The hate that wasn’t there- A Pentecost Season Sermon

Pentecost 13C ~ Sept 8, 2019                         Hope Lutheran Church   ~ Riverside, CA

Luke 14:25-33

 If you ever want an example of the word of God needing translation and an argument against it as perfect, especially in English, this passage is it.  Because Jesus never said to hate your family. And he never told anyone they can’t follow. 

For those of you who love the Greek for the week- let’s take it a step further and add Hebrew context.  Our greek for the week is miseo. It can be translated as “hate, or to despise,” but it can also mean “to love less or have disregard for.”  How do we know which one Jesus meant? That is where context comes in. Because context matters- every time. And Hebrew context requires us to consider a shame-honor oriented use of the word that translates more like “have little regard for” rather than hate.  [1]

 Our other Greek is a phrase, ου δυναται ειναι: “Not able to be” rather than “can’t.”  This is the equivalent of today’s rules on “may I” and “can I.”  You may or may not based on what I say, but you can or cannot based on your ability.

 Let’s take that and look at the key text again.  If we translate it with context, Jesus is not telling us to hate our family or we can’t follow- he is telling us we have to be willing to have disregard for our family so that we may follow him. It doesn’t change the impact of hearing such a harsh passage dramatically, but it does change the living of it.  Because it is not about hate. It is about choosing which to love more. 

 Life is full of choices and while many are easy- which brand of oatmeal to buy, what shoes to wear today, many are not- like our choice to put our cat down yesterday rather than let him die a slow and painful death.  We chose to love him more than our need to keep him around longer because we didn’t want a world without him. For any of you who have ever had to make that hard choice, whether for a pet or a loved one in a hospital bed, you know it is about choosing love, not death or pain. 

 Christ is asking us to choose which to love more- a life loving the world the way God wants or a life loving our family the way we want. And it doesn’t always mean we will lose our family to choose more love.  And sometimes it does. You see, we are all dying. And at death there will be a separation- the question is, when will the separation happen? Sooner or later? With our cat, we chose sooner because we loved him more than we loved our need for him in our lives. He was already going.  We just chose to love him more to let him go sooner. But it is hard to let go.  

A little girl loved her play pearls.  She wore them everywhere as little children do; to church, school, the grocery store.  One day her father asked her if she loved him.  Of course she answered, “yes, daddy!”  Then he asked her to give him her pearls.  Of course with tears in her eyes, she begged him, “please don’t make me give you my pearls, Daddy.”  “Daughter, if you love me, please give me your pearls.” he said.  So, very sadly, she handed them over to him, tears streaming down her face.  He took them gently and put them in his pocket, but instead of coming out empty handed, he had a velvet box.  And he handed it to her.  Inside, she had her very own set of real pearls.

pearls

 Jesus isn’t asking us to forsake this love for family for no reason, but instead to choose to love others outside our family as much as we love them- in other words, to love the purpose of Christ in the world as much as our need to love the ones close to us.  Asking us to love the real thing more.  And sometimes, that means giving up a relationship sooner in order to have more love in the bigger picture. 

 He is asking us to love our homeless neighbor as much as we love our parents.  To love our undocumented immigrant neighbor as much as our citizen one. To love the child who is born to poverty and needs help with school supplies and lunches as much as the one who has everything packed up perfectly in their lunch bag.  To love the ones lost in the Bahamas as much as the ones lost in our own borders to hurricane Dorian. Christ is inviting us into an ethic of accountability, forgiveness and love in all our relationships. Not just the ones that matter to us the most. Because until we make that choice, we may not be able to follow. 

Our congregation did God’s Work Our Hands yesterday and Connie and I racked our brains for tasks that we could do for the world. Sometimes as churches, we get more focused on what we want rather than what others need.  We get more focused on our survival than on our mission as the people of God. In the end though, it came down to this- until we are willing as a congregation to truly mean our hospitality then what do we have to offer to anyone else?  It is more than a hug or handshake at the door and a kind smile. It means work on our spaces so that they are comfortable, attractive, and useable for others all week long, not just enough for us on Sunday morning. So we scoured our house of worship and gathering place.  We created a clean nursery that is ready for outside mommy and me groups to gather. A place that groups can use and feel truly welcome – because dirty toys don’t exactly scream “we value your presence.” We had to start at home. We had to choose to do all this work for folks who aren’t here yet.  We gave up a Saturday morning to make sure our welcome was a real and meaningful one. Because those unknown relationships matter more than a relaxed morning. It isn’t a great example, but it is our example of one step in choosing others over our own comfort. Just like giving up the organ and using a digital piano that everyone can hear now.  Or moving pews so folks with walkers can keep them with them during worship. These things are painful at times and require us to make a choice of others over a memory or a personal comfort. And that choice of one relationship over another is the point. 

