Christ the King
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Luke’s Gospel passage is set at the place called "The Skull”: it is the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus has been preparing the disciples (and us) for months; yet this event feels much too soon. It is shocking. We’re not ready. We desperately want to look away from the brutal execution.
(As adults we may have even become inured to it as we live with hindsight and the knowledge of the resurrection.) But if we are willing to look closely, the crucifixion is where we see the cruel violence of the World conquered by compassion and forgiveness.
We even speak of the tenderness and mercy of Christ in connection with this horrific event. How can this be?
On Wednesdays our study group has delved into the writings of Julian of Norwich, a nun who spent her life exploring this very question.
Julian lived during the plague of fourteenth Century England, and is thought to have been the first woman author published in the English language. Her writings are called The Showings.
When Julian was about thirty she had a near death experience. While she was close to death the priest came into her room and placed a crucifix in front of her face.
Julian had an intense experiential vision while gazing upon the crucifix, with several more visions to follow. She had what we call a "mystical experience.”
Surprisingly Julian did recover, and she spent the rest of her life contemplating, reflecting and writing about the meaning of the crucifixion.
Julian does not look away from the blood, the pain, and the suffering of Jesus. Actually, it is a deep dive into the gruesomeness of the crucifixion. While at the same time, her interpretation of these visions upon the cross are pregnant with the knowledge of Jesus’ love. Jesus’ love, faithfulness, companionship, forgiveness, tenderness and mercy. It flows unceasingly for us. The font of every blessing.
As we recited in the Canticle this morning:
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, * and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Jesus is broken open not only by human violence, but also through his heart given over completely to humanity. It is that break that allows new light to shine upon our very human predicament with tender compassion.
If you are willing to look closely at the crucifixion, the dark forces of the World are not overcome solely by Easter Morning. They are overcome by and with the cross, where the intersection of humanity and divinity is fully revealed. Jesus empties himself completely and joins us in our humanity.
The cross reaches both vertically and horizontally to bring heaven and earth into a shared point and purpose. Although I do not think of heaven as being in the sky, The Cross as intersection of humanity and divinity is central to our concept of who Jesus is and why he came for us.
We are not to feel guilty because Jesus died for us. It is unfortunately the message that so many received growing up in a church of penance. That is the church of human tendency. Not the church of God’s tenderness.
We are affirmed by the very earliest of Christians, In the letter from Paul to the Colossians, that we are “rescued through Jesus who reconciles us to himself and forgives us of all of our sins.”
Jesus empties himself upon the cross and offers forgiveness to the crowd and to the soldiers:“Father, Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Christ's voice still rings out today in the violence we perpetuate against one another, both globally and at home.
The mission of the church as our catechism states, is
“to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice,
peace, and love.” That’s who we are. That’s what we do.
The prophet Jeremiah also speaks of this reign of justice and righteousness; Against shepherds gone awry, against those who have scattered the flock.
Another helpful way to view this prophetic vision is that it helps define what is and what isn’t the reign of God.
We can therefore see the divisiveness and separation, the scattering occurring in our World has nothing to do with the true Kingdom.
The Reign of this Kingdom is about justice and righteousness and Peace. We may think of Power as in complete control. But another way to look at power is to have agency: The activity. Paul tells us, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.”
When we died with Christ through our Baptism our voices were meant to rise with his in a chorus of forgiveness and compassion. We believe in One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This one crucifixion & this one Baptism intersect on the Cross with forgiveness. We are made for this.
Forgiveness for ourselves and for others is the way into Peace. As difficult as it may feel when we have been hurt, forgiveness works to release us from the torment of those abuses, just as Jesus was released from the torment of the cross.
If we are willing to look closely at the crucifixion, we see the Resurrection is not a separate event. Together they are part of the fullness of his being.
And our ascension from where we "dwell in the shadow of darkness” is also part of God’s fullness. We are made for this.
We may not be able to change another’s behavior, just as Jesus did not change the behavior of the soldiers who nailed him to the cross, or the crowd that heckled him. But we can resist the temptation to further the cycle of trauma by forgiveness. Lead us not into temptation. forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Forgiveness is not about amnesia. It does not mean excusing the harm. It means release from the torment of grudges; release from our captivity to pain and anger and revenge.
The crucifixion is where we witness this release. This outpouring of love.
Baptism for our forgiveness from sins is a sacrament: We call sacraments an outward sign of inward Grace. The inward activity (agency) of that Grace involves loving. Loving ourselves and loving others.
