Saturday, January 13, 2018

Epphany 2 Knowledge

Today’s Scripture readings have in common the theme of God’s knowledge. The God who made us loves us, and the God who made us knows us, knows us better than we know ourselves, better than anyone or anything else in all creation knows us.  Nathanael asked Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

In Jesus’ time and since “under the fig tree” had become a metaphor for bible study and prayer. In I Kings 4:25 during Solomon’s time “Israel and Judah dwelt in safety, every man under his vine and fig tree.” Micah 4:4 in God’s kingdom “they shall sit every man under his vine and his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” And Zechariah 3:9-10 “I the Lord of hosts will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. In that day every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and his fig tree.”  When Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree” everyone – except maybe us – knew that Jesus knew Nathanael in prayer and study.

We have the witness of the Collect for Purity. “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires know, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

God knew Eli the priest and priest sons Hophni and Phineas. Eli was a godly man but old and weak. I Samuel 2:12 says Hophni and Phineas “were worthless and had no regard for the Lord.” God knew Hannah’s sorrow at having no children, and God knew how her co-wife Peninnah provoked her for that reason. God heard Hannah’s vow to lend her son, if she had one, to the Lord’s service, and God sent her Samuel. Samuel grew up with Eli and Hophni and Phineas, but he did not know the Lord. But Eli did know the Lord, and Eli was an honest man. When Samuel reported the Lord’s judgment on Eli and his house, Eli accepted God’s judgment.

The Psalmist witnesses that the Lord who made us knows us, knows all of us from our conception. The Lord surrounds us and lays his hand on us. God knows each of us better than we know ourselves. Part of the joy of life is the joy of self-discovery, learning what we can do that we didn’t think we could do, learning how to experience and to share God’s love for us, learning also what we shouldn’t do and what we can’t do but must leave to others.

The church in Corinth had heard the good news that Jesus’ death and resurrection had set them free from sin and had lifted from them the burden of the ceremonial law of Moses. But this knowledge of freedom is not unlimited. Rather than the external law of the Torah, Christians take on the internal obligation of self-control. Paul commands the Corinthian Christians to shun prostitution.  He reminds them, and us, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we were freed from the need to sin only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, will give us knowledge of God’s truth, and the Holy Spirit, the spirit of power, will empower us to do the truth we are given to know.

John’s Gospel opens and closes with knowledge and with skepticism. When Philip tells Nathanael of Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanel’s skeptical response is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  City people in the Roman Empire looked down on country people and called them “pagans.” In Jesus’ time Nazareth was a country village about 4 miles southeast of Sepphoris, the major town of central Galilee. Sepphoris was excavated in the 1990’s by a team from Duke. But when Jesus shows his knowledge “I saw you under the fig tree,” Nathanael comes to faith, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  

The parallel account is at the end of John’s Gospel. Thomas was not present when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to the disciples. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later when Jesus said, “Put your finger here . . . reach out your hand . . . Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  

The God who made us loves us, and the God who made us knows us, knows us better than we know ourselves, better than anyone or anything else in all creation knows us.  So let us rejoice that God knows us, and loves us, and calls us to love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Epiphany 1 Baptism


The beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is the theme of the gospel readings on the Sundays after Epiphany, first his baptism and then the call of the apostles and Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. We break for Lent and Easter and resume after Trinity Sunday. This morning for the Creed we will reaffirm our Baptismal Covenant (page 292). The Covenant has 8 questions: 3 expect the answer “I believe” and 5 expect “I will, with God’s help.” The 3 “I believe” questions repeat the Apostles’ Creed. The 5 “I will with God’s help” questions ask: (1) Will you continue, (2) Will you persevere, (3) Will you proclaim, (4) Will you seek and serve, and (5) Will you strive?  To all 5 questions we answer “I will with God’s help.”

God has made  many covenants with God’s people – Genesis 9 the rainbow covenant with Noah and his descendants, Genesis 12-17 the covenant with Abraham and his descendants, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy the 10 Commandments covenant with Moses and Israel, 2 Samuel 7 the kingdom covenant with David. Jeremiah  31:30 tells of God’s promise of a new covenant. And Christians see the Lord’s Supper as the sign of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.  

Both the Prayer Book Catechism (pp 844-862) and Luther’s Shorter Catechism  (1160-1167 in ELW) teach about the Creed, the “I believe.” Today let’s look at the 5 questions to which the expected answer is, “I will with God’s help.”  

We all know from our experience with New Year’s resolutions that human will alone cannot accomplish many results. But God gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit first to know God’s Truth and second in the Power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s truth.

The first of the 5 “I will with God’s help” questions is about life in the church. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” Four interrelated parts of church life: teaching and learning, fellowship, holy communion, prayer. All four are important. We both are and are not solitary Christians. We are born alone but we are born into a family, into a biological family and into a church family, born into shared life and heritage. We will die alone, and by Christ’s resurrection we will be born again into a family “with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” So we pray with and for one another, we share in broken bread and wine, we share in chili and cornbread.

The first question is continue, the second is persevere. “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The temptation to give up is ever with us. Being a Christian takes courage. Owning up to our failures takes courage and humility. In the 12 Step programs people speak of “the great river of Egypt” Denial. Denial is easy; confession is hard – and healing. God gives us people who love us who help us know when we have done wrong, people who receive us with God’s love when we “repent and return to the Lord.” Jesus taught us in a prayer to say, “forgive us our sins or trespasses or debts as we forgive those who sin or trespass against  or owe us.”

Continue, persevere, proclaim. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”  “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” “God so loved the world,  that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” To St. Francis of Assisi is attributed, “Preach the gospel, when necessary use words.” There is no record he said that. The closest record is from the Franciscan Rule of 1221, Chapter 12, “All the Friars should preach by their deeds.” We need to be clear in our own minds what we are doing and for whom we are doing it, and why, and then be prepared to speak of God’s saving grace.

Continue, persevere, proclaim, seek and serve. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”  I’ve been told, “Jesus calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies, because frequently they are the same people.”  My mother used to say, “We are all examples to one another; some of us are good examples.” God made us all. It is easy to discount people; it is sometimes hard to recognize God’s love in other people, particularly when they are so wrong about so many things. But the love of God for us calls us to love one another, to love with his love.

Finally, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We can agree on the goal of justice and peace. We are free to differ in conscience on the means by which justice and peace are to be accomplished. We may well strive for different political candidates, but we are all called to respect the dignity of every human being. I read the Washington Post on line, and have become aware recently of some of the differences of opinion  inside the Beltway. It is easier to respect the dignity of some people than others, but our covenant is to respect the dignity of all. As a society we have made some progress, some progress in respecting the dignity of people who look different from us, progress in respecting the dignity of gay people. In the last few months our society has become more aware how common is sexual misbehavior and how common rare attitudes that do not respect women’s dignity. We have a way to go in respecting the dignity of every human being.

By ourselves, in our own strength, we cannot, but with God’s help we can. So let us thank God for his grace, God’s grace shown us in Jesus’ baptism, God’s grace poured out on us in our own baptisms, the grace of God’s Holy Spirit who strengthens us in prayer, in Bible study, and in this sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is shown forth in his baptism, in our baptisms, and in the body of all baptized people. God’s grace sustains us in this life and the life to come. Amen.   

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas 1 Nunc dimittis


Christmas 1 Dec. 31, 2017 Nunc dimittis

“Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying,”

In peace and joy I now depart as God is willing,
And faith fills all my mind and heart, calming, stilling,
God the Lord has promised me that death is but a slumber.

Christ Jesus makes the way for me, my gracious Savior,
With eyes of faith and trust I see God’s great favor.
When this life comes to an end my hope is God’s embracing.

The Lord is health and saving light for every nation,
Dispelling shadows of the night with salvation:
Israel’s praise and hope’s delight, my treasure, joy, and glory.

That’s hymn 440 in the red Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal. It is an English translation of Martin Luther’s German metrical version of the Simeon’s song of praise. Luther wrote both text and tune for the February 2, 1524 feast of the Purification. It was published in 1524 and included in a 1542 set of chants for funerals.