Christ is not telling us to hate ourselves or our family, he is just inviting us into choosing the bigger more life giving love.  And sometimes that hurts. It means choosing what is better for all over what is better for one.  

That is what happened on the cross.  God chose more relationships- every one of us, over the one with the son.  And Christ chose death over losing us forever It was never about hate, it is always has been and always will be about choosing love.  Christ chose the bigger love and our choice is not about what we can or cannot do, but what we may or may not. 

We may choose the bigger love or not.  He is not taking that away from us. He is inviting us in, as always, to the bigger, eternal, redeeming love.  

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Dear Jesus Etiquette- A Pentecost Season Sermon

Pentecost 12C ~September 1, 2019                   Hope Lutheran Church; Riverside, CA

Luke 14:1,7-14; Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8;15-16

Reading a blog recently, a mother described dinner at her house:  

“We have a pig. smack dab in the center of our dinner table.  I wanted a meal where my husband would ask grace and then my well-mannered children would pass around the plates of food as we chatted about our day. Yeah, NOT! As my sons repeatedly burped during the prayer and peas were thrown in protest to somebody chewing with their mouth open, I had had enough! In  my desperation for sanity, I grabbed a rubber pig from the top of the toy bin and began a rant about how they were behaving like 3 little pigs. Their mamma fear turned into belly laughter as I laid down the new law of dinner time.If you burp, toot, or make an inappropriate bodily noise, You get the Pig!

piggy

  1. Every time you have a sharp tone or rude words, you get the Pig!
  2. If you chew with your mouth open, or…try to throw food into somebody else’s mouth while it’s open, you get the PIG!
  3. Napkin in your lap, not on top of your sister’s head or else, PIG!
  4. Rocking in your chair, getting out of your chair, falling out of your chair, PIG!
  5. The pig will move from person to person as laws are broken.
  6. Whoever ends up with the pig at the end of dinner does everybody’s dishes.

I felt better and they were roaring in laughter. This was our new dinner standard. Still is. The dinner table is no longer a place of constant correction, we just pass the pig. The behavior that used to bring dissension to our meal, now has brought laughter… and with that,  joy…and a table I want to sit at.”

As a mom myself, I had to laugh at this story.I could relate so well.  And it reflects so much of the bigger goal- which is joy when we eat together.  It isn’t really about manners as much as it is about diminishing the things which distract from our joy.  And I think that is what Christ is trying to get across to us today. Because our joy should be God’s joy- and God’s joy, is for all to be welcome and loved. 

The dinner etiquette story from Luke is not as much about how to act, as it is about how to be in relationship and not get caught up in the distractions from caring for one another.  Of course it is helpful not to be embarrassed at an event by assuming you are more important than you are. Yet, as usual, Christ is making a bigger point: 

Our status is not determined by the world, but by our sacred origin as God’s own.  And everyone has the same sacred origin in Jesus Christ- everyone. But we lose that when we start to think we may have more priority at the table than someone else.  

Christ is calling us into humility at the table and in the kingdom and the way to get there is to recognize humility is counter-cultural.  He is reminding us that we are not as important as we think we are and those special guests of honor aren’t necessarily either. You and I are NOT any better than the homeless person in front of Target this morning. Your job, my ordination, her Manolo Blahnik stilettos, his Gucci briefcase, their million dollar home, car, job, title…  None of it gives us more or less value when it really matters. Humanity values on a sliding scale. God simply values.  