We need to begin with loving and forgiving of self so that we can pour it out for others. Most of us struggle with loving ourselves. We want to turn away from what we feel ashamed of. We often were given the idea as children that we had to show only our perfect selves to God, so we hid the things about ourselves that didn’t feel perfect. We trained to hide from God because none of us is perfect.
In Julian’s writings, she reminds us that we are going to miss the mark. Often. And God loves us anyway. In Jesus we see that invisible God seeking after us always. Offering compassion to those thieves suffering with him: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” You who have missed the mark. You who have sinned by your own admittance. You shall be with me in Paradise.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
Christ’s Kingdom was revealed through Jesus’ healing ministry even unto death. He was healing those hanging beside him.
Christ's Kingdom was revealed in forgiveness poured out from the cross.
Christ’s Kingdom was revealed in Jesus’ humanity for humanity.
Like Julian of Norwich, and like Paul, perhaps if we are willing to look closely into the crucifixion, not for penance, but for strength….
We will see where it intersects with our lives and sets us free. Remembering it daily when we say:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Change is necessary for Transformation
In the Gospel this morning the disciples are exclaiming about the beauty of the temple. Jesus responds with a story about impermanence. All of this will eventually be thrown down.
Essentially: Do not confuse this human-made lavishness with eternity. Eternity belongs to God.
This does not mean that Jesus was against the Temple the Holy Place. When he enters Jerusalem a couple of chapters before this scene, he weeps at the state of things. He sees the corruption of the society. He prophesies its destruction.
But Jesus continues to spend time in the temple teaching. And fter his ascension in the book of Acts the disciples continue to pray in the temple. Actually they return to the temple with great joy, praying unceasingly. So we know that Jesus was not against the temple, but that Jesus was about God’s Kingdom (not of this world) and ascension.
And the story points to that deep truth, that structures of this world will pass away, literally need to pass away, in order for transformation to occur…
It is a message that connects us to our deepest human truth:
Our physical bodies pass away in order for the Spirit to ascend.
In that process there is a “letting go” required throughout our lifetime. We often do this kicking and screaming.
Change can be very difficult for us. When the structures we rely on, shift.
When our own understanding of things is challenged, or when are bodies are injured or start to age…
Our egos require letting go.
Our bodies start to fail us.
We begin to recognize we are not permanent.
But we are a resurrection people.
There are little deaths we withstand as we practice letting go:
Asking for help
Recognizing our own weaknesses;
Little persecutions are also when our families and friends or even strangers disregard our faith. We might think of them as the persecutions Jesus names. These moments can feel like little deaths as we may suddenly feel cut loose, misunderstood or even ridiculed for our faith.
(Our metaphors and rituals that point to a greater reality in God are deep and often misunderstood.)
We can handle these little deaths (all of them, social and physical ) because we have already embraced a Larger Death.
In our Baptisms we speak of of dying with Christ.
We have died to the world and have been risen to a new life in God. We believe in that higher love as both our foundation and our eternity.
The pains, the disappointments of this world cannot really touch us, because our Souls belongs to God.
Jesus prophesies, “some of you will be put to death, but not one hair on your head will perish.”
He’s telling us there will be death, but what he’s also telling us, is that there will be ascension.
The temple in Jerusalem did fall.
They thought it was going to be the end of the world.
(But it wasn’t.)
Religious practice moved into homes and communities.
Rabbinic Judaism was born - a Judaism that does not require pilgrimage and ritual sacrifice at the temple.
And Christianity spread.
Again, today these religious structures are being challenged. Culturally the U.S. is moving away from organized religion.
This weekend Jon Symer and I were at our Episcopal Diocesan Convention for two days of marathon meetings, presentations, and voting in committee offices and resolutions.
There was a strong overtone that the church is going through change. There is some grief, but as I’ve said before, this is a cultural shift. And our bishops tell us that we are not to feel like failures because the Episcopal Church is struggling.
We do need to change: as we shrink, we do need to collaborate, share resources.
We don’t know what that will look like yet.
But we are a resurrection people.
We are here to do the work that we have been given to do, and that will never change.
The church is doing amazing work as detailed through many of our resolutions. We are taking seriously the church’s historic role in slavery, and what that means for a body of Christians who follow Jesus’ way. We created a 501c3 for our Reparations Committee to function similarly to Episcopal Charities; safe-guarding this important work which officially began in the diocese in 2008.
We have started a credit union. That has been a project ten years in the making. It will make possible savings, loans and banking to so many in our diocese that have been left out of the traditional banking system because of poverty and racism.
Many other wonderful things came out of the convention related to domestic violence, reducing our carbon footprint…proving that we are willing to do the hard work - we are already doing the hard work of developing humility, looking at ourselves, recognizing our weaknesses, but also using our collective communal gifts to make change.
