Sermon Transcript 11.20.22 Holy Days: Giving Thanks
YouTube Link for Sunday's service: https://youtu.be/QuAAiTlx068
We gather on the last Sunday of the Christian year. The Christian year begins with Advent. Which we will begin to celebrate next week. About 100 years ago, this Sunday became known as Christ the King Sunday. It's a relatively recent holiday on the Christian calendar. Presented to the church. It was adopted by multiple different denominations. Think of it. How often we disagree on things… yet 100 years ago, nearly every Christian denomination went, “that's a good idea! We're going to do that.” And so, Christ the King Sunday became part of the liturgical calendar and we celebrate Christ the King Sunday because we proclaim as Christians that Christ is sovereign. That our highest loyalty is not our nation. It's not our favorite political leader. It's not our political party. It's not our denomination. It is Christ who is sovereign. We struggle sometimes with that image of king. I personally would be a lot more comfortable if we called this Christ the Shepherd Sunday. Yet…, Shepherd and King, especially as Christ presents them to us are really the same thing. The one who watches over the flock, who calls who sets boundaries and sends forth. Who we are responsible to. We celebrate this Sunday as Thanksgiving Sunday as well. This week, we will pause, we will gather with family, we will and then, of course, we'll go shopping and we'll get more for ourselves or others that are on sale after all. The interesting juxtaposition here… our culture, particularly in the United States, is not really very good at giving thanks. Since I typically don't follow the lectionary, I seriously thought about putting the story of the healing of the ten lepers on this day. You probably know that story. Jesus heals 10 lepers. Only one of them comes back and says thank you. I’m sure they all felt thankful… but only one expresses it. What does it mean to be truly grateful. What does it mean to truly express it? I can hear my grandparents and my parents say reminding me Well into my teens… How can we or thankfulness for the one who gives us life, who makes all things new, who holds us in the palm of the divine hand, who breathes life into us? We talked the last couple of weeks about seasons and about life transitions. This time of year is a lot of people's favorite. The heat of summer is gone. Winter is not yet fully here (despite the weather we've had in the last week or so). The trees turn beautiful colors. They remind us of the beauty of letting go, of rest, of time. One of the things we're blessed with in Kansas is that we have all four seasons. However much I might grumble about winter, I don't think I really want to live somewhere where it was the same all the time - I might try it someday but I don't think I would like it. There is a beauty to the diversity of the seasons. And the church calendar is very similar. Most of the year is what we call ordinary time. It's not a particular holiday but it is full of holy days. That's when we live out our lives – in the midst of the ordinary. Next week, we start Advent in the Christmas season What most of us think of is the holidays. for the coming of Christ and in this season, it's not just about his birth a long time ago It's about anticipating what is yet to come. Many of us think about an end time or a final day, I will confess you, I don't know what that looks like and I'm increasingly skeptical that there is *a* day. What I do know is that there will come a day when *I* cease to be in this life. Maybe I'm wrong and the final day will come while I am still living in this life. Paul certainly thought that. And he was apparently wrong… but this life as I know it will end and I do need to be prepared for that. To live in confidence that there is something more… That God is *with* us. My task is to live this life. To grow and learn just as Jesus did. God comes to us in the form of a child. God lives a normal human life. He grows. He learns in wisdom and strength. He's obedient to his parents. He learns skills. He is not, for most of his human life, all that remarkable. God doesn't come to us as a powerful figure – God comes to us as a child. It's the message of the Christmas season. And of course, we move quickly to Lent and Easter. We see the worst that humanity has to offer. We see the best that God has to offer – a truly human life that reveals God to us – that cannot be silenced, even by the cross. We celebrate Easter. We celebrate resurrection - every Sunday is a little Easter. Every Sunday, reminds us that the Christian calendar is about evoking all of these stories. Then on Pentecost, we, the church, are turned loose. We're told that the spirit dwells in us. It speaks through us. It calls us out into this life and this world – we are not to hide away in lock spaces waiting for something next but to be the body of Christ here and now. That is the story of the Christian year. We conclude with Christ the King Sunday. We conclude the year by acknowledging that Christ is sovereign. That Christ comes before us. that Christ is the Alpha, and the Omega, through whom all things are made. Then we begin the cycle anew preparing yet again for Christ to be born among us, within us. As I said last week, this is a time to live. To use what we have been given for the good - not just of ourselves but the good of all. To build up the church, the community, the places where God has sent us as witnesses. God who is with us. God who is within us. God through whom live and move and have our being. God who nonetheless patiently waits for us to respond, to recognize that none of us do it ourselves, that all of us are ultimately wholly dependent on God's grace, God's love, God's very breath. Christ is King. Christ who looks over us. This beautiful mosaic. is from the 12th century, a cathedral in Sicily, Italy. It's tremendously impressive. One gets a sense of Christ’s presence and majesty. I used to have the privilege of taking Confirmation groups from large churches in Wichita and one of the things we would always do… We go to a Jewish synagogue on Friday night usually hosted by my friend Rabbi Davis. He would present his understanding of faith and the Jewish faith and then the next day, we would take the group to a Saturday night vesper service at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in