pray for me as we work to live in Jesus’ way each day.

Sermon – November 13, 2016 – A Letter to My Sons

Grace and peace to you on this Lord’s day in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

When our boys were teeny-tiny, back in Colorado, my sermon one Sunday took the form of a letter to our boys. It was mostly advice, inspired by the gospel that day, about things I hoped they would remember as they grew. I don’t know what I did with that letter but I am sure it is saved in a computer file somewhere. They will get the letter someday.

This week, I wrote another letter…because it has been the kind of week where people think a lot about the world in which they live, the world in which the children we love are growing up. For some it has been a great week, for others it has been a devastating week – but for all it has been hard because we’ve come to understand in a way we didn’t before there is a great divide within our country. People, good people, seeing things very differently, responding in fear, lashing out with anger – these are strange, hard times. So, today, I’m sharing this letter, I want to let you eavesdrop on my prayers for my children, because these are my prayers for all of us.

A letter to my sons – November 13, 2016

Dear Owen and Jesse,

Your mom is a pastor. You have known this your whole lives. From the time you were only days old you have come with me to visit and pray with people – in nursing homes, hospitals, houses, places of work – you have been there and you have bowed your little heads and prayed with us. It has been my greatest joy to share that with you. To see you come to know and love Jesus, my heart can’t get more full than when I think of that.

So, on a week like this, when there’s been elections and shock and hurt and protests and winners and losers and those who are excited and those just plain terrified, I want to point your eyes away from the media, away from the divisiveness and ask you to focus on as Saint Paul said, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” to fix your eyes on those things. I need to remind you who you are as Jesus’ people, as children, not just of me and your dad, but of God.

First, there’s this: you remember a couple years ago, that lady at the nursing home in Texas who frightened you one night? We were there visiting our congregation member Estella in those hard weeks right before she died and you two decided to wait for me on the big, soft chairs in the lobby while I went down the hall and prayed with Estella? One of the residents wheeled up to you as you were sitting there and told you to leave. She was confused and convinced you didn’t belong there and she yelled at you. You cried and you didn’t understand why she was yelling at you – but you grabbed each other and came to find me in Estella’s room. I could see how sad you were – your whole lives you had only known older folks to be kind to you and suddenly this happened. We talked about how sometimes people who are in the nursing home get really confused, especially after dark. Or maybe she had just had a really bad day and was upset about something else but took it out on them. We talked about how it didn’t do any good to be angry about it, we just needed to respond with kindness and gentleness. 

My dear boys, kindness is key. It always is. We don’t know the battles others are fighting. We don’t know half the demons that follow others around or the sadnesses that have bitten at their hearts. Whenever possible, be kind and it is almost always possible. Our Christian faith instructs us in this as the Bible reads in Ephesians, “Be ye kind one unto another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” And Jesus’ words in Luke, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” Kindness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, these are words that we hold close, cherish, center ourselves around as people who believe in Jesus.

But, my dear boys, hear this – being kind is different than being complacent, complicit, or a doormat, or even nice. Jesus himself, when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, taught us to stand up for what is right. Jesus was always, always, always on the side of the oppressed. Jesus always, always, always spent time with those who lived on the margins – the poor, the outsiders, the refugees, those who had messed up big time, those with bad reputations, Jesus was all about finding ways to make room for everyone. He had no patience for leaving anyone behind or creating walls of division. Do you remember the Bible story where there was a group of people who were angry at a woman who had sinned, they were so angry with her they thought they should just kill her, but Jesus said, “Okay, then, whoever among you has never sinned, you get to be the first to start killing her.” And of course, no one could say they had never sinned. He pointed out all the time that we are all sinners, all of us need forgiveness, we can’t judge each other. 

My boys, I’m so in love with your loving hearts. When I see you do something kind, my own heart couldn’t be more full. But I’ll always pray, too, that when the time comes to call someone out who is being mean to or speaking badly about anyone because of their race or gender or political affiliation or sexual orientation, that you will have the strength to do that. Turn some tables over like Jesus did – it has to happen sometimes. Never be okay with injustice. Always, always, always speak up for those who are being bullied, no matter what age you are or they are, because this is the way of Jesus. And because if you don’t, your mama will kick your butt. And you know I will.

But even more than that, take it one more step. Don’t just react to injustice, but work first to promote peace. How does this look? Well, every day it looks different and for each person it looks different. Find ways to build community. Look for opportunities to build bridges. Your mom hasn’t always been so good at this – sure, within my own white, churchy, Lutheran, Christian, Scandinavian-American circles I can network and reach out like crazy, but what about beyond that? I need to keep looking for ways to be a safe person for those outside my own bubble of life and faith and experience. Pushing my introverted self to not only speak peace but live peace – look for ways to do that with all people. People of color, white, gay, straight, immigrant, native-born, Muslim, Catholic, able-bodied and disabled, men and women, the crabby and the sweet, the democrat and the republican, the gun-toters and the gun haters – everyone. Jesus crossed boundaries and social barriers to share a message of love and peace, radical inclusivity, grace for all – and so that is our goal, too. I promise, my dear boys, to keep looking for ways to do that, and you must, too. Because this is the way of Jesus.

Let’s see, what else? There’s so much. This task of living as Jesus’ people is expansive the most important thing you will do – but this is something that will help you: pray. Pray hard. Pray every day. Pray for those you like and especially for those you don’t like. Our Christian faith instructs in this also. Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook, he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And so we do. We pray for others, partly for them, but it helps us, too – it can soften our hearts and ease our bitterness. It makes us better. We pray for our leaders, for our president-elect, and work hard speak respectfully of them, whether they were the one who received our vote or not. This, too, is the way of Jesus. We can work for change and disagree without slipping into speech that is beneath us. Be clear, be smart, be faithful, live passionately, but also watch your words because they always say more about you than they say about anyone else.

I remember like yesterday those June days when you were born. I held you close, looked at your little faces, and then I looked out at the mountains in the distance and I wondered what life would hold for you. So much was unknown. I was scared of becoming a mom – worried I would mess it up big time, worried I wouldn’t have the kind of love and tenacity a parent needs. But then, we did what parents do, we gathered you up and took you home, trusting God would bring us through the journey of parenthood one day at a time. And God is faithful.

One day at a time, my dear boys. Trust God is with you. Be kind. Work for justice. Live peace. Pray. Follow Jesus. 

I love you to the moon,