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    Nov 25, 2018

    Last Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: John 18:33-37

    Preacher: The Rev. Timothy Patterson

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Today, the very last Sunday of the church’s liturgical year, is known as Christ the King Sunday.  And you will hear this theme echoed over and over again throughout our readings, our hymns and our prayers.  However, amid all this language of kings and crowns, power and might, thrones and royalty, we need to be sure that we do not miss the deep irony and the paradox involved in calling Jesus “king of kings.”  Because in the life of the human Jesus, we see one who clearly, consistently and very intentionally takes the posture, not of a mighty ruler, but rather a servant, a servant of life.  “For, the Son of Man,” says Jesus, “came not to be served but to serve.”  And “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

    As some will recall, in ancient Greek mythology, the gods Zeus and Hermes would occasionally come down to earth for a brief time disguised as poor slaves.  It was just a disguise.  They did this to fool people in order to get a candid reading on the level of homage human beings would pay to the gods.  But as soon as Zeus and Hermes found out what they wanted to know, they threw off their rags and revealed themselves in all their Olympian splendor as the gods they really were.  It was like Clark Kent taking off his disguise and revealing his true nature as Superman.  The Greek gods took on the outward from of a servant, but that was simply a disguise.  The way of Christ is very, very different.  Jesus did not just take on the outward form of a servant.  He truly was a servant, through and through, and all the way to the end.  And so, when Jesus came in the form of a servant, he was not disguising who God is.  He was revealing who God is!   He was revealing that the living God is, in truth, a servant of life, whose true power is revealed not as power in the usual, earthly sense, but rather as the power of love.  The Power of God is the power of love.  (John Ortberg, adapted)

     

    And this is important because, as my old mentor, Bennett Sims, pointed out, “millions of devout Christian believers have been steeped in a long tradition of prayer and hymnody in which God’s power is pictured as unilateral dominance from on high.” The kind of “power-over” typically exercised by earthly monarchs, which is usually rooted in the energy of fear not love..  And this is the danger of hearing the language of “Christ the King” and misinterpreting its true meaning.   “Because Jesus himself presents an entirely different picture.  And, ultimately,” says Sims, “we cannot have it both ways.  We cannot have a God who is a fearsome, distant, iron-handed ruler in remote control of the universe and, at the same time, a human Incarnation of that God who consistently defines himself as one who loves and one who serves.”  It is a completely different energy, a completely different theology.  And, ultimately, we cannot have it both ways.  Nor should we want to.

    Speaking of Zeus, I recently heard Richard Rohr make the point that the Latin word for God, “Deus,” has a direct linguistic connection to the Greek word “Zeus.”  And from the beginning, particularly as various religions, including Christianity, developed during the tribal and warrior and imperial stages of human evolution, human beings have largely tended to envision God as something like Zeus, a distant monarchical being, often angry and capricious, sitting on a throne and throwing down thunderbolts from the sky.  And despite the dramatically different, indeed truly subversive life and teaching of Jesus, Christians have sometimes simply turned around and put Jesus up on that same throne and continued that same fear-based world-view.  And so, Rohr says, it can actually be dangerous to be converted to Jesus but not be converted to Jesus Gospel world-view; because we can end up simply making Jesus the new Zeus, throwing down thunderbolts, imposing his will, punishing enemies and demanding compliance.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of what is called Christianity today is still largely rooted in that fear-based world-view.

     

    Michael Lerner puts it in simple terms, as the choice between two fundamental energies, in his language, fear vs. hope: He says, “For the past several thousand years, much of human society has been torn by a struggle between two basic world-views or ways of understanding what it is to be human.  The one view tells us that we are born into a world in which each person is out for themselves and life is a battle of all against all.  Others will dominate you unless you dominate them first.  Security for ourselves, our families, our communities, or our nation depends on our ability to get the advantage over them before they get it over us.  Fear - fear of the other is simply common sense, the only possible response a rational person can have in a world where competition is required for survival.  I call this the view of cynical realism, and the normal psychological state accompanying it is heightened anxiety and fear.”  This is what he calls the Voice of Fear.  And, clearly, it is pervasive in our world, and, unfortunately, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Fear begets fear, which begets more fear.

    “The other view,” says Lerner, “tells us that the world is composed of human beings who (like us) desire and need loving connection, recognition of who they are from others whom they respect, and joyous celebration of life and consciousness and freedom.  According to this view, people are seeking ways to connect and cooperate, and they feel most fulfilled when they are needed by others and can provide care and assistance.  Our fate is intrinsically bound up with the fate of others and our own realization as human beings depends upon the fullest realization of the capacities and desires for love of everyone else on the planet.  I call this the view of spiritual consciousness, or the unity of all being, and the normal psychological state accompanying it is heightened generosity, compassion and hope.”  This is what he calls the “Voice of Hope.”

