Sunday, November 22, 2009

King of the road

Way to Calvary, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311

Psalm 93; John 18: 33-38
******** United Church of Christ
November 22, 2009 – Reign of Christ

Can you wait? I don’t mean are you excited or anticipating something wonderful. I mean can you wait. Are you good at waiting? Are you a patient person when you are in the grocery checkout line, stuck in traffic, in a crowded doctor’s office? When winter groans on into March or even April, do you curse the earth out of which crocuses and daffodils will soon grow? When the search process goes into its second year, which is a possibility, will your souls still be hearty and bright with the promise to come?

Waiting is a hard thing to do but it is inherent in being a Christian. Today is Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday, the culmination of one year in the church and the close of one cycle of lectionary readings from the Bible. It is the last Sunday in the Christian year before the new year begins next Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent, our season of waiting for the birth of Jesus.

But if Christ is king, where is his kingdom? If Christ reigns, what exactly does he rule? Since the first disciples proclaimed him risen from the dead and witnessed his ascension, since the apostle Paul encountered him on the road to Damascus and began preaching the good news, Christians have been waiting for Christ to return.

We’ve been waiting a long time; it’s been a very long road. In every age, there have been those who said he would return in their lifetime, for such a time as theirs. There have been wars and revolutions, cataclysms, epidemics and pandemics, such stuff that makes for an apocalypse: a total devastation that would at last reveal this Christ, this God who rules the universe. For surely if this world is torn in two, like the curtain that surrounded the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple, we could at last force the divine hand and see who it is lurking behind that curtain. If there is enough pain, and there are some who believe this, surely Christ will come.

This past week I read a book by Cormac McCarthy published in 2006 entitled The Road. I read it now because it is also a film that has just been released in theatres. It is a postapocalyptic novel about a man and his son traveling south in a cold, gray, ash-filled world where some of the few people that are left have resorted to living in groups, preying on solitary figures as a means of sustenance. But the man and the boy strive to remain “the good guys”, sustaining themselves out of their love for each other. As affirmation and as a talisman they often say to one another that they are carrying the fire within them as they travel the lonely road, and that it is this ‘fire’ sets them apart from those who would prey upon them.

As I try to do each day in my living, I looked for the Christ throughout this book. I wanted to know where was God in this fictional but very possible world. How could it become possible for human beings to allow themselves to de-evolve in such a way as to look at each other as their only means of survival but as cattle? How is it that we might allow ourselves to become so depraved and so cruel? Why must we survive at any cost, even at the cost of other human lives? Since the first crude weapon was raised against another being, since the story of Cain and Abel, that question has loomed over us.

Many times in our daily lives we behave as though what we are living through is imminent life or death. Our adrenaline level rises, kicking up our heart rate and blood pressure, and our emotions take captive the best of us, even as we are waiting. Most, if not all, of what we deal with on a daily basis is not a matter of imminent life or death. Most, if not all, of what we deal with on a daily basis is the control of our fear: our fear of death and our fear of living a real life, that real life where the kingdom is made visible through us.

Our culture teaches us that our highest good, the truth, is life, even to the point of life at all costs. Jesus teaches us that our highest good, the truth, is love, even to the point of losing his life. All three of the lectionary readings from the gospels for this Sunday are taken from end of Jesus’ life, right before he is about to die. Christ’s kingship, his lordship begins as his life ends. How can life be the highest good, be the truth if one day it will come to an end?

We believe that life will not end not because life in its own mystical way renews itself and is reborn. We believe that life does not end because of love, because love never ends. It is the fire within us that never dies. Love is the kingdom of God within us, love so great that it can lay down life for the sake of friends. This is the truth that Pilate could not wrap his head around, the truth that went to the cross, the truth that each one of us has to come to in our own way.

We may look for the reign of Christ in this world and catch glimpses of the kingdom as we travel the road of life. We may companion one another, as we are called to do, and share this fire, this love with one another as we wait for the kingdom to come on earth, for God’s will to be done.

Icon of Matthew 25

But if we are truly serious about seeking the Christ, we must first look within us. The world offers many alternatives to combat and control our fear. Some of them work, many of them don’t. Neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, but if we neglect to look for Christ and his kingdom within us, it will be all the harder and more fearful to live that real life.

And so, ******** United Church of Christ, are you carrying the fire, the radical truth of love within you? Who is the king of your road? When has it been hardest for you to wait? How is the kingdom made visible through you? Where and when have you seen glimpses of that kingdom of love and peace? How often do you take time to be quiet, to meditate and to wait for the Lord?

Christ’s kingdom is within us. If Christ’s truth, which is love, is to be made real within us and live through us, we must have an inner life through which this love can express itself. The road we call Advent is a perfect time to begin a practice of quiet listening and waiting, to allow the fire to be rekindled once more.

In the writing of this sermon I was inspired to offer an Advent devotion to you. Each Wednesday in Advent at 6:30 p.m. beginning Dec. 2, I will be here in the sanctuary with candles lit and lights turned down low. I will be in quiet prayer and meditation for 45 minutes. I invite you to join me in this quiet stillness to listen in your own way. Then until 7:30 we will talk quietly and briefly about what we heard in the silence. Come when you can and enter in peace that the peace and the love of Christ may rule in your heart. Amen.

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