Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Center Does Hold - Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

I want to tell you this morning how much God loves you.   I want to tell you that God loves you so much that God planned, always and forever ago, to accompany us as one of us, to be our friend, our brother, our companion, our savior, our healer, and our hope for eternity.
That’s why, today, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.  Because we are loved by a king who is like no earthly king.
In a way, it’s a Sunday that serves as the culmination of the church year, which restarts each and every year on the first Sunday of Advent.  We’ve been through it all – announcement, pregnancy, birth, youth, adulthood, teaching, healing, torture, death, resurrection, and ascension -- and we want to say that we have been through it all as disciples of the king who lived a human life and rose victorious over human death.
But this is also the Sunday that leads the way into Advent, and so it also reminds us that we are about to celebrate the birth – of a king.   A king willing to be born into the vulnerability of life as we know it, to be laid in a manger and killed on a cross – a king whose life is entirely about love – love of us.
You know, we have a story that we tell ourselves – and the world – a story we hear over and over again, a story that helps us make sense of life.  And in that story, God creates the universe, and calls it and everything in it good.  And among God’s creations are human beings, who make a mess of things from almost the beginning by focusing, as we tend to do, on themselves, on ourselves, rather than upon our creator.  And their, our, sinfulness sets a sequence of events into motion, a sequence of personal sin and communal sin and the consequences of sin, a sequence in which we are still trapped today.  And then God sends Jesus, to clean up the whole mess.  Jesus comes to save the world by dying and by being raised to new life.  We know this story, right?  For God so loved the world that God sent God’s only begotten son, that all who believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life.  This is a GREAT story,
But wait: Is it possible that there is more?  Does the Bible tell us a lot more about Jesus? 
Oh yes, there is, and it does.
Let’s listen again to what Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,  . . . all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  . . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Jesus was first.  All things were created in him and through him and for him, and in him all things hold together.  All things hold together.  God loves us so much that God created everything in Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus, so that it – everything --would be held, embraced, connected and interwoven in every possible way -- with love, by love, and for love.
We need to know this.  We need to know this because, so often, it seems that things do not hold together at all.  People get sick, people get hurt, people die.  Life becomes so complicated that we cannot begin to figure out what to do.  Wars consume lives, typhoons consume islands, poverty consumes the promise of youth, isolation consumes the hope of the elderly.  Things do not seem to hold together in any way, shape, or form.
William Butler Yeats wrote a poem, ironically and despairing entitled “The Second Coming,” at the end of the First World War, a catastrophe in world history in which over 37 million soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.  No wonder Yeats penned the line, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”  The world did seem to be a dark place of anarchy at that time – as it can also seem at this time.  Locally, nationally, world-wide – we see trouble all around us.  Some days, it seems that the only constant is that things fall apart.
And yet – and yet we know: the center does hold.  The center does indeed hold.  Because the center that holds everything together is Jesus Christ. 
What a magnificent hymn of praise Paul gives us here in this letter to the Colossians!  What a glorious expression of how things are held together – by one person, by the person who reveals God to us, by the person who is king over all by being the king who loves and serves all.  The many other things to which we give priority – all of our hopes and worries , all the people and achievements we celebrate, all of the anxiety and anticipation about the future – all of them give way to the one in whom it all holds together, the one in whom the fullness of God was – and is – pleased to dwell.    The one who is the firstborn of creation, the one in whom all else was created.
Our Christmas story changes a little when we realize this, doesn’t it?  Our story does not begin with a baby in a manger, or with an announcement by an angel to a young woman.  It does not begin with human beings and our brokenness.  Our Christmas story, our whole story, begins at the beginning, with creation, with a Christ in whom all else has been created.
And to make sure that we understand that, let’s listen again to the first words from the Gospel of John.  The Gospel of John does not offer us a nativity story, as the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do.  At least, not a nativity story with a baby and angels and shepherds and a star and magi.  The Gospel of John offers us a completely different story of beginnings:  
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him . . . What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us  . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  . . . No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
There he is!  Not the baby in a manger, not the young man on the road, not the suffering and dying Jesus on the cross – but the cosmic Christ, the Christ who encompasses all of human experience in his divinity, the Christ who is the Word, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Son who makes God known to us.
Now maybe this all sounds too – well, Scriptural or theological in a way that’s hard to understand.  All these phrases – firstborn of all creation, before all things, fullness, grace.    What do those words even mean?
So, let’s end our time together with this.  Let’s say it as plainly and simply as possible, because it’s important:  Jesus was first.  Jesus tells us who God is.  Jesus shows us what love is.  Jesus shows us what it is to be human.  Jesus shows us how much we are loved.  How much we were always loved, before we even were.  And so:
If you are in a tough situation and you don’t know what to do, ask the one whose life is the light.  Look for what he is doing, in your own life and in the world as a whole.  Look for where love is active.
If you are feeling as though you’ve been pushed aside, remember that you were never first and neither was anyone else – except Jesus.  Look for his movement among us, and follow that, not someone or something else.  Look for the strands of love that wind their way into every facet of the universe.
If you don’t know how or what to pray, look to the one from whom we receive grace upon grace.  And know that he is, always, praying with you and for you.
If everything seems falling apart, remember that you and those you love, precious as all of you are, you are not the center – Jesus is, and he is a center who does indeed hold.  He holds grace and love and the peace of God, and draws you in, into a place in which all is cradled in the boundless love of your creator.
You know who your God is, because Jesus shows you, all the time.  You know that even when it doesn’t look or feel like it at all, the center does hold, because the center is Jesus Christ, firstborn, always among us from before time as we know it, King of all creation.    The Son of the God who loves us always, abundantly and extravagantly.


  1. Has nobody told you what a wonderful parting sermon this is? Seems like I need to stop lurking and say it myself... Obviously the lectionary lent itself to it, but I love that you name-check Jesus 20 times, all they need to know.

    1. Thanks, Lesley. I can't say that I counted.

      I really only have one sermon. Don't we all? But most of the time I'm pretty sure no one has any idea what I'm talking about.