Sermon – November 23, 2003 – Christ the King

I have noticed that the fact of American casualties, people killed in
the war, are lately being relegated to maybe the 3rd story of our
broadcasts, or maybe page two of the paper, or at least below the fold.
That signals to me that we might be getting used to it. That it might be
less shocking to us. And then there are bombs in Turkey, and Israel .
the running tabloid stories that feed the likes of Fox news, . . .
Michael Jackson, Laci Peterson, . . all of these laced through with the
common heartbreak and tragedies of our existence. . . murder, accidents,
hunger, disease . . . all carefully tabulated and accounted for in our
public forum to the point where we an hardly absorb them . . can
hardly find time to be outraged . . .. and this does not mention the trials
of our private lives.

British theologian named David Ford says ours is the “age of
overwhelmedness”. That there is so much information, so much carefully
accounting of tragedy, so much public processing of the day’s events that we
are simply a world overwhelmed by it all.

And we become numb. We see that manifested in a variety of ways:
voter participation is pathetic; the level of tolerance we have developed
for raw violence, the games we play and let our children play, the
movies we see and let our children see–the disrespect at best and
destruction at worst of others in our entertainment venues, from all star
wrestling to –all stark evidence of our numbness; war as gamesmanship,
once removed from reality.

How do we respond as the church in such times? Well, first, we don’t
cop out, saying ours is the worst of times and throw up our hands and do
nothing. Martin Franzmann was a recent hymn writer, professor of
New Testament, and sometime poet, who writes in “To be Rid of Some
Current and Popular Illusions,”
Rid us, O Lord,
of the arrogant delusion
that our age is
harder to live in,
harder to live through
and be decent in
than any age
that ever was,
that we are being tried
as our fathers never were,
that we have more excuse
for our neurotic screaming,
our pitiful muddling,
our eroded standards,
our sentimenal slobbering,
our pinching terror
at the shadows of the future
cast upon our way
than any men who ever walked
beneath Your heaven
and on Your earth.
Teach us, O Lord,
by Your sane and steadying Word
that we stand before You
as we always stood,
living of Your grace
and moving toward Your judgment,
that the Bomb
and the terrible technological trifles
of our time
have not altered
the great
plain,
steady fact
that You are Lord
and have not changed
the blessed time
of Your coming
as a thief in the night.

How does the church respond in such times. We proclaim, we revisit, we
remind that God will prevail. That the goodness of God has been set
loose on the earth and that we have been called into that stream of
purpose. It does no good to stand and moralize about such things – – that
just gives us a personal head of indignation. Instead we are called
to proclaim there is one who leads another way, whose kingdom is not of
this world, who rules over a reign of love. The book of Revelation,
we heard from this morning, was written in the midst of troubled times,
. . . John writing to the little churches of Asia Minor, faced with
persecution by the vast Roman Empire, feeling overwhelmed.

And John responds to these churches proclaiming the power of God over
tragedy, the power of the gospel over the political and worldly powers
of the day.

The book of Revelation is full of these acclamations, these shouts of
praise, these claims that God will triumph over tragedy and darkness.
These are calls to victory of good over evil. Much of the book of
Revelation in this context is thought to be ancient hymns of the church,
voices of common faith, shared and integrated into the community and
into scripture, sung to God in hope and in community and in proclamation
of his power.. “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,
says the Lord God who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
That is poetry, hymnody, proclaiming God’s never failing presence.
This is confession of God’s primacy . . and a call to those who would
follow.

And these are sweeping claims. Sometimes we think that Christianity
and faith is a solely personal thing. No, it is a public, even cosmic
thing. That is, in fact, Jesus’ claim before Pilate this morning . . .
that his kingship is not ‘of this world’, but of our hearts and souls,
a kingship for all who believe with its own ramifications, rules and
promises and call. This is the king who proclaims his reign of love
whose grace seeks to enter every quarter. And to that John is singing.

And it is no small thing. We gather here to be renewed and empowered,
praying and singing our hopes, putting before God our fears and
concerns, calling for his presence that we might continue to be the vectors of
his love and hope. I saw a movie a while ago called, “I Dreamed of
Africa.” Not a great movie, but OK. In one scene, two women and a boy
are out on a road near their ranch in Kenya, and their car gets stuck
at dusk a few miles from home. And as these two women and child walked
toward home in the gathering dusk, they sang Christmas carols. Songs
of hope of Christ’s coming. . . his presence. They arrived safely.
In the morning they discovered the tracks of a pair of lions that had
almost overtaken them before they reached their destination . . . as
they walked in the gathering dark . . . singing their prayers.

This is the affirmation of God’s grace sung in fear on a dark and dusty
road, or among fledging churches or here in this place. Our hymns
were most often borne in difficulty. William Willimon, Dean of the
chapel at Duke University, points out that the Wesley brothers lived in a
time in England in the 18th century that was horrible, in the wake of
the industrial revolution, child labor, social dislocation, unemployment.
. . out of this time came “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” or “Love
Divine, All Loves Excelling” and dozens more. “Amazing Grace” was written
by a repentant former slave trader, who so burdened with guilt found
forgiveness in Christ and wrote this hymn in response . . and on and on.
Our hymns are our affirmations of God’s constancy and presence, one of
the ways we pray and gird ourselves to live in such times, to give us
courage and strength to face the present day, to renew in our hearts
God’s claim of triumph and grace, gives us strength to go on in !
an age of overwhelmedness.

What does the church do in times like this? We remember that we each
have something to do on account of our relationship with God and that
it matters. We are reminded that God isn’t some distant deity, uncaring
and powerless, but is the one who acts and has acted in our lives and
the life of the world. A God that not only acts, but cares. . . for
the world and has the power to heal the world’s brokeness . . . and
ours. . . . Because we believe that, that’s why, in times like these, we
sing.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2003 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus