How Will It End?


Here are my thoughts for Christ the King Sunday, 22 November 2009. The scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 23: 1- 7, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 18: 33 – 37.

On this day as we complete another cycle in the church calendar and prepare for the beginning of Advent and the church’s New Year, it is perhaps fitting that our scriptures today speak of a beginning and an end. But in light of the discussions taking place, some on the internet, some in churches, some in families and some in the minds of many, I want to put into words some of those thoughts and what I think they mean for the future of the church.

And God said to John the Seer, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” I have heard this translated as “I am the Beginning and the End”. For many people these words offer a vision of a violent end to the world. It is part of a discussion that that began some two hundred years or so ago and continues today about how we began.

There are those who speak of the beginning only in terms of the Creation written in Genesis while there are those who see the beginning only in terms of the “Big Bang”. It is almost as if you must accept one or the other of these two views and are required to see the other as sheer foolishness.

This isn’t a discussion of Creation, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and/or evolution. It is, however, a discussion about the end of the church.

For me, the beginning comes in three stages:

1) The beginning of the universe,

2) The beginning of mankind, and finally

3) The beginning of one’s own consciousness and awareness.

The physical data tells me that this world is several million years old, not some six thousand years. The evidence is there and if it has somehow been tampered with so as to make a six thousand year old rock seem like it is several million years old, I want no part of any god that would do such a thing. And those who would argue that the evidence is only probable evidence need to examine how it is that such evidence is gathered and checked.

God created us in His image and He gave us the skills and ability to reach out and seek these things beyond our earthly limits. I cannot conceive of a god that would create beings in His image and then turn around and limit what humans can and cannot do.

It is humankind’s ability to think and envision that allows us to find a way to explain things. If we did not have that ability, we would not have ventured far away from our homes to find lands across the sea; we would not have looked at the stars and asked how we could get there. We looked at the moon from far away and wondered how to get there. We see things and asked why.

That is part of our own individual consciousness; in asking why, we created gods to create, explain, and seek answers. That is our identity. But our ability to explain only applies to the physical world; we are still at a loss to explain good and evil as a facet of the world around us.

Our existence comes not just from our physical presence on this planet but from our ability to think and reason, to know what can be explained because of the physical evidence and what must be understood through faith and belief. Our own existence has allowed us to understand that good and evil are not parts of our physical being but parts of our soul.

It is our ability to reason and think tells us that there is a something “out there” that we need to know more about. It has been a part of our being from the day we began to reason. It is the part of our being, our ability to reason and think that we ask “why?” Why did God give us the reason to think and reason? Why did He give us free will?

One day, some three thousand years ago, a young person had the audacity and the temerity to ask an elder to explain who we were and why we are here. It is a story that had been told many times in many places. One such story took place in what we have come to call Israel and it is the story of our being and our souls. Instead of rebuffing this young child, the elder gathered the young of the community together and began to explain those questions. And that is how we arrive at the third beginning.

I was raised in the church, though I would think that mine was a pragmatic upbringing. We went to the church that was closest to where we lived. But wherever we were, we went and it would have an impact on my life.

When I was twelve, I made a choice to seek a better understanding of who Christ was and where I fit into things by earning the God and Country award in Boy Scouts. This would thus lead to my membership in the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st United Methodist Church) in Aurora, Colorado. There may be some who saw this as a culmination of a journey; perhaps even I saw it that way as well.

But over the years, I have found myself in many situations where my background and knowledge has not prepared me as some would say it should have. I have found myself questioning my beliefs, sometimes because of what has happened in my life, sometimes because of what others have said. I have seen others questioned their beliefs and leave their faith because they could not answer the questions or they did not like the answers.

I have seen others leave their faith because they were not allowed to question their beliefs. And by the same measure, I have seen others who will not allow their faith, their beliefs to be questioned. And unfortunately, I see too many people today who are in this latter category, not allowing others to question their beliefs and themselves refusing to question them as well.

But questioning is, to me, the hallmark of belief. For, if we do not question our beliefs, if we do not seek to find the answers, then we risk having a faith that is rigid, inflexible, and incapable of truly being alive.

And that is what has happened to most denominations today. The elders of the church today say things that sound very similar to what the elders said when Jesus walked on this earth. Like the elders of the church then, they are bewildered and amazed when a child speaks words of wisdom and creativity. That is, of course, if there are any children in their church today and if they allow them to say anything.

