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About revmwlowry

Pastor of East Congregational United Church of Christ, Concord, NH I'm a husband, father, son, uncle, friend and pastor, having served churches in Maine, Ohio and most recently, New Hampshire; I'm also a true New Englander and "native Mainuh" who speaks Down East as a second language!

Round About the Manger: The Man Who Isn’t There

(a sermon for December 10, 2009, the 2nd Sunday of Advent; second in a series, based on  John 1:1-5, 10-14, Matthew 8:18-20 and Luke 2:1-7)

He’s arguably one of the pivotal characters of the Christmas story, and yet he isn’t there; not really.

I mean, he’s never mentioned at all in scripture; moreover, there isn’t this rich tradition of folklore that surrounds him (as in the case of the three wise men, for instance); and unlike the shepherds, the angels or even that mythical and ubiquitous little drummer boy, you’d be hard pressed to find many songs written and sung about him.  Even if he’s included in the nativity scene – which isn’t often – he’s usually relegated to a position way in the background, as to not distract our attention from those at the manger!

And yet, in every Christmas pageant we’ve ever seen there he is, playing his small but essential role; because somebody has to greet Mary and Joseph at the door and with arms crossed and head shaking back and forth tell this travel-weary couple that there‘s “no place for them in the inn.”  Yes, we’re talking about the innkeeper, the one whose part in the nativity story – or at least we assume it is (!) – is to shuttle the holy family off to an adjoining stable, the place where Mary gives birth to the Christ child amongst dirt and hay and farm animals.

Now, how this mysterious innkeeper is portrayed varies with the telling of the story.  Sometimes he’s seen as a caring and sympathetic provider of at least some small manner of shelter for this couple when absolutely nothing else was available; other times he’s viewed as this harried entrepreneur who can’t be bothered to do anything better for them than the barn out back!  But… either in fact or speculation, the fact is that this “innkeeper,” whoever he may be, comes and goes so quickly we don’t have much of a chance to even consider his motives.  So in practical and strictly biblical terms, I guess he truly is “the man who isn’t there;” and yet, I would submit to you that is one character in the nativity story who needs to be “round about the manger,” if only at a distance.  And not simply because an inn needs an innkeeper (!), either, but because of what this particular innkeeper represents: the choice he made on that holy night, as well as the choice that every heart must make as regards the Christ Child.

You see, there was room in the inn on that night in Bethlehem.  There had to have been; not only was hospitality so central to Jewish culture that there would almost always be an extra room or an additional bed for unexpected visitors or strangers in need, but for the innkeeper there was also a business point of view to consider.  As J. Barrie Shepherd notes in a beautiful little piece entitled The Innkeeper’s Defense, there was “always, within reason, one chamber… kept for that noble, but unexpected guest, that personage of means and influence, accustomed to the very best accommodation, who arrives without reservations and [who could] make or break your reputation as a host.”

Not that an inn of biblical times was a place of much privacy or comfort.  Historians tell us that these places were most likely very primitive in nature: a rectangular, flat-roofed building of many small rooms opening into an open courtyard with a common well and a fire burning where guests could cook their own food.  Some rooms might well have had a small stable attached for the beasts of burden that travelers brought with them; others were just big enough for a pallet on the floor.  And, no doubt, there were a few “nicer” rooms that even had meals provided… for a price, of course.

And granted, we all know that the little town of Bethlehem was a inordinately crowded place that night, what with all those who’d come there for the “registration” ordered by the Roman government.  And we also know, as “the time came for [Mary] to deliver her child,” that there would have been little or no time for discussion or possible alternatives; so perhaps what happened next with the stable was out of necessity.  Still, you wonder why the innkeeper couldn’t have possibly found something better for this young couple who were in so much need!   Surely there was another place somewhere on the premises where Mary could give birth amidst something less than squalor; at the very least couldn’t he have set them up in the corner of the courtyard where there’d be a warm fire burning nearby?  No, there was none of that; only the stable, which contrary to the familiar image we think of, might well have been a nearby cave, hollowed out of soft limestone by time, water, and wind, a small nook barely sufficient to keep animals out of the elements, much less a young woman in the midst of labor pains!

