November 25, 2018

Proper 29

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132: 1-13; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18 33-37

The Rev. James M.L. Grace


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the very last Sunday of the church calendar.   Today is like New Year’s Eve for the church and next Sunday, the first season of Advent, is like New Year’s Day – it is the first Sunday of the new church year.  So, at the end of December when they drop that big ball in New York City, we all get to say, “we did that already…like a month ago.”   

The church chooses to end its year with a bang – proclaiming Christ as King.  We hear themes of kingship in all our readings today: in 2 Samuel we hear the dying words of Israel’s great king David.  The psalm selected for today, Psalm 123, is called a “royal psalm” because it speaks of the king.  Revelation gives us the image of Jesus sitting upon a heavenly throne, and in John’s Gospel we hear Pontius Pilate ask Jesus “are you the king of the Jews?” 

So yes – the theme of Christ as king is unmistakable today.  Which is ironic.  It is ironic because the whole idea of a king is not something God seemed to interested in.  If you read through the Old Testament, you will hear the story of Israel’s consistent lament to God: give us a king.  Before Israel had established a monarchy, they looked outside themselves to places like Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria, and they saw what all three of those powerful empires had in common: a king. 

And Israel wanted power.   They wanted to be strong like their neighbors, and they were convinced that a king was the answer they needed.  So, they beg God for a king, and God refuses, until finally relenting and giving Israel a king: a man named Saul.  That Saul was likely a manic depressive and severely codependent should have been a warning to Israel that a king was not really in their best interest.  Yet Israel persisted, and God relented, and Israel established a monarchy, full of kings, many of whom were ineffective at best, and ruthlessly sinister at worst.  A monarchy did not save Israel, they eventually, like all kingdoms, fell. 

A king in ancient Israel was anointed – which means that oil was poured upon their forehead at the time they became king.  The Hebrew word for a person who was anointed with this oil is messiah.  Messiah means “God’s anointed.”  In Greek, the word messiah is translated as Christ.  

So “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name – it’s a title, so that the literal meaning of Jesus Christ is Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus, God’s anointed.  When the church proclaims Christ as King, the term “king” is misleading.  The church is not saying that Christ is a king like all the human kings this earth has known with their yearning for power, wealth, and relevance.  Rather, when the church proclaims Christ as King, the church is offering a radical reinterpretation of power: Christ is a king who wears a crown of thorns.  Christ is a king who owns no property, has no home, and dies a criminal’s death.  Christ is a king because he is anointed – he is a messiah. 

And Christ is not the only king.  Others are anointed by God to do important things.  Not only men.  Theresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, Wangari Mathai, Florence Lee Tim Oh are all examples of women anointed by God to be a messiah.  And to that long list of brave women anointed by God, I will add one more: Carissa. 

As many of you know, Carissa has accepted a call from Bishop Doyle to start a new church in Houston’s north east side.  She will do this in partnership with the Diocese of Texas, and she will become the Vicar of that congregation. This is exciting for her and it is exciting for St. Andrew’s!  While the call came from Bishop Doyle, I know, and Carissa knows that it’s really God who has anointed her to do this work, to carry out this mission.  

Carissa will be at St. Andrew’s through the end of December, and we are celebrating her ministry with us formally on December 16th with a reception following the 10:30 service.

As you pray for Carissa during this time of transition for her and for her family, you might discover God speaking back to you. You might, in your prayers, hear God saying, “Follow me - come and see.”

And you might decide that God is calling you to follow in God’s footsteps (and Carissa’s) to this new place of ministry, and if that is true, then that is a good thing. A church should never “cling” to its parishioners with a clenched fist, but rather should be open, it should let people who feel called to leave. 

Churches should be generous in this way because when they are, it means they have no need to fear. Churches shouldn’t fear losing people, because we are not a people defined by scarcity, because we believe that God always provides.

What a marvelous gift Carissa is to St Andrew’s and to our Diocese and to the people of Houston. She has changed us for the better. She has changed me for the better. She will change a new community for the better, with God’s help.

Today, we celebrate Christ the King.  And we celebrate Carissa, the Vicar. AMEN.