The church today attempts to dominate the thought processes and daily lives of the people, some just in the local church, others nationally.

Instead of fostering thought about who Jesus was and what His message means to the people today, they hold onto old and often incorrect ideas, they argue points that don’t even exist in the Bible, and they make policy that has no relationship to the way Jesus worked with those who followed Him, both in Galilee and then throughout the Mediterranean after His death and resurrection.

It was evident in the amazement of the elders when the boy of twelve challenged them in the Temple during that Holy Week. It was evident in how the establishment condemned Jesus and his followers, calling them rebels and heretics, rebels against the policies of the lands and rebels against the leaders whose only interest was in their own self-preservation. It is the same today.

There are those who would stifle thought and creativity in order to make their story of civilization factual. There are those who would seek to impose religious law in ways that it was never intended.

I have been reading Robin Meyers’ new book, “Saving Jesus from the Church”. He offers some interesting thoughts about the state of the church today and I anticipate adding more comments over the next few months. But his comments and his thought reflect and echo some other things going on, some which are close to home, and some which are far away.

They are reflection of David’s last words and Jesus’ words to Pilate and what those words mean to each one of us. They are a reflection of reports of the people leaving the ministry because the denomination is more interested in the letter of the law to be the spirit of the law, because the denomination insists that typewriter is better than the word processor as the means to prepare sermons and reports and because the denomination doesn’t even see, let alone understand or use, what social networking is about.

And there are those in society today that say that the church is not only outmoded but the whole concept of religion is as well. It is a society that seems to place faith and reason into separate spheres of thought and which will not allow them to interact. And it is not just one side of the spectrum or the other that will not allow this to take place; it is both sides. Those whose life is faith and faith only seem to feel that there is no room for reason in their lives; and those whose life is reason and reason only have the same disdain for faith.

These are not the End Times that so many fundamentalists would have you believe but they very well could be the end of the church, in form and denomination. I don’t think that religion as a means of expressing faith will end but it will, if has not already, become a very difficult time to express one’s faith openly.

The problem at this point is that Jesus pointed out that His Kingdom was not of this world. To understand what Jesus is saying requires a new way of thinking, of thinking perhaps outside the box that the world and society seeks to place each one of us in. That is why it is so difficult for those who live lives in faith alone or reason alone have difficulty with the other concept; they have locked themselves into one box and they cannot escape.

The Gospel message hasn’t changed over the years; hope exists beyond the boundaries of time. It isn’t the translation that offers the message; when someone tells me that the King James Version of the Bible is the one true translation, I have to wonder how it was that Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and their contemporaries spoke in Elizabethan English while everyone else was speaking Aramaic. If the words that one says are true to the message, then the translation is trivial. And the words speak of a Christ that offers hope, not rejection. The works speak of a promise for all, not just a select few. The words speak of redemption and a release, not limits and imprisonment.

The one thing that I have discovered in my own personal journey with Christ, from those days in Montgomery, Alabama, when I made the choice to seek Jesus and God in my own mind and soul to these days is that the Jesus in the Bible is not the Jesus spoken of today. The God of today bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible. And the time has come to turn the church back, not in time, but to its roots and its original and true thoughts. We do not need to discover new writings; the ones that we have tell us what is going on. All we have to do is look at what we are saying and how that compares; then the change will take place.

There are going to be those who hear what I am saying and read what I have written here and they are going to call me a heretic and an unbeliever. But I know in my heart what I believe and I know in my heart that I have been called to say these words.

There are those who will hear these words and read these words and echo agreements, for these thoughts are their thoughts as well. The question for these individuals is “are you called to seek the new church, the church that John the Seer really envisioned?” How will the church end? The decision is not in the literature or the words of individuals, it is in your heart and your mind.

Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch


The stories about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, at least as far as I am concerned, are an integral part of Southern folklore. Unfortunately, in this day of political correctness, telling such stories has fallen by the wayside.

But, like all folk stories, these stories give us an insight into the human character. And so, with no apologies for the lack of political correctness and with no intent of offending anyone, here is the story of Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch.

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby!

Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch by Uncle Remus

“For a mighty long time” Brer Fox had tried to catch Brer Rabbit and Brer Rabbit had outwitted him. The closest Brer Fox ever came was this:

He built a contraption of molasses and tar that he called a “Tar Baby” and put it where Brer Rabbit was sure to find it. When Brer Rabbit came across the Tar Baby he tried, fruitlessly, to converse with it. In anger, Brer Rabbit punched at the Tar Baby until he became completely stuck.