town and one of the things I liked -, particularly at my first appointment, West Heights because we did a lot of variety of music and you know, it was not uncommon to have somebody play guitar and sing, and Rabbi Davis happens to play guitar and sings much of their liturgy. The service at the Jewish synagogue felt like what we were used to. We were very comfortable in the Jewish synagogue even though there was a pretty significant theological difference. This Jesus guy is important to us. Our Jewish brothers and sisters do not believe he is the Messiah. We do. If we call ourselves Christian, that has to mean something to us. And I would tell them that one of the members of that Jewish synagogue had been a childhood friend of mine. We had gone through confirmation together at an Episcopal church. We had mouthed the creeds that it hadn't meant much to us. We were just going through the motions because our parents wanted us to. We both had wandering journeys. Hers is different than mine. I ultimately wound up a Methodist pastor – proof that God has a tremendous sense of humor. My friend eventually converted to Judisam - much to the shock and dismay of her Episcopal deacon father. My point to the kids, and to us today, is it really is about claiming our own faith and our own understanding and worshiping the one true God authentically and fully. We United Methodist Christians - we gathered this morning to confess - is revealed to us in Christ. For a variety of reasons that was not my friend's path. And yet I believe in the same God who is sovereign in her life. I believe that she encounters the one true god even though we use very different vocabulary. So, that is part of my personal witness - that God is bigger than the categories I put God in - even ones I believe God directly revealed to me! Part of my witness though is how we respond to what we profess as Christ's presence. That's why I bring up the Greek Orthodox Church - because we would take the kids there too. After a very comfortable Friday evening with Rabbi Davis and a comfortable environment that felt like what we were used to…. We’d go to the Greek Orthodox Church. Now, it happens that the United Methodist Church’s doctrine and Greek Orthodox doctrine, our understanding of grace as therapeutic, our understanding of Christ and atonement and faith – I would say we are about 98% in agreement. We've got a couple of things around the margins - but we agree with our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters on the doctrine… but if you've never had the opportunity to go to a Greek Orthodox worship service, I encourage it to you because it is *different!* They stand almost the entire time. There is incense everywhere. The service is held in Greek. Lots of chants… What an experience that was. We would come back and talk about this was comfortable, and familiar, but very different theologically. This was very different but the same theologically, what is it that we believe? How do we live it out? and I particularly liked taking the confirmands to the Greek Orthodox Church at that time because - you may know Greek Orthodox use icons and they put them all over the building and now, if you go to the Greek Orthodox Church, it is gorgeous. There are icons all down the walls. You come in and there's a long area for the congregation to gather. There are icons everywhere. It overwhelms the mind. but at that time, they were just building the building and the only one they had done when I first took groups was Christ… and Christ was in the dome over the altar we would walk and it just is these massive white walls, and then our host would tell the kids, look up! And we’d look up and Christ would fill your vision. You don't get quite that same effect now because the rest of the icons are so overwhelming. Even though nothing has changed about that icon… It's just that I get distracted by everything else. I think there's a lesson in that for us as we enter into these holy days, these holidays, this season of the year - to remind us that Christ is with us, that Christ comes as a child even in weakness, that we are called to follow Christ, to seek Christ out, to see and follow the light, the star – and not to be distracted, even by other good things. God is our refuge and strength A very present help in trouble. Those words were the foundation of a priest's faith. Father Carr’s faith shared with me in such a way that stayed with me even when I wandered away yet again. A faith shared in a frequently sung hymn. The only hymn I ever actually remember singing at the Catholic Church. They don't sing like Methodists do. It was a college ministry at Wichita State that I would go over to with my high school friend. It may be that that was the only song the priest could play on the guitar. I don't know. But we sang it in and week out and it stayed with me. It came back to me in some of my lowest moments. That prodigal journey of my life. That song was one of the things that pulled me out of the pit. That reconnected me to the faith of my childhood that had been expressed in so many different churches and different Pastors and Priests, sometimes when I actively sought it, sometimes when I was bored and running away. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. The holy habitation of the most high.” That also comes from Psalm 46. It's been a very, very difficult season to be a pastor lately. These last 3 years… I've not been shy in telling you that I was quite frankly exhausted when I was moved here and we’ve spent an interesting year and a half now of navigating my own tiredness and this congregation's tiredness. Our age collectively, the sense that we've done all the roles and we want to turn it over but often we turn around and there's nobody there to hand it off to. This verse was used in a coaching cohort I'm in… Finding support with other clergy, finding ways to be what we call a “transformational pastors,” to take the church where it is, and help guide it into wherever it is God is calling us to be next. In Fort Scott and the various other places my cohort comes from, we're all facing the same kinds of challenges. and our coach broke from his planned lesson one day and read Psalm 4-6 and tears came to my eyes and I remembered father Carr and I remembered my journey … but he took that verse. “There is a river whose streams make glad city of God, the holy house the most high… and he looked right into the Zoom camera and he said, I want you to repeat after me – and we did.. He said, “the church already has a savior.” We all dutifully repeated, the church already has a savior.” Then he said And. You. Are. Not. It. For your benefit, it isn't me… all of us are to experience the “withness” of Christ. Christ with us and witness to that. All of us are to rely on Christ's strength and Christ's faith - not our own. There is already a stream of living water, a river that makes glad the city of God. My call is to participate – not try to do it myself. All of us can only carry so much. Another of my mentors is an episcopal priest named Stephen Charleston. I confess I've never met him. I follow him online. I've read his books and I consider him a mentor. He posted just this morning with this Psalm and lesson from his native American heritage. His ancestors knew that you could only carry so much and if you try to carry too much, the journey wouldn't go well. So, you only take what you can carry and you travel where the Great Spirit leads. That has led me to make some hard choices this year. I am not doing an advent class. I think this is the first time in all my years of ministry that I didn't schedule an advent class and I still feel guilty about it because that is part of the job, I think… But I looked at the calendar and there just wasn’t a time. I was already committed to this and that and the other. And then some of you who I'm counting as mentors… you have come to me and said the same thing. You’re carrying too much. So, I'm hearing those lessons and remembering that it's not about the frantic-ness and the busy-ness and doing all the things. It's about encountering the holy. And I can't help you do that If I'm constantly frantic like I was last Sunday morning… And because God has a tremendous sense of humor, the world conspired me to remind me that I really love watching soccer. I have 17 days of soccer coming up the next two weeks in the World Cup. So, as it notes in the bulletin, I'm going to be taking some extra time off as we begin these holy days to spend some time with family, spend some time watching soccer, and to get my head back into a right place, that we might truly celebrate Christmas and Easter and all of the various seasons of the year together fruitfully. That we might rejoice always - praying without ceasing – and give thanks in all circumstances. I've been reminded that we are called to test everything. To hold on to what is good. To recognize that the living water already flows. That God is already with us. Each of us is to reflect that sacredness. First of all, we pray. We don't just do, we don't fill our calendars. First of all, we pray. So, I will be taking some time, especially this next 2 weeks - in prayer. In prayer for the church. In Thanksgiving for all that this church is and for the blessing that I have to be here in Fort Scott. For the blessing of my family and my friends, and for all of the experiences that have led me to these Holy Days. A few months ago, I challenged us to set an alarm for 3:01pm or whenever it was in your schedule that worked. 3:01pm happens to work in my schedule most days and it happens to be the street address of our church. Very clever. So I set my alarm for 301 but I got away from it. A couple of months ago… I got busy and I turned it off and didn’t turn it back on… So I will be setting my alarm again. And even if the US men's national team is still playing, at 3:01pm I will be turning off the TV and I will be pausing in prayer. We pray first. We pray. out of that prayer, we do. This is how to be salt and light. If we lose our saltiness, what are we worth? We’ll be thrown out of the garbage. But if we use our saltiness… As I said here last week, one of the things I’ve learned - if you put just a little bit of salt on the top of a wax candle the flame because it raises the melting point of the wax. The candle isn't consumed as quickly. If you put too much salt, it snuffs the wick out immediately. There is balance, there is wholeness, there is God's presence and light and grace. We don't do it ourselves. We do it in communion We are called to be light bearers We are called to go forth bearing witness. We're not called to be saviors ourselves. We are called to be the body of Christ To reflect him, who we live and move within. Christ is before us. Christ is after us. Christ is above us, below us, and within us. Christ is eternally patient. Christ calls us to be salt, to be light, to dance with joy, to share wisdom. This beautiful painting is by a woman named Sister Mary Southard. It's called “Women's Wisdom Dancing.” And I first encountered it with a poem by Mary Ann Evans, who you may know as George Eliot. She was a Victorian-era poet and at that time, women were not encouraged in the literary arts and so she took on the pen name of George Elliott. I was reminded of her work recently because I have a dear clergy friend who named her first daughter, Eliot, in honor of George. And so, I close this day by sharing one of George Eliot's most wonderful poems. “May every soul that touches yours - Be it the slightest contact - Get there from some good; Some little grace; one kindly thought; One aspiration yet unfelt; One bit of courage For the darkening sky; One gleam of faith To brave the thickening ills of life; One glimpse of brighter skies - To make this life worthwhile And heaven a surer heritage. Make this life worthwhile. To trust God. To do on earth as is in heaven. When it is time to cast nets and time to haul nets in, to trust God when those nets are empty, to trust God enough to cast the nets again, but only when Christ tells us to… only in the way that Christ calls us to. Not to fill our days with busyness, but to fill our days with holiness. That we might be aware of God's presence, that we might actively participate in the re:creation that God is working in us. That we might reflect the sacred. That we might reflect that the gift of hope has indeed already arrived. These are the themes that we will be using throughout the Advent season. We'll have the yard signs and the Magi – we will be following their journey throughout Advent and pausing and slowing down and breathing deeply so that we might be aware of the sacred is all around us. In this season and in every season. These are holy days. Let us give thanks.