Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King Sunday Sermon

[This is the sermon that I preached as the wrap-up stewardship campaign preacher at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Longmont, Colorado, this morning.]

            As some of you may know, my husband, Herb, received a kidney transplant on October 5th. I was in San Francisco visiting girlfriends, and Herb was in Washington state, where he was living and working as a consultant, when the phone call came at 12:30 at night. The transplant center nurse said, “Get ready,” because a kidney was going to become available, and Herb was one of three possible recipients. Less than three hours later, the nurse called back, and said, “You’re it.” Herb got on the phone and booked a flight back to DIA, and I booked a flight from San Francisco. We arrived at DIA within 15 minutes of each other, and we drove to Porter Hospital straightaway. By 5:00 PM, Herb was in pre-op, and by 7:30, he was in surgery. At 10:45, the surgeon came out to tell me Herb was doing well, and the new kidney was doing great, producing urine already. The surgeon said that the donor match was as good as if the donor had been a sibling, except that this donor was much younger than Herb, who is 71.
            As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time at the hospital over the next several days. What I noticed was the grace all around me. I worked my online network all during Herb’s transplant and recovery, posting messages on Facebook, Twitter and the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv and to other groups I am part of. What I asked was not only prayers for Herb, but also prayers for the family of the donor. While Herb and our family were the recipients of this unbelievable gift of a kidney, the donor’s family was grieving over the loss of a loved one who had died, and who in death, had shared his or her precious organs so that others, like Herb, might have life. That’s right, that Herb might have life, because, you see, Herb had begun to decline from his kidney disease, and we knew we were nearing the end, when this incredible grace came our way.
            I want to talk with you this morning about grace and our call as followers of Jesus to be stewards of the message of God’s grace, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
            Today is Christ the King Sunday, the Sunday when we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus. Yet, the Gospel lesson today is disturbing. The image that comes to mind when we think of the word “king” is of someone who is exalted, wearing royal robes with a golden crown upon his head, sitting on a throne of power, ruling over his subjects near and far. Yet, the lesson today tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and of him being mocked by the soldiers, who offer him sour wine and say, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the criminals hanging beside Jesus mocks him, saying “Are you not the Messiah?” – the Messiah, the anointed one. The thief demands, “Save yourself and us!”
            But Jesus is not that kind of king. He’s a new and different kind of king. We already know from the stories we have read in the Gospels of his three years of ministry leading up to his encounter with the cross that Jesus didn’t think the way that the rabbis thought he should think and that he didn’t do the things that his culture and society thought he ought to do. The nerve of the man! He hung out with prostitutes and Pharisees and tax collectors. He touched lepers and beggars and spoke up for adulteresses. He asked men who fished and tanned leather to become his companions and followers, his disciples. He broke the social mores of his culture.
            But Jesus didn’t behave the way he did because he was a rebellious guy. His motivation was not to thumb his nose at the people in power. He did what he did out of a different sense of what’s important and who’s important than the powerful people all around him had and out of respect and love for us humans. Jesus lived his life and did his ministry in the way that he did, because God created us as his beloved children and wants us to know him and be in relationship with him. God wants to be in relationship with us, and he sent Jesus, his son, to become flesh and blood so that we could have that relationship with God in a way that we can “get.”
            Jesus is a different kind of a king. Jesus is so exalted that he doesn’t have to prove himself to the soldiers or the criminals hanging on the crosses next to him. Jesus knows who he is: He is the son of God, come down from heaven, born from Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, sent down to earth to be in relationship with us humans, to live among us and teach us the lessons of love, of ultimate love and sacrifice, by dying on the cross. Jesus says, “Father,” calling on God, his father, “forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Instead of showing his power and lording it over the soldiers and the thieves and those gathered at the foot of the cross, instead of sending down thunderbolts as the mythical Zeus, Olympian king of the gods might have done in Greek mythology, Jesus speaks, and his words are words of prayer, talking to God, his father, asking for mercy and forgiveness for those who are crucifying him, crucifying him to death.
            Jesus is a different kind of king. He is the kind of king who can humble himself to mingle with the poorest of the poor and the sinners and wretches, because he is the king of love and the exemplar of grace. Jesus came to teach us the message of God’s ultimate love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is pure gift and pure grace. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, but God gives us God’s love nonetheless. God’s love for us is boundless. We make mistakes, we sin, we turn away from God and towards the temptations of the world, and still, God forgives us and calls us back to be in relationship with him. That is grace, that is love without limits, that is love that we don’t deserve and didn’t earn.
            How many of you are parents? Do you remember your own childhood and how your parents loved you and showed you their love? Have your children ever made you really mad? So mad that you could just spit? And yet, somehow, through all the frustrations of parenting and picking up your kids after they’ve made a mess and you’ve had to come in and help them clean it up and maybe even rescue them, you have done these things out of love; love, pure and simple, love that includes forgiveness, love that supports and uplifts and upholds.
            Think about one of those times. Close your eyes and reflect on that time for a moment. [Pause] What you are seeing is grace. You were a channel of grace, a channel of God’s love in that moment. You could have said, “I told you so.” You could have said, “You got yourself into that mess, now you’re going to have to get yourself out of it.” But you weren’t that kind of king to your kids, and Jesus isn’t that kind of king to us. Because you were a purveyor of love and grace, because you follow Jesus, and he is the ultimate source of love and grace.
            Now my assignment this morning is to talk with you about stewardship, because today is the wrap-up of this year’s annual stewardship pledge campaign. And that’s what I’m going to do. I want to talk with you about your call and my call as baptized members of the Body of Christ, Christ’s church here on earth, to be stewards of the message of God’s grace, of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
            We often talk about stewardship in terms of the stewardship of time, talent and treasure, and we certainly are called to use in right relationship the time, talent and treasure with which we have been entrusted in this life. But even more fundamental than that is that we are called to be stewards of the message that Christ came down from heaven to impress upon us, and that is the message of God’s grace, God’s love. That God’s love is around us everywhere, and we are called to talk about it, to share it with others, to invite others to come and see, just as Jesus told his first disciples to come and see, when he called them to follow him.
            When I was at the hospital those first days after Herb’s transplant, I saw grace all around me, and it was easy to talk to the nurses, doctors and aides about it. It was easy to say “thank you” and have people know that I meant that I was grateful for the care they were giving to Herb. It was easy to post to Facebook and Twitter that I was praying for the donor’s family, for donors everywhere, and for those still waiting for transplant organs to be gifted to them, because I was so present with the grace that had been bestowed upon our family.
            And it was humbling to think about those who need transplants but who don’t have families to look after them or health insurance to pay for their medical care, because that means that they probably wouldn’t be eligible to receive the transplants that they need. Being humbled by these thoughts aligns me with my king, Jesus Christ, who humbled himself, fully God become fully human, who sacrificed himself upon the cross that we might know and be transformed by God’s boundless love.
            So, if we are transformed by God’s boundless love, the question for all of us and for each of us is how have I been a good steward of God’s message of love? How have I given and shared out of the gifts I have been given, out of my time, my talent and my treasure to make God’s love known to a hurting world? Giving with the grace that God has given each of us means that we give more than we expect to get. That we give out of an attitude of love and gratitude. That we give sacrificially. Being touched by God’s grace means that our family’s budget has been adjusted so that we spend somewhat less on ourselves so that we can spend somewhat more on showing others God’s love and grace. Changing the way we eat so that we can change the way someone with fewer resources eats. Changing the way we shop so that we can give more dollars to change the way St. Stephen’s and the Diocese of Colorado and the Diocese of Haiti carry on their work of sharing God’s love and grace. Think about it. In what ways can you change the way that you live so that you can give more of yourself, your time, your talent, your money to change the way your church and your community can show forth God’s love and grace more abundantly and fully to more people? Isn’t that what being a baptized and beloved child of God is all about?

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