Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Revelation 1:4-8:
When I was growing up, every Thanksgiving my brother and I
would wake up and then go curl up with our parents in their bed and watch the
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.
Santa making his triumphant entry at the end was always the best part
because that meant we could “officially” start listening to Christmas music,
and so we would all climb out of bed and my mom would get out the Christmas
records, and it’s nice with this group because we all know what a record is,
and then we would begin getting ready for the trek to my grandmother’s house
for dinner, although since it was Phoenix, it was not over the river or through
the woods Being curled up in my parents’
bed watching the parade is one of my fondest childhood memories. In working to create our own family
traditions, by tapping into the traditions that Linda and I had as children, we
too watch the parade each year, and when we lived in Boston we twice went down
to New York to see the parade in person.
But watching the parade live is very different than watching
in on television. When you are there in
person, there is a lot of waiting. First
there is the fact that in order to get a good spot to watch you have to show up
by at least 6:30 am in order stake out your location. The parade itself doesn’t start until 9, and
then doesn’t get to where we are sitting until 9:30. That means we have at least three hours of
sitting or standing on the streets of New York waiting for the parade to
Our first year the crowd was singing songs, and led by the
police officer “guarding” the route, he had each side of the street chanting
back and forth to each other. It was a
lot of fun. Our second time there, the
crowd was more subdued and there was no police officer to keep up under
control, so we were left to our own devices to occupy our time. But, of course, the longest period of time
seems to be once you can see the beginning of the parade, you know its right
there but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. The anticipation and the excitement build and
you know the end is in sight and yet it’s not there just yet, there is still a
delay of time, and it is in times like this that we realize we have to hurry up
Like many of you, I
don’t like waiting in line. Sometimes it
seems like I’m the jinx. I choose a line
at the grocery store, and I find this happens to me the most at Costco, that
seems to be moving just fine until I step into it, and then suddenly it becomes
as slow as molasses and every other line seems to speed up. Has that ever happened to you? And I find myself quoting from Indiana Jones
and the Last Crusade, “you have chosen… poorly.” I have even been known to walk
out of someplace if I think the wait is going to be too long. I have better things to do with my time then
wait, because waiting can be hard and long.
I don’t actually know what Einstein’s theory of relativity says, either
the general or special theory, but here is how I understand it. The first is that all of us have relatives
that drive us crazy, especially when we have to spend time with them, and when
we are with them time slows, which is the second part of relativity and that is
that time is relative. There are times
when time flies, usually when we are doing something we enjoy, and time when
the minutes become hours, or even seem like time as stopped, especially when we
are dealing with that special relative.
And when we have to wait for something is when things especially seem to
slow down. Do you remember as a kid how
long the wait was from Thanksgiving to Christmas? Remember when school year’s lasted forever,
and summer only seemed to be a couple of days.
Now it all just seems to fly by.
But there is also a push for instant gratification. We can’t wait for anything. Benjamin Moore just named the 2016 color of
the year. We’re still more than a month
away from 2016, but the color race is already over, and in case you’re
wondering, the color is “simply white.”
Apparently layering white over white will be all the rage in 2016,
although I can’t quite figure out how you could tell if white was layered over
white. The thing that no one pointed out
in the stupidity of the outcry over the red Starbucks cup, apparently they
didn’t get the message that white is the new it color, was that it started on
November 10 when Christmas doesn’t start the day after Thanksgiving, but
instead Christmas starts when? December 25.
Why wait for that thing you desire, we are told, when you
can have it right now using your credit card?
Why wait to lose weight gradually, when you can start this diet which
promises to take off twenty pounds a week?
In fact, it seems the only time we are told to wait, is when the infomercial
tells us not to call yet because they have yet to tell us all of the incredible
features that the widget that we absolutely must have has. Stores on Black Friday used to open at 7,
then 6, then 5, then 4, and now they open on Thanksgiving. And while everyone seems to be up in arms
about it, huge numbers of people still show up to shop. And I’ll admit my part, for me Halloween is
when I start listening to Christmas music, if I can even make it that far. We don’t want to wait and yet we also have to
wait, and for us as Christians we have an even stranger dichotomy as part of
our waiting when it comes to Jesus Christ.
We have an already happened and a not quite yet happened.
We say that Christ has come and yet proclaim that Christ
will come again. We give thanks for what
Jesus has done for us and also say “Come Lord Jesus.” John
Petty, who is a Lutheran pastor in Colorado, recounts a time when he was at a
street festival and came across a street preacher, whose basic message was to
get right with God because Jesus was coming soon. One old man walking by heard this message and
yelled out “what in the blazes are you talking about? He’s already here.” That is to say that Jesus is already present
in our lives, the kingdom of God is already present, and yet all we need to do
is to look around and we quickly realize that the kingdom of God is also not
yet present. Already and not quite
yet. We have to hold that in tension
with each other, and that’s encapsulated in the passage we just heard from Revelation
as well as from what today represents in the Christian year.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day in which we
celebrate the kingship of Christ, or at least intentionally celebrate that as
hopefully we have a portion of that every Sunday and hopefully every day in our
lives. But today also represents the
last day of the Christian year, which is why the gospel readings are about the
trail of Jesus, and yet also about Jesus coming again, because with every
ending comes a beginning, and thus the end of the Christian year also
represents moving into the beginning of the coming year. We start all over again, beginning with
Advent, of which the first celebration is next Sunday. Advent has several meanings, one of them
related to the Christian year, but the church got the term because it
originally meant the coming of a notable person or event, which we mean in the
second coming of Christ, but also the celebration of the coming of Christ
through the birth of Jesus.
