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Christ The King C Sermon
Luke 23: 33-43

November 20, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

It seems extremely counter-cultural for us to hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion on the day that we call, “Christ the King Sunday.” Certainly, when we think of powerful rulers, we do not picture a weak, vulnerable, bloody dying figure on a cross, being mocked and scoffed at by those who walk by. We are used to powerful rulers standing tall, saying anything to get the votes and adoration of their subjects – either that, or someone who rules with fear and intimidation to keep the masses at bay. But when we hear this account connected with the title, “King”, we are reminded that true authority in our lives comes through love – the kind of love which sacrifices all for others. It is good that we remind ourselves of this at the end of every liturgical year because we have so many messages around us to the contrary, especially this year following the long presidential election.
I just returned Friday evening from being in the Carolinas for 9 days. The final 5 featured 126 holes of golf with 15 other retired and active colleagues and friends. When not on the courses, we were in a condo or at a restaurant, laughing and joking and watching sports. It was a real “guys” retreat! The first four days, though, were spent on a much different kind of retreat. I may have been with about a hundred others, mostly Episcopalians, but I knew no one. A retired pastor and his wife struck up a conversation with me at the opening pre-dinner hospitality hour and became my dining partners the rest of the way through, but for the most part even though I was not technically alone, I had a lot of time for solo, personal prayer and reflection. On Saturday, following a talk by one of our presenters, we were given about an hour to quietly, prayerfully think on her words and some challenging questions from our spiritual facilitator. At the end of that hour, I wrote some thoughts, and I want to share them with you now. This was an intensely meaningful time for me as I consider who and what has the most authority in my life, and I hope that it will have some meaning for you as well.

Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
In the middle of November in the mountains of western North Carolina the trees are usually ablaze with color. This year is a little different. This year, they have gone months without rain, and as a result, the trees have lost moisture and the leaves have fallen – not all of them, but they are definitely ahead of central Ohio in this, and I figure that as far south as I am, they are ahead of where they usually are.

As I walk the trail at Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp and retreat center outside of Asheville, the words of the spiritual guide go through my head. We have heard Becca Stevens, the director of Thistle Farms, an organization which takes in women from the sex trafficking industry and heals them through love and puts them to work making and selling products like candles, soaps and oils. She talked about persistence in love and forgiveness, and healing and life. Following that, our guide encouraged us to come up with one word or short phrase which describes what we would like to adopt in our lives which is essential in this persistence of life. In addition, he encouraged us to think of something that we know that we should turn away from or leave behind, in order to abide in that first thing. As I start on the trail at camp called, “The Quiet Way,” all of these words resonated in my head.

I thought about the things for which I am sorry, especially those things that I think, say or do which get in the way of my love for my wife and children, family, friends, neighbors, church and world. And then these words came to my mind: “Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.” Not only are these words from scripture and from our liturgy, but they are words that Fr. Richard Rohr encouraged his readers to chant, over and over again, in a guided meditation exercise. Christ died – he did not grasp at this temporary life which has no lasting joy or meaning. Christ is risen – his death was the vehicle through which something new came about. Christ will come again – it was not only for Christ’s own good that all of this happened, but for the good of all of humankind. Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.

As I walked upon The Quiet Way, things that I was experiencing seemed to start to come together. I am on this retreat primarily for a spiritual experience, since spirituality has always been something lacking in my life and ministry. The path upon which I was walking on this morning was not all that clear. Because of the dry conditions, the leaves covered the paths which wound through the woods, up and down the hills, and in many places, all I could make out were traces of footsteps that may have trampled there earlier that day or the days before. One time I thought I knew where the path was, only to get stuck and turn back to find it again.

In addition to that faint trail, occasionally trees were marked with a simple white cross. As the words, “Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again,” went over again in my head – chanted to the tune of the song which the band sent us out to – I reflected on this journey and this path. It is a path which involves death and life. There have been people tread it before, and their witness is there if you look hard enough. There are dangers – I slipped at least once and almost went down trying to go a little too fast on a steep incline. And there is the way of the cross along the path, the quiet way of the cross to be the ultimate guide.

Finally, I came back to the questions that our guide asked us to consider during this quiet time in which I chose to walk The Quiet Way. What did I most want to adopt in my life to persist in love, peace and healing? Trust. Trust in the witness of those who have travelled before me, trust in those whom God has put into my life, and trust in the one who pioneered and perfected the Quiet way of the cross. What did I have to turn away from or leave behind to do this? My own self-reliance and independence. I need the witnesses of so many people – not only those who have gone before us and not only those who write books and give talks, but people like my wife, my children, my colleagues, my congregation members, and those who I walk with, grieve with and serve with.
Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again. I truly believe that. Not only that, but my very life depends upon it. As I continue on this retreat and prepare to return to my family, my ministry and my life, I will remember this exercise – the words, the walk on the quiet way, the white crosses along the faded path, and the Holy Spirit who guides me in all things. Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.

Do you trust your rulers? We probably each answer that differently and to different extents. They really do have the best interest of our nation in mind even though they may have very different ideas for how to achieve that. Ultimately, the one ruler who we are called to trust above all else is Jesus Christ, our King. To put aside our own self-reliance and independence, and trust in the one who rules not with intimidation or empty promises, but sacrifice and self-giving love. All hail, Christ Jesus our King! Amen.