We are a resurrection people.
Jesus came to heal and teach about love and forgiveness; the most transformational forces of life. We do not need to fear change.
Jesus tells us that we will be filled with words and Wisdom as we enter into the future.
This Wisdom is coming through the power of the Holy Spirit which we believe is God working in our lives and working in our churches.
The Spirit is moving in our collective body to raise us all up, all of us!
So on the last day we all may ascend into the joy of the everlasting Kingdom. Amen
All Saints Day
Today we celebrate All Saints Day.
We say we believe we are part of a community of Saints; those who came before us and those who are with us.
In this scene from the Gospel, Jesus’ message was for all of us, but also for this particular group of apostles he has chosen, who stand before him. We may project that these apostles were “perfect” Saints, forgetting their specific trials and tribulations. We might imagine that these disciples were all quite alike: They were first Century Jewish men. Yet, Jesus chose a diverse crew to be his apostles: from different strata, with differing opinions, and from poor to rich.
We have Peter (a fisherman) and his brother and friends who were economically lower middle class. We have Matthew (a rich tax collector). And he was basically also a sworn enemy of Simon who they believe was a Zealot… (One of the rebel Jews willing to fight Roman occupation); We had Thomas who doubted. We had Judas who betrayed. The mysterious Beloved disciple. All of them offer us versions of ourselves, and also the profound notion that such a diverse group was capable of walking the way with Jesus.
This not-so cohesive group heard Jesus’s cohesive message.
This passage is referred to as the Sermon on the plain. It sounds quite similar to the sermon on the mount (from the Gospel of Matthew).
Did you notice it begins: “Jesus looked up at his disciples and said…” He has specifically chosen to sit on the ground and teach from a posture of humility.
Looking up, he begins to speak about the blessings to come for those who are lacking. And woes to come for those who are fulfilled…And he ends with the famous teaching about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. He’s talking to his close group of followers.
We may also hear the message as if all of the blessings belong to one group and all of the woes to another… but that may not be all of what Jesus is saying here.
He is showing that we all share in these realities. You who are mourning will one day be laughing. You who are rich may one day be poor. One day your’re “up”, the next day you are “down”… One day we are well. The next day we are ill. We all need to be awake to the condition of one another and our moment. He is saying this to his very first followers and he is saying it to us. It takes humility to recognize this reality and the greater reality of God’s everlasting constancy.
Jesus is using a style of teaching which includes Non-duality.
“Non-duality is the recognition that underlying our diversity of experience there is a single, infinite and indivisible reality… [Some say] the recognition of this reality is not only the source of lasting happiness within all people; it is the foundation of peace between individuals, communities and nations.” 
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
It is a teaching style and world view that emphasizes our hope: That “we all may be one.”
As covenant people we recognize that there is a mutuality in our life with God. It is a relationship, not a top down system. It is a reality that is formed by communion.
But we are prone to duality. We like to divide things into categories of this and that and them against us. But Jesus is forever reminding us that God’s system is always about reconciliation, reunion, redemption: unity, constancy and peace.
It’s not quantitative, it’s qualitative. And it is everlasting. There is an infinite, indivisible reality at our source that we name God.
We like to speak of “this World and the Next”, “Heaven and Earth.” But today we celebrate All Saints Day which asks us to really consider and pray about this indivisible reality as our source in which the community of Saints is a part. We remember we are not alone on Earth in our spiritual pilgrimage.
You might say we embrace our faith fully today. I say this, because while we regularly pray for those who have died, today we recognize that those who have passed before us are praying for us too.
We are affirming that we believe in eternal life in God: The eternal Word. This indivisible reality.
It is key to our faith. We acknowledge the communion of Saints weekly through our Eucharistic Prayers, and our creeds. We claim it daily in morning and evening prayer. Every day is All Saints Day. We may say the words without truly absorbing this. But this is our theology.
Today in our litany we will pray for those who came before us and modeled great healing in their lives (for themselves and for others). But it is important to remember that we all are part of the community of Saints: blessed and holy. This does not mean that we are perfect. God is loving us into perfection.
Our very woundedness is the catalyst for our seeking wholeness through the love of God and one another. We are on a spiritual journey to be healed in this world, to come through it, and to be that healing presence for others. (That is the way of Jesus). We are all Saints on the way.
Consciously praying into this reality - making it a part of your daily routine - will not only support you in your suffering, It may help you in discernment of your life choices.
Praying with those who came before us - those we hope to emulate, or who played a significant role in our lives gives us strength. And it repairs those damaged relationships.