And thus in his greetings to the seven churches in Asia,
modern day Turkey, “grace to you from him who is and who was and who is to
come.” It’s that already and not quite
yet. John says that twice in just these
few verses, and then reminds us, or really tells us the first time, that God is
the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. That means that Jesus is like that
Thanksgiving parade that we have known for our whole lives, and yet it’s also
just right around the corner and we sit in expectation waiting for it to come
again, but how do we do that? How do we
remain vigilant for something for a long period of time? Can we remain vigilant for a long period of time? We want that thing to happen and we want it
to happen now, and yet sometimes things seem to keep getting farther and
farther away and so our vigilance slips over time. Our watching and waiting is not quite as
strong as it was before.
After 9/11 the new Homeland Security Department came up with
a new color coding system to keep us aware of the threat of another attack. It ranked from green, which meant everything
was fine, to red, an attack was eminent..
Homeland Security has now moved away from that for several reasons, the
most important one being that it didn’t work because they wanted us at a
heightened level of vigilance, and so we normally sat at yellow, which was
elevated. But the longer we sat there,
the less serious it became, and so yellow in actuality became green. We became desensitized because we couldn’t
keep waiting, or at least not like we were supposed to.
Jesus tells a similar story of a group of ten bridesmaids
who are waiting for the groom to arrive.
They begin their waiting during the day, and so some of them aren’t
prepared for the length of the wait and don’t have any oil available to light
their lamps when it becomes dark. As a
result, they have to leave to get oil, versus those who were prepared and
already had oil in their lamps, and so they are still there waiting when the
groom arrives, whereas those who didn’t have oil have not yet returned and are
locked out of the wedding celebration.
This is a warning to be prepared, to metaphorically always have oil in
our lamps, to be prepared. To focus only
on one thing, and that is to be ready for Christ to come again.
There are certainly people who want to emphasize, and it wouldn’t
take us very long to find someone today who was preaching that Christ was
coming back soon, and so we better be ready.
The problem is that people have been preaching that since the time of the
resurrection, and it hasn’t happened yet.
Does that mean it’s not going to happen? No it could happen at any time,
but if we keep looking for the parade coming and think that it’s just around
the corner and it doesn’t come and it doesn’t come and it doesn’t come, either
we are eventually get complacent in watching for it, or we’re just going to
walk away. So what do we do to keep our sense of expectation up?
I believe the answer to that is found in the emphasis of
today, and that is to remember our allegiance to Christ as Lord or King. Jesus tells us that we are to pick up our
cross and to follow, how often? Daily. We
can’t worry about what we did yesterday, and we shouldn’t worry about what is
going to happen tomorrow. Instead, all
we need to do is focus on today, and our relationship with God right now. How are we living out our proclamation that
Christ is king today? Because that’s
what this is all about. That’s what the
book of Revelation is about. Where are
we going to put our trust? Where are we going to claim and pledge our
allegiance, to Christ or to something or someone else? There are lots of things which want to claim
our allegiance, ideologies, leaders, sports teams, nations, flags, restaurants,
hotel chains, schools. But Jesus says you
cannot serve two masters. If there is
anything that is competing with your allegiance to Christ then there is a
problem, because we are to strive first for the kingdom of God, and what does
every kingdom have? A King, and it is that king to which our allegiance is due.
That’s why Pontius Pilate is asking if Jesus is a king,
because there can only be one king of a kingdom, and for the Romans at the
time, that is the emperor. That’s why
Jesus and his family become refugees fleeing for their lives to another country
when the wise men come, because they ask Herod where is the king of the
Jews? But Herod’s official title is King
of the Jews, so there can only be one.
You can only claim allegiance to one thing, for everything else has to
take second place, or a step back. One
commentator said the call of discipleship “is for radical trust and
single-minded service. That which is
uncompromisingly primary is orienting one’s life to the approaching reign of
God. After all, life is qualified by
what one seeks.” It’s like the people who say their families are the most
important thing in their lives, but then spend very little time with them
because they’re working or doing something else. Their words may say it, but their actions say
Just like the bridesmaids who didn’t have the oil for their
lamps. They said that waiting for the
groom, waiting for Christ, was their priority but their actions said something
totally different. So how do we keep vigilant in waiting for
Christ to come, keep ourselves ready to meet Christ, keep ourselves from
slipping into complacency? We wake up every day and we pledge our allegiance to
Christ and we simply focus on doing the things that Christ has called us to do
that day, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, giving a drink to the thirsty, visiting
those who are sick and in prison and welcoming the stranger, which is how we
strive first for the kingdom of God.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks. Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own,
or did others tell you about me?” And
then Pilate asked him again, “So you are a king?” and Jesus said, “You say that
I am a king…” Who do you say that Jesus
is? That’s the question that we must all answer. Of course Pilate didn’t understand, maybe
couldn’t understand, but just like with Pilate we can’t make any assertions
based on what others have told us. We
have to answer for ourselves? Who do you say that Jesus is? But even more than
saying who Jesus is, how do we live that out?
Do we proclaim allegiance to Christ, but live out allegiances to
Walter Bruggeman says that “Jesus ministry takes place
between the clinging and the yearning,” We cling to what we have and we yearn
for what is yet to come. But let’s not
let our clinging abolish the sense of expectation, the excitement, and the
promise. We prepare for the coming of Christ the same way Christians have
prepared for millennia and that is first by proclaiming that Christ is king,
and then picking up our cross and following how often? Daily. Not worrying
about yesterday, and not being concerned about tomorrow, but focusing on today
and our allegiance to Christ and doing what Christ has called us to do. I pray that it will be so my brothers and