SERMON 1/31/21 Epiphany 4B St. Paul’s, Claremore, OK

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Everyday Demons

            In today’s gospel we hear Jesus exorcise the demon of affliction of a man.  “Jesus rebuked him (the demon), saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.”  Sometimes the demons we face in this world today are not as obvious as this. Let me explain. A few years ago, while living in Florida, Terri and I were on our way home from church, and we stopped for a few things at the local grocery store.  As we entered the checkout line, I noticed a young mother with three kids in front of us, who seemed to be struggling with paying for her groceries.  With limited cash in hand and half her groceries still not yet scanned, she said  to the cashier, “I don’t have enough money, I am so sorry.”   Although she was a well-dressed woman and her kids were well groomed, she was struggling.   I could see in her eyes the despair and obvious burden that was weighing heavily on her.  

            I felt compelled to respond to her dilemma and so, without delay. I said, “Can we do something nice for you today?”  I told the cashier, “We’ll take care of the rest of the groceries for this nice lady and her children.”  She smiled and gave us a look of shock and a calming sigh of gratitude.  She confessed, “I’m usually on the other end of this kind of situation, but my family is struggling right now.”  I said, “Don’t worry, we all need help sometimes.”  I gave her one of my business cards and said, “If we can do anything to help you all, just call.”  

            In this brief exchange, we stepped into a moment of grace and freed someone the bonds of shame, despair, and fear to be broken.  In that moment, the demons of despair and poverty had been exorcised, and this woman and her three children were set free.  You see, not all the demons in this life that we must face are those, which possess our lives through the sensationalism seen on television or in the movies. Sometimes demonic circumstances threaten our peace, our joy, and our faithfulness.

Communal Restoration

            Jesus’ exorcised the demons that plagued the people of his time.  His work was not merely a contest of opposing spiritual forces, but those exorcisms were more like a declaration of the power of God, which could reverse the bonds of human despair, brokenness, and estrangement.  God breaks that which binds us and keeps us from being recipients of the gift of grace.  In Jesus’ day, those demons were sometimes disease, blindness, lameness, physical ailments, or mental incapacity.  When Jesus called a demon out, he not only restored the person to full health physically, but a spiritual healing was just as efficacious. 

            Do you remember the healing story of the woman who suffered from profuse bleeding?  She, because of her physical ailment, was considered a social outcast and a person unclean and ritually unworthy of human contact.  Jesus broke the bonds of her estrangement from the community and restored her to full humanity by giving her back her place in the community.  This ministry of spiritual communal restoration continues today in the work of Christ in us today.  Jesus breaks the bonds of our estrangement from each other and calls us into right relationship with God and with our neighbor.  

            This is truly the good news which is “in Christ, we are healed.”  In Christ, we are restored.  In Christ, we can live in the hope of a full, grace-filled future.  I imagine any one of us can look back over our lives and if honest, we can identify moments of healing that we have experienced.  Whether we struggled with addiction, we were estranged in our relationships, we suffered from depression, we wrestled with anger or you name it, we have all at one time or another, were in desperate need of God’s grace.  The healing power of Christ is good news, and it is news that we should be compelled to not only experience, but to share.  The writer of today’s Gospel said that because of Jesus’ healings, “his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”  The message of Jesus’ love and healing was so compelling, that the Good News did not sit idly on a shelf, and the power of the message could not be contained, and I am convinced that it cannot be contained today.  

Telling the story of Our Healing

            The message we Christians must share is God’s grace and it is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.  However, the church will have to spread that news in this changing culture differently than ever before. It is not enough for us to just open our doors, run a few ads in the paper, have some wonderful fellowship events and then, expect the people to show up to church and be transformed by Christ.  We have new generations emerging, who have never, ever heard the Gospel, and have never, ever even been in a church.  The person who used to cut my hair was from that emerging group.  She always had a new set of interesting questions about faith for me.  I remember once she said,  “Eric, I believe Jesus was a good man and I like his teachings, but I don’t get that whole religion  thing that you are into.”  How do we Christians today, respond to something like that and how do we share Good News?  

            Trying to explain religion to someone who did not grow up in church, is like a car mechanic trying to explain a transmission to someone who has never even seen a car.  Spreading the good news in this culture of ours, which has changed so much over the last 20 years, will require us to be evangelists or messengers of grace, through the lives we lead, the actions we take, and the joy we share.   And yes, I know we Episcopalians are afraid of that word evangelism, because we think it means something else; like bullhorns, gospel tracts, or knocking on doors.  Evangelism is letting our light of Christ shine in everything we do.  Evangelism is letting the transforming healing Christ has made possible in us, be seen by others. 

            You see the forces of estrangement, poverty, isolation, division, and hatred abound in this world of ours.  People need to see that those demons can be exercised by the love of Christ and they can only realize that possibility in us, and folks will get this religion thing we are so into. When this ministry of Christ continues in the world in us, faith will spread.  When young and old alike are freed from the bonds of the injustices of poverty, racism, classism, and discrimination of all sorts and types, the story of grace continues.  When love wins, when peace prevails, then Jesus’ fame will spread throughout the region.  Jesus’ fame will spread because it will be his followers, his disciples, his gathered people that will carry the message not only with the right words, catchy marketing, or great programs, but it through our very own ministry of exorcising and breaking the afflictions that hold individuals in bondage from the grace of God and the love of each other.  

SERMON Epiphany 3B 1/24/21 St. Michael’s, Norman OK

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The Risks of Following Jesus

            In 2005, right after a vestry meeting at my home church, where I served on vestry and as the treasurer, I was invited into the clergy’s office for a chat.  This kind of meeting with the clergy leadership was not unusual, but the tone of the request was a bit different and a little troubling.  I thought maybe I had done something wrong.  It was a bit foreboding.  One of the clergy, with a very serious and solemn look on her face smiled at me and said, “Walter and I have been talking about you, and we have something very important to ask you.” “Yes,” I said.  Becky asked, “Eric, have you ever felt called to ordained ministry?” 

            My response was immediate and unfiltered, “are you crazy?” The words flew out of my mouth faster than my hand could cover my lips.  It was too late, as my honest answer blurted out.  “Me a priest, maybe they were crazy,” I thought to myself.  As I look back to that day, I wondered if those two really know what they were asking me to do. Well, of course they did, they both had traversed this path themselves.  As a result of this brief meeting and the subsequent faithful responses, mine and my spouse’s lives would be changed forever.  

            The life journey of a clergy person is one taken in faith, resulting in obedience to one’s bishop, a commitment to life of service, and a path that is often difficult and heartbreaking.  It can also be filled with great joy and satisfaction as well.  Nonetheless, it is a risky adventure, but not one set aside for clergy alone.  The call to discipleship is offered to all Christians and if heeded and followed, it can be equally foreboding, fear-provoking, and yes, the call to “Come follow Jesus,” does come with certain risks.

Risky Business  

            Wikipedia defines risk as  the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome).   Almost any human endeavor carries with its some risk, but some are more risky than others.”(1)  Todays gospel reading tells the story about two sets of brothers, (Simon and Andrew, James and John) who took a huge risk to follow Jesus. Both brothers worked in the family business, and in a culture where hard work did not always equal a well-paid lifestyle.    

            The trade was health, the fishing abundant and it was an honorable living.  Everything was fine for these two pairs of siblings, that is until a young upstart Rabbi came strolling along the shore one day.  Jesus then stopped and said to Simon and Andrew and James and John, “Come follow me.”  With three words, Jesus changed their lives and the lives of their families forever. 

            Please know though that the four men had a choice in the matter.  They could have said, “No, things are good the way they are now.  We are comfortable and we like what we’re doing now, see ya.”  However, they chose the risky path and not the easy path.  All disciples of Jesus, make a similar choice to answer God’s call on our lives and to follow Jesus, or to stay in the place of, or pursuit of comfort and the good ole days.  The question we all need to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing in this life, to drop our nets, or abandon those things and pursuits that could stand between us and Jesus?”   Those four fishermen did not give it much thought, and just dropped their nets, left behind who they were, and followed Jesus.  Have you ever considered why they would just do that?  Why would anyone leave everything to follow Jesus?  The only answer I can give, the only answer I gave when the invitation came to me was that to follow the one who loves us despite our brokenness and our failures, requires us to be willing to change.  We must want to follow the one who loves us, when love is not deserved or warranted.  We must want to learn to love, just as Jesus loves.

Love Untethered  

            Because of the life of Jesus Christ and through his death, resurrection, and ascension, we have the clearest image of God’s great love for us; a love so great that he gave himself up to death for us.  Scripture reminds us, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:13 NLT)  Giving your life for someone is risky by the world’s standards, and it could be considered downright foolish.  However, our path of discipleship (by the world’s standards) also is considered by some to be foolishness.  

            Being a Jesus follower is both foolish and risky. It is risky to let go of who we have been, to live in faith each and every day, and to trust in Jesus’ grace in all things.  We are often risk avoidant, even when the outcome can be more than we imagine. I was watching a seasoned business analyst report on MSNBC the other day that the fluidity of the stock market, as a result of the ongoing pandemic, may not be the best place to make risky investments.  He recommended viewers put their money in low-risk securities, but continue to invest and be patient and wait it out.  

            This is not foolish investment advice, especially for some of us who are watching our portfolios go through many ups and downs these days. Patience, waiting it out, and taking a breath in investing seems smart, but maybe it is equally advisable for disciples.   Jesus calls us to follow him, and sometimes that kind of riskiness means we must trust.  We need to trust in the abundance of God, to step out in faith and walk the path of discipleship, even when we think maybe our path is the better way.  Jesus says, “Come, follow me; Come, be foolish; Come, take a risk.”

Bold Discipleship

            So, right now we are divided in our nation, we face the plague of a global pandemic, and the uncertainty of tomorrow. In these times, many of us staying home, and taking few risks with our health and our livelihoods. Now is the time to be patient, take a breath, and wait for God’s timing. Along with these challenges that we all face, St. Michael’s has experienced two unexpected and surprising changes in clergy leadership, and in less than a year.  For any church, that is the kind of upset which requires some waiting, listening, and preparation for what is next.  

            Maybe now is the time to consider another form of risky and foolish discipleship.  Maybe it is time to step out in faith and pursue a different kind of bold path.  Maybe it is time to stop and take a breath.  Maybe it is time to let the anxious desire to move forward too quickly, to be put on hold for a time. Maybe it is time to spend some time being faithful in our prayer lives, to remain faithful to one another, and to use this time of interim ministry to heal, to listen, and to prepare yourselves for what God has in store next.  If we trust in God’s faithfulness, God will faithfully provide the help we need, and the help you all need at this time.  

            So, Jesus calls each of us to, “Come, follow me.”  The Kingdom of God is near us right here and right now and that is risky stuff, but the return on investment for holy patience, faithfulness, and prayer is God’s abundant grace.  In this life of faith, we do need to take a little risk, to be a little foolish, and to step out a little, and that might require us to take a breath and be patient.  Jesus is calling all of us to leave our nets, or whatever binds us (anxiety, impatience, a return to what was), to leave it all behind and trust him.  Jesus calls us to leave behind our old selves and to live fully into becoming the risk-tolerant, Spirit-filled people. So come, take the risk together in Jesus Christ, and spend some time allowing God to prepare you for the amazing grace that is before you.  Jesus beckons us all to set aside our anxiety and fears, to trust him even in these ominous times.  Jesus beckons us to peace and to “Come follow me.”  

REFERENCES

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk

SERMON 1/17/21 Epiphany 2B St Martin of Tours, Pryor OK

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Sharing our Passion
My late father and I loved airplanes. We loved all things aviation so much, that we shared that hobby and took flying lessons together. What started as a teenager’s past time and hobby became for me, an avocation that changed my life. Flying provided me an opportunity at a young age, to see the beauty of God’s creation, the mighty acts of God, from a vantage point I had never witnessed before. Later in life, my love of aviation became such a powerful driving force that I felt compelled to share that experience with others.
Through commitment, dedication, study, and effort, twenty-two years ago I furthered my aviation education and earned a Commercial Pilot Certificate and a Certified Flight Instructor Certificate. Soon, I began teaching others the art and passion of aviation. I loved sharing this new experience and the giving of this gift to others, was more meaningful than any flight I ever took alone.
Through this new avocation, I practiced my skills frequently, and I studied diligently. In time, I moved from being a mere spectator of the beauty from those lofty heights, to a person who brought others along on the journey, so that they too could “come and see.” Now, I share another life-changing exprince of Grace. For all Christians, helping others to see Jesus, by sharing our experience of grace is the way we Christians live out our baptismal promises to share Good news ny word and action. We invite others to come and see Jesus in us.


Seeing Jesus
Wikipedia defines “Seeing,” or visual perception as, ” the ability to interpret the surrounding environment using light in the visible spectrum reflected by the objects in the environment.”(1) Alternatively, blindness is the inability to perceive or interpret what may be plainly present in front of us. Physical blindness was a condition of many people who met Jesus. Jesus often healed those who suffered from an inability to see. However, that healing was often more than physical. Many people Jesus encountered were really spiritually blind. They refused to open their eyes to the grace, restoration and soul healing Jesus offered them.
To have one’s sight restored, to really see the beauty of the life into which, God invites us to participate, stands at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus invites us to “come and see” the mighty works of God, the grace of God, the mercy, joy, reconciliation, and wholeness of life in Christ. We just need to open our eyes and see.
Following Jesus
In today’s gospel reading, we hear about Nathaniel and Philip’s encounter with Jesus as Jesus was returning to Galilee. Now Nathaniel was a skeptic and when presented with an opportunity to “come and see” Jesus, he said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth,” a statement of cynicism and disbelief. However, here is the important part of the story, Philip saw Jesus initially, and was so moved by him, that he had to go and tell someone else about it. Philip was an evangelist, a bearer of Good News.
Philip went beyond mere participation, and he actually went to find his friend Nathaniel, and he invited him to “come and see” Jesus. Each one of us are given that same invitation, “come and see Jesus.” Sometimes when faced with that to respond to the high calling of discipleship we can be like old Nathaniel. We want to follow Jesus, but we do so with preconceived notions of what that really means. Sometimes we proclaim Jesus as Lord, but we fail to commit to the hard work of really coming to know him.
In a parish I served twelve years ago, I had a parishioner who faithfully attended church every Sunday. She sat in the same pew, gave generously, worked in various ministries, and showed up at every event, but something in her life was missing. Emma’s spiritual practices of prayer and study had fallen by the wayside. She was missing the experience of seeing Jesus everyday, of coming to Jesus for strength, for guidance, for support, and for the life she was called to lead. Emma needed to practice her faith. She needed to know Jesus intimately. She needed to practice discipleship.

Practicing Discipleship
God invites us to “come and see” what it is like to be the people of God, but it is not enough just to see and that’s all there is. Like a pilot flying their nimble craft, we need to commit to practicing our faith, in order truly to become followers of Jesus. This journey of faith requires us to be willing to be transformed and become a new people, set aside as lighthouses of God’s grace, in a world of darkness, fear, and pain.
We are called to be people forever changed, so that we might live into God’s vision for us, both as individuals and as a community. The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury once wrote, “And Jesus’ bold proposal was that living in a world, and a community in which God was king was something very simple. To live in this world was what happened when you said ‘yes’ to what Jesus himself was saying and offering; to live under the kingship of God was deciding to live in the company of Jesus and trusting what he said about God and about you.” (2) We come and see Jesus, we are forever changed, and then we are sent out to share that vision of love with others.

So, we must practice our faith by having conversations with Jesus, studying the stories of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and we need to serve others as Christ served us. We need to pray, we need to study, and we need to serve. When we say yes to the invitation to “come and see” the bold proposal of the Kingdom of God, we must move from mere spectators who see. We need to once again become practitioners of faith, so that our lives are so filled with God, that we are compelled to invite others to “Come and See.”

REFERENCES
(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_perception
(2) http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/07/to-live-in-jesus-company-is-to-become.html

SERMON 1/10/21 Epiphany 1B St. Basil’s Episcopal Church, Talehquah, OK

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Baptism – Our Common Journey

            2020 is behind us, or at least the numerical marker on the calendar indicates that this difficult year is past us.  However, the ongoing pandemic, the events of the past year, and the news of the first few weeks of the new year has left an indelible mark on all of us.  We all had anticipated just a few days ago, that the new year would bring hope of a new start and a new day, but that new day of 2021 has been stained in our own capital.  There is a rift emerging in our common life as a people, filled with emotion, frustration, and a divide.  Even so, we can find healing, we can find a common life together, if we but return to the path of love, the life in Christ made possible through the sacrament of our baptism. 

            Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and this is not just another Sunday. It is a day of commemoration through which all the church is reminded to renew our promises made on one of the major transitions in the life of Our Lord’s ministry, and the same major transition in our own lives. Baptism is much more than a mere rite of passage for infants or spiritual fire insurance.  Baptism is not just a sweet church ritual where baby in baptismal gown is dedicated by parents and grandparents. Baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime holy event.  

            I think sometimes we have lost the meaning of baptism, and I believe we need to renew the church’s teaching of baptism, and what it means for all of God’s children.  I had a parishioner once who had a grandchild, they wanted baptism.  They asked me when we could “get it done” and began to talk about preparing the parents for their responsibilities.  The parishioner said, “Father, come now, we are just talking about a little water, a few words, and then the baby is on Jesus’ team, right?”   Well, I took the opportunity to teach them about baptism.  I shared with grandma that this is no water bath, but a pivotal moment of transformation that Jesus has left for us.  I explained how this particular moment of our lives is a change, a new start, a life moment the whole community of God participates in, and it is one Jesus left for us to follow.  I explained that Baptism is the moment we enter into the family of God.  It is the door to the church.  It is how we become sisters and brothers of the one who left this sacrament for us to follow.

Baptism Changes Us, Baptism Changes Our Relationships

            Some people have a hard time understanding why Jesus participated in baptism in the first place.  Even John the Baptist initially misunderstood why Jesus showed up at the waters of the Jordan for that holy water bath.  John stated, “the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  John really didn’t understand, but later realized that Jesus was leaving us an example of the life we are to lead, and the example we are to follow.  Jesus invites us to identify with him, and for him to identify with us.

            In the Book of Common Prayer, in the Thanksgiving over the Water found in the baptism rite we read what the church teaches about the waters of baptism.  It states, “In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians spoke about dying in a death like his and sharing in a resurrection like his.  Paul asserts that “the person who has been baptized is ‘in Christ,’ is no longer subject to the divisions of human society and is part of a unified body.”[1]  

            In other words, because of our baptism, we find our identity in Christ and we find our identity in community in Christ.  Our identity as the baptized supersedes our identity in any other group, association, or even our citizenship.  Through baptism, we die to our old self and live into a new reality.  That new reality is the church, the Body of Christ, the family of God.  We are now called to live a life of peace, joy, service, love, and reconciliation.  We need to understand that as a baptized Christian our loyalties are now to Christ and the Kingdom of God.

What is Baptism

            In the Episcopal Church’s catechism it states, “Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the church.”  Thus, we are by virtue of our baptism, a full-fledged part of “Team Jesus.”  We are on the team, we are unified, we are a group, a gaggle, a community, and we are a family.  The church is much more than a secondary association, or a community of folks brought together for weekly worship alone.  We are a new people.

            We humans are social folk, and we need to gather with others in order to feel complete and whole.  There are all kinds of groups and communities out there these days and in each one, folks come together for different reasons and purposes.  There are civic groups that gather for service to the community, there are golf groups who gather for golf; there are social groups who gather for fun.   The Church however is a community with a purpose, a mission, and life-changing path.   The Church, the Body of Christ, “Team Jesus” is brought together for the purposes of love, and our association is formal, well-defined, and permanent because of an indissoluble bond made possible by following the example of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the waters baptism. 

            Baptism is Christian initiation, an entry, a turning point, a new phase of life made possible by water and Spirit.  In baptism, we pass through water yes, but we also take promises upon ourselves or in the case of infants, they are taken for us and on our behalf.   Baptism is ritual, promise, and it is covenant.  It is a promise made by each of us as individuals and corporately as the church, and it is a promise made between us and God.   In baptism, God promises that we will are God’s people and we will share in God’s kingdom.  In baptism, our promises to God and each other, define how we will live into God’s promise to us, and how we will be God’s people.   This way of life we promise to undertake in baptism is of God, because it is the life, death, and resurrection of God in Christ which we promise to follow.  

Baptismal Promise – Gathering

            On page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer, we find the promises of our baptism, which all of us say together when someone new enters the family of God.  These promises are often renewed again and again throughout the Christian year, especially today, when in some congregations we replace the Nicene Creed for the Baptismal Covenant. Let me summarize those promises of baptism, which define what it means to be a member of “Team Jesus.” First, we are asked to promise, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?”  Some of God’s people have dedicated their entire life to studying the teaching of the apostles and so should we.  I dare say that a 10-15 minute sermon once a week is just not enough to learn to live the path of love.  

            We all need to study the scriptures daily, and we should take advantage of the any Adult Christian Education opportunities that are out there.   We are invited by virtue of our baptism into a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ, and that itself takes effort.   The fellowship of the body through the sacrament of the breaking of bread is essential.  We gather each week to receive the sacrament, but this meal is not just about you and me as individuals.  When we share a meal with someone, we just don’t eat and run; we interact.  We make ourselves vulnerable, and we enter into relationship.  Communal living in Christ is not a drive-thru, fast food endeavor, but a multi-course meal in which, we gather, share, reveal our brokenness, and learn what it really means to love one another (not just the ones we like or those who are like us).  That “and in the prayers” part seems easy enough, but many folks struggle with having a conversation with God.  That’s pretty much what prayer is by the way, listening for God’s Spirit to speak to us.  Sometimes in prayer, we may say too much.  Maybe the key to prayer is merely taking the time for a few minutes to listen, to quiet our spirit and wait on God.  

Baptismal Promise – Doing

            The next baptismal promise is “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”  We all stray and fall off the path.  We all will fail, but it’s in the returning to “Team Jesus,” that we embrace this promise and find the arms of God awaiting our return.  As a community of reconciliation and restoration, we become an example of God’s forgiveness and grace to the world.

            The next promise is as follows, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”  This promise frightens Episcopalians because it sounds too much like Evangelism.  It is by the way, but evangelism does not include the use of bullhorns and Gospel tracts and street preaching on the local main drag.  No, sharing the Gospel means that we live knowing our lives may be the only lens through which others can see Christ.  We need to realize that “our lives draw others to Jesus,” and “this community’s life reflects the life of Christ to others.”  The next few promises are difficult ones to keep, especially in times like we live in today, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  

            Loving neighbor, striving for justice, and respecting dignity is tough these days.  However, caring for the poor, afflicted, and broken is NOT just a clichéd litany of teachings that Jesus offered us, but ones he really did not really expect us to follow.  We, the Body of Christ are a missional community commissioned to bring others to unity with God and each other in Christ.  The others God claims always extends well beyond just those gathered together on Sunday, but includes those for whom our earthly associations might not include.  The others are all of God’s creatures, especially those for whom we might hold differing opinions.   

Baptism and Unity

            Now in these times, when the divisions of our common national life seems to be growing, it is time for we Christians to remember our baptismal promises. we need to realize when things are feeling like they are being ripped apart, we are brought together by our promises made to God and each other.  Right now, when we wrestle with how we as Christians might live in these times, we can go to the higher authority of God’s word, and live differently than the world.  

            The events of the past week have left an indelible mark on our society, and our nation may never be the same.  But we Christians have been left with an indelible mark on us long ago.  At our baptism, the priest takes oil and makes the sign of the cross on our forehead. and reminds us that we are marked by Holy Spirit and we are ” Christ’s own forever.” that mark may be the hope, the life transformation that can heal our nation.  Our baptism serves as a call for all of us to live a life of service, a life of peace, a life of reconciliation, and a life of love.  As we go out today to “love and serve the Lord,” as the candles are extinguished please never forget your baptismal promises. 

            In the days to come, when all seems hopeless, let the mark of Baptism remind you that we find our common life, our hope, and our purpose following the one who loved all, accepted all, and unifies us all in God’s grace.  Let us pray, “Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”

REFERENCES

1 Schowalter, Daniel N. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.


Christmas Eve 12/24/20 St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK

Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

Christmas Traditions

Christmas includes so many wonderful traditions : decorating the tree, drinking eggnog, hanging stockings, unwrapping gifts, children waiting for Santa Claus, and all those awesome Christmas stories on television and the movies. This year’s (2020) Christmas celebrations and festivities will not be traditional to say the least. A global pandemic plagues all of us, and in the midst of these days, we live in troubling and painful times. Life is different and we all long for something that looks normal. Many of us this week will try and get lost in a movie or television drama. Hopefully we will watch a story that will portray Christmas from prior years. Televised entertaining stories can, in the midst of all that has changed, allow us to experience those wonderful holidays of old.

Pre-pandemic fantasies of Christmas can be enjoyed watching stories such as: Home Alone I, II, and III, Elf, Christmas with the Cranks and Polar Express. We can be whisked away to a better time and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman and of course, the never-ending Hallmark Channel Christmas Romance Novels made for Television. These Christmas stories can help us forget just how different life is this year such as, Christmas shopping is mostly online, holiday celebrations are cancelled, and family gatherings are minimized or non-existent. Televised Christmas fantasy can give us a respite from social distancing and mask wearing, as we watch better times being played out on the screen.

Stories of Christmas

It is interesting to note that all of these Christmas stories I mentioned, follow a similar story line and all have similar beginnings, middles, and endings. Most begin with some controversy or challenge involving a close-knit family. Next, the tension of the story is somehow miraculously resolved, and finally everyone experiences unexpected joy, peace, and goodwill. Each story presents a different central character, who in the story eventually wins the day and a new era of life emerges after the Christmas Joy. One thing I find interesting about this stories is that they do not even mention the central character of the true Christmas story we Christians tell. Hallmark never mentions the real “reason for the season;” Jesus Christ. The Christmas story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, God in flesh seems to compete with, and is often the secondary narrative of the season we celebrate today. Now, when the story of the Nativity of Christ is depicted on the big screen, it is often presented to us as a picture-perfect Hallmark moment. Nonetheless, that night in Bethlehem was far from perfect. The real story of Christmas and the events of that fateful night, seem less like the perfect, fairy tale scene. That fateful night seems much more like the unimaginably difficult times in which, we find ourselves today.

There were no twinkling lights except the stars in the sky and of course, that special star that shown above the manger. There were no red paper wrapped toys, except the ones the Maggi brought from the Eastern parts of the empire. There were no elves, reindeer, or snowmen characters, but there were shepherds, sheep, donkeys, and other animals finding shelter where the Baby Jesus was laid. There were no Christmas Carols being sung in the background, save the angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Jesus’ birth took place in a shabby, untidy barn with difficult circumstances for a poor family that night. This story gives us a peek into the difficulties of everyday normal life of the world’s people, in the midst of unexpected challenges and a global plague of poverty, oppression, and an oppressive empire. You see, we 21st century folks tidy Christmas up and make it almost seem surreal, as if it were a mere fairy tale or just another story on television.

The Christmas Story

Joseph, Mary, the Infant Jesus and the scene in that little town of Bethlehem is the ironic story of how God, the Creator of all we perceive, the Redeemer of our lives, and the Sustainer of all creation came among us as one of us.  God came to us to close the chasm between, to bring us back to him.  This act by God, humbled, and vulnerable is the good news of this story.  God acted first in love, which is what God always does to reconcile and restore us.

God came to us not in power but in humility. Under the oppression of a governmentally mandated census, through which all the known world would be required to travel to their birthplace to be counted. The egotistical and narcissistic Roman Emperor Cesar, sought to place a numeric value on what and who he ruled, all as a symbol of his earthly imposing power. Now, part of the irony of the Christmas drama is that the real ruler of the world Jesus Christ, came to us as a poor little helpless baby and not a power-wielding Emperor that needed to feed his ego. The real Christmas story from its humble poverty-stricken beginnings, overturned the idea the earthly power leads to redemption. The real story of Christmas tells us that true power comes from humble, self-giving love, shared by a young family, and manifested in a baby, whose purpose and eventual mission would be to change the whole world through love.

The Humble God

There was no pomp and circumstance in this story, no social insiders, no big parties, and no consumer-influenced gifts.  The first visitors to see this King of Kings were not celebrities, pop culture stars, or even political figures.  There were no Kardashians, or Taylor Swift, Kanye West, or even political all-stars showing up to this event for an endorsement.  At this critical world-changing event, only shepherds who herded unsavory sheep out in the fields came to sing praises to the God who came to us in the flesh.  There were no bands or choirs, and definitely, no small-town Hallmark movie celebrations or parades.  

The birth of Christ was like the real deal life we all live each day, and the God who brought it all into being, showed up as one of us in the middle of our muck and mire.  God humbled Godself, to heal the chasm of the relationship, from which we often walk away.  We often reject the pain, poverty, and difficulties of story of humble love in a manger, for the comfortable, satisfying, and safe stories for which we all long.   The irony of God’s mission to bring us to love and joy is found in the path of trust and faith, even in the midst of pain and troubles.

You see, you cannot get to the joy of the Easter story without the unsavoriness of the Christmas story.  You cannot get to resurrection and salvation, without  the event of incarnation and the Babe in the Manger.  You cannot really receive the Good News of God’s love, unless you listen to the angel, who proclaimed that night in the midst of fear, cold, and the plague of poverty and uncertainty, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  That same promise of God is being shared with all of us in the midst of the plague, in which we must make sacrifices, offer humble love, and face challenges like never before, so that we all can live and ” not be afraid.”

Reason for the Season

            So, this story of humble love presented in the birth of a child is the reason we celebrate Christmas and it is the Good News that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  The God who made all of us, loves us.  God loves us so much that he transcended time and space and entered into the mire and muck of life as one of us, so he could show us what the love he has for us looks like, and it looks like Jesus.   Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”  Jesus is the rabbi, teacher, healer, and lover of all with whom he came in contact.  Jesus is God in flesh, who restored the broken, set prisoners free, and showed us the kind of self-giving love that we as his followers should strive for.  

Now maybe you are thinking, “that all sounds so wonderful Canon Eric, but I am not sure I believe all of it.”  “Ok,” that’s fair and thank you for being honest.  So, may I suggest you take a little leap of faith in the coming year and make the story of Christ’s humble love your story.  Try and live your life filled with love, forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation.  Live as if the story is true, because if it is true (which I believe it is), then everything in your life is going to change.  However, even if it is not true (which I believe it is true), and if you live as if it is true, then everything in your life is still going to change.  If each of us were to live the Christmas story in the coming year, then the world will change as well.

So, my hope for you this Christmas Eve is that you might hear this story with renewed hearing.  When you leave this service for the safe distanced celebrations that you plan, I pray you go forward each day trusting your life to God.  I pray you will live in humble love and listen to those holy messengers who promised so long ago, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Now that my sisters and brothers that is the real Christmas story that changed everything in history, it changes everything this day, and if you let it, it will change everything in your life, from this day forward! Merry Christmas.

SERMON 12/20/20 Advent 4, St. David’s Episcopal Church, OKC, OK

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27Luke 1:26-38

Parenthood

Parenthood

Almost 30 years ago in a hospital in Orlando, Florida in my own hands, I held a new life.  My daughter was an incredibly beautiful baby, and she is a beautiful young woman today.  She is a world traveler, a fine musician, and most of all, a beloved Child of God.  Many of us have had this same experience of holding a newborn; the gift of holding a child, so precious, so small, so fragile, and resting at peace in our arms.  

We may remember how dependent they were on us for their very survival.  What a responsibility, what a commitment that was to take on.  The decision to support a new life is no mere casual, “OK, I’ll do it.”  The response to become a parent is a decision that lasts for a lifetime. It is a commitment not only to bring the child into the world, but it is a decisive acknowledgement of the responsibility, to love child throughout the entire journey, even if their path and yours part.  