By just about any reckoning, it was about the worst place for a baby to be born; and this is where the innkeeper had sent them!  Honestly, you have to wonder if it wasn’t so much the inn that had no room as it was the innkeeper’s heart!

And you wonder why; could it have been that he couldn’t abide the possible liability or the scandal that came with such a sudden and mysterious birth?   Perhaps it was that he didn’t quite like the looks of these two travelers who, aside from being tired, dirty and expectant, were also obviously poor and from a place much rougher than Bethlehem; not exactly the kind of clientele that would attract a higher and wealthier class of guest!   Or maybe it was simply that he was too busy to get involved: too much else going on at the inn,  too much happening in Bethlehem, too much going on in his life to make a commitment or even notice that something wonderful was happening!

I know the scriptural account doesn’t bear this out, but surely there must have been this moment when the innkeeper went out into the night air to check on things; noticing, for the first time, the brightness of a star shining overhead; seeing that a group of shepherds, of all people, were crowded around the entrance of his stable to catch a glimpse of… a baby; all the while going on and on about a heavenly host of angels and good news of a Messiah!

What really happened in that moment, we don’t know. Maybe the innkeeper went down to see this thing for himself; or perhaps he dismissed the whole thing as another of the late night revelries that had been taking place all over Bethlehem, and went back to bed.  But either way, at some point – and maybe it was months or even years later – the innkeeper must have come to the realization that for the sake of his business and busyness, his rush to judgment or whatever reason, when he’d sent this refugee couple and their soon-to-be newborn off to the stable, he’d missed something and someone important; someone who was no less than the Savior of the world!

And you know what?  I could find a great deal of fault with that this morning; I could pass judgment on that innkeeper and portray him as one of the villains of this story (many preachers have, to be sure!); except for one thing.  As I stand here now, 2,000 years later, I realize that the innkeeper… is me.  And he’s you.  

I said before that the innkeeper in this story represents something very important; and it’s every one of us who has tended to put the Lord Jesus aside in our hearts and lives as though there’s no room for him there. As Jesus himself would say many years later to those who would blithely declare a sense of loyalty without any real conviction about it:  “’Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”   The innkeeper of the Christmas story actually serves to remind us of a very hard truth: that it’s all too easy for us to put Jesus “away in the manger” of our thoughts and good intentions, in the process keeping him away and apart from the ways we really and truly live our lives.

It’s one thing, you see, for us to suggest that that we need to put Christ back in Christmas, and that’s true; but it’s quite another come to grips with the fact that in so many ways, there’s never been enough room for Christ there in the first place; or anywhere else, for that matter.  Jill Briscoe, a pastor and writer from Wisconsin, has written what is admittedly a disturbing piece of poetry that nonetheless strikes an all-too-familiar chord:

“Room in my inn for my business affairs,
Room in my inn for my worries and cares,
Room in my inn for the drink and the smoke,
Room for the act, for the off-color joke,
Room for my family, room for my wife,
Room for my plans, Lord, but no room for your life,
And room for depression, when the party’s all through,
Room for myself, Lord, but no room for you!”

How sad a thing it is, friends, that the this season comes and goes every year without some new kind of awareness of what Christmas really is; that we become so preoccupied that we fail to notice that far above and beyond the decorations and music and gifts and fun, beyond even what we do here at church is this miracle of spiritual birth, this utter reality that God is being born (!), and that in Jesus, God is seeking to make himself at home in our lives!   Think of it, beloved!  God Almighty, the King of the Universe, is taking his rightful place on the throne of our hearts, and does it in the guise of a tiny, crying helpless baby.   How could such love and power not change our lives?  How could anything be more urgent than this?  How could we possibly allow ourselves to miss it?

And yet, like the innkeeper of Bethlehem before us, so often we do just that.

