Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints, Denver, Colorado November 20, 2016
Texts: Jeremiah 23:1-6 & Luke 23:33-43
Audio available here
So, yeah, I get to preach on the reign of Christ, on Christ the King Sunday 2016.
I get to be the one who, in the midst of this awful year gets to tell you about how Christ is in charge, how he’s “King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever” and that we will be saved from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us. Just look around, from David Bowie dying at the beginning of the year up to today, it’s super believable, isn’t it?
And on top of that, today is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside each year to memorialize those trans people who in the previous year have been killed or have killed themselves. This year the worldwide list includes 295 names, including 123 in Brazil, 52 in Mexico and 23 in the United States. We won the bronze this year. Each year, at memorial services around the world, the list is read, and it’s heartbreaking. Not just the sheer numbers, but the various reasons given. Worst for me are the children who seem to appear every year, dead because their fathers didn’t want sons who were “sissies”
Years ago, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the folk singers Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer wrote a song about the AIDS Quilt. The AIDS Quilt was a project to commemorate those who had passes. Each 3 foot by 6 foot panel of the quilt contains the name of a victim along with personal memories from their friends and family that made the panel. It now consists of an estimated 48,000 panels and weighs around 54 tons.
Cathy and Marcy’s song begins, “A patchwork of thousands of precious names, there must be someone that you know. . .”
Every year on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, as the list of the dead is read, I can’t help but think of the chorus of that song, which applies every bit as much to this list as it does to the quilt, “And I know that my name could be there, and I’ve felt the pain and the fear, and as human loves and passions do not make us all the same, we are counted not as numbers, but as names.”
It’s exceedingly hard for me to stand before you tonight and speak to you of my hope and faith in God’s triumphant reign over the earth and how everything is going to be okay and that we will get to the point where we no longer need to be afraid or be dismayed. It’s hard when I look at the state of the nation today, and it’s even harder when I am remember that I’m someone who can be killed for walking into the “wrong” bathroom.
But we’re here, so I might as well go ahead and give it a try.
Now, I’m not what they call a “Cradle Lutheran”, in fact, I was 49 before I attended my first Lutheran service, so maybe I’m a “Mid-life crisis Lutheran.”
Before that, I was a true-blue Presbyterian, specifically, in the Presbyterian Church(USA). I’d served a Clerk of Session for two different congregations, attended a Presbyterian seminary, passed the Presbyterian ordination exams and could explain to you the differences between the BOP, PDA, the PPF, COM, and CPM. Presbyterians love their three letter acronyms.
Mostly, I don’t miss all that. All that I’ve found here with you at House outweighs any nostalgia.
Except, except around Reformation Sunday. Here, predictably, everything on Reformation Sunday is about Luther: Luther said this, Luther did that, Luther insulted those guys. Luther, Luther, Luther.
What about Zwingli and Calvin?
What about other parts of the Reformation? Because what was happening in Germany with Luther, was happening all across Europe in ways that gave birth to other traditions in the Church--traditions that many of us came from before we found House; traditions that we still draw from to give us hope.
And so, on this day where we celebrate Christ and Christ's Kingdom, I thought what better day to listen for hope from another corner of that kingdom. One place where I’ve always gone to find hope is in a confession from the Reformed tradition called the Heidelberg Catechism.
Catechisms are written in question and answer format and through the years the first question and answer of the Heidelberg has been very important to me, I’ve quoted it, written about it, and just plain relied on it at many different times in my life.
The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is:
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?”
And the answer:
That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
The reason I keep going back to it is that it reminds me that whatever problems I face, I don’t need to face them on my own, that I belong to God, and that as Jeremiah reminds us, God will gather all of God’s flock together and that, together, we shall not have to be afraid any longer.
I find the same comfort in the gospel text, how Christ, even while he’s dying on the cross continues to bring the good news of salvation to those around him, even to those who have been judged by their society to be unworthy of that love and care.
In the past those things always been a great comfort, but today I’m just struggling with them, how is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?
