(Extended) Advent 3 / Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021
2 Sam. 23:1-7; Ps. 132:1-13; Rev. 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
The Rev. Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain
Good morning, St. Aidan’s.
I realized when I was preparing this homily that I preached last year on this day at Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos. I pre-recorded the homily, because church was not in person a year ago. Also, it was just after the 2020 election – remember that? And in the midst of a COVID surge. It seems like years ago, and also like yesterday. As I re-read my homily from last year, it felt like some things have not changed much at all – the uncertainty we are feeling, the sense of “what is next?” At the same time, some parts of life seem more hopeful now – but then there is the verdict in Wisconsin reminding us of the stark divisions in our wounded country so full of grief. It’s hard to know how to feel about the future of our nation and our world.
Both last year and this, there is a lot going on this Sunday to reflect about. This is Christ the King Sunday – when I preached at Epiphany last year they called it Reign of God Sunday. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been known to call it “King of Love” Sunday. This day marks the end of our long church season of Ordinary time, and it’s our last Sunday before the traditional Advent begins – although we are observing an extended Advent here at St. Aidan’s so we’ve already gotten started. Today also happens to be the Sunday before Thanksgiving. There’s a lot to think about and ponder here – what Christ the King Sunday means to us, what the waiting of Advent is all about, what we are giving thanks for this coming week. Plenty for a Sunday homily.
So – what can we pull from our readings today?
I’ll offer a few ideas.
My first thought is that there is much here that speaks to our time and place. Our collect, ancient as it is, could have been written specifically for our reality. “Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together by Christ’s most gracious rule….” It reads. If ever there was a time that we have been divided and enslaved, and in need of freeing, that time seems like now.
Christ the King Sunday is all about reminding us of the love of God, through the example of Jesus. Some of the terminology in our readings is counterintuitive – in the Daniel reading, for example, we seem to be hearing about a pretty traditional view of God. We hear about a God who rules, who throws away the godless. We hear about fear of God. But there are other ideas in this reading too – words about a God of justice whose oversight is like the light of a morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. This feels a little gentler, a more organic, to me – perhaps more real. More like the Alpha and the Omega that our reading from the Book of Relevation expresses, about God with us at the beginning and the end, and everywhere in between. The God who is with us each day, everywhere we look.
And what about Jesus, who is called the king of king and lords of lords in our Collect? In our Gospel text, Jesus upends the very notion of what it means to be a King. Pilate asks Jesus “So you are a King?” – And Jesus’ response pretty well sums up what kind of a leader he is. Jesus first says - “You say that I am a king.” Not, you notice, “Correct, I am a King.” And then the real answer - “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“To testify to the truth” - These words speak to me I think more than they ever have before – particularly given the way that our world now seems to walk away from, deny, or even just plain ignore the truth. Jesus teaches us that we must never do this – and why? Because the truth will set us free, and so our hearts and minds must be focused on the truth. This very different kind of servant leader – this Jesus - teaches us about justice and relationship and reconciliation and caring for others. He teaches us about love. Stephanie Spellers, in the book we’ve just read, The Church Cracked open, quoted a writer named Christopher Duraisingh as pointing out “A central aspect of the story of Jesus is that he refuses to play the role of the dominant hero, but always moves to the margin and to places of solidarity with the oppressed.” And so, Jesus can’t really be bothered with Pilate’s questioning – he just does his thing. Leading with love. And how about us - can we do the same? Can we follow Jesus’ example?
Following Jesus and being a part of what Michael Curry calls the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement is a big commitment. The choice is ours to follow Jesus’ teachings and to embrace reconciliation and relationship with one another. This is a choice that will set us free – just as the truth sets us free. It’s also a choice that takes a lot of work – it’s a lifelong way of being. It needs nurturing and prayer and community. As Amy preached last week – there are no shortcuts here! It’s easy to dodge making this hard choice to follow Jesus – I heard a preacher once say that the most common sin is the sin of “not bothering to care.” If we decide that we will indeed bother to care, we choose God and love and community. We “buy in” to the reign of Christ. We commit.
And I know I keep saying this, but this next part is really important to remember. This is not about being perfect. I can’t think of a single time that Jesus preached perfection. And I think he would have agreed with advice from Maya Angelou that Stephanie Spellers also shared in her book – which is - “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
And so, thinking about what Christ the King day is asking us – to be freed and brought together under Jesus’ rule – is an important thing to do in this time in our lives, and in the life of our world. It matters.
Last year just before the presidential election, my husband and I felt that we needed to find grounding and get away from the angst and division of the world a bit. We like to camp, and so we went north to find a bit of solace. We found ourselves on the Klamath river at a spot framed by trees with gold and red autumn leaves, the brightest of blue skies, with warm sun during the days and a cool snap of fall in the nights. The scene was made even more special by the fact that wild horses wandered quietly through the campground, munching grass and drinking from the river, paying us little mind.
I reflected, in this beautiful place, about being in the moment and not getting too ahead of myself about what might happen next. That was particularly present last year for me when we weren’t sure how the election would turn out, and when the pandemics of COVID and anti-Black racism were raging. This thought remains with me a year later, amidst the continuing concerns of our world. I reflected about the fact that, during this time, I’d been thinking a lot about waiting for “things to get better” or “to be different.” And I wondered what Jesus might want to tell me about that. I thought he might advise me – “Well, you could think about being grateful for the blessings of each day.” That seems, to me, like something to think about as we approach Thanksgiving in the coming week.
To remember this - how to be in the current moment with gratitude – my new “go to” has been to read and re-read a short poem (or maybe it’s really a prayer) by Joyce Rupp called “Waiting for the When.” It goes like this:
Waiting for the “when” keeps me
From appreciating what I now have.
Longing for promises and dreaming dreams
Is not a harmful deed as long as
The present moment is not overlooked,
As long as gratitude rises for what is already here,
As long as I do not base my happiness
On what is still wanting.
Thankfulness for what has already been given
Is the foundation for hoping for what is not yet.
These last words offered by Joyce Rupp – “the not yet” - bring me to Advent, because Advent is all about waiting. Advent is one of my favorite seasons of the church year, because of the way it helps us to slow down and reflect and just simply be. John Kruse, in Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi, wrote, “In the waiting, we often learn much about ourselves, come to a greater awareness of what is truly important in life, and gain a better appreciation for the things we must await.”
And so I wonder, in this Advent, if we might live into this wisdom from St. Francis to learn about ourselves. I also wonder if, in this learning, we might push ourselves to take our pondering one step further by asking ourselves what actions we plan to take as people of faith in a fractured world? What are we going to do, as we strive to follow Jesus? I don’t mean this to be an overwhelming question, although I can see how it might feel that way. So - what if we could experience this question not as overwhelming, but as foundational? A question about how we live our lives as people of faith day by day, bit by bit, beginning to end. In the little moments and the big ones, in actions perhaps completely unnoticed or noticed only by God. In actions that seem small but are the right thing to do. In actions based in truth and love.
I’m going to mention Michael Curry one more time, who wrote, “It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening—because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love.”
Perhaps this gives us food for thought and a bit of a way to bring Jesus’ example of radical love into our lives.
And so, on Christ the King Sunday, in this moment just before Thanksgiving and early in Advent, I invite us to give thanks for the truth that comes to us from Jesus, our different kind of King who upended the world and taught us about love. I invite us to live in gratitude for the simple but profound blessings of each day. I invite us to reflect on how the actions of our lives build up the beloved community one step at a time. And I invite us to pray, as Cameron wrote in the Flame this week, for "new, connected, engaged life to emerge in the space cleared out by grief." Amen.