Thursday, November 28, 2019

Sermon for Thanksgiving Service

When we look at the vast expanse of the universe, the myriads of stars, the earth within it which is exactly placed in it to shelter living creatures, the minute detail of cellular, atomic, subatomic existence, the fragile complexity of the human body, any person might feel awe, wonder, or curiosity.

But for thanksgiving one needs more than that. For thanksgiving, one needs to add a phrase which is not immediately evident: ‘For me.’

Certainly it would be utterly ridiculous to presume that I am the center of the universe. But Christians believe that all of this is a gift, a gift from God, and one of the intended recipients is ‘me.’ ‘Us’ as human beings, and ‘me’ as an individual. It is not presumptuous to think so, if we think of ourselves as intended by God.

It is because of this that believers can look at the world, at all things, and feel not only awe and wonder but thankfulness. And we express our thankfulness in song, in prayer, in word, in action.

I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul; eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock and all property, along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! I therefore owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

One of the most ancient ways for humankind to give thanks is by feasting. To feast is to receive with gladness that which has been given. It is done not alone but with others, because we never receive anything simply for ourselves alone.

To feast with God in mind, to feast believing that it is his pure, fatherly, goodness and mercy that has not only given the meal but everything leading up to it that has preserved us and protected us from last Thanksgiving to this, to feast like this is more than mere consumption, but is right feasting: is praise and rededication. It is what the Israelites were to do when bringing the first-fruits of the land. They were to remember who they were and whose they were.

So on our national feast, however our fellow citizens honor the day, we as Christians are to remember who we are and whose we are. We are Jesus Christ’s, in life and in death. And whether or not the next year brings prosperity, we feast in thanks, for we have his promise that he will be with us not only in good times, but in bad. Perhaps we will give thanks, not for good health and prosperity, but simply because his Word sustains us in adversity and hardship. And yet can this not be a greater thanksgiving? For Jesus came to dwell with us and will not abandon us if we do not prosper.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and I pray that when you feast, you take time to remember who you are and whose you are, and receive the gifts of the world with gladness, because God means them for you. Amen    

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving Service!

Please feel free to join us this evening, Tuesday, November 26, at 7:30 for a Service of the Word in observance of Thanksgiving.

Sermon 11.24.2019 - Christ the King Sunday

Luke 23:33-43

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

On the crucifix, there is a sign over the corpus, or body of Jesus, with the letters I, N, R, I written upon the sign. It is shorthand for the words Pontius Pilate had put on the cross of Jesus: in Latin, Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

Can you see a king in this naked, bloody, dying man? Is he one to whom you could or would swear allegiance? Do you see, in him, God’s chosen one to deliver God’s people to freedom?

Before you answer ‘yes’ too quickly, with all the assurance of belief, think about this: Here is someone who cannot save himself from death, much less you. He, in fact, is the most powerless man in the universe, as we think of power.

Where are the signs of his power in the world? Almost two thousand years have gone by since he died upon the cross and the world has seemingly not changed for the better. God’s name is still trampled upon by people acting in his name, the ‘shepherds who destroy the flock,’ of whom Jeremiah speaks. Rulers, politicians, and those with power use it to abuse children, both born and unborn; the elderly; the vulnerable, the disabled. Natural disasters, perhaps aided and abetted by environmental degradation, affect many people, many of whom pray to God to spare their lives and property.

We are born and we die and in between we are up at night, worrying about things we can’t control. We, or our loved ones, may suffer from illness, contract disease, or die by accident at any time. We strive to become better people but we make the same mistakes. We pray to God but sometimes it seems he does not answer.

Again, I ask you, is this the one whom you should call king? Is this the one to whom you should dedicate your life? If you call him king, do not expect anything more, necessarily, than the men crucified on either side of Jesus. Though life is filled with signs of God’s grace and promise, though healing may indeed come, though miracles may happen, we cannot demand them of him. It can sometimes happen that life seems more like death, and sometimes for the most faithful among us.

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a very hopeful sermon to this point. But what I find convincing about faith in Christ is that it’s realistic. It doesn’t offer me false hope. So many people and so many products, so many ideologies and so many religions offer me hope that ends up being false hope. Hope that my life will magically change or that the world will magically change. Jesus has nothing to offer me except to be with me in my suffering. That is how he was on the cross with the two on either side of him. He was with them.

If we put our faith in him, if we believe that he is the king, what does that look like? The rulers, the scribes, and the first of the two crucified to speak mock him, saying, ‘he saved others, he cannot save himself.’ Today people mock God in refusing to live by his Word, for can his Word save? Can it fulfill our lives in the way we expect? If God is with us, should not he be able to remove our suffering, meet our needs, fulfill our desires, establish justice? Or, at least, he should be able to take revenge against those who mock him. But the man who is on the central cross is silent in the face of human derision. He does not summon legions of angels or consume those who scoff at him with fire from heaven. This only seems to confirm the opinion of those who mock him.

But if we are looking to him not with derision but with hope, we use the words of the man on the other cross. ‘This man has done nothing wrong.’ I know my misdeeds and I know the misdeeds of others. But if I look to Jesus, I look to him as one who is worthy to be a king, the only one worthy to be a king. I recognize the true king not by his ability to seize power, but by his worthiness to be entrusted with it.

Then I say, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ I see that the man who is worthy, despite all appearances, will be the one through whom God rescues the world and his faithful ones. He will be so because he is worthy to be so. His silence in the face of mockery reveals God’s patience, God’s love, God’s mercy. And his resurrection reveals that he is the one whom God vindicates. He receives honor and glory from God, and to him God gives the kingship of the world. God gives him ‘the name above every name; so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and  every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

And to the one who sees in Jesus the one worthy to receive the kingdom, to the one who asks to be remembered when his kingdom finally comes, Jesus says, ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise.’ Me, a sinner, a rebel, do I deserve a place with Jesus? No, but since Jesus comes to share in our suffering, we will also share in his kingdom. He receives what is ours, our sin, our death – we receive what is his: his righteousness and life. And it is this word alone which gives us strength to wait for his kingdom to come in its fullness; this promise which is for us the one thing which sustains us in our journey.

Christ the King – where is his kingdom? It is present here and now - because he is the one who is worthy to be king, the one who is exalted by God;, the one who is with us in our suffering, living in our hearts by the power of the Spirit, and the one who will come to judge the living and the dead.  The words Pontius Pilate wrote on the cross are true: Jesus of Nazareth, King – of his people, of all people, of the world. Lord, remember us when you come into your kingdom. Amen