The traditional Prayer Book version has:  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,  and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Psalm 119 verse 164 says, “Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments.” The early church continued and adapted the customs of Jewish daily prayer. As an Augustinian monk Luther learned the medieval pattern of corporate prayer 7 times a day. Simeon’s canticle was sung at the Compline service just before bed.

Many parish churches were served by monks In those churches the 4 major services were combined into two - morning and evening. The  Magnificat from Vespers and  Nunc dimittis from Compline are sung in Evening Prayer. The Nunc dimittis is also part of the extensive concluding prayers of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. And when some Reformation northern German Lutherans began to chant the Nunc dimittis as a post-communion devotion it went viral.  The Nunc dimittis is a popular part of many Lutheran liturgies.  

We read that “Simeon was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” As children of Adam and Eve, we are not by nature either righteous or devout. But God works in and through us to fit us for his love and service in this world and the world to come. Thanks be to God who imputes his righteousness to us and who draws by his love and beauty into devotion to his love and beauty. 

Simeon looked for the consolation of Israel. The consolation of Israel has come in the birth of Jesus Christ. The sin of the world has been defeated on the cross. Jesus’ resurrection offers new life to all who will believe.

What do we look for today?  What do we hope for today? Many of us spent some time this Christmas with family. We look and hope for the continued blessing of our family relationships, for their good health and ours, for reasonable prosperity for all. As a Christian I look and hope for continued growth in God’s love and service, and for opportunities to show God’s love in service. As a citizen I look for fuller expression of the declaration of the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As we prepare for the new year, I invite you to consider, “What do I look for? What do I hope for?” Ask God to show you his particular will for your particular situation. And when God does show you what to look for and hope for, then ask for the truth and power of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will in your life and in our community.  

Simeon prayed, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” We will all eventually depart this life. God grant we also may depart in peace, trusting in God’s word Jesus.

Simeon concluded, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” The God who made us loves us; he so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Whosover – all people, rich and poor, English speakers and Spanish speakers, whosoever. May God give us grace and opportunity to share the good news of the gospel this day and this year.

This morning in Holy Communion we see the salvation secured to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, as we obey his command to “do this in remembrance of me.”  

So with Simeon and Christians in every age since,

In peace and joy I now depart as God is willing,
And faith fills all my mind and heart, calming, stilling,
God the Lord has promised me that death is but a slumber.

 Christ Jesus makes the way for me, my gracious Savior,
With eyes of faith and trust I see God’s great favor.
When this life comes to an end my hope is God’s embracing.
 
The Lord is health and saving light for every nation,
Dispelling shadows of the night with salvation:
Israel’s praise and hope’s delight, my treasure, joy, and glory.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Know Jesus


Advent 3 B 17

John said, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me . . .”

On December 8, 1941 Japan invaded the Philippines. After the fall of Corregidor  May 2, 1942 they interned more than 3,000 civilians, Americans, British, and others in classroom buildings at the University of St. Thomas in Manilla. Interning foreign nationals is common in war time. Some Germans spent parts of 1917 and 1918 at Hot Springs, NC. From 1942-45 the United States interned more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, even though 62% of them were American citizens. Canada interned about 21,000 people, 2/3 of whom had been born in Canada. We have a friend at Deerfield who was interned as a young child.

I tell you all this to introduce an internment Christmas story I once heard.  Over the bed an internee had hung a crucifix and on a table below had made a crèche with sticks and scraps of cloth. A Japanese guard pointed questioningly at the figure of the child in the manger and was told, “Jesus.” Then the guard pointed at the crucifix and was told, “Jesus.” He put his hands together, bowed, and said, “So sorry!”    

This same Jesus whose birth we remember at Christmas is our crucified and risen Lord, our crucified and risen Lord whom we love and serve. We love him, we serve him, but do we know him?  In St. John’s gospel we read how John the Baptist, as he was questioned by the Jewish authorities, spoke to the crowd, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me . . .”

Do we know Jesus?  Is it as true for us as it was for those who heard John the Baptist, that Jesus is “one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me . . .”   Bishop Tim Smith of the NC Synod wrote this year in an Advent meditation, “A simple philosophical exercise: “Who am I?” Immediately we must ask, in order to answer that, “Who tells me who I am?” The answer to that second question is everybody, from parents to teachers to pastors to politicians to advertisers and more.” 

