November 24, 2019 / Christ the King Sunday / Richard E. Holmer
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Second Reading: Colossians 1:11-20; Gospel: Luke 23:33-34
Finding Life in Christ
Some days a person can expend a lot of energy just trying to hold it all together. By “it” I mean your life. Part of what it means to be an adult includes managing multiple responsibilities with some degree of competence while maintaining some semblance of calm. All kinds of stresses and pressures threaten to undo our existential composure (can I get an Amen?)
We get pulled in many directions by our various commitments and concerns:
Making sure the kids are OK – and transporting them to all their activities, whether athletic, social or academic.
Looking after aging parents, keeping up with their medical issues.
Maintaining a wide spectrum of relationships: your family, your in-laws, your friends, your co-workers, your good neighbors, your difficult neighbors.
Tending to your personal well-being, in all its aspects: physical, mental, emotional.
Managing the tension between our dreams and expectations and actual present realities.
Discerning what’s truly a genuine concern we need to address and what’s just a needless worry.
Oh, and of course, the matter of making a living year after year – and forever seeking the right balance between work time / family time / personal time.
Add to all that the inherent pressure that now comes with the holiday season.
You can surely add to this list – and I apologize if I have increased your stress by talking about it.
It can all get to be a bit much. Back in 1939 the British government commissioned a poster with a simple message, intended to encourage citizens in the face of war: Keep Calm and Carry On. Variations of this message have appeared in recent years, on T-shirts and the internet, like: Keep Calm and Sail On, Keep Calm and Call Mom.
The challenge to each of us is to find the wherewithal to keep carrying on with our lives. How can we manage this ongoing task? How can we keep from getting overwhelmed and coming unglued? What can help us to hold it all together? Well, if you pay attention to the Children’s Sermon, you know that the right answer is usually JESUS. Today’s reading from Colossians contains a simple, reassuring reminder about Jesus: “in him all things hold together.” Jesus is the potent, spiritual, existential glue, strong enough to hold all things together, including you and me.
OK. That’s good to know. But it presents another challenge: how, then, do we fit Jesus into our busy, demanding lives? Where do we find the time to squeeze in one more very important thing? You see, I think if you asked most Christians, they would say that they would like Jesus to be a larger part of their lives. (Right?) But they’re not sure how to find the time, where they can make room. The schedule is already overstuffed. From time to time, some responsibilities get neglected – which just adds another burden of guilt and frustration. Making room for Jesus becomes one more item on our never-ending “to do list.” Many of us would agree that we aren’t doing a great job of fitting Jesus into our busy lives. Good intentions don’t always yield the hoped for results. The pressing demands and responsibilities of our daily lives don’t leave much space for anything more – not even Jesus.
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But what if we are coming at this in the wrong way? What if you and I shouldn’t be trying to fit Jesus into our over-extended lives? You have to wonder: What ever led us to believe that such a thing was even possible? What does it say about our grasp on reality that we would presume to fit the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords into the fragile framework of our little lives? Who are we kidding?
On this Christ the King Sunday we are invited to recognize the unique and marvelous magnitude of Christ. Listen again to how Paul describes him:
He is the image of the invisible God
All things have been created through him and for him
He is before all things
In him all things hold together
In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
And yet we try to figure out how we can fit this Cosmic Christ into our lives! It’s not going to happen! A Christ who fits conveniently into your life or mine is far too small – not our Lord at all. A convenient Christ is actually an idol – one more handy self-help tool. We’re coming at this the wrong way. Jesus will never be one more item on our “to do list.” The true challenge for each of us is not fitting Christ into our lives. It’s the other way around. The challenge is fitting our lives into Christ. Until we begin to accept this essential reality, we won’t get very far in our faith.
Now it may be a very natural, very human mistake to try to fit Jesus into our way of life. That’s how we handle most things. What we need to realize is that Jesus didn’t come to try to fit into your life and mine. Instead he came to show us that he himself is the way, and the truth and the life. He came to call us to abundant and eternal life – life in him. So here’s a new and different agenda: We can give up trying to fit Christ into our lives, and instead start fitting our lives into his. And how could that happen?? A good place to begin is just by remembering Jesus. One thief on a cross next to Jesus made a heartfelt request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus assured the thief that he would remember him. Our prayer can be a little different: “Jesus, help me to remember you, that I live in your kingdom.” Somehow we manage to forget that we already belong to Jesus. Listen to what Paul says: “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
Friends, we are already in Christ – we just keep forgetting that we are. From the moment of our baptism, you and I belong to Christ. He wasn’t baptized into us, you and I are baptized into Christ. We need to keep reminding one another that this is so.
In life, some reminders aren’t needed. We certainly don’t need to be reminded who the president is – we are bombarded with reminders on a daily basis. We do, however, need reminding about who is our King. What can help us to remember Christ our King? For me, worship is the first and best way to remember that I belong to Christ. The longer I live, the more I appreciate the sense of the commandment: Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. God knows how much you and I need a weekly reminder of God’s presence, God’s faithfulness. Keeping the Sabbath keeps our lives in touch with holiness.
More than once Jesus said: “Let those who have ears hear.” We have ears! So it’s good for us to bring our ears each week to hear God’s good word to us. We hear so much other stuff the rest of the week, it’s a blessing to be able to hear words of justice and mercy, law and gospel, grace and truth.
Where else can you go to receive full pardon and forgiveness? As he blessed the soldiers who were nailing him to the cross with undeserved grace, so Christ blesses us: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” That’s us, too, right? We need the blessing of forgiveness so we can live our days not in guilt and regret, but in grace and hope.
And there is no better way to experience belonging to Christ than to gather around this table and share in communion with our Lord. Christ knows how much we need this! So he says” “Do this! Do this in remembrance of me.” Remember whose you are. This is the Lord’s house. Christ is our host. Christ makes room at his table so that each one of us can share in his life. Here we taste and see that the Lord is good.
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Worship is a profound way to fit our lives into Christ. Time does not allow to present all the other ways. Of course prayer is a marvelous resource. At any time or place we can pause to practice the presence of God. Reading the bible and devotions is an available way to read our story into Christ’s story. Reading the scripture texts for the coming Sunday lets God’s word soak in and prepares us for worship.
Yet on this final Sunday of the church year, I remind you of the weekly blessing of worship. This isn’t a plea to improve our worship attendance statistics. This is a reminder that we are invited to participate in the life that really is life: life in Christ our King, in whom all things truly do hold together.
Instead of trying to somehow make room for Christ in your life, experience the good news: There is room in Christ for you.
Thanks be to God.