Thanksgiving for Christ the King

 

Thanksgiving For Christ the King                      November 22, 2009                 John 18:33-37

I hope you’ll forgive me this morning.

See, I know today is Thanksgiving Sunday, that is, the Sunday before we celebrate Thanksgiving.  I know that many of us are planning our menus even as we sit here, pretending to listen to the sermon. 

Some of us might be planning a trip to Rodhe’s after church to pick up a few ingredients for our Thanksgiving dinner.  We’re excited to enjoy one of the biggest meals we might eat all year, surrounded by people we love and trust. 

It’s safe to say that most of us are looking forward to the coming weekend—for family being home, for some time off work, for a nice long weekend, maybe a shopping trip on Friday to start getting ready for Christmas… 

I know all that—and I’m excited about this weekend too. 

And I understand that my role as a preacher on this particular Sunday morning is to somehow baptize the coming weekend with some kind of religious meaning—to somehow take all of our secular expectations, preparations, and traditions that are connected to this weekend, and somehow make us all feel like it makes good Christian sense to celebrate like we do. 

And if I was really good, I might even be able to convince us all that Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday!  J 

After all, thanksgiving is a pretty Christian concept –and why wouldn’t a preacher encourage their congregation to give thanks to God when given the chance? 

After all, none of us are short of things to be thankful for these days. 

And with our first official pastoral evaluation underway, I know that I should probably play it safe. 

I should probably fill my role this morning and bless our Thanksgiving practices so people will say nice things about me in the evaluation process. 

But in light of what Linford and Janet shared last Sunday about sailing Acts, and in light of what I’ve been thinking about lately, I just couldn’t switch gears that fast. 

*I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again—that Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday, it’s a lifestyle.*  

And even though we like to think of today as Thanksgiving Sunday, in other circles it’s known as Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday. 

It’s a time to celebrate the glory of the risen Lord who sits upon the throne…the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   

It’s a time to turn our eyes to him whom Daniel describes, saying His throne flames with fire, its wheels all ablaze.  A river of fire flows from before him, with thousands upon thousands attending to him… all peoples, nations and people of every language worshipped him, and his dominion will not pass away, his kingdom will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7)

This morning we celebrate the righteous reign of Christ the King, who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! (Revelation 1)

Today we proclaim that Christ is King—that Jesus is our President—that all of our feasting, our hunting, our black Friday shopping,—all of our family commitments and most cherished holiday traditions—all of that pales in comparison to the already here but not-yet-fulfilled reality of the kingdom of God.  

So rather than deliver an appropriate Thanksgiving message this morning, I’ve chosen to develop an even more appropriate message celebrating Christ the King, who’s reign outshines even our best Thanksgiving finery. 

There are two ways of being the church in the world today. 

And I’m not talking about church in general.  I’m not talking about the really big picture. 

I’m talking about us-right here. 

There are two ways for us to be Millersburg Mennonite Church as the seas of change continue to creep into Holmes County. 

One is to build a moat or construct levees around us to keep the waters out and maintain the structures we’ve come to love, appreciate, and respect. 

This is one valid response that many churches are taking today.  

It happens whenever we focus our energy on maintaining and developing what’s provided stability in the past during turbulent times. 

That is, we build levees and moats around issues that we really care about.  Things like a certain type of music, or a particular Bible study, small group, or Sunday School class that’s become really important to us.  

These are things that “Worked” for us in the past, and they’re things that we rightly judge are important to protect from the waters of change. 

So we rush to our defenses, ready to proclaim that even if everything else in the world changes around us, at least we’ll still have a small group or Sunday school or my bible study or four part singing or contemporary singing or potlucks or stained glass or a constitution or a painting on the wall or church council or pastors to talk to or any number of other things that we think absolutely can’t change. 

We convince ourselves that no matter what happens, we’ll still have at least something stable, secure, and predictable. 

Like I’ve already said, that’s one option we have available to us.

 

And it’s not necessarily a bad option…we care about important things, we care about church, we care about how we conduct our life and experience our worship together.  

All of these things are firmly rooted in the history of this particular people who have been striving to be faithful to God in Millersburg since the 1950’s. 

But as important as all of those things are, and as much emotion as we connect to each of those things—they are all ways the church has been faithful in the past, and in the present!  

*The future has yet to be written!*

Phil read a passage where Christ and Pilate have a confrontation.  But it’s really about more than that.  It’s really about the kingdom of God versus the Roman Empire.

And only one is eternal!