John’s gospel, of course, does not include any version of the nativity story; in fact, John opens his account of Jesus’ life with an affirmation of Christ as “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9) coming into the world.  So there’s no mention of shepherds and angels, mangers or innkeepers; but there is this: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”  It’s a reminder that that there have always been, and shall always be, those who will miss out on that light because they refuse to recognize God in the midst of it.  Beloved, we are beginning now the second week of Advent, our season of waiting and watching and preparing for the coming of light in Jesus, our Emmanuel.  How awful it would be if we choose to stand so distant to the manger that we end up missing the miracle that soon and very soon will happen there!  What a tragedy it would be for us not to make room in our hearts for his coming?

But the good news is that even now we’re being called to draw closer to the manger and to take notice of what is about to happen; and make no mistake, it’ll be wonderful.  But as Tim Roehl writes in his book Christmas Hearts, “oftentimes the Lord comes to us in ways we don’t expect.  The nudge we feel in our hearts is the whisper of His Spirit beckoning us to discover the miracle just beyond the mundane.  Too often our minds, frazzled by the rush of life, overrule the voice we hear speaking to our hearts” he goes on to say, “and God is moved to the back of our lives, out of the way again… but [even now] there’s someone knocking at the door of your heart.  [The question is] have you any room?”

Well, believe it or not, there’s only two weeks left to go before Christmas comes; and I suspect that for most of us, there’s still shopping to do, places to go and lots of things to do before we can feel in any way, shape or form ready!   It’s a busy time, to be sure; and hopefully a good time as well.  But I hope and pray that in the midst of all of it we don’t lose an ear for that voice that keeps asking us for a place to stay; and that we might answer in such a way that the Lord of love might truly be born in our in our hearts and lives, so to live there now and forever.

Let there be no regrets that we didn’t make room for his coming; but rather that we truly invited him in, to “Come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!”

Thanks be to God who comes in Christ to live in our hearts!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on December 10, 2017 in Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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Round About the Manger: For Those Who Live Out in the Fields

(a sermon for December 3, 2017, the 1st Sunday of Advent; first in a series, based on Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 2:8-12)

And now, with the start of the Advent season, once again the old and familiar story begins anew.

At its heart it’s a breathtakingly simple story, really; about a young girl giving birth to her first child in a stable, of all places, with precious few even remotely aware that this “blessed” event was taking place; in many ways, it’s no different a story than those of countless young women throughout the ages. But, of course, there’s a reason that this particular “baby story” gets told again and again across the generations: it’s because, in the words of David Lose, “the child born to this young mother will change the course of history, and the fates of leaders and common folk alike hang in the balance of his destiny.”  The child in the manger, you see, is “the Messiah, the Lord,” the very Son of God; and so it’s fitting that each year about this time we do remember the simple and yet utterly powerful story of his advent into the world, and that we are each and all prayerfully waiting and watching for signs of his coming.

In fact, such is the power of this remarkable and miraculous story that it’s long been our custom to set forth something of a tableau of the narrative in the form of a crèche; a nativity scene, if you will.  It’s a Christian tradition that dates back as far as the 13th century and may well have been begun by St. Francis of Assisi as a palpable reminder of the humility of Christ’s birth, complete with manger, ox and lamb, and plenty of hay. Francis, it is said, wished to remind all those looking upon this scene of the simplicity, and the utter poverty, of God’s own Son being born into the world.  And I would dare say that even today, given all the massive chaos, stress and rampant affluence that so often accompanies the holiday season, it’s still a much needed reminder!

Actually, friends, as much as you know I love just about all manner of Christmas lights and decorations (!), I have to say that the crèche has always been my favorite, in large part because it is humbling, a good reminder of “the reason for the season,” and also because it’s serenely quiet amidst all the noise this time of year; and I need that.  Many has been the advent evening over the years when I’ve found myself gazing long upon our family’s beautiful crèche (a family heirloom, handcrafted by my grandmother, with shepherds, magi and an angel who holds the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” banner) and imagining what the real scene must have been on that starlit night in Bethlehem so long ago; even as I’m thinking that as far as I’m concerned, spiritually and otherwise, our crèche gets it just right!