Brer Fox, overjoyed at finally capturing his nemesis, mused aloud over what to do with him. With every idea (barbecuing, hanging, etc.) Brer Rabbit pleaded, “Do what you want but please don’t throw me into the Briar Patch!” Brer Fox, wanting to hurt the rabbit as badly as possible, flung him into the briar patch. Brer Fox realized his mistake when, instead of crying in agony, Brer Rabbit smiled smugly at the fox and sang that he was “Born and bred in the briar patch!” and Brer Fox knew that Brer Rabbit had once again outwitted him.

Now, if Brer Rabbit had not been so full of himself, he never would have gotten entangled with the "tar baby". But he could not stand it that someone would ignore him and that is what got him into trouble. And the more he struggled with that sticky concoction, the worse the situation got.

But as much as Brer Rabbit’s struggle reminds us what happens when our pride prevents us from solving problems or how it can get us into a deeper mess, so too does Brer Fox’s reaction tell us something about ourselves. Like we might have, he saw the thorns of the briar patch as a problem and not as a solution.

We don’t like thorns. Thorns hurt. We want simple problems to solve in life, ones that will quickly go away. Problems that are hard to solve or take too long are often called "thorny". We don’t want them in our lives. NIMBY, or not in my backyard, has quickly become the acronym for those problems that we don’t want in our lives. Our solution to such "thorny" issues is to give them to someone else.

The reference to thorns is not new. Paul referred to "the thorn in his flesh." (2 Corinthians 12: 7)  It has never really been established just what this thorn was. It could have been a real ailment or the reference to some temptation in Paul’s life. Or it could have just have been a metaphorical statement that served as a reminder of what Paul should focus on.

The writer of Proverbs also referred to thorns as an indication of laziness. "I went by the field of the lazy man, and the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding, and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. (Proverbs 24: 30 – 31)  If we are lazy, our work becomes harder because we have to overcome the thorns that grow in the place of good work.

Even Jesus used the idea of thorns to show the difficulty of life. In the parable of the sower, some of the seeds were thrown on rocky ground and did not grow because it was impossible to do so. Some were thrown into a patch of thorns but the thorns grew more rapidly and prevented the growth of the seeds. It was only the seeds that were sown in the fertile soil that had a chance to grow properly. (Matthew 13: 3 – 9)  Later, Jesus explained to the disciples that "he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes untruthful." (Matthew 13: 22)

Just as the writer of Proverbs and Jesus both place the presence of thorns in one’s life in a negative sense, so too is David’s reference to thorns in today’s reading one of contempt. His use of the phrase "sons of rebellion" is one of contempt and scorn. It is the same phrase that was hurled at David as he had fled from Jerusalem and the rebellion incited by his son Absalom. David’s comments are in anticipation of God’s judgment on the ungodly, which like thorns are fit only to be burned.

But, in the case of Brer Rabbit, he knew what good come out of thorns. For him, they were the solution to the problem, not another problem. In today’s world, such thinking is often called "outside the box" or the result of a new paradigm.

Our reading from Revelations this morning gives us insight into such a new paradigm. For many, this passage is a description of the Second Coming. But I see it in an entirely different manner. The coming of Christ in one’s life is more likely to occur as it did for John Wesley, one of quiet assurance and comfort, than it is described in Revelation. But however it comes, it brings with it a sense of assurance and comfort.

Bringing Christ into our lives is the simplest and easiest way we have for empowerment. Contrary to what people may think, having Christ in one’s life does not insure that their problems will be solved. But there will be a confidence in their lives that will enable them to face the problem and solve it.

Pilate was faced with a dilemma that evening in Jerusalem. How should he resolve the problem with Jesus? The simplest solution was not the easiest by any means and that was the solution that Pilate wanted. Pilate could not find fault with Jesus but was forced by the desires of the crowd to take an action that he did not want to.

In the end, Jesus was given a crown of thorns. This crown of thorns was in mockery of a kingly crown and meant to embarrass or ridicule Jesus. But this crown of thorns is an expression of Christ’s suffering for us. And through Christ’s suffering, we find our freedom.

There will be times when we are trapped, struggling to find a solution. In such times we need to think in a new way, much as Brer Rabbit did when he was trapped with the tar baby. Brer Rabbit knew that the thorns of the briar patch were not a source of pain but rather a path to his freedom.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is a day when we are reminded that Christ is king, not of this earth but rather of heaven. He is our king and his crown is made of thorns. And in the pain and suffering that those thorns inflicted on Jesus, we find our freedom from sin and death, just as Brer Rabbit found his freedom in the briar patch.



