Last Sunday after Pentecost – Christ the King
November 23, 2014
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
Kingship in the Margins
My memory of visiting a county jail is not a happy one. A sense of dignity is the first thing to be left at the front desk as one steps into a scanning chamber that rotates 360 degrees around the body with a pat down waiting as soon as one steps out of the creepy chamber. Then come the series of steel doors. You know the sound from TV and movies… locks are released electronically with a clank accompanied by the piercing sound of a loud buzzer. Heavy metal doors slam shut with a harshness that lingers in the stark corridors…as do the echoing sounds of one’s own footsteps. This is a hard place that strips away any sense of ease and comfort… and that erased the sensations of sunlight and fresh air that I had known outside just minutes before. The stark journey into the heart of the prison stripped away everything that was familiar to me. This experience brought me to an uncomfortable place where I, even as a visitor, felt vulnerable and intimidated. It was in such a state of rawness… that I met with my friend whose day-in and day-out existence was lived in this parched, soul sucking place. I did not relish the journey. But once I was able to sit across the table with my friend, it was apparent that we were both planted firmly on holy ground. This is the call we hear about in in our Gospel lesson today. Christ is calling us to meet him in the margins that dwell beyond zones of ease and comfort… a holy place of meeting where walls of separation fall away and we can know another, as we are known, in the light of our true and common humanity… To meet as beloved children of God.
This is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of our church year… and like most Sunday’s we are worshipping into a great paradox…. we are worshipping a God who not of this world but who, at the very same time, is of this world… and we are wrestling with the somewhat puzzling nature of Christ’s kingship.
What comes to mind when you think of Christ the King? We might be hearing the voices of Handel’s great Hallelujah chorus streaming through our minds… “King of King… and Lord of Lords” adorned with full brass accompaniment. In our mind’s eye we might see an image of Jesus seated firmly on a golden throne in the heavens surrounded by stars, and angels… holding a royal scepter in one hand and a bejeweled orb in the other, further symbols of his authority and sovereignty. Enthroned… Christ reigns over all that is. The Christian Church of our tradition has often morphed the image of Christ to fit the scene of lofty palaces gilded with gold… places that, in our fantasies and dreams we may long to inhabit. We hunger for a place of comfort and luxury and wealth in which we can rest from our cares and concerns, rest from the struggle to make ends meet… rest from the worries that fill our days. Though in our time such gilded dwelling places are more likely to be tourist attractions than actual seats of power, they do appeal to the imagination… and maybe even to our own hunger for wealth, comfort and prosperity. Jesus taught us that true wealth cannot be found in such lofty places. In the ancient world the highest ranking that an man could attain was readily understood to be the earthly power instilled in the king or emperor… that was the image of kingship… until Jesus, when he walked the earth, taught us otherwise.
I want us to take a look at the king whom Matthew presents to us in today’s lesson. “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”…. and what was required for this grand inheritance… to be welcomed into the royal realms? What was… and what is required by our God… is to see Jesus in the hungry, in the thirsty, in the prisoner. What is required is to seek and serve Christ in the poor, in the oppressed, in the marginalized. Jesus said “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”
Christ of Maryknoll
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM
What does this image (Robert Lentz icon) say to you about Christ the King? I don’t know about you but I see Jesus looking into us, beckoning us to move beyond our comfort zones. The piercings of his hands are right before us. We can see his fingers wrapped around barbed wire that must be piercing his skin even more. Unflinchingly he pulls the wire apart is if to give us a better view…. he wants us to see more… his eyes are telling us not to look away… You may have seen this image in this week’s newsletter with the caption “Christ the King”… for I chose this image as to provoke us into considering the deeper meaning of Christ the King in keeping with today’s gospel lesson. The actual title of this icon, by the Franciscan Robert Lentz, is “Christ of Maryknoll” … Maryknoll being an order of Roman Catholic missionaries who work among the “poor, the broken, and the oppressed.” Brother Lentz says that he created this image intentionally to be vague about which side of the fence Christ is on. Is he on the inside of the prison looking out at us, or is he on the outside looking in at us… ??? How might we be imprisoned by walking a path that is not of God… by striving for the kind of wealth that is impermanent and fleeting. Lentz says of the icon:
Is [Christ] imprisoned… or are we? Through our cultural institutions and personal lives we all place barriers between ourselves and true happiness. We and our institutions also try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the dangerous memories he would bring us of our goals and ideals.
…memories of our goals and ideals that are not in alignment with true and abiding happiness as servants of Christ. This divine image that Lentz shows us is the Christ of the marginalized… This is the Christ to whom we, on our best days bow down and give up our whole selves to his service. On our lesser days we forget or shy away from this calling because it is not easy to go to that place where we encounter the rawness of human experience. Courage is required… courage is not simply fearlessness and daring on the battlefield. Courage comes from the Latin word for “heart.” Breneé Brown, who speaks widely about the gifts and power of vulnerability, has said that the meaning of courage is to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart. We live in a culture that likes to fix or prevent vulnerability. Brown says that, “We are prone to buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and gullibility and frailty… because it gives us permission not to [go there and be vulnerable]. In her research Brown identified people she calls “wholehearted” who have learned to be comfortable with messiness and imperfection… She talks about creative people and successful leaders who can be authentic by letting go of images of who they “should” be… who can live with a higher sense of ambiguity… who have the willingness ditch the word “perfection” …people who are consciously willing to fail. This is vulnerability.
As disciples of Christ we are invited to serve the one who knows us, warts and all, and who, nonetheless, loves us utterly and completely. We are called to serve as best we can… acknowledging our fears and trepidation… and daring to stand with Christ in the margins… This reminds me of a line from A Collect for Peace in our Book of Common Prayer: “O God, the author of peace and the author of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom.” We are called to serve… giving of ourselves without giving ourselves totally away… We are invited to serve wholeheartedly, knowing that our service will be imperfect and incomplete. We are invited to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice of love.
The noted preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has described her challenges with this call to seek and serve Christ in all people. She has written:
How do we find the courage to get up in the morning, knowing that every pair of eyes that pleads with us that day… will be his eyes, asking us for something to eat or drink or wear, asking us for recognition, for time, for attention? That is the question, but the Bible is not a book with the answers in the back. All I know is that we are asked to wrestle with that fact, to let it challenge us and unsettle us and—who knows?—maybe even to comfort us. Jesus is so present with us, and we have such unlimited opportunities to meet him and serve him, that in some way we may never understand, everything we do or don’t do affects our eternal relationship with him. …for sheep and goats alike, the surprise is that Jesus is not somewhere—he is everywhere especially with the least important people who populate our days, whoever they may be…
I would like to close with a 20th century Franciscan blessing in honor or our Christ who spans all eternity… yesterday, today, and tomorrow…
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
In Christ’s holy and mighty name….
 Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, from his description of “Christ of Maryknoll,” Trinity Religious Art and Icons webstore: https://www.trinitystores.com/store/art-image/christ-maryknoll
 reference is MIA.