This weekend has been a horrific one on the news and the next week will likely be worse.  We will hear of the details around the Texas shootings, and the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.  And in those details, we will inevitably lift up the 17 month old or young parent over the older postal worker or unnamed average joe who was shot, too.  We will hear more about our president’s Mar-Lago retreat damage which is insured and easily repaired and less about the 90 year old couple whose only possession is the 600 square foot home they own and became uninsured when they chose to pay for prescriptions instead.  We will hear damage based on dollars, not on human spirit. And the stories will be told based on which ones catch our attention- because a 17 month old is far more marketable news than a 60 year old grandma.  

Humanity values on a sliding scale.  God simply values.  And that, my friends, is the point of today’s gospel.  The kingdom of God doesn’t have special seats for those who feed more hungry or who preach the gospel. It is a kingdom where love is given with nothing expected in return.  Where you can’t buy or earn your way in. It is simply given. Where the beggar has as much status as the millionaire. Where our role as followers is not about denying our own power or ability or prestige, but acknowledging that others have equal power, ability and prestige, too. 

Because humanity values on a sliding scale, but God simply values. And God loved us into this family, granting us social standing- every one of us- as precious, beloved, forgiven children of the most high. 

God isn’t asking anything in return because we can’t even begin to offer anything in return.  And God loves us anyway. Loves us, values us, even treasures us and it has nothing to do with the work you have done, your skin color, your age, your inexperience, your checkered past or your perfect one, your savings balance or your Christmas card list.  It has everything to do with being created in love, for love, out of love, to love. That is the commodity we should seek. The litmus we should hold all actions and events against. Love. Freely given.  

So use whatever manners you like- sit at the wrong seat.  Burp and use the wrong fork at dinner. But start with love- in everything, for everyone.  And end with it. And invite others into it.  That is the best etiquette lesson ever.  

Stand UP! Pentecost 11C- August 25, 2019

A sermon for the people of Hope Lutheran Church in Riverside, CA. 

 So, here is your greek for the week- if you read the gospel, the woman stood up and began praising God. The word for praise is doxazo- which more often means to think of, to suppose or consider, but in this context means to praise or extol.  And here is the most important part of the translation: it is imperfect. Literally. The imperfect tense means it didn’t just begin happening, it didn’t just happen and then end- but that she kept on praising God. She was stood up- but didn’t just praise God- she kept praising God.    

 The flip side of justice through Christ lets us see in a whole new way- to praise not just for the moment, but in perpetuity- now and ongoing.

 But sometimes we don’t want to see a new way. We justify all over the place just like the synagogue leader, who by the way had 18 years of 6 other days to heal this woman and did not or could not- so what is the fuss over her healing now?   It broke his justification for seeing her as less than human. Countless are the folks who recall “the way it was” but have no justification for it. Bent over in the systems of oppression that made rape of wives legal, bent over in the systems of legal child labor, bent over in the systems of marriage licenses to ensure pure marriages, bent over in the systems of fear, of injustice, of one human being valued over another they remained enslaved and justified the enslavement of others to those systems.   

And then Christ.  

  • Who values prostitutes and calls them daughter.  
  • Who frees slaves.  
  • Who eats with gang members.  
  • Who touches bodies filled with STD’s.  
  • Who cures the raging homeless addicts. 

 Our scripture is filled with this Messiah who calls us over like this women- and with all the audacity, touches our unclean, bent-over bodies and gives us new vision- vision that stands us up to look in his face- to see into his eyes- to see the world through his love.  

The most dangerous thing we will do as Christians is choose to bend back over and only see the world.  We are no longer bound to this- bound to be bent over in pain and limitation. Bound to a vision that cannot see others and their precious equality with us.  It took hundreds of years to break the justification and overturn unjust laws of slavery- but the mentality remains. We are and were freed to stand upright and value black and brown skin as much as white skin.  But in many places, even in this place today, some still choose to remain bent over into the bondage of the slavery justification mindset. 

But not this woman. He didn’t just announce freedom to her- he touched her and gave her the ability as well as the right to stand up and see. She is upright and looking at Christ.  Now she can see where she is going. Now she can see that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Not that she didn’t see that before, but it’s different when the love of God becomes incarnated in your very self. She is now able to see what and who Jesus sees — who needs to be cured. Who is in bondage. Those who are bent over with the weight of a world that continues not to care.

This gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, isn’t about seeing through socialist or capitalist eyes, not seeing through conservative or progressive eyes, through white, black, brown eyes, but seeing through eyes clearly, without obstruction, from a whole new viewpoint.  Freed to see what Christ has done for us- who he was, who he is, who he will always be- a savior who tells us to stand up and gives us the ability to do so. A messiah who renames us and calls us heirs of the kingdom- daughters and sons of Abraham, precious and countless as stars in the sky.  For all, for you, for God.  

See the source image

The Cost of Transfiguration is Change

Transfiguration Year C 2019.        Riverside CA

Hope Lutheran Church               March 3, 2019

Are you here to be changed?  I mean really actually changed?   Transfiguration is defined as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. To be transfigured is a “no going back” moment.  We cannot go back to the way we were- a simpler state that is unaware.  As disciples of Christ, our goal is to be transfigured every day to be more and more like our Lord and the goal of worship is to be changed not just for the duration of worship, but for every day until we can return to renew our Spirit in worship.

Some days I think we forget that.  In fact, we forget it so well, that we could write books on how we as Lutherans, let alone Christians don’t change. (ask for jokes- use light bulb)  Yet our story as disciples of Christ is supposed to be one of change- of being changed in baptism and then through death of Christ into life. The disciples fail to heal the boy because they have not been changed yet.  Even though they saw Christ transfigured, saw Elijah and Moses, they are still not changed- they remain unfaithful.

But God has made changes in order to retrieve us into right relationship again- mostly because we won’t change.  We harden our hearts and continue to apply the law where Christ has applied Grace. We refuse to be changed and if we refuse to be changed, we cannot bring about the change Christ tasks us with as disciples. Instead, We keep asking the ones who need us to change to meet us where we are, rather than going to them where they are.  When we do this, we fail to heal, to offer God’s good love into the world and in essence, stand powerless like the disciples.

Transfiguration has a price.  And for Jesus the cost is death. His transfiguration had a price because when Christ was changed by his time with God while in his human form, his divinity was made known to those around him.  It was the arc of his story- the moment we are all able to look back on and realize was the shift in the story for him. He could no longer deny who he was or what he was about.

Moses experienced the same and the Israelites wanted Moses to cover his face because they were afraid of God- afraid because they were not reconciled with God in Jesus Christ. They were unable to accept that God had seen one of them and lived- they were lacking in faith of the power of God’s immeasurable love.  The veil in the temple had not been torn yet. But for us it has. For if we are changed, We do not need to hide the change wrought in us, as Moses did.

The law was made to ensure life.  And God changed the law as needed.  The problem is that we stopped putting our canon together after about 500 years after Christ’s Death.  We stopped writing down the story of how God is working in our lives and changing us. The early Christian community struggled with the application of the law and the reality is that we still struggle with it.  We pick and choose the laws we think apply and sometimes, like in the case of women leadership, we even made up laws that were never given by God.

We need not hide our changed selves anymore- the world will be afraid, as the Israelites were afraid of Moses, but we are called to normalize that change, becoming like Christ to them.  It will challenge their very core and at times, we will want to hide- because we are changed into someone different- who glows with the knowledge of God’s deep and abiding love and we are empowered to be that love for the world.

That is what Christ was transfigured for. Love.  That is what Christ died for. Love. That is what God sent Jesus for. Love.  To be changed radically by that love, to be transfigured into a truly loving and openly welcoming people is scary for the world to see.  We cannot go back from it. So we have two choices- either live love full out and trust in the fullness of God’s love and Christ’s crucifixion or we can hesitate and hide behind the veil of fear and law.

This past week the United Methodist Church voted on the same issue the  ELCA did in 2009- the personhood of LGBTQ+ clergy. This is a tough topic because at the very root it requires us to trust that God knew what God was doing in creating a human being and that we cannot decide whom God calls to lead us- only God can do that.  Homosexuality is a huge topic and one that challenges the past 1000 years or so of Christian teaching. We have put all the expectation of change on their being, rather than on us and our comfort. It isn’t as simple as “reading the Bible” because that often means textproofing the Bible.