 

Is This The Beginning or The End?


This is a sermon that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, on Christ The King Sunday (26 November 2000).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Samuel: 23: 1 – 7, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 18: 33 – 37.

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When I started teaching several years ago, I showed a movie about how we kept and marked time. The story of the movie was that a country was trying to determine what time it was. Since no one knew what a clock or calendars were, it was necessary to study the history of time keeping and calendar making.

The setting of time, both in terms of the clock and the calendar, has always been an arbitrary decision. Until railroads spanned the country and there was a need for a universal time system, every town and country in this country set its own time. While we can say for sure that it is 1030 a.m. on Sunday, November 26th, the telling of time has not always been so precise. In John Wesley’s time, clocks were bulky and highly unreliable. For the people of Jesus’ time, time was measured by the hourglass and by noting certain events. By noting the events around them and the passing of the seasons, calendars could be developed.

Certain events tend to dominate the calendar, both the yearly calendar of daily life and the church calendar. The reason we celebrate the beginning of the New Year on January 1st is our celebration of Easter. When problems arose about the timing of Easter and the coming of spring, Pope Gregory changed the existing Julian Calendar. The resulting calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is essentially the calendar we used today. With the new calendar, several countries decided that it was better to celebrate the New Year on January 1st rather than with the changing of the seasons around April 1st as has been the custom under the Julian Calendar.

Even the schedule for Easter, perhaps the single most important celebration in history, is tied to guidelines that tend to confuse most people. Easter changes each year because it is dependent on the phases of the moon and the vernal equinox. As a result, the seasons of Lent and Easter, and the celebration of Pentecost Sunday change from year to year.

Fortunately, Christmas and Advent are a different situation. Because Christmas is fixed to December 25th, the four Sundays of Advent are easy to anticipate and that makes the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent, today, very easy to determine.

Today, in the Christian year, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the yearly cycle that begins with Advent and the celebration of Christmas. In a system of time keeping subject to mankind’s own whims and desires, it is nice to know that some things are fixed and certain.

That is what John wrote to the seven churches when he began the Book of Revelation. God is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega, one who was, is, and always will be. In a time when that which is made by man crumbles and disappears, God is always present.

Jesus expressed the same idea when He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. In that way, Jesus was showing that His kingdom went beyond the time frame of any earthly kingdom.

But Jesus was put to trial because the Jewish leaders saw Him as a threat to their earthly kingdoms. Even Pilate may have first thought the same thing. That is the reason why Jesus asked Pilate if he was asking about the kingdom or if the Jewish leaders put the question to Pilate.

If Pilate was asking the question, then Jesus could be considered a threat to Pilate’s own rule; but if the question was given to Pilate by the Jewish leaders, then it could be considered a matter of theology and thus no threat to Roman power.

Pilate knew that Jesus had done no wrong and was more that willing to let him go. In the Greek text, when Pilate asked Jesus if he were the "King of the Jews?" the emphasis placed on the word "you" indicates that Pilate did not see Jesus as was the defiant rebel to the Roman throne that the Jewish leaders made Him out to be. Much as been done to make Pilate the villain in this trial but he was trapped between the need to keep the Emperor in Rome happy and the need to keep peace among the Jews and Romans in Israel. There is no doubt that Pilate could have chosen his own path but when you are tied to earthly rules and constraints, as he was, it is very difficult to do so. But because the Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their earthly power, Pilate’s hand was forced.

As he was dying, David expressed God’s expectations for rulers. Bringing blessing like the light dawn after the rain, like a clear morning, like tender grass — each of these similes spoke of new life, purity, and refreshment. The function of the king was not to impoverish a nation but rather to ennoble them as he presented them the refreshing will of the God.

We might contrast this with how the rulers of Israel reacted to Jesus. It is probable that those who had Jesus arrested and brought before Pilate knew exactly what the message of the Gospel that Jesus had been preaching meant. But, to them, it was not a promise of hope but a promise to end that which they had developed over the years. Jesus was not a threat to Pilate, as the Gospel reading points out, but he was a threat to those who were empowered to served as God’s servants and had sought to misuse that power.