     

    That is Michael Lerner’s language - the Voice of Hope.  Personally, Tim Patterson speaking, I would want to broaden it to include the voice of “hope, faith and love,” the three “theological virtues,” which includes the energy of all three centers of human intelligence, the mind, the heart and the body.  Because I am aware that the Voice of Fear can operate through all three of those centers.  And that fear can be particularly insidious when it operates at the level of the body.  I know this from personal experience. Because, at the level of the body, our lives can be completely in the grip of fear and anxiety, and we can be completely unaware of it.  That fear can color all our experience and be the dominant driving force in our lives, and we can be completely unconscious of it.  Which is why you will hear from this pulpit a repeated emphasis on the importance practices for the body and getting our bodies involved in our spiritual lives.  Because that is often where we carry the energy of fear, and that is where the spiritual shift needs to be made.

    In classic spiritual teaching, human beings are understood to have a lower nature and a higher nature.  It’s like we come from the factory, if you will, with this dual circuitry.  We are wired, so to speak, so that we can run on AC energy or DC energy, we can run on the energy of fear or we can run on the energy of faith, hope and love.  When we do run on the energy of fear, our lives and our world take on a certain shape, just look at our world today where fear seems so rampant and so destructive of what is best in human beings, namely the capacities of our higher nature.  When Jesus speaks of “conversion,” or metanoia, he is speaking of making the shift from the circuitry and energy of fear to the circuitry and energy of faith, hope and love.  And when human beings do choose to run on the energy of faith, hope and love, our lives and our world begin to take on a very different shape, namely they begin to look increasing like what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.

     

    In classic Christianity, faith, hope and love are known as the theological virtues, which are the highest of all the virtues.  They are called the theological virtues because they are understood as divine energies coming directly from God to us as gifts.  We don’t need to manufacture them, we need only to receive them and, hopefully, to co-create with them, working with God to shape our world more and more toward one in which God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.  Indeed, I believe that is specifically our calling, as God’s people and as Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.  We are about to open and inhabit our beautiful new space - I hope! Eventually, that is a statement of hope and faith.

    A few weeks ago, at our annual Parish Meeting, in my Parish Vision Statement, I was talking about the renovation of our spiritual home. People were amused to hear that I am a fan of HGTV and those home renovation shows like “Love It or List It.”  You can read it in the Parish Post, which should be out this week.  It was meant to be amusing.  But my main point was that this whole once-in-a-generation effort is not just about us having nicer space.  It’s about having space in which to embody our mission, to know Christ and to make him known, to embody our mission as a community through the practice and embodiment of the theological virtues: the energies of faith, hope and love.  As a witness within our own community and as a witness to the larger community.  That, I believe, is our calling as the people of God in this place.

     

    And it is an ongoing practice.  In his classic, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote that the real problem of the Christian life comes the very moment you wake up each morning.  All the pressures and demands of the day, the voices of fear and anxiety rush at you like wild animals. Again, for me, that Vo ice of Fear is real, but it is largely unconscious, and I experience it as a quality of energy going on in the body.   Which is why body practices and breathing practices are part of my daily routine a necessary preparation for my practice of centering prayer. The first job, Lewis insists, is that we simply take a deep breath and notice what is going on within us, pause, shift gears,  and listen to that other Voice, take on God’s point of view and consciously receive the energies of faith, hope and love, allowing the power of Christ’s “larger, stronger, quieter life” to come flowing into us.  With Christ as our King, we stand back, and stand under, the rule and reign of the Spirit - perhaps in small, tentative ways at first.  But then those small seeds of Christ’s Kingdom begin increasingly to take hold.  A new sort of life bestowed on us by Christ spreads steadily through our system.  The Kingdom grows deeper and stronger roots within us and within our community.  And gradually, over time, his Kingdom is increasingly embodied in the community gathered in his name, and Jesus’ reign increasingly shines forth in us and through us to be the world around us..

    Let me close with a story I have told before, about the power of God, the power of faith, hope and love, in the midst of the racial struggle in South Africa.  It was a time of great tension and conflict, when the South African government suddenly canceled a major political rally against apartheid.  As an alternative to the political rally, Bishop Desmond Tutu decided to lead a worship service in St. George’s Cathedral.  That night, the walls of the church were lined with soldiers and riot police carrying guns and bayonets, ready to close the service down.  Bishop Tutu began to speak of the evils of the apartheid system, and how the rulers and authorities, the spiritual powers of fear, division and violence that propped it up, were in fact doomed to fall.  He pointed a finger at the police who were there to record his words: “You may be powerful - you may be very powerful - but you are not God.  And God cannot be mocked.  You have already lost.”  You have already lost.  Then, in a moment of unbearable tension, suddenly the bishop seemed to soften.  Coming out from behind the pulpit, he flashed that radiant Tutu smile and began to bounce up and down with glee.  “Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side.”  While the crowd roared, the police simply melted away, and in the exuberance of that spiritually profound moment, the people began to dance.  Everyone began to dance. The whole church began to dance together as one body, joyfully praising God.  And, in that moment, the reign of Christ the King, the Kingdom of faith, hope and love, had once again become visible, on earth as it is in heaven.  May it be so, for you and for me.  Amen.