And in time it may, most helpfully, break down our fear - as we break down the walls we imagine exist between life and death.
Our culture is constantly reinforcing fear. Communion is our way through that. In our Eucharist we believe The Holy Spirit binds us to the communion of Saints. It is a ritual that points toward that greater indivisible unity and the path we are walking. But it is not simply something we do on Sunday.
It is what we are doing. And what the mystical body of Christ, all of the saints are eternally doing
To heal, To forgive, And to be a healing presence for others.
Communion requires humility.
Like Jesus who sat down before his followers and said “Love one another. Love your enemies.”
Just like those first century apostles gathered by Jesus. They were as human as we are, hearing the good news of Christ for the first time, trying to absorb this message: to turn not only to strangers but to one another with Love.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
This message is eternal.
From our lesson today: I pray that God may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which you are called, and to the riches of your glorious inheritance among the saints. Amen
In our story from the gospel, we meet Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in this region, a Jewish authority secured by Rome to collect taxes from the people (his own people). Roman occupation was a place of taxation without representation and apparently ripe with fraud and extortion. Zacchaeus was reviled (hated) as a sinner, as most of the tax collectors were.
Zacchaeus hears of Jesus’ plan to pass through the area and climbs a tree in order to get a better view. He can see over the crowd. In doing so, he literally broadens his horizons. Perhaps for the first time he is alerted to the amount of poverty that exists, and the role he has played in it. He vows to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back (four times over) his past fraudulent activity. He has a conversion experience that transforms him and his activity in the world.
Zacchaeus’ new vision and conversion brought Martin Luther King Jr. to mind: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” These are the sentiments of an 19th Century clergyman, Theodore Parker who was an abolitionist clergyman. He made this statement one hundred years before MLK Jr.
And we are still working on it. It seems we have a long way to go before the world really reflects a radical conversion to love.
This week our message from the prophet Habakkuk gives us a cathartic plea.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
When I read this in preparation for today I felt a great wave of consolation in the knowledge that I am not alone in my pain over current events and contentions; And the slow climb toward peace, justice and love.
I was also reminded of the passage from Romans: "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” It reminded me that even when I doubt my prayer is helping (which can feel like empty words) it is actually filled with the Spirit of Love and hope. Something is actually working inside of us for the good. Conversion is happening.
Bishop Tutu said, “We Christians are prisoners of hope.”That is what keeps us looking even when we can’t bear to see the “wrong doing” as Habakkuk says. That is what keeps us bearing witness to the violence in our world. As faithful people we continue to trace that arc of morality with hope. We scan toward the horizon. Love is what keeps us looking.
Generally we don’t speak of morality in terms of an arc, but rather a compass. “Do you have a moral compass?” Most of us would say we do… and we try to follow it. But morality is not personal, just as we don’t have a personal Jesus. As Christians we believe in a radical Kingdom of Salvation - and a Savior for the whole World.
Rev. Theodore Parker and MLK wisely told us morality is an arc that bends toward justice. In this regard we must acknowledge the necessity of our adaptability. We must have faith in our ability to change course. We must be willing to bend (try on a new perspective) to see the hope of others. In doing so we may discover new horizons like Zacchaeus.
The text says, when Jesus asked Zaccheaus to come down and take him to his home, “All who saw it began to grumble.” All: Everyone. There was not one person that believed in Zacchaeus. There was no hope for conversion. There was no faith in salvation. There was only hate. Yet, Jesus calls him into relationship. Jesus says, I need you too Zaccheaus.
Today, like yesterday, we find that our societies are in need of a massive conversion to love (locally and globally). Morality is not in one’s hand. The scope of the moral universe is something that is gleaned through forgiving dialogue at every level. MLK is also famous for following in Jesus’ way by telling us that “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Conversion is turning our hearts to others. It is a life-long journey. We may have had a moment we can point to like Zaccheaus, when the overwhelming love of God spoke clearly to us. But turning our hearts, is practicing that moment, by opening to others every day: to our children and families and to our neighbors and community and to strangers. Conversion is a life-long practice.
Jesus often changes minds through his skilled debate, and yet it is his radical love that stirs peoples’ hearts and leads to conversion. Great knowledge and wisdom is when the mind becomes attuned to the heart. And that opportunity happens moment by moment. I may not understand you, but I am going to climb down from whatever perspective I’ve held because we need each other to understand the greater picture.
We need one another to ease our family problems, our nations’ problems, and our world problems.
There is nothing that guarantees perfect outcomes with those we love or around the world. But we can work on our conversion to love that furthers, that arc of salvific justice.
Jesus says, I need you.
That is the saving power of the Kingdom.
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk