The Courage to be Faithful

A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Year B – November 25, 2012

 David H. Knight, Priest Associate

In the Name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


“ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

On this Sunday which is now called Christ the King Sunday, these words from the Book of Revelation place God’s sovereignty and the reign of Christ at the very center of our attention; “Alpha and Omega,”  the beginning and the end, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  There are for most of us those biblical passages that somehow, and for some reason, bring back memories and associations. Whenever I hear, for example, this passage referring to the Alpha and the Omega, I think of Jeannie’s grandmother, Jean Newbourg Littleton, a magnificent Philadelphia lady, a lady with incredible grace and dignity, a lady who was also known for speaking her mind directly and to the point.  It was in the early spring of 1977.  Jeannie and I had been married for six and a half years and at that point had a young family of three active little boys ages 5 and a half, 4 and a half, and one and a half.  It was March or so as I recall, and the occasion had now presented itself for us to announce to our families that yet another little Knight was on the way and would be arriving in early October.  It was reported through the family grapevine that Jeannie’s grandmother, upon hearing the announcement, gave her response to the happy news. It was swift and direct:  “Well, I certainly hope they name it Omega!,”  she opined.  If the truth be known, however, it is that Grandma was herself a great one to talk.  She and Pop had raised four fine children who also happened to be only six years apart.  In a manner of speaking, we did name our fourth son “Omega” as he would complete our family, yet never do I encounter the passage in scripture about Alpha and Omega that I don’t think of Grandma, bless her heart.

 The message of this Sunday is about the courage to be faithful.  Years ago, back when I was alive, I remember—and you may remember as well—this Sunday was called the Sunday next before Advent as next Sunday will begin a new Church year.  For us on these shores, the concept of kingship is one with which it is hard to identify.  I suspect that the image of Christ as King may seem for us to be somewhat remote.  The word “sovereignty” normally refers to the political authority over subjects as in kings and queens over their subjects, yet in a broader sense it can also describe the fact that there are those things that have sovereignty over our lives.  There are those influences that have power over us.  They become the guiding forces in the way we live. They can either empower us or can hold us captive. In today’s Gospel, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  But is that really his question?  You see, Pilate is in a bind.  Does he himself actually think that Jesus is an insurrectionist, or is he trying to find a way to placate the political leaders by finding a way to condemn Jesus because that’s what they wanted?  Is Pilate free to act on what he knows to be the truth about Jesus regardless of the cost to him, or is he trapped? Is he forced to hide his own convictions in order to keep his job? Trapped, it appears that Pilate decided to hide his true convictions.  He chose not to raise honest questions. He kept his fears and his thoughts to himself so as not to confront the matter.

 This Sunday’s message is about the courage to be faithful to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ in our lives and in the life of the church.  On this Sunday of Christ the King, the Church is faced once again with two questions in particular; “Who is Jesus Christ, and what does his sovereignty over the church that bears his name mean to us?” and,  “What does the Church look like when it is faithful to what Christ is calling it to be?”   The spirit of today’s readings speaks to how fearful; even trapped we might be if we are to take this question seriously to heart. Dr. Pete Peery, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, has this to say about this Christ the King Sunday.  He writes, “…evidence of this captivity is present in the pews of many congregations.  In mainline churches, most members have every creature comfort imaginable, including houses, cars, and freedom to travel on expensive vacations. Yet dare these members be real at work or in public life? Dare they reveal who they are, what they truly believe, how they actually perceive things? Or, are they trapped by their fear of losing their position and with it the continuing path of upward mobility on which they bank to pay the mortgage, the car payments, and the credit card debt? Must they hide themselves, doing and saying things they do not want to do or say in order to ‘stay in control?”

 Dr. Peery goes on. He speaks about the captivity experienced by the church as he writes, “On this Sunday the Church proclaims Christ the King. The Church announces that it bows only to Jesus the Christ.  The church declares that it does not give allegiance to any other person, principality, or power claiming to be sovereign. Yet will the church live out its profession? Forever fearful in this increasingly post-Christian era of losing members and thus losing influence in the community, does the church temper its message and its mission in a desperate effort to maintain its position?” Profound questions these are as we contemplate not only today’s readings, but as we contemplate who Jesus Christ is—in our own lives, and in the church of which you and I are a part that bears his name.

 How often are there matters of justice that confront each of us and we are hesitant to say what we really think in fear of the consequences. How often is the church confronted by matters of justice as was Jesus himself, yet at times throughout history it has remained silent for fear of rocking the boat?  We discover that any family system or any institution, including the church, can find itself stepping oh so carefully around the elephant in its midst. We find that any gathering of people can ignore the conventional wisdom that tells us of a very simple truth.  It is that if something becomes unmentionable in our lives or in the life of the church, it simply becomes unmanageable.  The blessing of it all is, however, that you and I live in the lap of God’s love. It is that love that empowers us to be courageous even when it is risky to be courageous.  Jesus offered us nothing less even as it led him to the cross.

 This Sunday’s message builds upon last Sunday’s readings and what Eleanor said in her sermon bears underlining and repeating.  She spoke of how for the Israelites the temple was an outward and visible symbol of the desire of the leaders and people to put God first.  It became the center of devotion and worship for the Jewish people for the next 500 years.  Jesus then, however, saw the temple as having become like a fig tree that gives every appearance of health yet bears no fruit.  He no longer saw the temple as the house of prayer that it was intended to be. He predicted its demise but that it would be rebuilt.  But what kind of temple would it be?  Her message of last Sunday leads us into today’s message. Jesus’ vision was that it would be a temple that once again would put God first and that its people would display the courage to follow God’s commandments to seek justice and to spread God’s love to a broken world, that it would seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it might.

 Like so many, I have long been an admirer of Winston Churchill, his courage and some of the brilliant things he said at crucial moments in time and on a wide range of matters. Some were witty and demonstrated his humor, some were wise.  All were profound. As you may recall, for example, and this has nothing to do with our subject this morning, Lady Astor once said to him, “Winston, if you were my husband, I would poison your tea.” Churchill replied, “Nancy, if you were my wife, I would drink it.” He once said, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject.”  He also once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood for something, sometime in your life.” But then, about courage he said—and this one relates to what this Sunday is about—“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;” though he also added, “courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” When you and I listen to the words in scripture that speak the truth of who Jesus is and to what it is he is calling us to do, we come to realize that there will be those times that call for courage on our part, individual courage, and courage as the church, the community of the faithful, courage to speak out and to do the next right thing.  God, who is the Alpha and the Omega, who was and is and is to come, the Almighty, calls us to response.  The question remains and is with us daily, “What is my life like when I strive to be the person Jesus calls me to be?”  In like manner, “What does the church look like when it has the courage to stand up and follow in the path of what it means to be the Church that bears his name?  For everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice.   As you and I strive to be faithful to Christ who is Lord of the Church and Lord of our lives, there is that wonderful prayer in our Prayer Book that can serve as a guide, one in which we pray,

 O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP, p.832