We know a lot about Jesus, the babe in the manger, the crucified and risen Lord, the itinerant preacher whose teachings reveal God to us. Jesus wants us to know him. He stands at the doors of our life waiting for our invitation to come in. When we open the door of faith he does come in and makes himself known.  So in the quiet times I encourage you to get to know Jesus as Jesus makes himself known to you.

As you get to know him, be alert to Jesus as John spoke of him, “one among you whom you do not know.”  First semester in seminary we were assigned Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer was born in 1875, a Lutheran pastor’s son from Alsace, a gifted organist interpreter and biographer of Johan Sebastian Bach. He was a theologian, ordained, and later served as a medical missionary in west Africa In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He died at his hospital in Gabon, west Africa, in 1965.

 The  Quest of the Historical Jesus examines all the 19th century biographies of Jesus and shows how much the Jesus they portray looks like the  biographer. Then Schweitzer wrote a biography that looks like Schweitzer. Every biography of Jesus since tells us much about the writer.

We want to believe in a Jesus who is like us. But Jesus calls us to be like him.

As you get to know Jesus in your prayers and meditations and Bible study be alert to the strangeness of Jesus, be alert to the ways he is different, be alert to the ways Jesus calls us out of spiritual comfort into new life.

John said, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me . . .”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hope and Isaiah


Advent 2B 2017 Newland

          We are called to be people of hope, people who trust in the love and mercy of God, in all our life, in this world and the world to come.

          The Book of the Prophet Isaiah has 66 chapters. The first 39 chapters tell of the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. Then Jerusalem was captured, the Temple destroyed, and the leaders of the people taken into exile in Babylon 586 years before Christ. Two generations later Babylon fell to the Persians, who allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. Gradually they did so and the last 27 chapters of Isaiah tell God’s word to the returning exiles.

          The Jews who returned had heard from their parents and grandparents of the land of milk and honey, the beauty of the Temple, the joy of living in Judah. Our children and grandchildren occasionally ask us about the past, and we all tend to describe the good parts. Going back to places where we lived as children is always a shock. The houses and the rooms are much smaller than we remember them. So we can imagine some of the returning exiles’ reactions, particularly from the reluctant spouses. “What have you gotten us into? This is not like grandmother described it. This “homecoming” idea is a big mistake. We’re being punished like our grandparents were. We should have stayed in Babylon.”  They forgot that their ancestors in the desert said the same things about Egypt.

          To this dispirited group, the word of the Lord comes by Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.”

          The penalty has been paid. By his death on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world, and for our sins, our individual sins and the sins that come because we live in a world filled with sin and evil and pain and injustice and hopelessness.  We can live in hope because on Easter Day Jesus rose from the dead. Because he lives, we live, and we live in hope. The Holy Spirit of God came at Pentecost to in-spirit us in God’s hope.

          The exiles had followed the route our father Abraham had taken. From southern Iraq they went up the river across Syria and then down the valleys past the Sea of Galilee and down the mountain road to Jerusalem. It took several months on a rough road. The returning exiles knew first-hand about the wilderness and the desert, the valleys and the mountains, the uneven ground and the rough places.  They understood the call of the Lord, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The exiles understood the call to hope.

          We all know about physical, emotional, and spiritual valleys and mountains, uneven ground and rough places. And we know how the Lord has brought us through them into the place where we are now. For some of us it was easier than for others, but we’re in this together, to help each other, to hope together.

          Deciding to leave the familiar in Babylon to return to Judea was not easy. Families were divided. Some left; others stayed. During the 500 years of Europe’s Dark Ages Babylon was the center of Jewish learning, and Jews were only forced out after the founding of Israel in 1948. The returning exiles knew from experience about the pain of broken personal relationships.

          We know about pain and loss and the loneliness that invites us to lose hope. We know how “people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades . . . surely the people are grass.”

To the exiles, and to us, Isaiah comes with a word of hope, the word of the Lord. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” Our hope is in God’s promise. We are called to take the long view, the view from the mountain top, to trust in the love and power of God who “comes with might,” feeds “his flock like a shepherd,” who gathers us his precious lambs in his arms, and carries us next to his heart, and gently leads.

          St. Peter reminds us that we live in God’s time, and encourages us to patience. “With the  Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

          John the Baptist called the people of Jesus time to repentance, and John continues to call us to repentance. We are exiles in a sin-filled world who are on the road – the sometimes rough road – to God’s kingdom. We are sinners saved by God’s grace in Jesus. And while we are on the road we are called to hope, to hope for our final redemption, to look in hope for God at work in the world and in us.

          December can be a dark month, a time of despair and loss and pain and hopelessness.  But Advent is a time of hope, hope in Jesus’ final triumph, hope in our redemption, hope both in the last day and hope every day. In the busy days let us hope for the guiding of God’s Holy Spirit. In the sad moments let us look in hope for God’s love and power. In the happy times let us hope for the fullness of God’s love and joy in our lives, in the lives of those we love and those we have trouble loving, and in those whom we do not know with whom we share life in the world redeemed by Jesus death and resurrection. Amen.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Big end? Advent 1


Advent 1B 12/3/17

Religion and science agree that the world as we know it will end. According to the NASA website: the universe began with the big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Our sun came together 4.5 billion years ago and will become a red giant in about 5 billion years. But the earth will become too hot for life in just one billion years.

The first signs of human beings are found in Africa about 200,000 years ago and in Europe and Asia about 60,000 years ago. Historical records begin 6000 years ago.

Predictions of the end of the world have been frequent – and continue. Atomic war is a current fear. Europe, Asia, and much of North America lie within the range of North Korean missiles and atomic bombs. Other human caused dangers include global warming, overpopulation and world famine, and (according to Wikipedia and in alphabetical order) artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cyberattack, environmental disaster, and mineral resource exhaustion

Natural dangers not man made include asteroid impact, extraterrestrial invasion, natural climate change, cosmic threats (including Mercury’s orbit becoming so unstable so the planet crashes into the earth or gamma ray bursts or a solar flare), geomagnetic reversal, a global pandemic caused by naturally arising pathogens, a mega-tsunami, and volcanism. A current volcanic explosion in Bali is expected this winter to lower the world’s temperature by one degree.

Fears of future disaster based in science and in Scripture have in common very vague future dates and probabilities.  Today’s reading from Isaiah was probably written down about 500 years before Christ, after the leaders of the people had returned from their two generation exile in Babylon after the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 586. That destruction was as much a reality to the people who heard the prophecy as say the Depression is to us. The Depression and World War II were life changing events in our parents’ lives. For us they are past events we don’t want to repeat.    

Jesus’ teaching about the end times is also found in St. Mathew 24 and St. Luke 21. It was part of the teaching of the early church. For almost 300 years church members were persecuted for their belief. For long periods of time Christians lived lives of peace among their pagan neighbors, but then without much warning a small conflict might bring out the mob and death and destruction would follow. It was roughly like the situation of the Muslim Rohinga in Burma, or the former conflict in Bosnia, or the situation of Christians in Pakistan or some other Muslim majority countries – social pressure, with some occasional but usually short-lived government persecution  We join in prayer for these and for other persecuted and abused peoples.

When we are under attack we look for redemption.  And God in his grace and love offers us redemption, his love and support. The memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem is in the midst of a grove of trees each one given to remember one of the righteous who helped save Jews from Nazi murderers. 

When we are under attack by the temptation to sin, we remember God’s grace in Jesus Christ. When we are tempted to despair, God gives us hope, the hope of new life in Jesus.

So this Advent season, let us be aware that the end is coming – the end of the world as we know it, the end of our lives on this earth – and let us be prepared and watchful.

We watch 4 Sundays for Christmas. We watch and wait as St. Paul reminded the church in Corinth, “not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Christ the King


Christ the King November 26, 2017

On December 11, 1925 Pope Pius 11th ordered the last Sunday in October be kept as a feast of Christ the King. He acted in response to the political situation in Italy and throughout the world.  In 1969 the observance of Christ the King was moved to the Sunday before Advent.

