Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Companion Relationship - Tabernacle Baptist Church

Dear Friends,

On Pentecost Sunday in 2015, I preached a sermon entitled “Pentecost Challenge.”  In that sermon, I said, “I am going to challenge you to grow beyond how you have already grown…I want us to have a sister-church. Our primary goal will be to develop a relationship with this church and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest.  I said this keeping in mind the gospel truth that the vocation of the Church is to witness to how God is reconciling people from all races and cultures by the power of the Spirit.    
Over the course of the next few months, several of you expressed excitement about the possibility.  Some of you even named a few churches to consider.  In 2015, the Vestry, at a planning weekend, formally voiced a desire to pursue a companion church.
Earlier this summer, I found myself sitting next to Otis Dion Culliver, Senior Pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church, at the Mayoral Forum at Selma High School.  We immediately started connecting on many levels and decided to schedule a lunch.  After our first lunch together, we made a commitment to meet for lunch often and we did. 
At our last lunch, we made a commitment to include our respective parishes in the prayers on Sunday.  Pastor Culliver also indicated a desire for us to worship together.  On Sunday, November 27, members of St. Paul’s worshiped at Tabernacle Baptist and we were received warmly.  Pastor Culliver plans to bring a delegation to the 8 o’clock service in the coming weeks.  And I have no doubt that we will be just as gracious in our welcome. 

In addition, both of our youth groups will team up on Sunday, December 11 to eat lunch together and go shopping for the Salvation Army Angel Tree Project.  We both agree that the work of the gospel bears the most fruit when we follow the lead of our children.  As the prophet Isaiah says, “and a child shall lead them.”   
I believe this companion relationship is incredibly timely especially as we see racial tensions escalating around the country.  My hope and prayer is that this relationship will provide both healing and inspiration to our community.  We will have the opportunity to offer a remarkably different narrative than we are used to seeing in the community, nation, and world.  The good news is that this different narrative is already made known in the redemptive story of Jesus Christ.
This part of our country’s history is too often marked by division, hate and suspicion.  God is giving us the opportunity, through this partnership, to speak to a history that is marked by the saving power of God’s love in Christ, a history that is marked by unity, understanding, and mutual respect.
I invite your continued prayers for this companion relationship.  Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you are interested in learning how you can be a part of this partnership.  And thank you for your continued willingness to step out in faith for the sake of the gospel and for the sake kingdom of God in our midst.   
O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (BCP, pg. 840)