All of that said, however; I do suspect that over the centuries, like so much of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, we’ve tended to, shall we say, romanticize the nativity scene a bit.  Take the shepherds, for instance; in our crèche at home, the resident shepherd has more of a medieval look about him: he, as you might imagine, has a little lamb about his shoulders; but he’s also wearing a brown, apparently one-piece tunic, he’s blonde, fair-skinned, barefoot and, might I add, very, very clean!  Now, again, don’t get me wrong; I kind of like that image of the beautiful and nicely coiffed, animal-loving Christmas shepherd; but honestly, that’s likely not a wholly accurate description!

The truth is that in Jesus’ time, shepherds were not particularly well thought of; they were, in fact, on the bottom tier of Jewish society.  More often than not, they were mired in poverty (usually you didn’t become a sheepherder because you particularly loved sheep, nor that you felt called to that vocation; you became a sheepherder because that was the only job you could get!); they were often thought of as incompetent and untrustworthy, disreputable rogues at best and hardened criminals at worst; and because of this, they pretty much existed as outcasts on the outermost fringes of respectable society; and yes, let’s just say it: they were dirty, not merely in the sense that these shepherds lived for weeks out in the fields and deserts watching their flocks by night and day, but also in the sense of being ritually unclean.  Jewish law at the time forbade many classes of people from entering the Temple for worship, and shepherds were amongst those who were not welcome.  To put this another way, though the job of the shepherd was to protect the sheep that would potentially be used in sacrifices at the Temple, they themselves were not allowed to participate in that act of worship, nor to know God’s presence in the Temple itself!

So by just about every societal, economic and religious measure you can name, shepherds were considered to be the lowest of the low, not at all good or righteous or even redeemable.  To put this all into perspective, consider these words from the writings of first century Jewish writer Jeremias: that “to buy wool, milk or a [baby goat] from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.”

Not exactly the beautiful and serene image put forth in your average nativity scene, is it?  And yet…

…wasn’t it such these who were exactly the kind of people that our Lord had come to save? Weren’t these “disreputable rogue” shepherds the very ones who were clinging to those promises of old, the ones we heard in this morning’s text from Jeremiah, that a “righteous branch” will “spring up for David;” that there will soon one who “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land,” bringing forth a time when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety?”  Does it not seem as though these would be the very ones – the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast – whom God would choose to invite into his presence? In fact, I would submit to you that this is why we always find the shepherds “round about the manger!”  To quote David Lose once again, “Here is the promise of Christmas in a nutshell.  God deigns to dwell not with the high and might, but with the lowly, the unexpected, those considered ‘nothing’ by the world.  And here, amid the weakness and vulnerability of human birth, God makes God’s intentions for humanity fully known: [that] God is love.

Christ comes, you see; that is the promise of Advent.  And, the good news is that Christ comes for those who live out in the fields… and the good news, beloved, is that you and I are included in that number.

And no, before you ask, I’m not suggesting we’re a sanctuary full of “disreputable rogues;” at least as far as I know!  But I do know that just because we might not be in the business of tending sheep we aren’t still shepherds, at least in the spiritual sense.  I would suggest to you that each one of us here this morning knows something about what it means to be “out in the fields” of life; most especially as we’re “keeping watch” of things in the dark of night.  After all, so many of us know all too well what it is to be weighed down by the everyday hardships of this life; to be faced with the bleak realities that seemingly come out of nowhere to afflict us.  Debilitating illness and on-going grief, faltering relationships, pervasive economic struggles, the injustice of a world that too often favors the wealthy and powerful in its priorities; this, to say nothing of the deep and pervasive yearning that each and every one of us here have to feel welcomed and included and loved, even as we constantly find ourselves on the outside looking in… it goes on and on; but this is the stuff of life out in the fields… and we are the shepherds dwelling in the midst of our own flocks of sheep.

