Christ the King Sunday
November 23, 2008
Could there be better coordination between the culmination of a three week Social Ministry Month Series in FACE than with today’s Gospel: “When, Lord, did we see you hungry and naked and a stranger?” Today’s panel is on homelessness. Other opportunities to respond to today’s Gospel are coming up soon with the Jesus Center “Run for Food” in Bidwell Park on Thanksgiving morning. What a great way to build an appetite. We’ve run the last two years and its lots of fun. Then there’s the Torres Shelter’s Tree Auction fundraiser on Saturday, December 6. Details are in the newsletter and on posters down the hall. So far, 23 from Faith Lutheran are planning to attend – including Bishop Holmerud. If you’re interested there’s still room for more.
These are just a few ways our church is involved. Indeed every time we give an offering we participate in our budgeted support of cooking dinners for the Torres Shelter and giving local and global benevolence. Caring generosity isn’t a matter of how much we have. It’s a matter of who we are and how we live. I’m proud of the generosity of this congregation. People give of their time, talent and treasure in incredible ways and everyone’s contributions of every kind, matter.
People give of themselves because they believe church is important. Imagine society without churches or synagogues or mosques – without places where people learn they are a part of something infinitely more than themselves. The church, as Ephesians says, isn’t just another organization. The church is the body of Christ.
St. Paul says something very startling about that. Being Christ’s body means we have an “immeasurable power” – or as the New International Version puts it, “incomparably great power.” In the few verses read this morning from Ephesians, the word power was heard four times – and not just power, but immeasurable, incomparable greatness of power.
I wonder when the church last thought of itself as having that kind of power. This past week I asked most groups I’ve met with to read these verses from Ephesians. We read it a week ago in Centering Prayer. We read it at Church Council Tuesday. Worship and Music Team reflected on it Thursday. We could sit with this reading all week and it might still allude us. We don’t imagine what it says is really about us.
Hear just a verse or so with me again. Paul writes, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which God has called you and his incomparably, immeasurably greatness of power for us who believe. The Biblical use of the word “heart” refers to understanding or mind rather than today’s usual emotion or feeling. By adding “eyes of your heart” the image opens up, suggesting seeing with heart and mind connected. Paul prays that people would be given the gift of knowing, with both heart and head, the hope to which they are called and the immeasurably great power that is available through that hope.
I wonder if Paul felt his prayers were answered. Did those he prayed for know the hope that was theirs? Did they know in the first century with worlds crashing in on them that immeasurably great power was theirs because they were Christ’s body? Paul believed in this power even though the church was persecuted and he was being beaten, imprisoned and ridiculed every time he turned around. He still saw the church as immeasurably great power because he saw it as Christ’s crucified, risen body in the world.
I rarely run into church people who think of the church as immeasurably powerful. I wonder if some of our challenge isn’t that it’s so easy for us to get caught in thinking the church is of our making. And it is, in the sense that if we don’t come – if we don’t participate – if we don’t be the UR in the middle of the word church: CHURCH – then there is no church.
I’ve always thought it was ironic how the English word is spelled – CH is like two book ends with UR in the middle. Surrounded by Christ we are the church. But it’s not just us – or initially us. The church is Christ’s doing. It is his risen body. And as his risen body the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead belongs to the church.
Now for us who live in the real world where power is bantered around and snatched at and fought for, the thought of having power like that of raising someone from the dead is pretty hard to get our minds around. That’s why I think Paul prayed that people would have the “eyes of their hearts” enlightened. We can’t get our minds around this mind-boggling hope unless it sinks down also into our hearts.
Paul’s point is that the “energy, power, and spirit at work in the church ultimately comes, not from us, but from God.” (NIB, 386) Paul writes: God put his power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, above all rule and authority and power and dominion, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And God made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body...
The church exists – and has existed for over 2000 years – not because the church keeps pulling itself up by its bootstraps, but because God is committed to the church – not to the building, per se, but to that event of God coming among us through means we can see, feel, taste and touch that reveal God’s unquenchable desire to be with us: water and word, bread and wine, Christian fellowship and the forgiveness of sins.
The question before the church is – do we believe God continues to yearn to be known and loved and partnered with in the grand adventure of bringing about the reign of God. That’s why Jesus came in the first place – to announce the nearness – indeed the presence of God’s reign – here and now. That’s why St. Paul prays for the church: that the “eyes of our hearts” would see what is really real – that the reign of God is among us – where Christ Jesus is – risen from the dead; moving in the world. That’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Kingdom of God isn’t an other-worldly thing. Christ the King Sunday doesn’t point to somewhere millions of galaxies away. Christ the King Sunday proclaims loudly that Christ is risen among us now – and reigns with love and justice, mercy and peace. It’s something worth tooting our horns about – so it’s fitting that the brass plays on this day!
The question is: do we want to join him? Do we want to live on earth as God wills us to live? Heaven isn’t just an image for the great high ‘n by. Heaven is an image for life being as God intends and dreams it to be.
Even with all God’s commitment to the church, however, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a threatened community. There could very well be a day when no one gathers to hear the word of life or receive the gifts of Christ’s very self. There are countries – my own roots in Sweden being one, where church attendance has declined drastically. Our own country’s statistics aren’t without concern.
But what seems to happen is that when the church appears to be threatened for whatever reason – a remnant of the church sees that they don’t want a world without it. They see that the church isn’t just another institution created by them, vying for their support. As Bonhoeffer asserts, “Christian community is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” Life Together, 30
There is more going on with church than meets the eye. There is divine presence in this place. There is self-giving love enabling us to love as we’ve been loved. There is everlasting grace searching for hearts willing to risk being Christ’s risen body in a world that won’t always look kindly on such compassionate love. Truly living as Christ’s body isn’t without risks. It costs not only our time, talent and treasure. It costs us love and sacrifice and willingness, even in our day, to suffer for the sake of others, for the building up of Christ’s church and the dawning of the reign of God.
But why not run head-on into being who we are by God’s gift and call? What better invitation could there possibly be than to spend our lives as Christ’s body, the church! Justin Henderson is answering that call today as he comes to be baptized. May we renew our commitment to be who we are in Christ as we welcome him!
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA