The Last Sunday After Pentecost - Christ the King
Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1: 11-20; Luke 23: 33-43
THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I usually write my sermons at the beginning of the week. For the most part, that seems to work well for me, as the sermon is done, and the rest of the week I can spend thinking about it if I want to, and can make changes to it over the following days. That didn’t work this week. The sermon I wrote for today, I wrote this past Monday, and it was more or less a reflection on our recent presidential election. It seemed important, relevant, and timely – but it wasn’t very good.
I took that sermon and put into the recycling bin when I heard the unfortunate news this week of the untimely loss of a woman named Brenda Parker - Kelley. And that’s what I want to talk about today – I want to talk about Brenda, because I believe the life she lived was more important than any presidential election. For those of you who might feel that I am using Brenda as a smokescreen to avoid talking about the election, I promise I will address the election at the end of this sermon.
But, first – Brenda. Few, if any of you knew Brenda Parker-Kelley. She was a close friend of at least two parishioners of this church – Lisa Mustacchia and PJ Arendt-Ford. I met Brenda only once, and it was just over two weeks ago, during the Fall Bazaar St. Andrew’s held out on our parking lot. Lisa Mustacchia, who serves on our Vestry coordinated the Bazaar this year, and did a very fine job doing so. She asked her friend, Brenda, if she would help her out at the bazaar, and Brenda said yes.
Brenda said yes in spite of numerous health-related complications. See, much of Brenda’s life was defined by her various health ailments, including temporary blindness and issues with her heart. And it was her heart giving out earlier this week drew to a close her life here on earth. But what a heart Brenda had. Not many of you probably know this, but the drinks we sold at the bazaar, the proceeds of which went to this church – the Coca Colas, the Dr. Peppers, the Diet Cokes – they were donated by Brenda. That might seem inconsequential to you – many of you have donated things to churches before, but for Brenda, money was tight, and she wasn’t even a member here, but she wanted to give. Brenda donated those drinks and worked the bazaar all day because it touched her so much to feel that at the bazaar that she was feeling useful for a change. For Brenda, participating in our bazaar was one way of making her life feel normal again.
I share all this with you today because her story of quiet generosity deserves to be told. I proclaim her story because Brenda was a powerful angel of God in our very midst – an angel out there on that parking lot, so lest you feel that parking lots are not divine places, be assured that they very much can be the surface upon which angels walk.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the final day of our church’s calendar year. It is designated a day where we recognize that the authority above us is not in the White House or in any government. For Christians, our true authority is the cross, and the crucified King upon it. Christ the King Sunday is a relatively modern holiday in the church. It was added to the church calendar only in the last century, by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In creating this day, the pope’s desire was to advance a message of Christ’s power over and against the power of any human president, king, or monarch.
The pope felt that people needed to be reminded after the devastation of World War I that human rulers of countries and nations were subject ultimately to a much greater power – the power and authority of a penniless Jewish rabbi who had no home, who befriended tax collectors, drunks, and hookers, and who proclaimed that they were part of the Kingdom of God, too. According to the Bible, Jesus never called himself a king. He was called a king by others, and in today’s Gospel when Jesus was called a king by the Roman soldiers standing beside the cross from which Jesus hung, they called him a king only to mock him.
Jesus had no ambition or need for political power, and I imagine he would not have desired for people to call him a king. But he was a king because he understood kingship to mean loving all people - loving the people who were like him, loving the people who were not like him, loving the people who hated him, and loving the people who were killing him. The world has known no truer king. Jesus was, and is, king because he loved, healed, and reached out to the sick, the outcast, the dying, and told they too, were part of God’s family. Jesus was a king, a king with no throne, no army, no government. Empires, countries, nations, they rise and they fall. But the Kingdom of God knows no beginning and no end. It is a kingdom defined by love and subtle, quiet, generosity.
That kingdom is now, and I saw it through the gentle and giving spirit of Brenda. Brenda held no political office, she never met any president, mayor, or governor, but she did do something far greater: she was an image of Jesus our king. Through her giving and through her dying, she has brought to us today the precious message that in God every act of self-giving love resonates throughout the entire universe.
And now, the election. Please open your prayer books to page 305, to the Baptismal Covenant to the third question from the top of the page which reads: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” What is the answer to that question? “I will, with God’s help.” As Christians, that is our proclamation: “We will strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of EVERY human being.” That means respecting the dignity of a person who voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson. That means respecting the dignity of your family members who maybe voted differently than you. That means respecting the dignity of someone who is straight, white, black, Hispanic, rich, poor, kind, annoying, bigoted, hateful, loving, stubborn, addicted, imperfect, broken, sinful, or redeemed. That is the expectation I have for any elected official, and that is no different than the expectation I have of anyone who calls themselves a Christian, including myself. All people are created in God’s image, and in the Bible, when God created human kind, God said it was good.
To those who are grateful for the outcome of this election, know that we will pray for our president elect by name every week, and when he is president, we will continue to pray for him by name, weekly. Know also that there are people in this congregation who are hurting. I hope that you would be compassionate toward them. For those of you who are struggling with the outcome of this election, know that we pray for our elected officials whether or not we voted for them, and if we did not vote for them, then they need our prayers even more. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus teach us to pray only for those with whom we agree. For those in this church today who are afraid, or scared, or uncertain, know that I love you. Know that I will stand beside you proclaiming this sacred promise of our Christian baptism in which every human being has dignity and worth.
To all of us – I close with the words the angels, like Brenda, always say to us - “Be not afraid.” AMEN.