November 22, 2015

What's in a Title

Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”[1]
On a day in which we celebrate Christ the King, it seems most appropriate to ask: What’s in a name, or rather, what’s in a title? We call Jesus by many titles: Christ. Messiah. Savior. Lord. Friend. Teacher. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Nathaniel calls him “King of Israel,” even though Jesus seems rather unimpressed by this declaration. Titles, like boarders, are a very human creation. Yet we continue to put these attributes on Jesus.
The observance of “Christ the King Sunday” is a very modern development, especially for a nearly 2,000 year old faith. Pope Pious XI, in 1925, made the last Sunday of October a feast “in celebration of the all-embracing authority of Christ, which shall lead all humankind to seek the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” The feast was moved to the Sunday before Advent 1 in 1970 and is now observed by numerous Protestant traditions such as ours.[2]
“Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anoint” or “Anointed.” When used with Jesus or prophesies about him, it was understood as “one anointed by God.”

King George II of England, whose gift of a silver communion set is still in use at Christ Church.

And King…. Well… we know of countries that have kings (or queens). Maybe some of us have even lived in those countries where the monarch’s likeness is on the currency. But here in the U.S. of A, well, many of our forbears fought hard to free us from a king, a king whose father made a very generous gift to this very parish. Shortly after George Washington was elected in April 1789, the Congress of the United States was tossing around titles like “Chief Magistrate” and “His Highness” and (my personal favorite) “Protector of the Liberties of the People of the United States of America.” They even tossed around the idea of King, even though he was elected for a finite period. But the House of Representatives didn’t want George Washington or any of his successors to let the power of the position go to their head.
So the House proposed a title of their own. “President.” You see, in 1789, it was about the most humble, meager, limited title they could think of. It meant someone who presided over a meeting, an overseer. Think about a jury fore-person. The Senate thought this was ridiculous. They wanted the person in that office to have the respect of other world leaders. Our infant nation would be mocked for having a head of state with the title of “President.” But in order to make peace and move forward, the Senate let the House have their way, though they registered their discontent with House. Over the next 230+ years, nearly 150 other countries followed in our footsteps and titled their head of state “President.” In the end, the Senate won because the titled has garnered the respect they wanted it to garner.[3]
I tell you that story because it illustrates an important point: Reality changes words. Words rarely change reality. The world in 1925, especially Eurpoe, was hardly at peace, even though the Great War had been over for 7 years. In January 1925, the Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini, put an end to free elections and became dictator. In 1925, Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf. Pious XI knew that faithful Christians needed something larger to look at than the leaders of their day. Pious knew that Jesus had the chance to claim leadership and power on Earth and turned it down. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said to Pilate. Like so many, Pilate didn’t know who or what was in front of him. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus continued. “What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Jesus before Pilate
The reality of Jesus’ mission, ministry, and teachings changed what it means to have a king, and be a part of a kingdom.
The truth is that we are still struggling to understand what the Kingdom of God looks like. We struggle to see Jesus, the King of that Kingdom, in our midst.
The truth is that we don’t really know what to do with a King. It doesn’t fit very well with the American narrative of Liberty and Freedom. Most of us are fine to declare Jesus as Lord and Savior, but when it comes to unfettered, unwaivering following of him to a point where we might be uncomfortable, well, that’s another story. Sometimes we are called out of that comfort zone and are resustant to go. Other times, we find we have been out of that zone for a while and we want to go back where it is safe and easy.
Yet, if we are to be subjects of Christ the King and follow and trust him, sometimes (many times!) we will be called out of our comfort zone because Jesus calls us to be IN the world but not OF the world. And part of being IN but not OF the world means tuning out the fear mongering that comes from those who get air time.
If we are willing to call Christ our King, then we are declaring ourselves part of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that knows no boundries, no nationalities, no language, and no skin color. A kingdom whose currency is love and whose motto is “God Loves you. No exceptions.”
We have choices to make:
n  To live as if the Kingdom of God is now and not in the future.
n  To live with compassion, not merely for self-preservation.
n  To live by faith and not by fear.

If we live a life with Christ as our king, the reality of the Kingdom of God will change the world.