Monday, November 21, 2016

Coronation of Christ the King

On June 2, 1953, an estimated 23 million watched as Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at
a coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London.  8,000 were in attendance at the abbey.  Most of the guests were other royalty and dignitaries from around the world.  An estimated 3 million were gathered in the streets of London and another 20 million watched the BBC broadcast that was aired in 44 different languages.   
The coronation, the first to be broadcast on television, was complete with fireworks and a fly over from the Royal Air Force.  Elizabeth was adorned with symbols of authority – the orb, the scepter, the royal ring of sapphire and rubies and the Archbishop of Canterbury crowned the Queen with St. Edward’s Crown.  When the coronation was complete, the abbey, London, and the world echoed with a shout of “God Save the Queen!”
The beloved monarch’s coronation is set in stark contrast the coronation event of Christ the King.  Jesus’ naming as “King of the Jews” was a claim made by the Roman government in order to mock him and a name that the Jews rejected. Instead of millions of people shouting, “God Save the King”, an angry mob gathers to shout, “Crucify, crucify him!” 
While Jesus is adorned with certain kingly ornaments, they are all done in gest.  King Herod and his soldiers give him a purple robe in order to mock him.  The other gospels tell us that Jesus is crowned with a crown of thorns and blood drips from his forehead. 
Elizabeth II was surrounded by royalty and dignitaries who knelt before her at her crowning while the defining moment for Christ the King comes when he is nailed to the cross between two criminals surrounded by soldiers who mock and insult the new king. 
At her coronation, Elizabeth II says to the people, “Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”  At his coronation event, Jesus looks over the crowd and says, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus, the only one in this world who is worthy of our trust, has compassion on the unruly crowd and intercedes on their behalf.  Jesus asks that his Father in heaven show pity and grant forgiveness to those gathered. 
Jesus’ reign as King is to be marked by words of forgiveness and love even in the face of the worst kind of evil.  Perhaps the only similarity between the two coronations is the fact that the sun refused to shine.
As we read in this week’s chapter of The Story, we are a people who choose to follow earthly leaders instead of our God in heaven.  Like the Israelites before us, we are a stubborn and impatient people. 
Realizing that God can’t be manipulated into giving us everything we want when we want it, we shift our trust toward earthly leaders who can be more easily manipulated and coerced into meeting our selfish and shortsighted demands. 
While not all earthly leaders intentionally mislead or deceive us, they all cave to the temptation of giving the people what they want instead of what they need.  On some level, all leaders constantly fight the temptation to be popular rather than judicious and fair.
Essentially, we create golden calves out of our leaders.  We anoint our leaders as messiahs, those who will save us from whatever we think we need saving from.  But even the shiniest golden calves can be burned and melted down into dust. 
Eventually, our leaders will fail us and not just the corrupt ones but the honest ones too.  Like you and me, our earthly leaders are formed of the earth and to dust they shall return.
As I continue to reflect on the state of our country’s leadership, again I will say, what concerns me most is not who will take the oath of office in January.  Instead, what concerns me most is how our nation, who seems to be worshiping donkeys and elephants, will ever possibly work together as a people who are united. 
Of course, there is a litany of reasons why we are so divided.  And while we claim to be one nation under God, it seems that we are a nation who worships many different gods.  And I’m not talk about our pluralism per se.  Instead, I am talking about the idols and golden calves we have erected to take the place of God Almighty.
And these gold calves are, of course, created in the image of who we think God should be instead of the God who says, I AM who I AM.  These golden calves look like political parties, politicians, ideologies, agendas, sporting events, entertainers all created out of the pursuit of money, power, and instant gratification.  Martin Luther said it like this, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, is really your God.” 
A brief stewardship note, some of the highest paid people in our country are entertainers and sports figures.  While I love sports and entertainment, this should tell us a lot about what we as Americans value most in this world. The good news, of course, is that God gives us a king that shatters the golden calves we have created for ourselves. 
Christ the King makes our constant desire to be entertained look hideous and repulsive for Christ the King bows low to weep with those who mourn.
Christ the King makes our worldly attempts to claim status and standing in the community look haughty and vain for Christ the King gives up his kingly throne for the sake of those who poses no worldly titles. 
Christ the King makes our attempts to gain power and control look weak and pedantic for Christ the King stares down those with the most power and control and says, “do your worst.”  But even then, Christ the King issues a pardon to all – father forgive them; for they are an ignorant people who can’t help but to keep on worshiping dumb idols.
At the end of the day, no matter how good and honest and able our earthly leaders seem to be, the only way this nation, this world can come to know true peace is according to the rule of Christ the King – the one who rules with justice and mercy, the one who rules with compassion and forgiveness, the one who rules with goodness and light, the one who gives value and standing to all in his kingdom especially the poor and lowly, especially the weak and disabled, especially the unlovable. 
The only way to live more fully into that perfect community that God dreamed up for us in Eden is to serve Christ the King.  The only way to live in Paradise that place Jesus promises to the thief is to join our true king on the cross and die to the illusion that our earthly leaders can save us.  And admit that, at best, our earthly kingdoms only delay the inevitable – death and destruction.
And unlike the kingdoms our leaders promise but never deliver on, Christ’s kingdom is available today, a kingdom that is glimpsed when we follow Christ the King – the one whose only agenda is to draw the whole human family together as one with a love that will go to any measure to save the lost, the lonely, and the last.

Only when we serve Christ the King, will our hearts be shaped to desire what is good and noble and just.  Only service to the King of Kings can make us love to do the will of God.  So for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of this country and this world, God Save the King of Kings!  Amen.