And right there we’re back to the problem with Christ the King Sunday this year. Talking about all the things that tell us about Christ’s reign and sovereignty, that I have lived with and believed all my life and that I want to believe right now and convey to you and they all just look like complete b.s. when looked at against all the crappy things that keep happening in the world. When we fear for our safety, see our friends and loved ones suffering, when we see the powers and principalities of the world looming over the weak and marginalized and then we hear God saying through Jeremiah, “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer or be dismayed.”
We hear those things and we struggle to think anything other than, “Yeah, right,” or, “When Lord, when?”
When are those shepherds coming, how long must we wait?
I’ve felt that way since the election, and today as we remember my departed trans brothers and sisters, it just seems to get worse and worse, it gets harder and harder to see how all things are working together for my salvation.
But then I think about House and about all of you and I know in my heart that there has to be an answer to this despair.
In a few minutes Reagan will lead us in the celebration of the Eucharist. Near the end of the spoken part of the celebration, right before we start coming up, he will hold up the elements, the host and the cup, which, we’re reminded each week we believe to be the body and blood of Christ, and as he holds them up, Reagan will say something like, “Behold what you are, become what you receive.”
Behold the body of Christ.
Become the body Christ.
In his blessing to us last week, Bishop Gonia said that now is the time for us to be the church.
Throughout its history, the church has been known as the body of Christ in the world.
And we’re back to that.
I don’t know exactly what the Bishop was thinking when he said that it was time to be the church, but thanks to those Presbyterian heritage, I know pretty well what it means to me.
For more than 100 years the main stream of the Presbyterian Church in this country has included in its constitution a list of six Great Ends of The Church. Six purposes of the church.
It’s a great list, I love it. I’m sure I’ve annoyed quite a few people through the years with my desire to bring things back to how they relate to the Great Ends. I’ll be happy to rattle off all six of them anytime you want, and tell you way more than you want about what I think each of them means.
But for right now I’m really only interested in the last one.
It says that one of the church’s jobs is “The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” It’s the church’s job to show the world the way things should be.
And we are that church, queer and straight, cis and otherwise, strange and wonderful, each us make up a vital part of the body of Christ and of God’s flock.
So here we are, the church, the body of Christ in the word on the Sunday where we are celebrating the reign of Christ over the world and it’s up to us to bring the Kingdom of heaven to the world.
God has, as promised has raised a king to reign over us, a king that will deal wisely with all and who will execute justice and righteousness throughout the world. But that king is the same man who walked among us on earth and who hung on the cross with thieves. He is a king who has suffered as we suffer and who stays with us through all of it.
We, HFASS and the larger church, Lutheran, Presbyterian, whatever, are the hands and body of that king.
We’re not waiting for the time to come or for someone else to help us.
We are the body of Christ in the world and the Kingdom of Heaven starts with us. We are the people we have been waiting for, we are the shepherds that God promised us.
I can live with the fear that comes that many of us have because of the results of the election and the despair that comes each year around the Day of Remembrance because you all are here, and I have learned that you will shepherd me through all this. And I can only hope that I can do the same for you in your hours of fear and despair.
Because of where we are as a country right now, and because of what day this is, I cannot tell you about Jesus’ great and glorious reign on the large scale, saving the world in one great moment of triumph.
I can tell you about how, on the smallest of scales, person to person, in millions of tiny moments of love and respect for each other, we can get each other through the fear and despair and bring the kingdom to everyone. One moment at a time.
That’s hard to face, but the good news is that it’s not up to any one of us, in life and in death we belong not to ourselves but to our faithful savior Jesus Christ. Christ who suffered on the cross, Christ who continues to suffer with us through all of our struggles.
Trusting that, let us celebrate the reign of Christ on the Christ the King Sunday, and every day, by being Christ for one another.
I don’t always have the words to tell you how to do all that, but Bruce Reyes-Chow, a contemporary leader of the Presbyterian Church, came up with a pretty good set of instructions and I’d like to leave them with you,
Go forth into the world
With compassion and justice in your heart
Give voice to the silent
Give strength to the weak
See one another
Hear one another
Care for one another
And love one another.
It’s all that easy and it’s all that hard.