That’s why it’s good news indeed that just as birth of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem was unto “certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay,” it is unto us as well.

As we’ve said throughout this service, today does mark the beginning of the season of Advent, our time of waiting and watching for the coming of Christ; a time for each one of us to come “round about the manger” and let the story of his holy birth begin again in our worship, but most especially, in our lives.  It seems to me that as we do so, we can take some lessons from those shepherds who did indeed leave everything behind – including their sheep, apparently (!) – in order to run to Bethlehem in order to gaze upon the divine infant.

We know, for instance, that as the shepherds beheld the spectacle of “an angel of the Lord [who] stood before them, and the glory of the Lord [that] shone around them,” they listened; for as terrifying an experience as it must have been to suddenly be in the presence of one (and then a heavenly host!!) bearing nothing less than the very Word of God, they were open to truly receive that good news with their whole hearts and then their whole lives. And so it should be for you and me, that the good news of Christ be allowed to speak to us and affect us and move us to new ways of understanding and living in this world; and that begins by truly listening.

And then we also know, having received that good news wholly and fully, that the shepherds went.  And not casually, or out of some mild curiosity, either; but with swift decisiveness, and out of a great sense of urgency and excitement to go and see for themselves.  “They came with haste,” the old King James Version puts it, “and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”  And why wouldn’t they? In the words of poet J. Barrie Shepherd, they’d been “caught up in the midst of the momentous.”  The question is whether in this advent season the coming of Christ is equally momentous for us; if our priority in this busy and often cacophonous time is to focus our thoughts and energies on beholding this child who comes to save us from ourselves.

And then, of course, we know that the shepherds returned; because after they’d gone to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus; after they’d told Mary and Joseph what they’d seen and heard; after the whole thing was done and the time had come to leave, they went back.  Back out to the fields; back to the sheep; back to the hard work and back to the silent drudgery of the flock.  It was back to the same old same old; and yet they weren’t the same going back.  Rather, they “returned, glorifying and praising God.”   Life for those shepherds did go on as it had before:  but now that they’d been touched and moved by the mystery and wonder, now that they’d encountered nothing less than the very love of God incarnate, how could they ever again be the same?

And so that ought to be for us as we embark on this time of advent waiting and watching.  For you see, in the end what we’re waiting and watching for is the almost indescribable reality of God, the Eternal One, who is being born into our midst to save us where we are as we are, right now; who comes into the very midst of life-as-we-know-it, even if life-as-we-know-it overwhelms us with pain and bewilderment and confusion.  What the shepherds discovered that night, and what you and I need to embrace for ourselves in this season is the truth of a God whose love for us is so great that it will stoop even to helplessness in order to bring us to him and his strength and his peace.  God did it with the cradle, beloved, and God did it on the cross; and God did it – and continues to do it – so that we might know the glory of life both abundant and eternal, spending our days, whether in joy or in sorrow, glorifying and praising God for all we have seen; living out of the faith and hope that is ours by his coming in Jesus Christ and the advent dawning of his kingdom.

May this be our hope and prayer as in these weeks we draw near to the manger, and also as we come to the Lord’s table this morning to know his presence in the bread and the cup.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Advent, Jesus, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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Does Christ Rule?

(a sermon for November 26, 2017, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost and “Reign of Christ” Sunday; based on John 18:33-37 and Revelation 1:4-8)

Here’s a question for you on which to ponder this morning:  when you think of Christ, what kind of image comes to mind?  How do you “see” Jesus in your own mind’s eye?

I suspect that many of us, for instance, would see Jesus as a brother or a friend, as one who walks the journey of life with us; sometimes beside us, other times walking ahead, but always talking with us and giving us counsel as we go (that’s always been the kind of  image that comes to my mind). But then again, there are those among us who will always turn to the biblical picture of the good shepherd: Jesus as the gentle savior who seeks out the lost and the injured sheep, carrying the wounded and the lame to safety upon his own shoulders.  I also know quite a few who prefer the image of Jesus as divine rebel, challenging the authorities of his and every time; who turns the world upside down with his righteous anger and redeeming love, and who calls us to follow him he does so.

There’s Jesus the teacher; Jesus the healer; Jesus who sits with little children gathered around him; and Jesus who himself was this tiny babe wrapped in rags and is sleeping in a manger: so many “personas” of Christ, if you will; so many pictures that help define our relationship with him.

But I wonder… when we think about Jesus, how many of us will come up with the image of a King?  It’s not that we’re unfamiliar with the image – after all, before long we’ll all be singing of herald angels giving “glory to the newborn King” – it’s just that given our modern sensibilities, this is one persona with which we might feel a bit uncomfortable.  These days, the word “king” conjures up images of childhood fairy tales, on the one hand; or the latest gossip surrounding latter day “royals,” on the other!  Moreover, in modern parlance the word “king” often suggests a patriarchal kind of absolute rule: a man of immense power who is unafraid of issuing orders and compelling obedience, which is most definitely not the picture we have of Jesus!

Yet, here it is, a day on the Christian calendar in which we celebrate the Christian confession that Christ is King!  Granted, these days we tend toward the more inclusive label of “Reign of Christ” Sunday, but historically and traditionally, this has always been “Christ the King Sunday,” in which the image of Jesus as king is front and center;  and not simply king, either, but Jesus as King of the church, King of the nations, “ruler of the kings of the earth,” the name that is above every name: King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  Make no mistake here, friends; scripture takes this idea of kingship very seriously; in fact, it can well be argued that a large part of the Biblical story tells of how God answered the cries of his people Israel for a King who would rule them with justice and wisdom, and who would lead them from exile to all glory.  But more than just a bit of ancient history, this is about how God answered those cries, and that in the end makes the difference, and it’s why we celebrate.  For when the Gospels announce to us that God finally did give Israel, and us, a King, it turns out that this was not the King they expected or wanted, but it was the King they needed.

Jesus, you see, was a different kind of king.  This king, writes Roy Berkenbosch, was born of peasant stock and held no claims to a royal pedigree or a legacy of social or military power; but in fact lived with an affection for and an identification with the poor, the least and the lost.  “He teaches people to love their enemies, not destroy them,” says Berkenbosch, “to seek endless forgiveness, not endless vengeance.  He introduces the law of unconditional love [and] he redefines power by humbly washing the feet of his followers.”  He is Jesus the Christ, “and he comes with the announcement that in him, the Kingdom of God has come near, in the midst of us to be received as a gift.”

I will say it again:  Jesus comes to us as a King of another kind; the ruler not of a territory, nor of a particular race of people, but a ruler, a sovereign of truth.  He is Christ the King, the Messiah, given authority, glory and sovereign power through the God of the Universe;  in the eloquent words of Revelation, He “is the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end, the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,” the one who will reign forever and ever; the one in whom all divided hearts will one day see the truth of the One true and living God.

Or, to put it still another way, Christ rules!

Our gospel reading for this morning, I realize, might feel a little bit out of place this time of year.  The passion narrative, from which this passage from John is drawn, seems to be better suited for Lent or Holy Week than right now when we’re just about to embark on the journey of Advent and Christmas!  But in fact, this little exchange between Pontius Pilate and Jesus strikes to the very heart of what we’re talking about today.  As we pick up today’s passage Jesus, of course, has already been despised and rejected by the authorities, betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by his disciples; and now he stands before Pilate, whose job as a regional governor for Caesar is to keep the peace in the area and figure out what to do about this man Jesus.  The truth, however, is that Pilate couldn’t really find any grounds for the charges made against Jesus; so he starts asking questions, perhaps to find a legitimate reason for a death sentence, or perhaps at the very least to find a loophole to get himself neatly out of this situation!

