Subjects of Christ Alone

Sermon by Rev. Désirée M. Youngblood

Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church of Pickerington, OH

November 20, 2016 (Christ the King Sunday—Year C)

 

Colossians 1:11-20  11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully  12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.  13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

 

Today is Christ the King Sunday, which is the last Sunday of the church year.  So, it is kind of like the New Year’s Eve of the church calendar—a perfect time to look back over our last year and give thanks for all of the blessings that God has bestowed upon us.  It is also a good time to look to the future, to make resolutions for how we intend to live during the next year.

I have to say that I am deeply disturbed by what I have seen in the last year.  Now don’t take this the wrong way; I assure you that I am not referring to our church.  I believe that the members of this congregation are truly good, God-fearing, loving people.  Even though we all have our ups and downs, our times of strength and times of weakness, God’s grace and peace shines through.  Serving this church is a wonderful blessing.

What is deeply disturbing is something that is happening in our country.  In the last year many people have decided that it is all right to treat others as though they are inferior.  Many Americans are openly spewing hatred instead of love.  And now many people seem to think that these words and actions have been officially endorsed and made acceptable by our recent election.  Yet, we know that nothing in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is “the power of God for salvation,”[1] suggests that such behaviors are characteristic of life in Christ.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Today’s sermon is not about politics.  The issues that are involved in these openly hateful words and actions have significant moral and ethical implications that affect how we live as Christians.  Since the elections these behaviors have been getting worse.  Many of you may have seen an article[2] in The Columbus Dispatch that was published on the Saturday following the election.  It reported hatred in our country’s high schools with incidents such as having “whites only” painted on a bathroom door, students chanting “build a wall” in a high school cafeteria, other students harassing and taunting Hispanic students, and others telling parents of black children to “go back to Africa.”  In one college, suggestions of having a “daily lynching” were reported; in another, students have been carrying signs and shouting “white power” down the hallways.  Somebody posted fliers around one campus “urging the formation of ‘tar and feather vigilante squads’ to ‘arrest and torture’ campus diversity advocates.”  People in a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, woke up to leaflets from the Ku Klux Klan on their doors the morning after Election Day.  “In Durham, North Carolina, two walls were spray-painted with the statement ‘Black lives don’t matter and neither does your vote.’”[3]  These incidents are all disturbing, but most disturbing of all was the publisher of the Daily Stormer calling for its supporters to inflict “punishment” on those who did not vote for Trump by encouraging them to commit suicide.

So far all of this hatred is being expressed mostly as words and not as actions.  What people seem to forget is that words matter!  “Words ‘create’ us, they shape our belief.”[4]  In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler speaks of the power of words with a few paragraphs that explain how people will come to believe what they are told.  These paragraphs are often translated into the shortened sentence saying, “Make the lie BIG, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”[5]  People believe words, whether they are true or not.

The problem that we Christians face is that simply not participating in such hateful words is not enough.  Remaining silent is not enough.  We have a duty to speak out against hatred.  We have a duty to use our words to challenge hatred, to seek justice, and to be a prophetic voice that refuses to accept lies as truth.  But how do we stay on the right path?  How do we separate the lies from truth?

While preparing to write today’s sermon, I came across the story of a young monk who went to his abbot and said, “Father, what am I to do?  I cannot believe.”

The abbot responded, “Say the creed, my son.”

“But how can I say what I do not believe?”

“Say the Creed, my son.  Even when you do not believe, say the creed.”[6]

In 1934, representatives of German Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches came together in Barmen, Germany, and wrote The Theological Declaration of Barmen, a creed that is in our Book of Confessions.  The Declaration implored German Christians to listen to the words they were hearing from their government and determine whether they were from God or not.  The Declaration also encouraged German Christians to test its own words and challenged them to show that the Declaration failed to uphold scripture.  We Presbyterians later adopted The Theological Declaration of Barmen as one of our creeds because we believe that it does indeed uphold scripture.  We look to creeds that point to scripture and creeds within scripture to help us separate lies from truth.  We repeat the creeds over and over again to help us to stay on the right path, to help us to know what to believe.