The Russian Communist revolution of November, 1917, and the wars that followed it terrorized the world. Many countries chose hyper-nationalist governments that repressed all forms of dissent. In the United States Attorney General Mitchell Palmer led a federal government attack on labor unions, and there were race riots, and new restrictions on immigration.  

In Italy on October 28, 1922 Benito Mussolini’s Fascists seized control of the government. In June, 1924, the Fascists kidnapped and murdered Giacomo Matteotti, an opposition member of the Italian parliament. In Germany Adolf Hitler organized a Fascist private army, and in November 1923 Hitler tried to overthrow the government of Bavaria. He was sent to prison where he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which was published in early 1925.

. The Fascists were political gangsters, determined to maintain order at the expense of justice, Fascism promised social order and opposed Communist social revolution. Both Fascism and Communism were totalitarian ideologies, incompatible with Christian faith.

          Celebrating the feast of Christ the King is a political act. Christians proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” Because Jesus is Lord the early church refused to burn incense to the Roman Emperor as a god and bore the consequence of martyrdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, joined the plot to kill Hitler. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador opposed the civil war in that country and was machine-gunned at the altar. The Rev. Emmanuel Allah Ditta, a priest of the Church of Pakistan, 14 parishioners and the Muslim guard were murdered when a gunman broke in at the end of the church service and opened fire with an automatic rifle. In Iran, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been imprisoned for serving as a Christian pastor. The Iranian courts say, “Once a Muslim, always a Muslim;” Pastor Nadarkhani says, “Jesus is Lord.”

          We are blessed to live in a country where the power of government comes from the votes of the people, not from the barrel of a gun. The use of military power in the United States is cotrolled by the civil government. The stars and stripes represent “one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty is not absolute. Human justice at best only approximates God’s perfect justice. But Christ our King calls us to pray today to the “God of power and might” from whom “we inherit the riches of his grace” for “the wisdom to know what is right and the strength to serve.”  With God’s wisdom and strength we have made as a nation some progress toward the Pledge of Allegiance’s promise of, “liberty and justice for all,” but we still have some way to go in ordering our common life for our common good.

          Our churches historically support the good work of government. Luther was supported by the Elector of Saxony. Luther used his time in protective custody to translate the New Testament into German. The separate identity of the Church of England began in popular and government opposition to what was seen as unjust and tyrannical rule from Rome. At the American Revolution some in the Church of England and in the Lutheran churches in America supported royal authority, while others were Patriots. One Patriot was Peter Muhlenberg, a son of Pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the apostle of American Lutheranism. His great nephew reported that Peter was serving as pastor in Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley, in a Church of England parish, on January 21, 1776, preached from Ecclesiastes chapter 3, “To every thing there is a season . . . a time for war and a time for peace” and that day enlisted 162 men from the congregation in the 8th Virginia Regiment of the Continental army. Peter later became a major general and after the war returned to Pennsylvania where he served in the first, 3rd and 5th sessions of Congress.   

          Our Christian call is to engage in the life of the community. Jesus is Lord; Christ is King, and we demonstrate that Lordship and that Kingship in our own lives, in the lives of our families, our work places, and our common political life.

          We will all face the final judgment of God. Today’s readings from Ezekiel and St. Matthew’s Gospel tell of God’s final judgment. God’s judgment is real; God’s judgment is final, and God’s judgment is finally just and true.

       We all stand condemned. We have not, as individuals, as church, as nation, adequately fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, nor visited the prisoners. We’ve all done some of these, but as individuals and as a nation we have not loved God with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done,” and there is no spiritual health in us.

       But the good news, the good news of our salvation is that Jesus our Lord, Christ our King, was content to die for us, to die to set us free from sin. For us and from all who will claim his sacrifice he bears the penalty of our sins and his judgment. By his resurrection he gives us day by day a new opportunity to love and serve him.

       On this Feast of Christ the King, a feast established in the conflict of Christian faith and totalitarian values, let us by his grace recommit ourselves to love and serve Jesus, our Lord and our King, this day and every day that is given to us. Amen.