And so he asks, “Are you King of the Jews?”  In other words, who are you really, Jesus?  Are you a threat?  Are you the leader of some kind of movement that’s going to overthrow our government and mess up the status quo?  One thing that I find wonderful about this passage is that Jesus responds to Pilate while not ever really answering his questions:  “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me… my kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  And then Pilate, no doubt exasperated by a conversation that was seemingly going nowhere, asks, “So you are a king?”  To which Jesus says again, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  And even then, you’ll notice, Pilate doesn’t get what Jesus is saying to him:  in the verse that immediately follows where we read today, Pilate can only respond by saying, “But what is truth?”

What Pilate could not understand, and truly, what we so often fail to see is that Jesus’ kingship can’t be judged by worldly standards; on the contrary, the standards and practices of the world end up being judged by the truth of love that Jesus brings!  Everything about our lives – our loyalties and allegiances, our set priorities and the choices we make for ourselves, all the many “empires” of life and the world of which we are a part – all end up coming under the intense scrutiny of this one who is the King of kings!  As such he the Lord of life; each and every day of it, with all of its mystery, its wonder and its challenge. His kingdom is one of justice, even when that justice is costly; it is one of love, even and especially when that love is sacrificial; it is one of peace, always and ever standing in opposition usual patterns of power in this world;  and it is one of true servanthood, in which taking up the cross is the means to real leadership.  It is radical, upside-down, inside out thinking, to be sure, but that’s who Christ is:  and he is Christ the King of our present reality, yours and mine.

So the only question that remains, beloved, is this:  does Christ rule?   Or, let me make this more personal, when it’s all said and done, when it all comes down for you and me, who’s really in charge?  Is Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives?

It’s a good and valid question for us to ask; because the truth is that so many of us make the claim that Christ has dominion over our lives even as it’s very clear that our allegiance, not to mention our attention, is somewhere else altogether!  I recently read of a Gallup poll done a few years back that reported that while 86% of all Americans consider themselves to be Christian, less than half of those knew who preached the Sermon on the Mount.  Likewise, it was reported that while 60% of the country was in church on Easter Sunday that particular year, one out of four people who were in church were unable to say what Easter actually celebrates!  Amazing!  Have that many of us really let our faith so fade into the background of our lives to have it become little more than yearly tradition and the occasional pomp and circumstance?  Is it true that we are so divided by all the many allegiances of daily lives – social, political, economic,  even spiritual – that we’ve ignored the one allegiance that really matters?

I pray that we not allow this to happen!  The Rev. Wiley Stephens, a Methodist pastor and writer, says that the true challenge of the kingdom  is  “to let God be God… in you; to let God be God… in your church; to let God be God… in your neighborhood; to let God be God… in your job, in your family, and… in your world.”  For our lives to have true meaning and purpose; indeed, for our world to garner the love and peace that it so hungers for, we need to acknowledge just exactly who’s really in charge; who truly and wholly rules our lives!  We need to be asking ourselves what God wants us to do – with our days, with our lives, with our families, with our community, with our church, with our world – and we need to be listening to Jesus, who the Lord of our very lives, for the answers.  For it is in the power of his rule that we experience his kingdom in our midst.

Friends, this seems to me to be of particular importance now as we come to the close of this year’s celebration of Thanksgiving Day and run headlong into the Advent and Christmas seasons.  After all, what does this time of the year seek to bring to us if not an increased awareness of God’s abundance through the ages, a sense of his power and presence in this moment, and the declaration that God will also be with us in the future that has yet to unfold.  Holiday traditions and family gatherings make us nostalgic about past blessings, but, ideally they should also raise in us a great sense expectation of God’s loving activity in what’s to come.  Pontius Pilate, for all his power and prestige, could not begin to see that; even as God’s greatest activity, the gift of his Son and our Savior, stood helplessly before him, Pilate could he could not see the greater truth of God’s plan.

My prayer for all of us today in the busy season that’s unfolding before us is that we not miss that truth – God’s truth – and that in all the comings and goings of our lives, in and through the celebrations and the sorrows, today and in all of our tomorrows, we will recognize and affirm by our very lives that Christ rules over us and over all.

Rejoice, dear friends!  The Lord is King!

And for this and so much more, thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2017 in Jesus, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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