Imagine how the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary felt on that fateful night some 2000 plus years ago.  She was probably only 13 years of age, and there in that manger, she was holding in her arms, a baby, but no ordinary child.  This infant was miraculously God in flesh, “Immanuel,” God with us. 

Theotokos

Mary was no ordinary mother.  She is the central character of the story we will hear, and we will celebrate in only a few days.  Mary is the purest example of Godly obedience, and faithful discipleship for all of us.  However, for some Christians, Mary’s place in the story may be less significant.  She has for some folks, become merely a simple figurine in a manger scene, or a mere vessel through which the babe was born.  Our sister, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, and is so much more.  

In the 5th century, Nestorius, an early church leader, had a diminished view of Mary’s role in the story of salvation.  He asserted that the church’s doctrine of the nature of Christ as mysteriously both fully human and fully divine was wrong. Nestorius regarded Mary as merely the bearer of Christ’s human flesh.  Most likely, Nestorius would have called Mary, “Christotokos” or the “Bearer” or “Mother of Jesus.”  However, the church has taught a higher Christology, or the study of nature of Christ, as fully human/fully divine.  Thus, we have held Mary in special regard.  The church teaches that Mary was in fact, “Theotokos”  or the “Bearer of” or “Mother of God.”  

      Mary as mother of God in is a mystery that science cannot explain, and even our own intellect cannot fully fathom.  This theological assertion has to be one taken on faith that is, as long as we can accept that “nothing is impossible with God.”  We believe that God dwelt among us as a baby, as a child, as a man.  In this mystery of God’s grace, we must remember that God brought forth creation, God brings forth salvation and the key point to remember it is by God’s initiative that find our very being. 

Saying Yes to God

Everything that is comes from God. Every hope we have for the redemption of all things, comes from God.” It was by God’s initiative that we are unlikely recipients of God’s favor, a people who are freely offered God’s love, mercy, reconciliation, and joy.  We are not forced to accpet that grace, but merely are we invited to accept it and bear it.  We like Mary, are offered the opportunity to have Christ in us, but that invitation to say “yes” to God is not an easy one. Mary said, “yes.”

Mary, the Ever Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, “Theotokos” – is a model of discipleship for all of us.   From the obedient young woman whom the angel visited, to the broken-hearted mother whose tears at the foot of the cross flowed, Mary teaches us what it means to allow the Spirit to work in and through us.  

Her journey began when she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  John Stendahl, a theologian, wrote an interesting commentary on Mary’s “yes.” Stendahl wrote, “To me it seems as if her yes has transfigured the story, for now it hinges on her word, her participation and presence in the drama. That’s the kind of story the Bible repeatedly tells. The suggested pattern is no longer so much of divine imposition, but a story as one in which Gabriel and God and all the heavens stand in breathless suspense. All history, the salvation of the world, now seems to hang on this one young woman’s answer.” (1)  The notion that God imposes God’s will on us is thwarted by this young woman’s optional response to the angel.  

God’s wooing of Creation

Stendahl adds, “Mary’s consent subtly recasts the story of power. It is as if the grand God of Israel has become for us—is willing to be for us—like Myles Standish, dispatching Gabriel as a substitute suitor to plead his case. The case may be pressed with claims of power and promises of blessing, but still the ancient one trembles and waits for an answer.  Imagine that. Imagine that he’s waiting for us too.”(1) Can you fathom and comprehend that the Almighty God is waiting on us to respond to beckoning call to love.  Let that sink in for a moment.  God is waiting on us– to respond.  

God is inviting us, like Mary was invited, to bring the presence of God into the world through our own lives.  We hear that invitation in the command, “Go out and make disciples of all nations.”  We hear that invitation in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We hear that invitation in the command, “’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  The Spirit of God beckons us, with “claims of power and promises of blessing,(God) trembles and waits for an answer. “ (1)  Those who bear God to the world are central people in the story of salvation, and like our Sister Mary, we have a place in the narrative of grace.

Mary’s place in our tradition and in our hearts is firmly planted.  “Mary should have been central and not peripheral. For who better than she illustrated the fact that every one of us is . . .  indeed a virgin recipient of God’s purpose and calling? Christianity is the religion of what God has done for us and to us.” We are more than mere passive recipients of Grace, mere holding vessels, simple figurines in the grand manger scene of everyday life.  In us, we carry the Christ, the babe, the Spirit of God and we are given the choice to say, “(Yes) Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (2)  The late Ronald Goetz, former Professor Emeritus of Theology at Elmhurst College once asserted, “We could do worse than to claim Mary as our patron saint, she who was the simple and pure recipient of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” We are thus left before the Almighty with the challenge and exhortation, “God is awaiting your Yes!” 

God is waiting; will you say Yes

God waits for each of us to allow our lives to be filled with him, so that through in God’s power and grace, we may birth reconciliation, joy, restoration, peace, and love in a hurting and broken world.   The issue before us, the one with which we Christians today struggle, is found in these questions, “Am I ready to allow the Holy Spirit to transform me?”  “Can I make room to grow in a deeper love and commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ?”  “When all that we have and all that we are is challenged and we may have to change our path, to look at life through a different lens, to accept the real possibility of change in us, will we be ready?”  “Will we say yes?”   

Like for our Sister Mary (Theotokos), God is encouraging us and offering us the great invitation of our discipleship.  God’s messenger says, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will take into yourself the son whose name is Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  If we hear that call to bear Christ to the world, and we answer that call, God will empower us, like Mary to offer an answer that is a rousing, and yet possibly reluctant, but most definitely, a clear, faithful and persistent “yes.”

REFERENCES

(1) Stendahl, John K. “Mary Says Yes.” Christian Century 119.25 (2002): 16-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.

(2) Goetz, Ronald. “The Mary In Us All.” Christian Century 104.37 (1987): 1108-1109. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 13 Dec. 2011

SERMON Advent 3B 12-13-20 St Paul’s Episcopal, Holdenville, OK

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

In this the third week of Advent, John the Baptist is taking the spotlight again. Last week’s gospel expounded on John’s mission, but then this week, we hear the story once again. John was the prophet who was preparing the way for the arrival of the Promised One. John was calling the people to repentance (a turning or rejection of the old ways), and he baptized with water as an outward sign of that inward change. This week, the drama heightens a bit, and John is clarifying his mission and ensuring that all understand that he is NOT the Messiah. John is pointing clearly to Jesus, as the Promised One of God and Jesus’ mission will be the salvation of all.

​The crafters of the lectionary included the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, which is the one Jesus read in the synagogue to inaugurate his earthly ministry, to clarify his purpose.   “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,  to bind up the brokenhearted,  to proclaim liberty to the captives,  and release to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.”  