For the Jewish people at the time of Jesus, it must have seemed like Rome was the past, the present, and the future.  At least that’s how Rome set itself up, dealing death ever-so-swiftly to any who opposed it. 

It was a turbulent time for the people of God.  Not unlike today. 

Especially during the Passover, people’s nerves were on edge.  Change was in the air rumors of rebellion circulated throughout the people, you know? 

Remember, the Jews were looking for a military Messiah to kick the bums out, to lead the Jews in armed rebellion.  And even though Jesus was making the right promises, stirring up the right controversies, and pointing fingers in the right directions—so far he wasn’t amassing an army for his hostile takeover, like many of them expected from their savior. 

So maybe the people thought they were building a levee—defending their hopes and dreams of a sovereign Jewish state, defending that dream from this sea of change that Jesus represented.  Maybe they were defending themselves from the idea that we should love our enemies, bless those that persecute us, go with the Roman soldier two miles instead of just one. 

Maybe they were defending themselves from turning the other cheek, from acknowledging that the first shall be last and  the last first.  

What better time than Passover, when the city was filled with Jews from all over the country—what better time to start the fight they’d been looking for, to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and gain their freedom? 

So, they take this would-be messiah, this Jesus–they take him to Pilate, to let Rome have its way.  

And we have a lot to learn from the confrontation, because our world is a lot more like ancient Rome than you might think. 

 

And it’s a little hard to know how to say what I see going on in this passage. 

It would be a lot more satisfying for me if Jesus would have really schooled Pilate, you know?  If they would have gotten into an argument, ifJesus would have skillfully negotiated himself out of danger, and gone on his way.  

If that would have happened, I could have made my peace with Christians plotting and scheming to get their way today on issues like the ten comandments being in public pplaces, or prayer in school, or whethher or not ‘Merry Christmas” is a politically correct term to use during the holiday season.  

Or what if Jesus would have systematically defended himself, his teaching, his disciples and the entire movement, to the point that Pilate renounced his position and became a follower? 

Then I could support Christians using their faith as a platform for election.  I could even make the case that it’s our duty to defend ourselves, our property, our rights… just like Jesus… if that’s what he would have done.  

But you’ll notice from their conversation, that Jesus didn’t defend himself at all! 

He had nothing to prove, and nothing to hide! 

Instead of rushing to defend his life, his teaching, or his disciples, Jesus shows us how to sail on the sea of change, the second option.  

Rather than getting all worked up about the issue at hand and proving that he was right…Jesus sailed.  He talked to Pilate like a human being.  They converse.  

It’s not a bad thing to do when the stakes are high.  

But before we get all excited about learning to sail, charting new waters and going on an adventure with Jesus…before we start lining up to get in the boat to follow Jesus, pay attention to where he went.  L    

He wasn’t swept along or tossed about with the changing tides. 

He charted his course and stuck to it. 

And every move he made took him one step closer to the cross. 

He doesn’t belittle Pilate, or argue his case.  They talk like two people, like two kings. 

It’s a scary thing to do when there’s so much on the line. But they talk.  And rather than getting hostile about the issue at hand, Jesus talks about his kingdom!  

He says “My kingdom is not of this world!  If it were, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…but as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  

In other words, Jesus is building his reign a heart and a people at a time.  The kingdom is coming one life at a time, transforming people, bit by bit, day by day.

And transformation is risky business.  

We heard last week, that you have very little control when you set sail.  

You depend on hospitality from people you’ve never met before.  You rely on unpredictable forces of nature that are beyond your control. 

It’s risky business that often leads towards suffering, persecution, and conflict rather than away from those things. 

But it’s also the only way to experience the fullness of life that Jesus offers. 

So, what might it look like for MMC to sail faithfully into our future? 

Maybe very little changes.  

But maybe everything changes!!  

And just maybe there’s enough grace for us to live together, both those of us who need the castle with the moat and all of the defenses, as well as those of us signing up for sailing lessons.    

The future depends on what we do in the present, not just what we’ve done in the past.  Whenever two kingdoms collide, there’s the opportunity for death, or resurrection…or both. 

 

And as Linford and Janet helped me see last Sunday, the whole New Testament reads like a history of this collision happening time and time again, times when the kingdom of God crashes into the kingdom of the world like waves on the shore. 

 

So as we go about our preparations this week, and as we celebrate the bounty we’ve gathered over the past year, think about the journey.  Ask yourself the question, which king are you giving thanks?  

The King of our land or the king of the sea?   Are you safe in the castle, or risking it all on the boat?   

Where is your life heading? 

 

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