“RECONCILED THROUGH THE CROSS” (1)
November 26, 2017
Scripture: Colossians 1:11-20
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you [called us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Supremacy of Christ
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Today is Reign of Christ or, more traditionally, Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next week begins Advent, the Christian New Year’s Day.
Now, I’ve never given much emphasis to this Sunday’s title. For one thing, it almost always comes just before Thanksgiving, when Advent begins Thanksgiving weekend, unlike this year. So that Sunday becomes a sort of Harvest celebration. And furthermore, whether you look at it as the Reign of Christ or Christ the King, ignoring the history of the Sunday, isn’t Christ’s Kingdom what we celebrate all year?
But this year it seems different. We have a deep divide in our country; a deeper-than-usual divide that many anticipated around our Thanksgiving tables; and a deep divide among friends. But Paul writes, But this year it seems different. We have a deep divide in our country; a deeper-than-usual divide that many anticipated around our Thanksgiving tables; and a deep divide among friends. But Paul writes,
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Our human reconciliations are based on the divine reconciliation effected through the cross. Our reading today, which seeks to proclaim Christ is King, has in it the seeds for our social and personal reconciliation in this time of distrust, fear, and acrimony.
About a year ago we were reeling from a very contentious election, in which someone observed there were more than a donkey and an elephant in that election. We in the faith community needed to follow the Lamb. Our symbols of service and sacrifice needed to be foremost in our minds as we considered our vote, and they still need to be there now as we continue to be good citizens, good friends, and good family members. Because, at the end of the day, whatever party you belong to, whoever you vote for, you need to remember that Christ the King and the Lamb of God is who you put first. (2)
It may lessen our anxiety to be reminded that, no matter who or what party is in the White House, Christ is the King of all. And Paul encourages his brothers and sisters in Christ to hold fast to their traditions and be comforted and strengthened in heart by Christ who is the ultimate King, the ultimate president, the ultimate head of the church and head of our hearts.
There is a Gospel lesson, often paired with our reading, although usually associated with Good Friday, which gives us a hint at how to use Jesus’ model to begin reconciliation. We read these words:
Then [the thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” [And Jesus] replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Most commentators have said that both political parties failed to hear the electorate. And now many of us are continuing not to hear each other. Others have summed up the solution with, “It does not matter if we do not understand one another’s feelings. What matters is that we at least hear them.” (3)
Jesus didn’t ask the criminal what he had done, if he had repented, why he was asking. He simply heard his request. He listened. And he responded.
And Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, divine revelation, the living Word of God, responded to one of the least of these — one of the most despised, outcast, vulnerable members of society. He, himself, had joined that band, in solidarity with humankind, but with the most despised by the temple and government leadership — vulnerable and dying, but still giving words of forgiveness to his murderers and comfort to a stranger who asked.
So we are called, not only to extend patience and kindness to those we spend time with – members of our tribe – family, friends, co-workers – but also to the vulnerable who are cowering in fear at this time, because of the policies that have been initiated or are coming down the pike that may tip the scale of their fragility. That would include those who depend upon the American Disabilities Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; those same-sex couples who have recently married; women in poverty who seek reproductive health care; Latinos and blacks who fear the empowered white backlash and the rise of white nationalism; and, of course, the immigrants, documented or not, who pick our crops, groom our landscaping, and do our dirty work. We are called to treat every person with love, agape love, because each person is imprinted with God’s image.
I fell in love with John Calvin when I read a quote from him, somewhere long ago, that said there is nothing that can happen to a person to remove the image of God – and therefore the need to treat every person with Christ-like care.
That doesn’t mean you can’t argue, stating the truth in love with your Uncle Harry or Aunt Susan. But it does mean that we must care for even a bleeding, dirty criminal hanging from a tree in the same way we would treat your beloved grandmother. We must listen, listen, listen – to the frustration, disenfranchisement, and pain of our fellow citizens – through the compassion stirred by the suffering of the cross. Not only listen to those with whom we agree, but also those with whom we disagree. We must reach out to those we think of as “other” and redefine the radically excluded. For some that may mean the Muslim, gay, or immigrant. To others that may mean the gun advocate or climate-denier.
