Nov. 24, 2013, Christ the King, Yr C

Year C, Christ the King

November 24, 2013

The Reverend Dr. Brent Was


“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So there is a joke that can be told a million ways, so I’ll just tell it as I heard it… How many Harvard professors does it take to change a light bulb?  “Change??????”  Virtually all of us fear change.  Inertia, “the tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged” is a basic property of humanity, from us at an atomic level, the physics of our matter, all the way through our ways of organizing potlucks.  A second definition is thus, “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.”  We want to keep on doing what we’re doing until forced to do otherwise.  It’s the nature of things.  That change is also the nature of things makes the human condition, complicated.

Now inertia is also a gift, a religiously laudable gift.  One of the example sentences in the Oxford American is: “the thermal inertia of the oceans will delay the full rise in temperature for a few decades.”  Inertia is not all bad.  The Tradition leg our three-legged stool is critical.  The foundational Anglican theologian Richard Hooker located religious authority in an algorithm consisting a balanced approach through Scripture – Tradition – Reason, the Three-Legged Stool.  Tradition is the link to our past, to those who have gone before, to the way it has been done. The dead don’t get a veto, but they do get a vote.  Reason pulls us forward into new territory, into fresh places, recognizing the open and continuing nature of revelation.  Scripture provides a focus on which we ponder and from which we are gifted with a common vocabulary and a common heart of narrative, of story.  But tradition, inertia will always be tempered by, will always encounter external forces, change…

Today is Christ the King Sunday, more inclusively called The Reign of Christ.  The Reign of Christ is a vision of the post-Passion world: the state of the world after the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord.  The Reign of Christ is characterized primarily by holy waiting, the parousia we spoke about last week.  We are waiting for the fulfillment of the promises of Christ.  And those promises are much simpler that we might imagine: there is nothing to fear.  It is maybe not going to be OK, you are going to die, but there is nothing to fear; God is with you.  Don’t worry about dying.  Really, don’t.  There is nothing to be afraid of.  Don’t fear, you are forgivable and you have the power to forgive.  Don’t fear, by grace, a relationship with God and with neighbor is always possible, that invitation is always open, just don’t have fear, don’t be afraid, don’t worry. And in living fearlessly, the Kingdom of God is made real.            Our religious project, the Jesus movement is all about change.   Changing from being fearful to fearless, from feeling forsaken to being loved, from bondage to freedom, exile to homecoming, from a covenant with a single chosen people to an invitation to all the world. And the process of becoming fearless, of building right relationship with God… we hold that religiously as that holy waiting, it is the parousia and it is not a passive act.  We’re not to just sit around twiddle our thumbs waiting for something from on high, for the apocalypse or end times, though that may be what is in store.  What is critical is that the parousia may not be primarily action, not lots of doing, but it might be a very active being. Think Thomas Merton on the prayer cushion.  That kind of being. Think Gandhi at his spinning wheel.  Monumental being that broke the back of an Empire and changed the world.  Think John Muir walking out into the woods.  Dorothy Day in a church basement, Wendell Berry standing in a hay field.  Monumental being.  Wendell Berry writes,

Always, on their generation’s breaking wave,

men think to be immortal in the world,

as though to leap from water and stand

in air were simple for a man.  But the farmer

knows no work or act of his can keep him

here.  He remains in what he serves

by vanishing in it, becoming what he never was.

He will not be immortal in words.

All his sentences serve an art of the commonplace

(to open the body of a woman or a field

to take him in.)  His words all turn

to leaves, answering the sun with mute

quick reflections.  Leaving their seed, his hands

have had a million graves, from which wonders

rose, bearing him no likeness.  At summer’s height he is surrounded by green, his

doing, standing for him, awake and orderly.

In autumn, all his monuments fall.[1]


Change and return.  Change and return.  Today, Christ the King Sunday is the end of the liturgical year.  We are here again this year, Ordinary Time concludes with the Triumph of the King, but a king crowed with thorns, body broken, hung between two very ordinary, condemned men.  The firstborn of all creation, in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, who also humbled himself, to the point of death, even death on a cross. The paradox of it all, parallel to Palm Sunday: a triumphal parade, yet ridiculous; a victory, but a victory leading directly to the cross. And we are here again, on the cusp of Advent, again.  We are flowing along to the long slow rolling drumbeat of this earth revolving around the sun.  We creep closer and closer to the darkest days of the year, which come every year.  The long, slow rolling drumbeat of the clouds and the cold and the damp descending in yet another Oregon winter, which comes again every year.  The leaves are down, exposing the gray-green lichens and emerald green mosses on the oaks so they can delicately sip the little sunlight they handle.  School… you all are in the middle of it, the doldrums of late mid-term, again, just like it is every year.  Change and return.  Change and return.

We each change, daily, the constellation of matter and memory and relationship and being that makes each of us us, is never static.  So changes also our communities, this parish.  We’ve had a lot of change this year, here.  We made budget last year, surpassing our fundraising budget for 2013.  We welcomed to the first Conestoga huts in the city to our fair parking lot, and the first bungalow prototype and that act opened the eyes of the City and has helped dozens of people get shelter.  Radical!  Fabulous! We had deaths.  Births.  Grief and celebration.  Baptisms and confirmations.  Beloved friends moved away and new friends moved into town.  We’ve celebrated a lot of masses, some of them with a lot of incense burning at the new High Mass, we’ve served a lot of breakfasts, filled a lot of home starter kits, hosted families in our basement, welcomed people to pursue Holy Orders and sent others to continue formation.  You elected and installed a rector.  Recreated the Tune In!  Included more people in hospitality with a new potluck and coffee hour organization.  We hired musicians and religious educators and offered a pension to our secretary.  And most importantly, I get the feeling that some of us, daily even, are growing closer and closer to God in Christ.

And looking forward, we have a lot of change to continue.  We are growing, numerically, significantly, and that brings with it a lot of change.  Folks who are used to knowing everyone here on Sunday no longer do; fabulous, it is the kingdom of God growing, and different. The way things have always been done, like having a good idea and just doing it on your own, that doesn’t work any more.  Power is shifting to the center, to the priest and vestry and other structures because a center needs to be strong as the people who make up the life of this place become more diverse, less steeped in the particular history and tradition of this particular place, and interested in things that have maybe not been important here in the past: contemplative prayer, Anglo-Catholicism, organized social gospel activity.  Change.  How my time is used is changing, I am actively organizing and evangelizing in the wider community, meaning that more faces are involved in pastoral care, I am spending less time in the office and not everyone sees me as much as they would like. Change. The matriarchs and patriarchs of Resurrection are finding their roles and responsibilities changing, and that is hard, painful even.  And our budget this year, it’s a nail biter.  Growth in giving always lags behind growth in numbers; the rub is that expenses follow the numerical growth curve.  So thank you to those who have given, and please get your pledges in if you have not done so yet.  The coming year?  Change is not on the horizon, it is now.  Just don’t be afraid, change is the nature of existence.

Change and return.  Change and return.  At the end of one season, another season begins.  There is death and there is birth.  The great cycle of existence rotates around again and again.  We people of faith, Christians, we must not fear the change that is the very nature of our being.  We must be the change we wish to see, realize the image of God in which we are made.  And all with the humble knowledge that again, next autumn, all our monuments will fall, again.  AMEN

[1] Wendell Berry, “The Farmer, Speaking of Monuments” in Farming: An Handbook, 1970.