November 20, 2016 + The Last Sunday after Pentecost – Christ the King
Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. sung by the St. John’s Schola, sermon by the Rev’d William Eakins.
Guest Organist: Kari Miller
Worship at Home:
Click here for the Service Bulletin; scroll to read full sermon text.
Full Service Audio:
Voluntary Prelude in G Major, BWV 541 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Processional Hymn 494 Crown him with many crowns Diademata
Gloria in excelsis S278 William Mathias (1934-1992)
Sequence Hymn 441 In the cross of Christ I glory Rathbun
Music at the Offertory Meditation Jacob Arcadelt (c.1505-1568)
Sanctus S128 William Mathias
Fraction Anthem S166 Agnus Dei Gerald Near (b. 1942)
Communion Motet Ave verum corpus Stephanie Martin (b. 1962)
Communion Hymn 433 We gather together Kremser
Closing Hymn 290 Come, ye thankful people, come St. George’s, Windsor
Voluntary Grand Chœur Théodore Salomé (1834-1896)
Full Sermon Text:
“The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken…”
These words from today’s Psalm are an apt description of the current time. Certainly the “kingdom” in which we live has been shaken severely by the recent presidential contest. First there was a seemingly endless and exceedingly bitter election campaign with both parties and both candidates hurling invective at each other. Then there was the election itself, which has revealed a deeply divided nation where one candidate won the popular vote while losing to the other in the all-important electoral vote. The winning candidate ran on a platform promising to drain the political swamp in Washington and make widespread changes in the domestic and foreign policies of the outgoing president and his administration. The political party of the new president-elect has won control of both houses of congress and potentially, at least, can enact whatever changes the president-elect wants to make. Not only we Americans but the citizens of other nations are making “much ado” over the shaking up of our nation’s political order. We are all left wondering what to expect in the months and years ahead.
Our current turmoil offers a powerful reminder of the Bible’s warning about the ultimate unreliability of human rulers. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.” The writer of those verses from Psalm 146 must have been well acquainted with political upheaval, with unexpected power changes, and with leaders who say one thing but do another. The Bible teaches that though human leaders are to be respected as agents of justice and order, we must never forget that only God is entitled to our ultimate loyalty. Human rulers can be misguided, ignorant, and sinful; they can also make mistakes and be evil. And human rulers are transitory. They come and go; they rise and fall. Only God endures and can be trusted no matter what.
This last Sunday in the church year, the feast of Christ the King, is an annual reminder of where our ultimate loyalty and confidence need be placed. Christ the King is a feast of comparatively modern origin, introduced by Pope Pius IX in 1925 as an antidote to the godlessness of contemporary culture and in particular to the rise of Fascism. Benito Mussolini had been head of Italy for three years. The Nazi Party and a rabble-rouser named Adolph Hitler were rapidly growing in popularity in Germany. The new feast of Christ the King was a critique of the rise of 20th century totalitarian dictatorships. It remains a critique of earthly potentates to this day.
Christ the King is a powerful statement about who is really in charge of the world and who is deserving of our obedience and trust. To some it may appear that there is no one in charge and that we live in a world of chaos, random accident, and anarchy. To many it may seem that money and might make the world go round. To others it may appear that the world in in the hands of evil forces and bent on destruction. Over against these views, the Christian faith asserts that it is God who is in charge of the universe and that God is like the King Jesus we see in today’s Gospel reigning from a cross.
Jesus hangs on the cross, naked and powerless, mocked, rejected, suffering, dying, and wearing a crown of thorns. He has nothing that the powers of this world hold out to their devotees – comfort, success, popularity. All Jesus has is his trust in God’s love and God’s power. This trust refuses to give up; it becomes his dying prayer, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” By his steadfast trustfulness, by his refusal to serve any of the gods of this world in order to serve God alone, Jesus robs the gods of this world of their power to rule and proclaims the sovereignty of God. Jesus’ trust in God alone is vindicated when on Easter morn God raises Jesus from the dead. Jesus outstretched on the cross becomes the sign of God’s triumph and God’s rule. If that Good News is true, if God really is in charge of this world, it makes a huge difference in the way we live. This Gospel bids us live thankfully, responsibly and hopefully.
First. Be thankful. Thanksgiving is not just a day on November when we eat turkey. Thanksgiving needs to be an attitude and a practice that is a part of our everyday lives. Cultivate an awareness of how much God has blessed us, so that we do not begin to think that what we have and who we are are all our own doing. Pausing when we awake and when we sit down to eat and when we go to bed to say “Thank you, God, for all that you have given me” keeps our lives centered on God and makes us conscious of how much we have,
Second. Be responsible. The more we are conscious of God’s gifts to us and God’s presence in our lives, the more we shall want to use what God has given us for Godly purposes. God has given us the planet Earth not to have its resources selfishly exploited by one people or one generation but to have its resources treasured and shared by all the people of the earth, for generations to come. Be a responsible steward of what God has given us. That also means being a responsible citizen.
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, its proceedings were held in strict secrecy. As a result anxious folks gathered outside Constitution Hall when the Convention ended in order to learn what had been decided. A woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Dr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation Franklin responded, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
Franklin was right. A republic like the United States only works if its citizens do their part, informing themselves about the issues of the day, engaging in civil conversation with their fellow citizens and expressing their opinion by voting. A republic does not work if citizens abdicate these responsibilities out of apathy or a mistaken belief that political leaders can govern effectively without the vigilance and active participation of all citizens. If we believe representative democracy is one of God’s gifts to us as a nation, we had better show our gratitude by being responsible Americans.
Finally, we must be hopeful. If God is ultimately in charge of the world, if Christ is indeed King, then we can face the future with confidence. The nations may make much ado and the kingdoms of this world may be shaken but God is still ruler over all and slowly but surely is restoring the creation to the way God has always intended it to be. With this as our confidence, God expects us to labor on in good times and bad times, always seeking to do what is just and what is right, supporting Godly leadership ands speaking out when our leaders go astray.
Too often we Christians forget or fail to live up to the Good News that God reigns. Confronted by daunting realities like political upheaval and uncertainty, we sit on our hands or pull up the bedcovers and hide in fear and despair. If we really believe what we proclaim today, that it is God’s will to restore all things in Jesus Christ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then we must never give up doing our part to make God’s great dream come true. And God whose power brought a universe into being put of nothing, God whose love raised Jesus from the dead, God will weave our lives and feeblest efforts into God’s unconquerable purpose.
So be thankful. Be responsible. And always be hopeful.