St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church
Last Sunday After Pentecost
Christ the King
Luke 23: 33-43
King of Glory
If we have noticed anything in this country from the last year leading to the election of a new leader and the election itself, we should have noticed that before, during and after the election and in the ensuing days, everybody who considers themselves walking the halls of leadership is either looking to preserve power, or seizing the opportunity to attain it. Out there in the wilderness of whatever might come about under new leadership, the temptation for power abounds. But unlike Jesus Christ who stood squarely in the face of temptation and sent it packing, most faced with the temptation of power, win or lose, sell a little bit of their soul in order to embrace it and live with whatever they may as part of the price to play with it.
Most of us whose perception of worldly power is suddenly stripped away, scatter into a million hiding places. That’s the power that power has over us. When we are in danger of losing power, or finding the power we have become accustomed to suddenly gone, we hide until we are able to find our bearings. Depending on the severity of our changed circumstances, we decide how long we must hide from the world until it is safe to emerge into the glare of worldly opinion again….be that in the world or right here at home.
We don’t have to be a presidential candidate or in competition for any job or position to experience this. We can be anyone who has some sort of authority over someone or something else….all carrying with us an experience of power. At some point in our lives, we either live in these roles, or roles like them, or we answer to them. The degree of power is relative, but whether you are somebody’s parent, or whether you are taking the leadership of an entire country, you have worldly power. This has been true since Adam and Eve, who decided to take power into their own hands in the Garden of Eden until now……during our own time, when just about everybody wants to take a bite of the power apple.
We don’t live in a world of kings but we do live in a world of dictatorships and political upheaval and uncertainty that stretches far beyond our borders. We are driven apart and scattered by winds of change and circumstantial forces far beyond our control which makes living our own lives an out-of-center experience. We have to work hard to keep control of our lives and our daily living. It is not a new phenomenon, as Jeremiah can tell you.
The Prophet Jeremiah understood this in his ancient world and his words echo through time to human living to today. Jeremiah lived in a crazy world of power grabbing between the three most powerful nations of the ancient world: Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. They all wanted Jeremiah’s native land, Judah, and Jeremiah railed against human greed infringing upon God’s intent for God’s people.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” writes the Prophet, lamenting for God the waywardness of God’s people, and the seemingly irretrievable gathering of them to God’s care and safety.
History tells us the prophet wore a yoke around his neck to signify the hopelessness of the situation the people had created and he was threatened with death for pleading with people to gather back together and to return to God’s leadership and discipline. It was an unpopular message and the prophet suffered for it. The message is not too popular today, either. Like Jeremiah, those of us calling out for God’s way, are considered just more crazy sound in a world of crazy noise.
Herding cats is never easy and gathering people who are scattering in fear is just as hard. But, just as Jeremiah tried, we have to try. And on this day dedicated to the One we call our King, we are called to occupy our minds to this end. If we think gathering people together is hard, that’s alright. God tells Jeremiah and is telling us that God is going to take care of that task with us or without us, “I will bring them back….” says the Lord. Thank God. Just when we thought we were all doomed to go our separate ways, to be lost forever, God steps into the midst of us to gather us together again. That is if we know God when we see God and if we trust in God to always show up.
Those who do are grateful to God, because we keep getting ourselves scattered, We are grateful that God still loves us enough to pull us back into place of centered grounding in faith that with God we are secure and safe, regardless of what our world situation or circumstances may be or where they may lead us. God is our role model for what a good leader does. Gathers, gives guidance, and provides a way to trust and to have faith and hope in the future.
Our worldly leaders might know something about human issues, but they are not God and whatever institutions they lead, be they corporate or non-profit, religious or political, they too often end up scattering, driving away, ignoring or neglecting the very people they purport to be serving. We see it in our homes, in our churches, in our institutions, and our politics, local, national and on the world stage.
“So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.” (23:2b)
God moves through our human chaos and promises to raise up shepherds who will make the sheep folds secure and safe so that we may not fear nor shall we be dismayed or lost. And at the forefront of all these, God will raise up a Righteous Branch to reign over it all, and who will deal wisely, with justice and will be the Savior of all God’s people. He will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
And we, the shepherds raised up by grace, to assist in the gathering of the people from their scattered places of uncertainty, call him Christ the King.
We are called to serve Him as modern day Jeremiahs, and all the other Prophets, John the Baptists, Martin Luther Kings, Bonhoeffers, Nelson Mandela’s….the Mary’s, Teresa’s and Perpetua’s… and all the other saints, too many to mention. We are to be the shepherds that decry abuse of power in all its forms.
We cannot allow ourselves to give away power to those who through their own insecurities or need for power, undermine our efforts to lead with the wisdom and power of Christ. We cannot willingly scatter ourselves in the face of these conflicts in order to simply avoid them.
God expects nothing less from us than that we become the prophets of our day….the voices at the heart of liberation and freedom for all God’s people and we have Jeremiah to teach us how.
We are to be at once the sheep of God’s pasture, and the shepherds for God’s people. Like Christ Himself, the very Lamb of God, the Shepherd of God’s flock.
It is no short order in our fast-moving, non-caring existence of today, as world power is becoming more and more evidenced by specialized expertise or information technology.
Yet….even in this world of speed and real time complexity,
we cannot abandon power to those who call themselves experts when we are unsure if they truly are, even if we perceive ourselves as small and insignificant in the face of it all. We have to understand and know the nature of their knowledge and how they use it. Just when we think we know all we need to know for living, we learn that God expects us to keep growing ….keep forming….in order to have the power it takes to gather God’s people.
And the leaders of our world are not much different – becoming lost within the complexities of modern living…..lost to the need to grow into humility…..lost to the formula for successful living and loving that God would have us follow. So who is to find us huddled in the corners of far-flung fields? Who is to find us and bring us home safely to the fold?
As Christians we know who our Shepherd is and we know He will not rest until we are all safely gathered in. But the systemic complexity we call modern living and those who subscribe to it, cannot be sure that there is hope for such a king and are left to wander, grabbing on to whatever power they can find.
Yet deep down in every human soul lies a truth, more evident to some and less to others. No human power, not in one of us here today, nor in the halls of Prime Ministers, Presidents, Chancellors or any other human leaders, is there enough wisdom, strength and purity to lead the world, the universe or any part of either.
Perhaps since the beginning of time, since the time of Adam and Eve, the greatest lesson any of us could learn is the lesson of our human limitations, our feet of clay and our microscopic thinking. And on this day when we gather to celebrate Christ our King, we should take time for a little self-examination and ask ourselves the questions:
What is my power? Why do I have it? How did I come by it? Who benefits from it? Who do I serve with it? To whom do I answer for it?
When am I the lost sheep, scattered by my own fears. When will I say to God, “Here I am,” and take on the work of the shepherd.
When will I take my place to search out the dark places where the fearful shiver and call for a comforting blanket of justice?
What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it?
When will I know when to lead and when to follow….or know who should lead and who should be led and when will I know it is time for me to become the fold that all God’s lost sheep hope to find?
Jeremiah lifts the rallying cry to God’s people for powerful action not passivity….for powerful involvement, not judgment….for powerful active reaching out, not for blind neglect.
It is through Christ’s leadership and teaching that we learn to engage our world in the struggle against war, famine, poverty and cruel abuses of God’s people and God’s earth. It is through Christ’s leadership and teaching that we learn how to work with God for God’s restoration of creation itself. It is through Christ’s birth, death and resurrection that we learn the true meaning of power
As Christians, we find home by following our Shepherd King, who is always on the path ahead of us, leading the way through the power, and the glory and the grace of God.
And once there, we can rejoice and be fruitful and multiply our joy and goodness in limitless ways. It is out of this joy and fulfillment that God will raise us up to take on our shepherding. We will be given our own mighty power that comes from serving the Shepherd/King who rules only through justice and righteousness.
To enter into the Reign of Christ is to enter into a Kingdom of peace and reconciliation and it is through Christ’s leadership and teaching that we dare to look deeply into the underlying sources of all the world’s problematic issues that contribute to our communal brokenness. Safely brought home to the fold by Christ, it is our turn to upend the status quo in the name of Christ and to gather in the sheep still lost out in the fields of injustice and vulnerability.
There has always been and will always be upheaval in our human world from natural disasters, to disastrous wars and we cannot, by ourselves stop their insistent presence. We do not have the kind of power to stop war, to turn back tidal waves, to root out every evil thought or action in the world. But we can keep our eyes on Christ, keep our eyes on the Shepherd, who leads us to possibilities, leads us to the work of building a better world, leads us to the humane and the caring, leads us to healing and balance. We are empowered by Christ, empowered by our faith and empowered by God’s grace and guidance. And we start here.
Living for and in God’s Kingdom, we have the power to stand firm with those who profess love for God and neighbor, and to be courageous enough to take up our cross and to walk the walk of Christ.
God is searching for each one of us all the time, each time we stray. God calls us back home to the fold …back into relationship with God and with one another. And we look to the righteous Branch of David, made visible in Christ, allowing our lives to come back into focus on all that is important, all that is powerful, all that gives us strength to stand in the Shepherd’s shoes, and to walk forward, armed with the power of faith and love.
That time is coming and will be here when we are ready to recognize if for ourselves, and we will know him when He comes, as sings the Advent hymn on this last Sunday before we prepare for His coming into the world to gather God’s people again….
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Not his manners, nor his airs,
Nor by anything he wears.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by crown or by gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming makes in thee,
Thou shalt know him when he comes.
He is the King of Glory, He is the King of Glory. He rules with powerful justice and righteousness, equity and love. God has put all things under subjection to his Christ so that God may be in all. To God be the power and the glory.
Power and glory be to Christ the King, who through his humility and sacrifice will lead us home, again ……thanks be to God.
Written to the Glory of God
- J. R. Culver+
November 20, 2016