David’s concern (as we read in the Old Testament reading today) was that God’s covenant with his people would continue. In Verse 5, David speaks of the covenant that God made with him and asks if it will not increase. This somewhat rhetorical question expresses David’s faith that God would carry out His promise, a covenant based on God’s sovereign, unchangeable will.

What makes God’s Kingdom special is that despite its timelessness, it is opened to us through Christ. No longer is our relationship with God one of a religious relationship to a Supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness, but rather one of new life for others, through participation in the Being of God.

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that there was a time for every season. Seasons come and things change but the timelessness of God remains. Because God never changes, because there is no beginning or end, the message of hope and salvation remains the same. The Gospel and its message of hope go beyond all that we know and can ever hope for. The Gospel is a road beyond, a path that transcends all cultures, all human constructs, all civilizations and conventions. When we accept Christ as our Savior, it changes our relationship from one of time that ends to one that never ends.

As this day ends and we complete another year in the life of the church, we have to realize that it is not the end. Rather another year, one of hope and promise, begins.

What Is Truth?


This is a sermon that I presented at Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church, Mason, TN, on Christ The King Sunday (23 November 1997).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Samuel: 23: 1 – 7, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 18: 33 – 37.

Alexander Chapel was part of a two-point charge (with Pleasant Grove UMC the other church) that I and three others helped cover.  When Robert Clark, the assigned pastor, was at one of the churches, one of the four of us was at the other church.  This Sunday it was my turn to be at Alexander Chapel.

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At the entrance to CIA Headquarters in Washington, D. C., there is a sign with a quote “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” Now, considering the object of the CIA is to gather intelligence and determine the truth from those facts, I find this to be a very appropriate quote for them to having, even if it seems a little unreal for a spy agency to quote from the Bible.

The gathering of knowledge so that we may better understand who we are has always been the nature of mankind. But the truth that is determined from this study and knowledge is of this world and often does little to help us to understand who we are. There will come a time though when, even with all the information at our disposal and with all the modern methods of information gathering, we will be faced with the question that Pilate could not answer.

In the next verse after the Gospel reading, John 18: 38, Pilate asks “What is the truth?” Sooner or later, we must answer this question. For even as we gather more information about the world around us, we find that we cannot use that information to help us understand our place in this world or what our relationship with God is or could be.

David, as he lay dying, spoke of his relationship with God. In 2 Samuel 23, verse 2, he said “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me, his word was on my tongue.” Later, in verse 5, “Is not my house right with God? Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant arranged and secured in every part?” As he lay dying, David understood what it had been that guided his life. Yes, David had strayed from the path that God wished he would have followed, but he always came back. To some extent, it is that way for us. As we gather more knowledge and power in whatever we do and seek, will we remember from which we came?

Consider Francis of Assisi.

When I, Francis, heard the call of the Gospel, I did not set about organizing a political pressure-group in Assisi. What I did, I remember very well, I did for love, without expecting anything in return; I did it for the Gospel, without placing myself at odds with the rich, without squabbling with those who preferred to remain rich. And I certainly did it without any class hatred.

I did not challenge the poor people who came with me to fight for their rights, or win salary increases. I only told them that we would be blessed — if also battered, persecuted, or killed. The Gospel taught me to place the emphasis on the mystery of the human being more than on the duty of the human being.

I did not understand duty very well. But how well I understood — precisely because I had come from a life of pleasure — that when a poor person, a suffering person, a sick person, could smile, that was the perfect sign that God existed, and that he was helping the poor person in his or her difficulties.

The social struggle in my day was very lively and intense, almost, I should say, as much so as in your own times. Everywhere there arose groups of men and women professing poverty and preaching poverty in the Church and the renewal of society. But nothing changed, because these people did not change hearts. . .

No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws. You have to change hearts. Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall yourselves right back at the beginning – only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.

This is why I took the Gospel path. For me the Gospel was the sign of liberation, yes, but of true liberation, the liberation of hearts. This was the thrust that lifted me out of the middle-class spirit, which is present to every age, and is known as selfishness, arrogance, pride, sensuality, idolatry, and slavery.

I knew something about all this.

I knew what it meant be rich, I knew the danger flowing from a life of easy pleasure, and when I heard the text in Luke, “Alas for you, who are rich” my flesh crept. I understood, I had run a mortal risk, by according a value to the idols that filled my house, for they would have cast me in irons had I not fled.

It is not that I did not understand the importance of the various tasks that keep a city running. I understood but I sought to go beyond.

