Sermon of the Week
A Kirk with Purpose: Peace and Justice
Keywords: Winter Storm Bruce, Christ the King, God’s Shalom, Peace and Justice, Purpose Statement, a Kirk with Purpose.
Preparing for worship today,
it felt like there were more unknowns than most times we get together.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving is always a question mark,
particularly if it’s not advent yet.
Advent is the start of the Christian Calendar.
It’s like New Year’s Day, with excitement and wonder at starting afresh.
The greens go up.
We might help put crimsons on the tree.
The theme of the season helps orient us every year
to anticipation, to waiting, to hope
as we begin our walk towards the manger.
I love the start of Advent, and
sometimes that does happen the Sunday after Thanksgiving
But not this year.
And so preachers all over wonder if the tryptophan in the holiday turkey and leftovers
might impact Sunday attendance.
Ok, fair enough.
But add to that the blizzard warning for winter storm Bruce,
(did you know that they named winter storms these days?),
and any storm with a name is bound to give people pause.
And rightly so,
since our rule is always “be safe.”
But I’m here, and you’re here
and so God is here, in the midst of us
on this last day of the Christian year:
The Reign of Christ the King Sunday.
So this might be a good time for me to briefly tell a story
that I can’t remember if I’ve told you before
so forgive me if I have, but I think it’s appropriate, and apropos:
The story is about a guest preacher at a small church in the countryside
and it’s a holiday, like Memorial Day weekend
and so many of the regulars aren’t there.
They’re visiting the big city to see family and take in a Barbeque.
So this preacher is there for 30 people instead of the typical 60 or so.
But the preacher, who knew all of this,
didn’t want to shortchange the good folk
who’d make the effort to get up, put on their Sunday shoes and hats
and make their way to the church, in some instances
fifteen or twenty minutes from their family farmsteads, you know.
So he put a little EXTRA into that sermon.
The illustration was particularly funny and winsome.
The three points were particularly on point.
He added a fourth, just to be sure.
It was linear and understandable and comprehensive.
Who knew a sermon could be like that, right?
And so he got there and he helped the congregation
proceed through its typical order of worship:
Call to Worship;
Prayer of Confession;
Hymn, Scripture, and time to preach.
And preach he did.
A bit longer than normal for him, maybe 25 minutes.
The service ended and he gave the blessing and went to the front door
to greet the congregation as they left.
They said all the typical kind things to him.
Towards the end, he shook the hand of a farmer
who thanked him for being there and leading them in worship
and then the farmer said to him,
You know, pastor,
just one thing, though.
When I’m only feeding a couple of the cows
I don’t make them eat ALL the food in the trough.
Ok, fair enough. I’ve been warned.
Consider this more of a meditation then,
to try to beat the looming snowstorm.
But we do have a few things to dig into this morning.
We’re finishing our Stewardship season today
celebrating another year of ministry at The Kirk,
and looking ahead to our future.
For a church where we put God at the center of what we do, because of Jesus,
Christ the King Sunday is a great day for us to dedicate
our annual stewardship pledges.
If we surround ourselves with those holy people in our lives,
that help us experience God,
and if we are inspired by the opportunity
to take part in this wonderful church
and its ministry of hope and love and welcome,
a church that is community minded, loving and serving,
a church that is warm hearted, even in the middle of a winter storm,
then we are willing to put our gifts of time and money and energy there as well.
Today’s second scripture reading
comes to us from Ephesians,
and is a prayer of thanksgiving for the faithfulness of God’s people,
people who are inspired by just THAT sort of community.
I invite you to open your hearts and your minds
to this reading of God’s word:
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus
and your love towards all the saints,
and for this reason
16I do not cease to give thanks for you
as I remember you in my prayers.
17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation
as you come to know him,
18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened,
you may know what is the hope
to which he has called you,
what are the riches
of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
19and what is the immeasurable greatness
of his power for us who believe,
according to the working of his great power.
20God put this power to work in Christ
when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the age to come.
22And he has put all things under his feet
and has made him the head over all things for the church,
23which is his body,
the fullness of him who fills all in all. [Eph 1:15-23]
May God bless to us
and our understanding
and our applying of these words
to how we live our lives.
Maybe the best thing to say,
on a day like today,
is to just let the words of the scripture speak to us
as we try to find ourselves in the arc of the biblical story,
that story of God’s love for God’s people, for creation, for the world.
The first passage that we read talks about how God works things together for good
for those who love God,
those who are called according to God’s purpose.
So our focus has been on God’s purpose for us, a Kirk with Purpose.
The thought is that, if we describe what the Kirk’s purpose is
you will find your own place,
your own purpose,
in what God is doing among us.
To that end, we’ve been talking about our new Kirk purpose statement.
This summer, the session replaced our vision and mission statement
with what we called a purpose statement.
What is particularly great about it is how it fits us as a community
where we’ve been, where we are
even as it gives us aspirations for the future, where we might be going.
We welcome all to experience the love of God as seen in Jesus Christ,
through worship, authentic relationships, and meaningful work,
as we promote peace and justice in the world.
I’ve been asking some of you about your own experiences here at The Kirk
and how this purpose statement fits with your understanding of what we’re all about.
How have you experienced the Love of God because of The Kirk?
How has the practice of regular worship deepened your faith?
How have the people you have met here inspired you to care for others?
How have the activities we’ve undertaken together
given you joy, opened you to compassion, helped you stand up for what is right?
I’ve described this as the why, the how, and the what of our life together:
The why: we are here to welcome people to experience God’s love in Christ.
The how: worship, relate, and work meaningfully.
And the what: promote peace and justice.
That’s our purpose. It’s the reason we are here.
We call today Christ the King Sunday,
but there’s always a little note of irony in that statement.
If we judge by human standards,
Christ isn’t much of a King.
He worked in manual labor as a carpenter,
then as an itinerant preacher.
He wasn’t born in a palace, but in the animal quarters of a backwater town.
He led no armies. He struck no fear in his subjects.
Instead, he countered every effort of those who followed him
to lift him onto a pedestal, to have him pick up the sword,
to adopt the world’s standards of power,
to bend the truth to make it suit his purposes.
In point of fact, he was mocked, beaten, tortured by a king, Pontius Pilate,
someone who actually led armies, who demanded fear from those he ruled.
Pilate even put Jesus up on a cross with the sign “Jesus Christ King of the Jews”
just to prove the point that the world didn’t consider Christ to be much of one.
The point, though, is that Jesus’ reign isn’t like any other reign:
just like the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is fundamentally different
from any kind of reign the world has ever known:
one where the truth matters;
and the poor are protected;
and the hungry are filled with good things;
and love will win.
The word for that is the shalom of God.
That word shalom is often just translated “peace”
but it means so much more than that,
because peace requires people getting along,
living in harmony with the world, and with each other.
You can force that sort of peace, through might, through strength,
sometimes through fear.
Or you can do it the way God does it: through love and hope and righteousness.
So true peace requires justice: righting wrongs and setting things aright.
Without justice, there is no peace.
And true peace requires reconciliation:
where hurting people, victim and perpetrator,
find a way to come back together and to be family again.
Shalom is that time
when lion and the lamb and the asp [Isaiah 11:1-9]
shall dwell together in harmony,
because peace and justice and reconciliation will take center stage.
God’s world is coming.
Jesus is the ruler.
Come Lord Jesus. Quickly Come.
The WHAT of our life together is to bring about the Shalom of God,
in our particular time, and our particular place:
to make Christ our King, and to follow him.
We do that by worship, relating, and working together
and we do it so that people can experience God’s love in Christ Jesus.
(Voila: our purpose statement!)
According to Ephesians
God put God’s power to work in Jesus when Christ broke the power of death.
That author uses lofty language:
“the name above every name,”
“all rule and authority and power and dominion.”
But the point is that THIS kind of world,
the world of God’s shalom,
is going to come.
It will prevail,
even as the nights grow longer
and the winds grow colder
and the news seems drearier.
God’s Reign is our purpose, and Christ is the one we follow.
I was leaning against a wall
of a shopping mall last week
it was more of a strip mall
grocery store and lots of little shops.
I was looking at my cell phone,
you know, LOOKING at my cell phone,
doing something or other.
I think I was trying to juggle two or three things:
an email I was composing in my head,
an article I had just read on NPR about the changing climate,
needing not to forget the bread and the milk and the baking soda,
on the short shopping list that I had left at home.
I’m always leaving that list at home.
I was there, against the wall, tapping away at my phone.
It was busy.
Lots of pre-holiday traffic with people walking by in groups,
doing their own thing, mainly.
I happened to look up
at this one couple walking by,
and one of them was near tears.
You could see it: she was visibly broken
able to keep moving,
but she was bereft about something.
And I was struck by her.
Then a moment later a little girl, four or five maybe
who was walking the other way, crossing their path
noticed her too.
And she stopped,
and she looked at her,
and then looked back at her mother,
whom she was with.
She asked her mother something,
and then took a single flower
from the bouquet they had just bought
and brought it over to the woman who was walking by.
She held it up to her,
and she smiled,
and said something like:
“Are you sad? Here’s a flower.”
The woman took the flower
and gave the little girl a hug
and then went about her day.
There are plenty of voices that suggest that God’s reign is folly.
That the only way to make a difference is to adopt the world’s way:
bend the truth a little here,
coerce a few people to get your way there,
adopt more flash than substance,
and see what happens.
To that, I think we have to say:
just take a look around at the glimpses of God’s kingdom that we see,
this very day
and you’ll see that it’s quite alive, thank you very much.
May we make God’s kingdom our purpose,
as we follow Christ our King out into the world
with acts of loving kindness
dedication to justice
and a focus on peace.
When we do that, we know God will work all things together for our Good.
and there’s no where else that we want to be.
May it be so.
Image credit: Myriams Photos via creative commons license on pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/rose-child-s-hand-thank-you-child-3415370/