​In the synagogue, Jesus read this scroll and declared to all who were present, that its reading was being fulfilled in their very presence.  In other words, God’s promises of salvation were being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Now, we all know that there are clear examples of that fulfillment throughout Jesus’ ministry. Whether it was a blind man, a woman with a blood condition, a leper, or a wealthy person struggling for meaning, Jesus was and is in the business of releasing people from the bondage of a common human problem; our identity crisis.   

God is saving us; but from what

​Wikipedia describes an identity crisis as, “a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role.”  I believe as Christians, part of this journey of sanctification, we struggle to clearly understand “who we are and whose we are.”  It is almost like we want to follow Jesus Christ, but we cling to our old ways of living.   We live in the hope of God’s deliverance, but do we really understand from what it is that God is saving us?

​We share a common journey in this life, a life fraught with joy and celebration and sometimes with doubt, fear, and pain and our salvation journey begins when we become a new people. When the old life is transformed in the new, when the former us emerges as the potential new, we are restored, reconciled, and made whole.   When through the Spirit leading, guiding, and changing us, we begin to know who we really are,and whose we really are.   

​The oppressed, brokenhearted, captive and prisoners that Jesus mentions in the scroll from Isaiah are the ones who find themselves captive to anything that keeps them from communion with God and with each other.  We are the ones Jesus is reading about in Isaiah.  We are often the captive and blind if we struggle with our identity as Children of God and sisters and brothers in Christ, saved by grace.  However, we do not struggle alone and we can to know that we are set free, by grace.

Jesus sets us free

​Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was about the work of setting captives free.  Jesus once met a rich man who came seeking the kingdom of God.  He followed all the laws and yet, Jesus said there was one thing missing.  Jesus said, “sell what you have, give it to the poor and then follow Him.”  The challenge for the man had nothing to do with any notion that money or wealth is in itself, something evil and must be shunned.  What kept this man captive and unable to know “who he was and whose he was” lay in the fact that his wealth was thestumbling block to his salvation.  The one thing that became the god of his life was his wealth and it (not God) defined who he was, it influenced all his choices, and it prevented him from fully loving his neighbor.   The rich man needed to be set free.

​There are other prisons in which we can be held captive. Whether it is an addiction, an excessive luxury, a career, debt, or even an unhealthy relationship, we all can find ourselves in bondage to something.   We all have something in our lives that competes for our affection, that wrestles for our time, that wars against our service to God and each other; we all have idols.  Sometimes that which holds us in bondage, is the least obvious to us.  

​There was a young teenager who played guitar in large church’s praise band.  He practiced with the group every week and rehearsed at home all the time.  It was as if the band took over his every thought and purpose.  His obsession with this ministry was a bit overwhelming for his friends and family too.  When the older kids graduated from high school, the group had to disband.   Soon our teenage friend stopped going to church, he fell out of touch with his fellow musicians, and his spiritual life suffered.  The guitar and his role in the band held him captive from clearly knowing “who he was and whose he was.” We may know folks like this, and we may even be like him in some ways.  Maybe what we all need to ask ourselves prayerfully is, “are there things in our life that can become an idol, despite the fact it is for good?”  

Idols

     Even the church can have idols, which are distractions from the ministry we are called to do.  Whether it is our history, our buildings, or our “we’ve always done it that way heritage,” these things can have power over us and hold us in a prison of an estrangement from God and others.   The distancing from God, from each other, and the mission we are called to do is the one that John the Baptist was proclaiming would come to an end when we found our identity in Jesus Christ.  Through John’sbaptism of repentance would lead to the fulfillment of the rescue found in the One (Jesus Christ) who would baptize with the Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to turn to God and turn away from those things that which between us and God and between us and each other in Christ. When Christ is at the Center, we are freed from bondage, and set free for the new life God promises us.

Christ in the Center

         We can begin to recognize the idols in our lives that define us, the ones wo which define us, and the ones to which we pay homage, we are on the path to Christ’s freedom becoming a reality.  Remember, we are baptized in Christ and  through that baptism and we are marked as Christ’s own forever.  We are marked, stamped, certified, and signified as a disciple of Our Lord, and not merely as loose band of individuals. 

​ Our individuality is broadened into a community beyond local village, county, or even state.  Our identity is beyondcountry, political party, social class, gender, individual need or any other social label.  We are Christ’s own and our worship, homage, focus, and our very lives are now free. We are no longer captive to the old “me,” but immersed into a new “we” in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  

By letting go and allowing the Spirit to work in us, to transform us, to do a new thing in us, we take our place in the Kingdom in which we are made new, in which we have a new name, into which we grow in a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ. We, the oppressed, brokenhearted, captives, and prisoners have good news on which to rely. We are now being bound together in Christ, we are receiving liberty from our idols, and we are being released from our prisons of estrangement. In Jesus Christ, we are free and in Jesus Christ, we are recipients of the Lord’s favor and not just for us but for all of creation. We are being made new.

SERMON 11/22/20 “Christ the King” St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Stillwater, OK

Ezekiel 34: 12-16, 20-24; Psalm 95: 1-7a; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46 

The Feast Day

            “Christ the King” is a feast observed in many mainline Protestant, as well as the  Roman Catholic Church, and it is celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It commemorates Christ’s messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. The feast was originally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and celebrated on the last Sunday in Oct. It has been observed on the last Sunday before Advent since 1970.  This commemoration of Christ The King has its origins in the prophetic books and finds its roots in the lineage Jesus shares with King David.

In the prophetic writings of Jeremiah, we find the connection between Jesus and King David, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  David was the beloved King of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah somewhere around 1000 BCE. “Early Christians interpreted the life of Jesus in light of the references to the Messiah and to David; Jesus is described as being descended from David. David is even discussed in the Quran as a major prophet and figures in Islamic oral and written tradition as well.” (1)  

            The early followers of Jesus made this royal connection between Jesus and their most beloved King David, which alluded to Jesus as the anticipated Messiah or “promised one,” or originally an earthly king ruling by divine appointment.   Jesus is the ultimate, expected, and promised “King overall.  However, the nature of the reign of “Christ the King” is very different from the Messianic reign the Israelites had hoped.  Christ the King’s reign I am afraid is also a reality that may be very different from what we expect today.  