When we have studied scripture in it’s fullness, with historical setting, sociological application, and cultural implication, including all the additional books not in our canon, we are able to get a clearer picture in the arc of God’s story with us.  The story is about love and it is about us being willing to change ourselves, to see that God is calling us to love like God loves- with wild abandon and desperate measures to be in relationship with us. It requires us to change the way we see the world when we see God- to love with radical hospitality that challenges the laws and ways of doing things just as Christ did.

In many ways, I think the fear of acknowledging and affirming our LGBTQ+ siblings boils down to the idea that we are somehow answerable. So we live in fear and not in faith. And Yes, We are answerable for them.  When they turn to drugs to hide the pain, when they are denied full access to the community of Christ for being who God created them to be, when they die of suicide because they cannot change their very personhood, we are answerable. We are answerable for failing to heal and be faithful to them as Christ would have been.

The good news is that there is no sin Christ has not overcome, including our fear of being changed so that we might be able to bring about healing in the community as well.  And even if we have misinterpreted scripture by affirming them as precious and God created, we have done so in the name of Love.

Our siblings in Christ are hurting and afraid and need to see evidence of God’s grace and love. It is not our job to put a veil up between them and God when Jesus has torn it apart.  It is our job to put the veil down, to live into our transfiguration in Christ and let the world see the changes God has wrought in us as a people who are redeemed and set free by grace.

There is a cost to being changed.  It means we cannot unknow the things we have learned.  We cannot deny the love of Christ and the Transfiguration in our own hearts and lives.  Who are we to deny that same love and grace to the world.

I know this is a hard sermon to hear for some of us.  I know I may have an inbox full of argument and disappointment this week.  But the reality is this- We are not divine. We do not get to choose for whom grace is won on the cross.  If we are changed in Christ, then we are Christ to the world and Christ never did say no- he offered another way and invited even the most unwelcome to his table.  If you are changed in Christ, set the veil aside, let the world see the glow of God’s love and grace and start and end with Love for them, as Christ loved you first.

The Lord bless you and keep you

The Lord make His face to shine upon you

And be gracious unto you

The Lord lift up His face to you

And give you peace (Numbers 6:25-26)

 

                                                                                                                                                                    Epiphany 3C ~  Hope Lutheran Church    ~   Riverside, CA    ~   January 27, 2019

The body tells the story.   (ask for examples from those present)

As you hear, each scar has a story.  It is a part of the body that we can see and tells our history and often, can indicate where we are going as well.  There are other stories the body tells us, from a lack or abundance of smile wrinkles, hair that grows back a different color after Chemo or turns overnight after a trauma, the slow movement during cold weather of an arthritic joint after a fracture years before, and visible signs of conditions we cannot see with the eye- like the butterfly patch of someone with Lupus.  

Modern science and medicine teach us that past trauma can also be stored in the body, through the skin and muscles, creating trigger points that are tender. There is growing evidence of the connection between ancient traditions that understood the connection between experiences of life and problems in the body- such as women who have been sexually assaulted having unexplained pelvic problems- connecting the story of fear and sexuality in the most sensible place of the body to put it.  

The body tells a story and when we do not pay attention we suffer as a person.  Have you ever felt an itch in your shoe, only to realize after it is too late that it was a new blister forming?  What about the scab that didn’t heal and turned out to be skin cancer? The ache in the tooth that could have been crowned but you waited too long and it had to be a root canal?  The twinges in your back that eventually led to days on end in bed?

Our body is telling a story.  And when we don’t listen, when we don’t care for a part of the body as it begins to speak to us, it will eventually be screaming in agony.  

So, here is Paul speaking to Corinth about being one body. As one body,  Paul means that we are one system of mutual support and union with all parts.  If an infection happens in the toe, the whole body responds and if it is ignored by another part, such as our mind intentionally ignoring it, eventually the whole body suffers and the infection spreads.  Paul is speaking to a group of folks who just don’t seem to get it- so he is repeating himself in many ways to get the point across- he is telling them that they are unique and maybe even quite different from each other, but that they need to remember they are unified in Christ.  

