Last Pentecost: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ps 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King Sunday, November 20, 2016
St. John’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
In 1925, Pope Pious XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King for the Universal Church. He did so because he was concerned as to the secular nature that world politics seemed to be shifting toward. He believed there was a connection between the denial of Christ as king and the rise of secularism throughout Europe. He saw Catholics being taken in by secular leaders and hoped that by instituting the feast, it would help the faithful gain strength and courage from the feast and be reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.
Episcopalians were quick to incorporate this feast day into their liturgical year. They too recognized that the idea of Christ as king or ruler had lost some popularity in our strongly individualistic system, mostly because our cultural values have distracted us from kingdom values. Christ connected his kingship to humble service, radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. He defined his kingdom as one of justice rooted in compassion not judgment, peace through action not sloth, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Our life in the kingdom is grounded in these values as well, yet as much as we talk about them, I am concerned that we do not truly understand them.
Since the election, I have heard words of judgment and little compassion from friend and stranger alike. I have heard us stereo-type and label one another in negative and unhelpful ways. We have forgotten our compassion and humility for each other. Instead, we lump one another into categories of racism, sexism, and xenophobia or whiners, poor losers who need to grow up, and millennials not getting their way. Yet, waking up at 2:45 eastern time on the morning after the election, I heard our new President-elect Trump speak in a tempered manner full of hope and encouragement, praising those who had run against him and making a shift toward inclusion and cooperation that I had not heard from him before”and it felt genuine.
Later that day, I heard speeches from President Obama and Secretary Clinton that were conciliatory and called for Americans to work together with President-elect Trump as they pledged to do so themselves because, as President Obama said, We are not democrats or republicans first. We are Americans first. But I say to you, we are Christians first. And as Christians, we are to look past easily offered campaign slogans such as I’m with her and Make America Great Again, and instead define how we are going to be with Jesus and partner to do his great work of redemption in this world.
Jesus calls us to act with compassion”that is what justice and righteousness are grounded in, not judgment and condemnation. Too long we have pointed fingers, accused, and decried a political system that could not cross the aisle”maybe its time we stopped putting our hope in the politics of this world and find a different way of being, a way that Christ call us too.
A priest friend of mine in Chicago has two parishioners who have given one another a hard time throughout the campaign this year”one was a Clinton supporter and the other supported Trump. Most of their needling of one another was in a positive and friendly sort of way, though occasionally things got a bit ugly. But on Wednesday morning after the election, the first thing the Trump supporter did was to call the Clinton supporter and ask her if she was ok. He did not gloat in his party’s victory nor did she respond in anger to her party’s loss. Each genuinely regarded the other’s feelings and beliefs and had a conversation based on compassion for her loss and humility toward his win. That is how Christ calls us to do justice. When our actions and words stem from compassion and humility, we are partnering with God to do his work of redemption in this world.
In the passage from Jeremiah this morning, it is this compassion and humility that has been missing from the kings of Israel, the shepherds who destroyed and scattered the sheep of the Lord’s pasture. And it is this compassion and humility that will define the righteous Branch of David”the one we know as Jesus Christ. Jesus’ reign was, is, and always will be marked by a justice grounded in compassion.
That compassion is poured out onto the world throughout Jesus’ time on earth and it is no less true even as he suffers and dies on the cross. In the midst of the crowd of protestors scoffing at him and chanting words like, not my Messiah, Jesus forgives and saves and offers Paradise. This is a man of peace whose focus is on the Kingdom of God, a focus that never waivers regardless of the current political crisis unfolding at his feet. Jesus’ words and actions are grounded in that peace that passes all understanding. He recognizes that this earthly present is temporal and fleeting and that truth, goodness, and beauty are inherent features of kingdom living. These are the features of peace, but they, nor peace itself, can be achieved through sloth or a lack of willingness or desire to act.
The day after the election, I saw on a friend’s Facebook feed her own response to the election. She had woken up that morning in despair, cried and sobbed intermittently throughout the day, and then was inspired to return her attention to a painting she had begun several months before. It was a landscape with lots of dark blues and greens and browns of gloom and in the middle of the canvas swirled strokes of light, white, and the brightness of hope. It’s a beautiful painting and it speaks to the deep truth of our Christian response when things don’t go the way we might want them to in our world”accepting and allowing our feelings, and then moving forward in creative and healing ways. That is what peace is”the turning to what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful even, and especially, when you are in doubt, darkness, or gloom. And it can only be discovered when we are willing to act.
Justice is grounded in compassion and humility because it helps us define the Kingdom of God through truth, goodness, and beauty; which in turn defines and motivates our peaceful response of action in the face of suffering. It is a life oriented this way that can know the joy of the Holy Spirit”the inspiration that comes from above and reminds us that there is more to this world and that our life does not have to be defined or ruled by this world.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of Pentecost, the end of the church year. On this day, we proclaim and praise the one true God and ruler of this world and the next”the one who will deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness, the one who is our refuge and strength, the one who makes wars to cease and peace through the blood of the cross, the one who tells us, today you will be with me in Paradise. That is our true joy, which is why we practice compassion and not judgment, which is how we know peace”because our king does the same for us.
The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom. Amen.