Nov. 24, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Nov 24, 2019 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
(Proper 29C)

November 24, 2019

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.”

When we baptize a child we like to think of beautiful scriptures; Jesus tenderly calling children to him, Jesus as shepherd, or his own baptism. Today we hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion instead, and it is juxtaposed with the blessing words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. So to begin with, Heidi; “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” It is my prayer for all of us, and may you also know the passion of Christ who gave himself for you, may you know him with you when you feel pain or suffering, and may you know a love so great that he gave himself for you, for Heidi Marie.

Today we stand in the threshold between the passing church year and the beginning of the new year next Sunday, and as we enter into Advent. We anticipate Advent readings which will lead us to the birth of the very one who is dying on the cross in the passion gospel today. This is what it means to believe in the incarnate God, to know Jesus in his death and his birth, and to know that these earthly events are inseparable from the resurrection we know comes. New life comes in the face of death oftentimes, and no one knows that better than Heidi’s parents – since her rather early birth had some very scary moments.

To seek out or prepare for new life means one has hope. Hope that the child will be born well and live a full life, we hope for one’s surgery to be successful and life improved, even while we must consider dying as part of it’s risk. We hope the trip will be safe, that the plane lifting into the sky will stay that way, or the car trip ends with all unscathed, the job change, move, new church or relationship will be fruitful. What brings love and joy and growth somehow always involves some risk. I imagine Mary and Joseph considering the risk of a pregnant trek to Bethlehem, the risk of birth in a strange place, of going home by a secret way. They had to look ahead with hope they would get where they were going, and that Jesus would become who he was destined to be.

Ultimately, the risk Jesus took looms large in this reading, yet it’s not the risk of dying that his passion is about, rather it was the risk of loving. Love so rampant that it terrified the authorities around him, so alive that it took hold in the hearts of those who knew him, who heard him, and of those who still hear of him. We call this Sunday Christ the King, remembering that his ‘kingship’ was not about royalty or triumph in battle, not about great success or grand monuments, not even about fixing the nation’s problems — it was about self-sacrificing love that would not be limited to this world, but promises and lives on beyond it. That is what we pray and baptize Heidi Marie into today; into the death of Jesus Christ, that she may live in the power of his resurrection. Hope in the face of death. Isn’t that what the criminal has realized when he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”? And just like that, Jesus promises “today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke paints a picture of Jesus arriving at the place of the skull and being crucified, mocked, and derided, labeled tauntingly as “King of the Jews” by they who didn’t understand his reign was of the kingdom of God.

Paul’s letter characterizes Jesus several ways, but two stand out to me in their juxtaposition; He is “the firstborn of all creation” and also “the firstborn from the dead.” Thresholds again; we too are born into God’s creation, and we too are born from the dead into new life in Christ Jesus. A new life that begins not at death but at baptism. Don’t we delight in how physical baptism is; water, oil, flesh, at times crying or laughing, the newly baptized welcomed into Godparent’s loving arms, a baptismal gown trailing perhaps, recalling generations of baptisms before this one. Our bodies are important, to us and to God. If we see beauty, we do it with our eyes, scent with our noses, texture with fingers, and the feelings that register in our very flesh. Does your heart jump to see your beloved? Do you feel a breath-taking ache when your dog or cat of many years is in pain or dies? It’s all experienced in our bodies, even the fear in your gut or the joyous grace that makes us sing. These are what show us our spirit is not separate from our bodies, we are whole created beings. When my granddaughter Bailey reached up to be held by my husband Michael for the first time, my heart soared and a lump rose in my throat. Hope is realized; we feel it yet can’t quite name it. These feelings might defy words, but they cannot deny the body that experiences them.

That God sought to share these human experiences would be perplexing if we didn’t know how magnificent they can be. God taking on flesh in Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God” Paul writes. How can there be an image of something “invisible”? Somehow God does it, and in the end we crucify it and then are awestruck at the news of the resurrection. Yes, God knows what it means to be human. The incarnation of God’s Word means God’s message for us is given in flesh and blood. The Good News isn’t what Jesus said or did or taught, it’s that in him God came. God came and never leaves us. From the infant Christ anticipated in the church’s Advent season to the crucified King of kings who died and rose again, re-crossing the threshold into our lives, He is here.

Both Christ’s birth and death speak to his full humanity. We hear how he is crucified, the clothes once worn on his body are noted and taken, sour wine brought to his lips. Then next week we turn to enter Advent, anticipating the stories of his human form in Mary’s belly, jostled and lurching on a donkey, born in a Bethlehem barn, his squirming infant body wrapped in cloth before being visited by shepherds and kings, then spirited through Egypt to home. His humanity is what reveals his divinity. It wasn’t enough for God to make us in God’s image; choosing to physically come among us means that God’s love truly touches our whole selves. Love that can certainly transform us if it transformed the “Invisible God” into visible flesh.

Think of thresholds you have crossed in your life; did you have to wait as with coming of age, or pregnancy? Did you cross because you were forced to by circumstances, or did you choose to do it, perhaps have to work hard at it? There’s always a sense of the before and after, seldom actually focusing on that moment of crossing itself, but when we do it is a holy moment, often one that seems to shine with sacred light, though the background may be one of darkness. Today we stand together and pray right there in the moment of Heidi Marie’s crossing as she is baptized into his death and resurrection and marked as Christ’s own forever.  This rite of new life is sealed by Jesus’ cross anointing her forehead.

Hearing these scriptures, I notice how often our most significant threshold moments have a sense of moving from darkness into light, even if we don’t see it at the time. Paul speaks of God who “rescues us from the power of darkness” enables us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Yes, darkness can be about evil or sin or taking the wrong path, it can also be confusion and uncertainty, sometimes only recognized as such by coming into light. In scripture darkness often signifies a lack of awareness, that liminal time before we ‘get it.’ So, what of those “saints in light”? What did they not know, or what were they unable to do, before following Christ? What darkness do you know that has been transformed in sacred light? Just as year after year this Christ the King Sunday/New Year’s Eve brings us to cross the threshold into Advent’s New Year, we will repeatedly come to God seeking that light in our darkness. Know that Christ is with us every time. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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