Recently I was asked if women of faith should march in the women’s march.  I understood what they meant- there is a huge chasm between the topics of prolife and prochoice that has risen up in past years at the march.  Some assume marching means a woman is one or the other. I was able to explain that while this is a difference of perspective of the sanctity of life, in the end, the march is not about this topic at all, but about the commonality of women, who all face the struggles of their gender in the world together.  How they each face their personal struggle is not the point, rather the point of the march is to face it together, not alone. But there are always people who like to divide. Corinth was doing a bang up job of that, differentiating between the haves and have nots, the jews and gentiles, the men and women. Paul is reprimanding them because their differences are important and necessary, all part of being one unified body in Christ.  

So what does all this mean for us?  It means we need to be listening to our body- here at Hope, here in Riverside, here in North America, here on this earth.  Our body is telling us a story and parts of it are crying out. Parts of us are past warning itches and little aches. We are suffering raging infections that are systemically spread through every inch of the Lutheran Church, the Protestant understanding, and the Christian proclamation.   We have members crying out to be seen, to be welcomed, to be heard, to be understood, to be loved.

If the Body remembers, and is crying out, our response needs to be to hear the cry, to care for the need, to heal the wound.  Just because the big toe doesn’t feel the broken thumb, doesn’t mean the pain and trauma of the thumb are not real or excruciating.  Just so, even if we as an individual do not feel the effects of racism, sexism, ageism or more, doesn’t meant they are not real and painful- as well as damaging to our existence as a whole and healthy body.

In the gospel today, Christ declares “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  But the translation doesn’t do justice, because “fulfilled” is not a past tense verb. The closer translation is that it has been, is being and will continue being fulfilled in our hearing. The poor shall hear good news, the slaves set free, the blind see, and the broken made whole.   This is important because if it happened then, it is also happening in our presence right now, and we are part of it. We have a lot to do. There is a lot of pain. There is a lot of need. Let’s listen. The body remembers. It is telling us a story. Our story. Christ’s story. A loss and lament story, a salvation and redemption story, a hope and healing story.  So let’s begin.

 

To love an addict

my addict is clean. they are healthy- right now.  Yet in every addict I cross on the street, I see them again.  I begin to weep inside and am always picking up the phone to make sure they are still clean.  I am grateful beyond measure every day for this reprieve and pray it lasts.  I am just now beginning to express the pain of the active addiction and what it did to my life and my heart.  I am healing now, we are healing now.  But the past still hurts. and others are still in it.  so here are some thoughts on loving an addict:

to love an addict is… to let things so many small things go.  to give yourself grace and space to not be neurotic about the rules of society and instead to just breathe.  to manage one day to the next with a wall around your heart and still trying to love.  it is to feel like the world is shattering and yet you have to hold it together.

to love an addict is… excruciating.  like harry potter hexes that force screams and spasms of the body, loving an addict does that to the soul. even once they are clean, there is a wondering if they will fall back again and a desperate hope that they won’t because you don’t know if you can bear the pain again. it wracks your body, your mind, your heart and leaves you exhausted.

to love an addict is to know a pain that will never go away.  to welcome a terrorist into your home and life.  And you can either learn to work with them or fight- either way is miserable.  There is no easy out.

to love an addict is to be aware that life is too short.  that drugs steal.  but so does cancer, heart disease and AIDS.  But addiction steals more than life, it steals the things that make life precious- like memories, and hopes, and dreams.  it steals relationships and love.

to love an addict is… never ending.  it is a simultaneous hate and love that force you to lie to yourself that you don’t care about them anymore.  it is to lie to yourself and believe you are moving on. it is to crush hope and trust and if they pop up, to crush them again. viciously. and yet, with every signal of a turn toward health lets hope flourish.  Where does that hope come from and how can I stop it?  It HURTS.

to love an addict is to pray they get arrested or OD but live so they might be forced to get clean in a hospital or prison and you don’t care which one- because either is better than not knowing where they are.

to love an addict is to pray they die sometimes- because then their pain, your pain, all the wondering and worrying and fear and destruction will end.  Instead there will only be sorrow.  But life in full addiction means sorrow is only a condiment in a full buffet of life-sucking emotions. Either way, when you pray that prayer, it is full of guilt and horror.  and you want to take it back. and then you know you really meant it.  but only if this is never going to end.

to love an addict is impossible and unavoidable to choose. addiction hurts. it kills. it devastates.

it isn’t everything, but it feels like it.

and yet we hope for something more.  and sometimes, *sometimes* we get it.  Sometimes we get them back.  and then you grab on with dear life.