Today’s scripture passage is a creedal hymn.  It reminds us whose we are.  It reminds us that if we continue repeating words that bring hope and life and unity and healing, we can indeed show the world what the kingdom of God is like.  We can choose to use our words for good or to use them for bad.  Yet, as Christians, we are duty-bound to use them for good.  Although God’s grace is a gift, something that we could never earn or deserve, accepting God’s grace costs us everything.  We do not get to hold anything or any part of our lives back.

We must strive to be more Christ-like each and every day, which is why it becomes our duty to respond to hateful words as Christ would, even if they come from a neighbor, family member, or friend.  And how would Christ respond?  He would not respond with silence.  He would respond with love, not hatred.  Not once did Jesus return evil for evil.  Yet Jesus’ love did not lead to some conflict-averse, politically correct response that tried to keep everybody happy.  No, responding in love meant speaking the truth, standing with those who are oppressed, and rejecting that which is evil.

On Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that we are not citizens of this world.  Our true and highest devotion belongs only to God, and Christ is our king.  We cannot serve two masters.  We are not under the rule of a government or a president, regardless of whether that president is good or bad.  No, we are under the rule of Christ.  We are subjects of Christ alone.

So, how does today’s creedal passage remind us of whose we are?  First of all, today’s passage reminds us that Jesus Christ is ruler over all creation.  Paul uses the word “all” eight times in our text, emphasizing that Christ is not just our king, but king of all.  Christ is king of all people, regardless of the color of their skin or their country of origin.  Christ is king of Christians and non-Christians, of nations and governments, and of all the rest of creation:  animals, plants, and even rocks.  No earthly king has ever or could ever hold a candle to that, though many believed themselves to be gods.  Only the one true God has dominion over all!  Thus, our wisdom comes from Christ, not the words of others.

Second, Paul reminds us that Christ is the firstborn of all creation and that all things were created through him and for him.  Christ existed before our earth was formed, before the first human was born, and before the first king ruled on earth.  He did not ascend to his throne.  No, he is the eternal, almighty king.  He is the beginning and the end, and in him all things hold together.  He was, and is, and forever shall be.

Third, Paul claims that “Christ’s reign is established in a paradoxical way:  through crucifixion.”[7]  Through the blood of Jesus on the cross, God has made peace with us.  “He does not rule by threat or military domination or acquisition.  He does not rule by lies or diminishing others.  His authority is not sustained by asking homage from others.  He does not subject people to himself.  His ‘kingdom,’ therefore, stands in stark contrast to other imperial rules.”[8]  His is a kingdom of peace and light.

Because Christ has already rescued us from the power of darkness, we do not have to fall into the same darkness that is taking over our country.  Instead, we can bring light.  In the words of Jesus as he preached to the crowds:  “You are the light of the world.”[9]  He did not say, “You will be the light of the world.”  He did not ask us if we wanted to be the light of the world.  He simply stated that we are the light of the world, and now we have a duty to spread God’s love and unity and to show others the joy and hope of truly knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  We have a commission to spread the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and ruler of all!

So, as we gear up to celebrate Thanksgiving, let us find light in the darkness that seems to be enveloping our country.  Let us find things to be thankful for.  Let us always be careful about the words that we speak or write so that we never return evil for evil.  Let us share in a meal that brings unity to the diversity within our own congregation.  Let us love one another, and then let us bring that love out into the world.  We are a beacon of light in this dark time.  Amen.

[1] Romans 1:16.

[2] Errin Haines Whack and Jay Reeves, “Ugliness of campaign spawns post-election hate,” The Columbus Dispatch, Saturday, November 12, 2016, A8.

[3] Whack & Reeves, A8.

[4] Neta Pringle, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 4, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 328.

[5] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X.

[6] Pringle, 328.

[7] Barbara J. Blodgett, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 4, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 328.

[8] Blodgett, 328 & 330.

[9] Matthew 5:14.

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