And mostly – we must listen to that little small voice, through scripture, through reflection, through group discernment. All of us. We all need the practice, remembering that “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Further, Jesus’ offer of forgiveness from the cross may be the model for those of us who, from a position of white privilege have some confessions to make and some repenting to do. There is a backlash from the soon-not-to-be-a-majority whites who feel their power being taken away, that was fueled by the rhetoric of President Trump’s campaign, but also seemingly ignored by the wealthy establishment Democrats and Republicans. A Latino Baptist leader calls us to a more humble, justice-oriented listening and repentance: “I will not hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ with white oppressors,” he states. “Instead I ask all who seek justice, especially whites willing to repent of the sin of white privilege, to join me in solidarity as I choose to sing a different song.” (4)
This is where the Christian cross needs to be transformative. The cross that represents Jesus’ sacrificial love, and solidarity with suffering humanity must erase the image of the KKK’s burning cross. We need it to stand for the invitational, confessional image of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” as we seek justice and the Reign of Christ here in this life. We are the ones to proclaim, to serve, to act in Christ-like ways of patient listening and also persistent truth-telling when any are oppressed — both those who feel disenfranchised and the marginalized and vulnerable populations.
Recently I heard on the radio the plight of a similar symbol which might illustrate how a sacred and positive symbol that has been used by Hindus and Buddhists for some 5000 years has been misappropriated and how its original meaning is now being re-asserted. The Hindu sathiyo is a symbol of good fortune and is used as a way of extending good wishes to visitors during the feast of Diwali. In 2016, Diwali occurred on October 30, so placing sathiyo stickers on doorways of Hindu American households created some generational disagreements. You see, the sathiyo is a swastika, a form of which was hijacked by Hitler as a symbol of German Nationalism and Aryann supremacy. Therefore, it would be subject to misinterpretation by Halloween visitors to homes bearing Diwali decorations the same weekend as Halloween in 2016. Grandparents who see this symbol only as a sign of peace from their childhood years ended up explaining their desire to help transform the negative view of the swastika to the younger generations in their households, but not everyone was in agreement! (5)
But reasoning isn’t often as effective as art, poetry, and story, in changing hardened hearts and minds. That’s why, I think, so many poems and prayers showed up on social media during the weeks preceding Diwali. I’d like to share some with you. Consider these little windows of transformation.
This one entitled grumbling – by the same person who wrote our Thanksgiving prayer today; he prefaces it with this quote from Luke 15, verse 2:
And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and say, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
as we are
about to dig into
the great feast,
you squeeze an extra
chair next to us, seating
tattered rough sleeper
we stepped over
after handing our car keys
to the valet.
(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman
Here’s a prayer from The Book of Common Prayer: “O Lord our God, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.” (This relates back to Hebrew scripture, “And in you, will all the families of the earth be blessed.”)
And here are two comments written right after the election last year, from two very different sources:
Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator, PCUSA:
“We pray for kindness among neighbors who disagree. We ask that our Muslim and immigrant neighbors be treated with respect.”
“I believe that God uses everything and God will use this election for good.”
“In the meantime, let’s all be gentle with each other. Some grieve and some celebrate. But all of us have a responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on CBS:
“Kiss a Democrat. Hug a Republican. Give a Libertarian a reach-around. I don’t care. The election is over. You survived. Good night. And may God Bless America.”
And a more serious version of that:
The late Rev. John Caster, PCUSA:
“May God bless America. Not because we deserve it, but because God is gracious beyond our imagination.”
And Christ is, after all, King over all.
© 2017 R.Lostetter
- Based on my original sermon of this title, given Nov. 20, 2016, at Mendon Presbyterian Church.
- Rev. Rebecca Crate, “The Cup of Unity,” sermon for Springfield Presbyterian Church, Nov. 6, 2016, http://media.wix.com/ugd/af8484_6492b9054cd343efbcf62fa567c9e7ac.pdf .