 

 

 

 

Life, not death… (Nov 25 sermon Christ the King-Year B)

November 25, 2018                        Hope Lutheran Church                         Riverside, CA

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14                          Rev 1:4b-8                                    John 18:33-37

Grace to you and peace from him who is an who was and who is to come from the seven spirits who are before his throne and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of this earth.  It’s Christ the King Sunday! It’s Thanksgiving Sunday! None of this is what you think it is.

Thanksgiving isn’t about shopping for the best deal or about sweet little Pilgrims and Americans sharing pumpkin pie.  Christ the King Sunday isn’t about a powerful ruler who wields a sweeping sword and conquers the world. Every part of this weekend, from our national holiday to our Christ the King celebration, is about humility not power about offers of life, not death..  

Thanksgiving was never meant to be a day when we spend more time viewing advertisements or standing in a line to buy things than spending it together and considering the gifts of abundance in our lives.   We weren’t supposed to be focused on taking land or gathering more things. The Pilgrims were saved from sure death by people they did not understand and were rightfully afraid of, who had every right to deny them life and land, but who instead offered them life and room at the table.  Instead of continued thanks, the pilgrims and others who followed them abused the kindness and generosity, taking immoral and deadly advantage. The thanks-giving was honest that first year, I am sure, but once they secured their livelihoods, it changed. We lost the narrative of thanks of what we were saved from – death and  what we were saved for- life- and turned it into a right to destroy the very cultures that gifted us with safety and life.

And I often think we have done the same thing with Jesus Christ.  We have used him to conquer and steal, to control, rather than offer and submit.  I don’t think he would be comfortable with us ever celebrating him as a king of this world the way we think of kings.  Even as he rode into Jerusalem, he knew he was not a king of the world in the way we think. He never meant to commission us to go out and risk the lives of innocents in order to put a notch on our belt by sharing the gospel.  Jesus came to give life, not take it away. And the idea of him as a king is permeated by the preconception of what a king does and how they rule-with power, and might, and swords and law.

Christ the King Sunday, – created on the cusp of WWI as a political tool of the church,  a response to power hungry monarchs. It seems to buy into the need for a powerful ruler who knows the score and  “really” controls the world. It is buoyed by a need to be on the winning side, not the submitting, humbled, and serving side.  But we are talking about Jesus – and if anything is true, he likes to flip the narrative and when we consider scripture, the winners in the New Testament are really never on the side of power.   It was not about power for Jesus, when on the true black Friday, he knelt and submitted to those in power- even offering his life to the one who would betray him. He did this not so he could rule in power and might, but so that we might be given life.  

Sometimes I think those first thanksgiving americans who did not know our God showed more Christian charity than many who came in the name of Christ ever did.  It wasn’t about power when they saved a scraggly, smelly bunch of European cast-offs They did not wish to be subjugated by these aliens or to have their culture destroyed by these strange, pale skinned immigrants, but they saw hungry, pleading strangers, and chose to offer life.   So too, Jesus came to give life not take it away. We weren’t commissioned to follow Christ and share the good news in a way that steals life- because our savior never did that. He showed us how to love with radical hospitality and generosity and told us this is the kind of kingdom he is a part of.  The kind of kingdom we are invited to begin here in our daily living; by feeding the hungry, comfort the grieving, and accompany the lonely.

We are not meant to twist the gifts of Christ, the mission of the church, or our own spiritual path for power, prestige, or even our own sense of evangelical duty.  We are meant to serve, with gentleness and love. We are called to participate in our world and in our thanks by giving that which grants life, not death. Christ didn’t come as a king the way we think, but as a servant, on his knees, washing our feet, as a babe in a filthy manger, as refugee fleeing corrupt government.  He came to give life, not take it away and he did it not in power and prestige, but in humility and thanks. This, is what it is to give thanks. This is what it is serve and to celebrate Christ the king, him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his life blood, and made us to be a kingdom of servants for our God. Happy Thanksgiving and Hosanna to Christ the alpha and omega, the one who is and was and is to come.