You can reproach me, go ahead. But I saw, in the Gospel, a road beyond, a path that beyond, a path that transcended all cultures, all human constructs, all civilization and conventions.

I felt the Gospel to be eternal. I felt politics and culture, including Christian culture, to be in time.

I was made always to go beyond time.

Are we not like that? Has the accumulation of power, knowledge, and other worldly goods taken us away from God? And yet, isn’t it the Gospel that provides the means for us to come back.

In Revelation, John saw Christ coming again, saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega, that who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Go back to Pilate question to Jesus in the Gospel reading for today, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This question had two meanings. Pilate could have been asking Jesus if he was a rebel, intent on establishing an earthly kingdom and overthrowing Pilate.

If this was the case, Pilate knew what he could and would have to do.

But, as Jesus noted, his kingdom was not of this world. The difficult thing for us is that we must understand this answer;’ that we must go beyond a worldly kingdom and see God’s kingdom and Jesus’ ministry as it really is.

On this day that we call Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate Christ’s presence in this Kingdom, we must also consider Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote

But if is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is utile; you are still in yours sins.

To Paul, the truth was very simple. Christ died and was resurrected, all to save us from our sins. To St. Francis, the Gospel had no meaning until it was in his heart. To John Wesley, the power of the Gospel was useless until he accepted Christ wholly and unconditionally.

For us today, the same is true. Christ is and will be King forever as long as our hearts are open. Christ told his followers to seek the truth; Christ told Pilate what the truth was.

When we know and understand this truth, we will be free from the shackles of sin. If we cannot accept this, if we are not willing to accept this, then the only kingdom we can have is an earthly one and we will have no freedom.

But if we accept Christ, if we understand the truth of Christ’s kingdom, than freedom is truly ours. Today He asks you “What is the truth in your hearts?”

If Not Now, When? If Not Us, Who?


This is the message I presented at Walker Valley on Christ the King Sunday, November 21, 1999.  The Scriptures were Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24, Ephesians 1: 15- 23, and Matthew 25: 31-46.

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The Scriptures for today had me thinking about what type of church we have and the type of church we would like it to be. Now, you must remember that I come from a part of the country where the church is a part of the social fabric of society and many people get uncomfortable when the church is called to work in society.

The church throughout its history has always been a society of people. But, for many people, this means that the church has taken on the form of a social club where like-minded people gather together and have fun and fellowship and generally support one another. Now, I see nothing wrong with those activities; they are essential parts of the life of a church. But I do see something wrong when people view themselves only in those terms and refuse to look beyond the boundaries of the church. I can remember the horror people had at one church when it was suggested that one week out of every fifteen the church house two or three homeless families and that the members of the church assist in the feeding of the families. Those things were just not done in polite society.

But that is the other side of the coin. Whatever breaks down in society, the church needs to be involved. In needs to stand up for what is right and good. Over the years, the church has stood for good education, equality among all peoples, civil rights, and stability in society. The church has often been seen as the one institution that stands ups for what is right. But the difficulty in this approach to the church’s work is that it is often seen as a means of achieving the goal of Christianity.

The difficulty for any church is finding the balance between what it does for its members and what it does for members of society.

Humanity has always wanted to help God. But it has always been done with the feeling that we could meet God halfway. Many people work hard in the church, serving on committees, helping out with any number of church projects. But if we are not careful, we begin thinking of our much God appreciates our work. When this happens, it is not very hard for the church, the body of Christ, to become a club or social organization where God is secondary.

John Wesley understood the importance of good works. The fruit of one’s good works are always and everywhere a response to what God has done. We respond to God through our appreciative works.

Is it possible to avoid good works? Jesus’ command, as hear in the Gospel reading for today, is simple. If you hear the message, live accordingly. By and of itself, the act of doing something good for someone is a meaningless act for us. It will help the other person, that is true, but it will do nothing to help us get into heaven. There is a living relationship established between God and us. That is what the message from the Old Testament tells us today. God went out looking for each of the lost sheep, be they the Israelites exiled in Babylon or elsewhere. He wanted to find each one of us; that is why He ultimately sent his Son to save us from our sins. It is by God’s grace that we are saved.

Because of this act of God’s grace exists, a relationship between God and us. It is living relationship with the Father through Christ who inspires our thoughts, words and deeds.

It follows then that we have a role in our relationship with God. We are the other party in the covenant established many years ago. We contribute to this living, dynamic fellowship. The question is, of course, how can we contribute to this relationship? How can we respond to God’s presence in our lives?