[1] Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2
[2] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005
[3] http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_forsyth_what_s_a_snollygoster_a_short_lesson_in_political_speak

November 8, 2015

God's Unexpected Route

“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.” – Psalm 172:1
            For 300 years, the Lord has been building a house, here at the corner of Pollock & Middle Streets in downtown New Bern. I am certain that there were times when the labor of the people working with God was in vain because they put their own needs or desires ahead of what God actually wanted this place to be and who God wanted this church to be for this community and for the world. But if their labor had been too much in vain, we would not be here, having an Annual Meeting in the midst of our 300th Year. For a nation that is only 239 years old, a community of faithful worshipers gathering for 300 years is not too shabby, it it!?
            As I prayed about what to say today, both looking at our Scripture and knowing it was our Annual Meeting, I had running through my head parts of the sermon Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached last Sunday at his installation. He has been talking for a while, since before his election this summer, about a Jesus Movement to help bring reconciliation and justice to our world, calling on Christians and non-Christians alike to look at the teachings of Jesus for how we can turn the world upside down, which is to really turn it right side up. He cited Jesus’ interaction with the young lawyer who asked him which was the greatest law, to which Jesus replied, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 27:37-40) Bishop Curry continued:
This is really a stunning declaration. On these two—love of God and love of your neighbor—hang, hinge, depend ALL the law and the prophets.
Everything Moses taught.
Everything the prophets thundered forth about justice.
Everything in the Bible.
True religion.
It’s about love of God and the neighbor.
If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.[1]

The other piece that has stuck with me, and you’ll have to watch the video because it wasn’t in the transcript that was made available, he said part of the Jesus Movement is to look at the world ask what is possible, not merely to be content with the way things are. In order for us to help see this Jesus Movement bear fruit here in New Bern and beyond, we have to explore what can be, and not bask or bemoan what is. As your rector, I don’t want this church (or any church for that matter) to “get by” or to “survive.” I want Christ Church, New Bern, to THRIVE, to BE BOLD in proclaiming this Jesus Movement. In order to do that, we can’t simply look to the way it’s always been done. Gone are the days when the church can open the doors and expect people to flow in. We have to identify ways to take Jesus to people who need to hear that message of an unwavering, unfiltered, holy love. Strategy sessions and hand wringing won’t always do the trick either. We may end up stumbling upon the best ways, and we may fail a few times as well. But if we trust in God to lead us, we know our labors will not be in vain. We will find success even in what we think may be a failure. God has ways of working things out in ways we cannot begin to imagine. That’s why God is God, and we are not.
The story of Ruth & Naomi & Boaz that we heard in our Old Testament lesson this morning is a great example of how God can and often does go outside the “norm” or “expected” to accomplish the Holy things that God wants to happen. Naomi is a Jewish woman married to a Jewish man with two Jewish sons. They move to an area lacking Jewish brides, so the two sons take Moabite wives and before they can have children, the sons die, as does Naomi’s husband. Now, tradition would hold that Naomi would go back to her people the greater Bethlehem area and her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, would go back to their people. But Ruth says, “No, I’m going to go with you, wherever that may be.” There’s this statute in the laws of Moses called the Law of the Kinsman Redeemer. It basically says that if a man dies and he and his wife are childless, it’s up to one of that man’s kin, be it a brother or cousin, to have children with the other man’s wife so that his name will live on. Ruth meets Boaz while they are gleaning from the fields, and Naomi figures out that Boaz is related to her husband and sons and therefore could be great “match” if you will for Ruth. (Scripture doesn’t say if Boaz had other wives, but Ruth was likely not his one-and-only.) Boaz takes Ruth for a wife and they have a son, Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, the Psalmist and the King.
God deviated from the expected route to fulfill the Divine Plan. Obed’s mother, Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother, was a Moabite, someone who was not supposed to be in the lineage of an Israelite King. God broke from the “norm” when setting up a path to Jesus. Sometimes it makes us uncomfortable or warry when God does what is unexpected, but I am convinced that that is how God keeps us on our toes and paying attention. Who would have expected God to choose a wondering, sometimes ornery people to make a great Nation? Yet, God chose the Jews. Who would have expected God to choose a non-Jewish woman to carry on the linage that would bring forth another unexpected choice for a King of Israel? Who would have expected God to choose a small, out of the way place like Nazareth to be the hometown of the Messiah? And even though in our Anglican history, we have had plenty of amazing and prophetic preachers, who would have expected God to choose one from our current time to be the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church?
The question is: What are we (you, me, Christ Church) doing to make a path to Jesus for those who need to hear the message? Whether the path is expected or unexpected, whether the path is as a flat and straight as a coastal highway or as hilly and curvy as a mountain pass, what are we doing to follow that path and walk with others along way that leads to Jesus?  
I believe that we are continuing to find ways to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in the word.   I believe that in the years to come, the ways in which God is moving and leading us will become clearer and clearer. Our prayer should be that our eyes and hearts will be open to see God’s hand at work in the world about us.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.”