Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday. The first Sunday of Advent comes in a few days. It is still November but Christmas music is playing loudly at my Starbuck’s office in the Ingle’s grocery store in Waynesville.
It is on mornings like this that I know that I belong to a different kind of kingdom. On Black Friday when much of the world was out setting new shopping records, I was at home reading a book about the missional church. I know that my kingdom is not of this world. On Cyber Monday, when PayPal’s servers went down because of the amount of traffic, I was working with some churches on how they might serve their community better. The kingdom I bear allegiance to is just different, period.
This week, the collect for each day in the BCP has been the one appointed for Christ the King Sunday. It has confirmed for me on a daily basis where my true allegiance lies:
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills;*
from where is my help to come?
2 My help comes from the LORD,*
the maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved*
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel*
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5 The LORD himself watches over you;*
the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day,*
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;*
it is he who shall keep you safe.
8 The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in,*
from this time forth for evermore.
This is one of the Psalms appointed for today in the Book of Common Prayer. It remains one of my favorite after years of reading scripture. It is one of the Psalms of Ascent, and it is one that you hear in funerals all over the mountains of Western North Carolina. These hills are known as holy places to generations of folks, and where better to look for help from the Creator than in the midst of these hills.
I am reminded that when I lift up my eyes and look at the whole vista, that I have better perspective than when i am looking down at my feet and seeing sluggish movement on a couple of feet of ground. There are times when the small details are important; but when in need of hel and hope, the big picture delivers.
Today, lift up your head, take a look around, and you will see that taking the long view delivers.
Edmund was born about 840, became King of East Anglia in about 855, and in 870 faced a horde of marauding Danes, who moved through the countryside, burning churches and slaughtering villages wholesale. On reaching East Anglia, their leaders confronted Edmund and offered him peace on condition that he would rule as their vassal and forbid the practice of the Christian faith. Edmund refused this last condition, fought, and was captured. He was ill-treated and killed. His burial place is the town of Bury St. Edmunds.
O God of ineffable mercy, who gave grace and fortitude to blessed Edmund the king to triumph over the enemy of his people by nobly dying for your Name: Bestow on us your servants the shield of faith, with which we can withstand the assaults of our ancient enemy; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today I turned 52. I have been around a long time to some. To others, I’m still a child. It was Mark Twain that said, “All men die at 27, we just bury them at 72.” I believe that I am more alive today than I have been in years. I have my reasons:
- I am happily married and living in a part of the world where I truly want to live.
- I am woking in a job that I enjoy and have some great colleagues that I call friends.
- I have learned over the past many years that happiness is not about the money, but more about the adventure.
- I believe that the life of faith is one full of risks and suffering, but both are worth the undertaking.
- I live in a country that continues to surprise me. I had my doubts about who would win this
election, and I still have my concerns that the next four years may get worse than better. But I have hope.
- I have hope because I don’t offer my full allegiance to any one human or human institution. My first allegiance belongs to another Kingdom, and my obedience to one Master. As difficult as that relationship can be at times, it is worth the undertaking.
One of my colleagues in ministry, who is also a friend, is now the United Methodist Bishop of Florida. He shared a prayer for the National Election in the past few weeks. Though it is written with the idea of an upcoming election, I believe it is just as poignant on the day after. It is my prayer for this day:
Almighty and gracious God:
It is a Monday morning and I am sitting at my “office” in a local bookstore. I have been in my new job for four months, and I am reflecting on questions and issues that I have been dealing with since July.
Flexibility of schedule– for most of the past 6 years I have worked in jobs, most of them with designated 8 to 5 hours, and some who expected work beyond 40 hours per week that included evenings and weekends. But there was a definite pattern, and there was an office space where I showed up most mornings between Monday and Friday. I realize that this kind of structure was good for me. It was good for my prayer life and helped me live a more disciplined life. Now that I have quite a bit of flexibility, I am more prone to waste time and I am not as consistent with my prayer life. It is one reason that I report to a corner booth at the bookstore whenever I can.
Preaching and worship– For the first half of 2012, I was preaching and leading worship every week at two churches along with my 8 to 5 job. Now, my preaching and worship leading averages about twice per month, and I have been in nearly a dozen different churches since July. It is important for me to continue use those gifts, but it is quite different to be in different churches each time with little knowledge of the congregation and their particular needs and growing edges. I am convinced that sermons and leadership in a congregation is meant to be specific and particular and cannot be done generally. I am also convinced that some of the most effective preaching and leadership that I have given to a congregation was after I learned how the rest of the world lived. A pastor who has never paid a mortgage or has known what it is like to work an 8 to 5 job, will never reach a congregation where the majority of folks have that experience.
The peculiarity of the Christian life– I have known this a long time, and I have been able to verbalize it on occasion, but I am not sure that I have written about it with any clarity. I will try today.
We, who are linked to Jesus by our baptisms and professions of faith are a peculiar bunch. We keep an odd calendar that includes sabbaths and celebrations that much of the world ignores. In my work I’ve encountered a statistic over and over again that says that about 75% of a populations claims that their faith is important to them, but only about 20% or less believe that it is important to attend worship. We know that in most communities, 25% or less of the population attends worship on a Sunday morning. So, those of us who gather for worship on a regular basis are peculiar.
We are also peculiar because most fo the things that Jesus preached and taught about fly in the face of our contemporary world. He spoke of caring for the needy; reaching out to the least, the last and the lost; welcoming strangers and those different from us; and a whole bunch of Gospel imperatives that just don’t match up with how the rest of the world seems to work. Jesus’ kingdom and values have always been upside down when compared to what our society deems as proper and powerful. The needy are called lazy among many of my friends, not a sign of Christ in the world. The least and last are not folks to associate with, and certainly not to be welcomed. Those who are strangers and different from us are often feared and segregated from the rest of society. Jesus tells us that if we are going to be his followers, we need to change our attitudes and behaviors, especially towards others. We don’t deal well with change.
Flannery O’Connor, a Southern, Roman Catholic author from the 20th century knew this about herself. After all, being a Catholic in the Bible Belt will make you different. She writes:
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
I’m convinced that those who will follow Jesus will be peculiar. And that’s not a bad thing.
Today is the Feast of All Saints on the liturgical calendar. My Wesleyan roots have taught me that Wesley especially loved this celebration. He writes in his Journal more on this feast day than he did for any other high, holy day. The communion of saints was an essential doctrine, and inspired him in his ministry. He wrote in his Journal on one such day:
“On this day in particular, I commonly find the truth of these words:
The Church triumphant in his love,
Their might joys we know;
They praise the Lamb in hymns above,
And we in hymns below.”
It was clear in his writings that he was conversant with the texts and prayers assigned for the day, and so, it is my practice to read the texts and the prayers that are designated in our day and time:
Collect for All Saints:
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
It is also my practice to remember those folks who made faith real for me. The grandfather I never met, but whose example was recounted for me for me by parents and aunts and uncles. My grandmother who awoke early every morning to read the Bible by lamplight in her rocking chair. My parents who encouraged me in my walk of faith, even when it made them uncomfortable. My college chaplain who opened my eyes to a broader faith than I had ever experienced at the time. My friend who continues to serve his congregation in Montgomery and who opened me to the African American church. Countless folks who have shown me what it means to live the Christian life in the midst of life’s struggles. Yes, I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Who are your saints?