Each person in Christ has a specific calling. Each person has a unique personality and lives in relation to unique things. Each person draws together other persons, times, places, and events. The excitement of the Christian life is living out or doing good works within our own unique daily life. We are called to be a witness to what Christ has done for all humanity.

When I first began the preparation for this sermon, I thought of the church’s involvement in the political and social actions of the sixties. I thought about how the church was involved back then and is still today in the fight for human rights. Many churches were divided about the proper action of the church, its pastor, and its congregation in the fights that occurred back then. And even today, as I alluded to earlier, churches can be divided about what the role of the church in society should be.

As this decade ends and the new one begins, as we turn from the season of Pentecost to the season of Advent, what role will the church have in society? The United Methodist Church has, out of necessity and history, always been a social action church. There are those today who suggest that we need to review this tradition of the church. But such a change would take away the presence of this church in the world. As one who has looked at planning before, I know that what one church does is not necessarily the right thing for other churches to do. There is a role for every church, be they a very little one or one of immense size.

The question arises how. In my daily readings, I have had the opportunity to read the writings of Carlo Carretto, who wrote a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. One of those writings is especially true today.

When I, Francis, heard the call of the Gospel, I did not set about organizing a political pressure-group in Assisi. What I did, I remember very well, I did for love, without expecting anything in return; I did it for the Gospel, without placing myself at odds with the rich, without squabbling with those who preferred to remain rich. And I certainly did it without any class hatred.

I did not challenge the poor people who came with me to fight for their rights, or win salary increases. I only told them that we would be blessed – if also battered, persecuted, or killed. The Gospel taught me to place the emphasis on the mystery of the human being more than on the duty of the human being.

I did not understand duty very well. But how well I understood – precisely because I had come from a life of pleasure – that when a poor person, a suffering person, a sick person, could smile, that was the perfect sign that God existed, and that he was helping the poor person in his or her difficulties.

The social struggle in my day was very lively and intense, almost, I should say, as much so as in your own times. Everywhere there arose groups of men and women professing poverty and preaching poverty in the Church and the renewal of society. But nothing changed, because these people did not change hearts . . .

No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws. You have to change hearts. Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall find yourselves right back at the beginning – only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.

This is why I took the Gospel path. For me the Gospel pat was the sign of liberation, yes, but of true liberation, the liberation of hearts. That was the thrust that lifted me out of the middle-class spirit, which is present to every age, and is known as selfishness, arrogance, pride, sensuality, idolatry, and slavery.

I knew something about all that.

I knew what it meant to be rich, I knew the danger flowing from a life of easy pleasure, and when I heard the text in Luke, “Alas for you, who are rich” my flesh crept. I understood. I had run a mortal risk, by according a value to the idols that filled my house, for they would have cast me in irons had I not fled.

It is not that I did not understand the importance of the various tasks that keep a city running. I understood, but I sought to go beyond.

You can reproach me, go ahead. But I saw, in the Gospel, a road beyond, a path that beyond, a path that transcended all cultures, all human constructs, all civilization and convention.

I felt the Gospel to be eternal; I felt politics and culture, including Christian culture, to be in time.

I was made always to go beyond time. (From I, Francis by Carlo Carretto)

I struggled with this sermon because it calls for us to take actions. Fortunately, I can take comfort in the words Paul wrote to the Ephesians encouraging them and asking that God give them wisdom so that they could better know him and understand what it is that He would have us to do.

And while I struggle with how to do it, I am reminded by what was said back in the sixties when people were questioning the timing of much of what was going on. That challenge, the title of the sermon today, is as valid today as it was thirty years ago. There is work to be done; there are those in need who seek our help. If we do not do it, who will? If it is not done today, when will it get done?

Happy New Year!


Here are my thoughts for today, Christ the King Sunday.
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I am writing this on Saturday, November 25, 2006. But, depending on what particular calendar you might be using (1):

