Christ the King Sunday
November 24th, 2019
Today’s readings are:
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Now, I want to do something different this morning for my sermon. Which hurts me a bit, because it’s the last day of Pentecost, which is Christ the King Sunday. This is the Sunday when it’s okay for the sermon to be about King Arthur and Lord of the Rings. It’s when we priests get to explain why we still talk about Christ as a king and about the kingdom of heaven when we live in a democracy. But I’m going to be talking about something else this morning. If you want the sermon about kings, ask me about it at coffee hour and I’ll be happy to tell you about Aragorn and why in order to be a king (a real king, and the only real king), Jesus needed to be born in the squalor of a stable and hang around with people who were quite far from royalty.
Instead of all that, though, I wanted to talk to you about one of my ministries here in Coquille. Some of you know that I am part of a Bible club here at Coquille High School. We meet each Wednesday during lunch time. It is a student-led group, but each year they invite local pastors to come in and talk to them about the Bible and what it means to live a Christian life. Right now, it’s me, the Four Square pastor Sam and his intern, and a Baptist pastor. Each day we have a verse and lead the students through discussing it. We also bring them pizza from Denny’s, and so we call the club “Jesus Pizza.” Each week we get about thirty or thirty-five students, which is pretty cool.
This past week, though, we did things differently. Last year, just before Thanksgiving, Sam and I came up with an idea based on the Eucharist: I’d bake one of those loafs of bread we sometimes use for Communion (you know, the ones with about a pound of sugar in them), we’d pass the loaf around the group and each take a piece, then say what we’re thankful for. It worked well last year, and this year, this past Wednesday, we did it again.
The students were really heart-felt about this. They gave some amazing answers. I won’t repeat them, because they’re the students’ stories, not mine, but I’ll tell you what I said. As a priest, I got to give a longer story, and I told them a time about, when I was in Japan, I almost died. I was out on a hike with a friend of mine named Salem. We were hiking up in the mountains behind where I lived. The hike followed a river, and there were a number of really beautiful waterfalls. Now, for one of these, the path climbed up right next to the falls. And we, brash youngsters that we were, challenged ourselves to some free-style climbing up the cliffside. I mean, what could go wrong?
Well, I looked down, and I freaked out. Terror caught me, and I couldn’t move. Below me was a drop of about forty feet into some jagged rocks, and it was all I could do to hold on. I called out to Salem in fear and told him I couldn’t continue. But he didn’t panic. He calmed me down as much as he could, then talked me through the rest of the climb. He was above me, and he even let me use his leg and his shoulder to grab onto. If I had fallen or slipped, he might have gone down with me. But he was calm, and he got me out of danger.
Now, I told the students this story, because it’s an example when I said “thank you” from the bottom of my heart. And, like I said, while I can’t tell you what the students said in class, many of them told short little stories, or gave thanks, from the bottom of their hearts as well. They opened up a bit, they shared a part of themselves, and for high school students, that can be really tough.
And that sort of openness, that sort of risk the students took in sharing a part of themselves with a random group of their peers and a few pastors from around town, comes a lot from their being good kids, but also, I think, from us pastors being there and working with them. It’s really good for us to be there with them. It’s good, partially, because the students can see that four disparate church leaders can come together and work with one another. There’s quite a bit of fighting in the Church, and it’s good for the students to see that some things are more important than disagreements.
It’s also good because we get to remind them of something very important: and that’s that life and love are the centers of reality. It’s something I preach to you all often, and it’s something that I preach to them whenever I get a chance. Growing up in this world is tough, and it seems that, whenever you look out your door or on the news, there’s some new tragedy of hatred or new reason to be afraid. That’s gotta be a scary thing to see when you’re preparing to enter the adult world.
But being there, we pastors can remind them that that fear, that hatred, that sorrow, and even depression (something one of the Four Square pastors talked about the other week), that those things aren’t the true things of this world, but that the world is founded, deep down, on love, on hope, and on life, because it’s founded on Jesus Christ. We can remind them that those times of healing in their lives, those times when they encounter life, or those times, even just those small moments, when hope seems stronger than any darkness, that those are the things to trust in, that those are the things to put their faith in. And that that life, that love, and that hope is not just some energy out in the world but God, who created the whole world and cares about the world enough to stick with us through our troubles, or waywardness, and even our own frustration. We can remind them that God loves them, and that that love is healing and bears a hope that can never be shaken. It is a good thing to say these things to you all each Sunday morning, and it’s good to tell these things to these students each week. I pray that the darkness is a little less dark for them, and the light shines brighter in their lives, after each time we all meet.
And I tell you this, well, one because it’s good for you all to know what I’m up to all week between Sundays, but also to say, “thank you.” You all support me in this ministry. Talking with you all and seeing the way this community supports and cares for one another, you give me hope. You help remind me that the beating heart of this world is the life of God and the love of Jesus Christ. And I take this love with me throughout the week, and I bring it to those students who are hungry for goodness and hope in a world so broken and dark.
So I want to say, in this week before Thanksgiving: thank you. Don’t stop loving. Don’t stop seeking out life and hope. Even if it’s a struggle, don’t stop. Because God is always there for you, hoping in you and loving you, forever.