            I want us today, to consider “Christ the King” more than a mere title for Jesus, or just another feast day celebrated on last Sunday of the church year.  I encourage you to let this feast day serve as a reminder, a challenge for growth and spiritual development.  Today, I want to ask you to ponder three questions about your own relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of our lives.   First, consider this question, “Is Christ MY King? Next, consider this question, “If Christ is my King, what does that really mean?” Finally, consider this question, “If Christ is my King, how does that change how I live my life?”  As a follower of Jesus, the acceptance of Christ the King has consequences for how we live each and every day.

Presidents vs. Kings   

            Monarchies is an alien concept for American democracy.  We live in a constitutional democratic republic where for 244 years, no sovereign has wielded power over this land or its people.  Monarchical authority was something for which we fought against during the Revolutionary War.  Our forefathers struggled with the hazards of having even a strong executive branch, potentially undermining the balance of powers of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

When George Washington was chosen to sit in that first seat as the head of the Executive branch, the early founders did not know what title they should give to his position in government. “Some delegates to the Constitutional Convention suggested “His Exalted Highness,” others sought a  more democratic “His Elective Highness.” Other suggestions included the formal ‘Chief Magistrate’ and the lengthy “His Highness the President of the United States of America, and Protector of Their Liberties’.”   Thankfully, Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution states that “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.”  

So, in our DNA we Americans have a hard time with someone claiming ultimate power over our lives, because it seems like a violation of who we are as a people; rugged, independent, “pull ourselves up from the boot straps” people. We may find it hard then, to accept a relationship in which, we are called to embrace Jesus Christ as the King, the ruler, the guide, and the center of our lives.  However, bear with me today because, I believe scripture and tradition offer us a way to understand who this “King of Glory” really is, and who he is supposed to be to us.  

Christ the King

            One the clearest metaphorical images of Christ the King for me can be found behind the altar of the Chapel of the Apostles at my seminary Sewanee. There behind the altar stands a near life-size crucifix of our Lord, nearly naked, hands and feet pierced, and hanging on the cross.  This image is the earliest depictions of the throne of grace for the King we describe today.  However, in many Episcopal churches behind the altar you may often see a more modern image of Christ unattached to it, but standing in front of a cross, with arms outstretched, and clothed in western eucharistic vestments, with a royal crown on his head. This image portrays several concepts of Christ as King:  the historic event of the crucifixion, Christ as the King in his kingdom post-resurrection, and Christ as the victorious sacrificial Lamb presiding at the Eucharistic feast.  We often see this image as Christ the King in many venues, however the image that most clearly depicts the concept of “Christ the King” of our lives, the nature of his mission or reconciliation, and the love he has for creation, can be found in the gruesome images of the crucifix.  This images shows us the God of love, offering himself to us, vulnerable, rejected, and yet, still loving beyond our imagine..  

Jesus’ real throne of power is not a seat covered in gold or fine Italian leather.  His throne is a torture device used by an oppressive government to silence criminals.  Jesus crown is not one with diamonds, rubies, and other jewels, but circular wound thorns that pierced his flesh.  Most importantly, the power Christ wields as monarch is not imbued with might and manipulation, nor with military or economic power, but with self-giving love manifested by the sacrifice of his own life for all.  

      Scripture tells that Christ the King: rescued us from the power of darkness, he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, in him all things hold together, he is the head of the body (the church), and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things. This is no earthly head of state who has the potential to succumb to tyranny and despotism.  This is God in the flesh, love in action, restoration through sacrifice.

Christ the King is no mere wielder of power in a system made by human hands.  Christ the King is God among us, who shows us how to live as we were created to live.  Christ the King is the ultimate sovereign whose power is love alone.  Christ the King is the overseer of our lives, even when in our naivete, we will not release that power to him.  Christ the King is “Christ My King,” and yet, even today, we struggle to make the commitment to living as loyal subjects which that his kingdom requires.  We may take issue with the monarchy concept, but we are still enthralled by it. 

Christ My King

We Americans are obsessed with the British Monarchy. The American viewership of two incredibly elaborate Royal Weddings in the last 30 years attests to that fixation.  Psychologists call “this obsession (with royalty) “parasocial behavior,” which can create a one-sided relationship in which someone becomes attached to a person without actually interacting with them in any meaningful way.” (2) 

If we Americans love the monarchy with all its pomp and circumstance, why is it we reject the authority and rule of such a governing system.  Maybe this paradox of distanced admiration, alludes to the challenges with have with a  relationship of Christ the King.  We love the crown but reject its authority.  Maybe we have a mere affinity for a popular, famous, good teacher, rather than living a committed life in Christ fully engaged, living as a loyal subject of God’s Kingdom.”

 The loyal subject of God’s Kingdom desires Christ’s will in all things, pursues Christ’s guidance in all decisions, studies scripture and looks to his example for the path, which we must travel, and speaks to him in loving conversation (prayer) each and every day.    Alternatively, could our relationship with Christ be one of a parasocial nature, in which we are merely attached to him, without actually interacting with him in a meaningful way.          

      God desires to be with us in all things, but God wants us to be with him in all things.  Pastor Edward Markquart asserts, “God entered this world as one of us and took upon himself our joy, fear, pain, and suffering.  The nature of God is not to avoid suffering; the nature of love is not to avoid pain or the places of pain.  That’s the way love really is manifested; that’s the way God is; not to avoid pain and not to avoid the places of pain.”(3)  

“Christ the King” is the sovereign of our lives because we make the choice to invite him vulnerably and humbly to walk the path of suffering and pain, joy and peace, hope and salvation with us every day of our lives.  That relationship requires no pomp and circumstance, no royal pageantry, and no fine china and silver dinner parties.  It requires us to come before the throne of grace and seek reconciliation and transformation with God and with each other every day.  So, when we come before that throne of grace, we will find no tyrannical despot, but merely the bearer of the cross of self-giving love.  

So, I go back to my original questions, which only you can answer for yourself: “Is Christ MY King?” If so, then my sisters and brothers that means, we must let go of our sense of control and accept God’s will for our lives.  “Is Christ my King and what does that really mean?” It simply means our lives are not our own, and we commit to a life of love; love of God and love of neighbor.   “If Christ is my King, how does that change how I live my life?” It means simply that we will make different choices in everything we do, including how we invest our gifts given to us from God, how we cultivate and care for relationships, and how we serve others in the world.  

If “Christ the King” really is the king, we can be assured we do not live under a power-wielding despot, nor a self-focused regime, we live under the one on whom we can trust, on whom we can rely, and by whom loves us with arms wide-open, even when we might reject him; Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, our God, our Brother, and friend, and our King.  

REFERENCES

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David

(2) https://time.com/5253199/royal-obsession-psychology/

(3) http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_save_us_from_our_crosses.htm