  1. it is Day 329 of current year
  2. on the Julian calendar, it is November 12, 2006
  3. on the ISO Calendar, it is Day 6 of Week 47 of Year 2006
  4. on the Hebrew Calendar, it is 4 Kislev 5767
  5. on the Islamic Calendar, it is Shawwal 33, 1427
  6. on the Mayan Calendars
  1. by the long count, it is 12.19.13.15.0
  2. on the Haab (Civil) calendar, 13 Ceh
  3. on the Tzolkin (Religious), it is 7 Ahau
  • on the French Revolutionary calendar, it is Décade I, Quintidi de Frimaire de l’Année 215 de la Révolution
  • on the Coptic calendar, it is Hatur 16, 1723
  • on the Ethiopic, it is Khedar 16, 1999
  • on the Persian calendar, it is Azar 04, 1385
  • on the Baha’I calendar, it is 3rd day of Speech, B.E. 163
  • How we tell time is a matter of preference and culture. When we start the year and when it finishes all depends upon the calendar that we choose to use. With that in mind, let me wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” Tomorrow, November 26th, is the last day of the current liturgical year so it is, in effect, New Year’s Eve. With November 27th, we start the new liturgical year and we begin celebrating the season of Advent on December 3rd.

    For some, tomorrow is just the last Sunday in Ordinary Time or the last Sunday after Pentecost. For others, it is called Christ the King Sunday and the three readings for the common lectionary reflect that name.

    What I found out is that the naming of this particular Sunday, the last Sunday before the start of Advent, as Christ the King Sunday is not an old tradition of the church but rather a relative newcomer to the calendar. It does not bear the history of many long-held church traditions such as All Saints or Christmas or Easter and does not possess the deep and traditional biblical backing of these celebrations. Pope Pius XI brought Christ the King Sunday into the church’s liturgical year in 1925. He was attempting to do several things, but mainly to advance the message of God in Christ over and against that of the political forces moving in the world at that time–people like Mussolini and Hitler (2).

    What I find interesting in this is that many of the denominations of that time were falling into line with the prevailing nationalism of the time, giving the political power of the nation over to the spiritual power of Christ. As I noted in my posting for 30 July (3), the German churches of that time frame were more interested in supporting the German nationalism movement and they had in effect turned a blind eye to the plight of the people. The churches then turned from Christ as King to Christ as an afterthought.

    And what do we see when we read about the churches and many of the religious leaders of today? How many religious leaders today have not been tempted and corrupted by the power found in the political process. The problem is that we see political power as the means to the end, yet political power is often riddled with hubris and illusion. This is not to say that political power is not inherently evil. It was the moral power and authority exercised by Nelson Mandela to free South Africa from the tyranny of apartheid and it was the moral power and authority exercised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others used to challenge the very nature of human and civil rights in the 1960’s.

    But it should be noted that the political changes that were brought about through the fight for civil and human rights were done from the ground up. The cries for “moral values” today are more often driven by those who seek to gain personal power or status. Like society’s leaders in Jesus’ time, those who cry out the loudest today jostle with each other for the prominent places at the banquet table, instead of giving those seats to the less fortunate.

    When Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, it is not a question based on spiritual leadership or the Kingdom of God (4). It is a question couched in the terms of current politics. But, if His Kingdom were of this world, nothing that Pilate or the religious authorities who opposed Jesus did would be able to stop him.

    I think that those who opposed Jesus knew what would be the outcome if they allowed Him to complete His mission on earth; they would lose their prominent places, they would lose their status and power. They, perhaps more than anyone else, understood the call to be a servant that Jesus laid out as the basis for his Kingdom. And it was a call that they were not willing to answer; others could not answer it because they did not understand what the call meant. Nor would they understand what it meant until the Resurrection came.

    In the Old Testament reading for today, we hear David’s final words (5). These are words that remind us that we must be servants before we can be king. We are reminded that those who choose otherwise will be cast aside.

    As the liturgical year comes to an end, as we read John the Revealer’s words of God being the Alpha and the Omega, we are reminded that the King is truly coming. But those who long for a powerful, earthly king will be severely disappointed because the King that comes will come as a child, born in an obscure town to ordinary parents. Even as John was writing of the coming of Christ in all His glory, he understood that there must be a beginning as well as an end (6).

    That is what today represents. One year is coming to an end but another is beginning. We celebrate the presence of Christ as King, leading us first as a servant. And now we celebrate the beginning of the New Year with our preparation for the coming of Christ as the child born in Bethlehem. So let us end this day and this year with a rousing cry of “Happy New Year”. Let us end this day by celebrating that Christ is King and let us rejoice that He is coming.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    (1) I found this information at http://craig.copi.org/events/today.html.

    (2) http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0MDO/is_5_32/ai_n15858753

    (3) http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/07/30/what-if/

    (4) John 18: 33 – 37

    (5) 2 Samuel 23: 1 – 7

    (6) Revelation 1: 4b – 8