Saint Luke's Episcopal Church
The Feast of Christ the King — Sunday, November 22, 2015
St. Luke's Episcopal Church
2150 Boteler Road
Brownsville, Maryland 21715
The Lord’s Prayer contains eight phrases.
In four of them, we ask God for something: give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.
In the other four, we promise God something: hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
I would like us to think today about that short phrase: “thy kingdom come.”
This is not a command we give to God, nor a prayer request, but rather a promise that we are making, every time we say these words.
This is the last Sunday of the Christian year, and it is also called the Feast of Christ the King.
We got this feast from our Roman Catholic neighbors, and they have only been celebrating it since 1925.
In that year, the 1600th anniversary of the council that gave us the Nicene Creed, Pope Pius XI saw that the world was heading down a path toward tough times.
It was the “roaring twenties” in the U.S., but the countries of Europe were heading down a path that would lead to another world war.
Mussolini took control of Italy that year, and Hitler published Mein Kampf.
Americans were getting rich in the stock market, but they were not acknowledging the bubble they were creating, and they weren’t preparing for it to burst.
In announcing the new Feast, the pope said that he wanted to remind the world that Christ should reign in the hearts and wills of all people.
When The Episcopal Church adopted the Revised Common Lectionary in 1969, we all joined in the observance of this special date, the last Sunday of every Christian year.
Of course, we Americans have a particularly hard time with the idea of a king.
After all, we fought a bloody revolution more than 200 years ago, just to get rid of the power and authority of a tyrant king, so it’s hard for us to think about a time when there will be another one.
And we’re right not to want a king like the one we had in 1776. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that he is not talking about that kind of king or kingdom.
When Jesus, a half-naked, scrawny Jewish man, was brought before him, Pilate must have thought it a very amusing scene.
“So you’re the King of the Jews,” Pilate said, probably with surprise or even scorn in his voice.
Jesus’ answer was “my kingdom is not from this world. I was born, and I came into this world, to testify to the truth.” [John 18:36]
A famous theologian [Gerardus Vos] has described the Kingdom of God as being “already and not yet.” That might sound like a contradiction, but here’s what he was referring to:
Christ’s kingdom began the moment that Jesus reconciled us to the Father by his sacrifice of himself on the Cross. The resurrection is the absolute proof that the Kingdom has already begun.
But this world remains an imperfect, sinful place, because although we are already redeemed, we are not yet perfected into the people that God wants us to be.
The “already” of the Kingdom is what gives us hope now, in a troubled world.
We know that we are part of Christ’s kingdom, and that knowledge lifts us up when things look darkest.
The “not yet” of Christ’s Kingdom gives us hope for the future.
Whenever it looks as though humanity is determined to destroy this world or each other, we should remember that this world is not all there is – that Jesus will return in glory to establish a “new heaven and new earth.” [Rev 21:1]
And that’s why we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
God’s Kingdom will come on earth some day, just as it already exists in heaven.
And this Sunday is one day out of all the year in which we celebrate and think about that Kingdom.
So, how do you and I bring the “already” Kingdom closer?
Or if we think about the “not yet,” how does God want us to live until that Kingdom does come?
Along with your bulletins this week is the second Church-wide letter from our new Presiding Bishop.
I have observed that he comes forward quickly when events around us challenge our Christianity, both in written form as you have in your bulletins, and also in videos that are posted on the Internet.
Bishop Curry’s letter to us and the video that goes with it are about the events in Paris a week ago, and our response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East, brought about in large part because of our involvement in the war in Syria.
I don’t express political opinions from the pulpit, only humanitarian, moral, and Christian ones. But I think it is my duty as a Christian and a priest to express the teaching of our Church and denomination when there is a public controversy that affects all of us. You are free to agree or disagree, or ignore, what I say, but know that I feel I must say it from my faith and my responsibility as your pastor.
I recognize that people are afraid that what happened in Paris could happen here, especially since it appears that one of the attackers sneaked into France posing as a refugee.
Some politicians are saying we must stop accepting refugees; others warn that terrorists may already be among us.
This generates fear and terror, and it plays right into the hands of what the terrorists are hoping to do.
So how, Bishop Curry and others ask, should American Christians respond?
The answer is simple and clear: be not afraid!
But how can we be unafraid when the news is so full of fear and hatred?
How can we not be afraid when so many voices are telling us we should be?
We can do it, because we don’t belong to this world.
We can do it, because we are God’s children and citizens of God’s kingdom.
We can do it, because no earthy power has more influence over us than the power of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
We can do it because we believe God’s promises and we trust God to care for us and all of God’s children.
And God has spoken to us – long ago and still today. God tells us how to respond to crises like this one.
In Leviticus, chapter 19, God says, “The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” [Leviticus 19:34 paraphrased]
In the days immediately after the birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us that the whole family had to flee the country for safety:
“Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.”
But what about our fears over letting people come in and live among us? How do we deal with the fear?
The prophet Isaiah wrote from exile in a time of fear and oppression:
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Isaiah’s message is simple and clear: trust God and to not be afraid. I know that’s not easy to do, but the alternative is worse: doubt God and try to protect yourself. Looking back over the past fifteen years, it seems that this just doesn’t work out for us.
At a time when the people of Israel were filled with fear, when their prayers did not seem to be answered, the prophet Micah reassured them by telling them exactly what God expected:
“what does the Lord require of you?
To do justice,
and walk humbly with your God.”
[Micah 6:8 paraphrased]
Those are simple words, but they carry a message that could be the basis of the rest of our lives:
To act with justice all the time – that is, to do only what is right and just in all our actions, even when we are unsure or afraid of the outcome;
To love mercy – that is, to choose to be merciful when we feel like getting revenge or punishing or turning away; and
To walk humbly with our God – that is, to put ourselves in God’s intimate presence, not as equals but as humble followers.
The New Testament passage that best tells me how to live as a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom is in Matthew 25:
“Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or a stranger, or in prison and help you? — When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:37-40 paraphrased]
If we want to know how to live in the Kingdom of God, if we want to know what we are asking for when we pray, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,” then I think those passages from the Bible help to answer our question.
If we act with justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, we cannot accept a society in which millions of vulnerable people do not have adequate health care, where half of all the people in this world do not have enough to eat, where 2.5 per cent of the population create 25 per cent of the pollution, where those fleeing for their lives are turned away at the border because we fear they might do us harm.
If we are prepared to face Christ as our King and Judge, we need to be ready to answer his question, “when did you feed me, clothe me, visit me, welcome me?”
And I don’t think Jesus will want to hear, “we were afraid to do it.”
On this Feast of Christ the King, it’s good for us to think about the power of the words we pray, the promise that we make: “thy kingdom come.”
And it’s especially important for us to think about what Christ will say to us when he does return and asks us how much or how little we have done to establish his Kingdom…
As it is