First Congregational Church
November 20, 2015
27th Sunday after Pentecost, Reign of Christ Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday
“Holding It All Together”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This Sunday, the one before Thanksgiving, often has several converging aspects that make for interesting sermon preparation. In a nod to the coming holiday this Thursday, should you find yourself in the midst of a pregnant pause or an awkward silence, Q. why did the farmer run a steamroller over his potato field on Thanksgiving Day? A. He wanted to raise mashed potatoes.
Or should you find the appropriate moment, you could tell the folks you hang with about your pastor, and how she was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store for Thanksgiving Day, but couldn’t find one big enough for her occasion. So she asked a stock boy, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” To which the stock boy replied, “No, ma’am. They’re dead.”
Some people like Thanksgiving because it doesn’t seem to carry all the baggage that Christmas carries. For Congregationalists, it is our flagship holiday, because we trace our history all the way back to the Pilgrims who came from England, via Amsterdam, to the eventual settlement of Plymouth Plantation. There are mixed stories about how and when the first Thanksgiving occurred and when it was declared a national holiday. But if you look back in time, and squint your eyes a little, so it’s not so perfectly detailed, we discover that through those 50 surviving people, a good many of us would not be if it were not for our immigrant ancestors.
By the way, for should you ever need to know, there is a difference between Pilgrims and Puritans. Both groups saw the problems in the Church of England, but they differed in their approach to correct the issues. The Puritans sought to “purify” - Puritans - purify - from within. Take the Church of England to the New World, to Massachusetts Bay Colony, modern day Boston, and reform it from within.
The Pilgrims were separatists and believed that there was nothing sacred left within the Church of England, so they should step away and start over - by pilgriming into a new land with a new faith in Plymouth, Massachusetts. So if you wonder why you sometimes feel a little renegade, you can run it back to the original troublemakers.
The second aspect of today’s sermon mix is that it is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday, we begin a new church year with Advent, and then it will be less than a month until Christmas! So in some aspects, this is a culmination day, when we think over the last Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost and then all 28 Sundays after Pentecost, including today.
Maybe it’s a fortuitous thing, looking back a year just before Thanksgiving, to see the places where we’ve grown, where we’ve maybe digressed or regressed and the places we should redress. While Thanksgiving was probably originated with the idea solely of autumnal harvest gratitude, I’m thinking that as we mature spiritually, we also see the wisdom of gratitude for our intellectual, emotional and spiritual blessings and grace, too.
The other aspect of this Sunday comes in its designation as Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday as it now called. That designation may seem a little oxymoronic, we being a nation so disassociated with a monarchy with ancestors that fled the involvement of a king in the politics of church. Except that maybe we tend to throw the baby out with the bath water on those terms.
The passage for this Reign of Christ Sunday is not necessarily one that we would expect. But neither is the Gospel lesson for today that will be used in other churches. The Gospel lesson for today is the one about Jesus on the cross, between the two thieves and Jesus’ words about being in paradise with him that very day - which makes some sense, Christ’s kingship coming through even while he was dying on the cross. But it’s also rather strange - even weird - to look at that passage a week before we turn our focus to the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So on to Colossians.
Colossians was written to the Gentile church in Colossae, a western city in modern day Turkey, at one time populated by 50,000 people. At the time this letter was written, it was a substantially smaller hamlet that apparently specialized in the manufacture of wool.
Colossians 1:10b-20 (NIV)
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Supremacy of the Son of God
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Thank you, Kelly. Most people don’t really think about it, but people stand up for royalty, while a queen sits down for royal tea. And when it happened that those around King Arthur's table had insomnia, there were a lot of sleepless knights. And I don’t think hardly anyone yet knows that a royal family recently moved into the neighborhood. They live Tudors down.
I don’t know if it is true or not, but I read that Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia and wife of Tsar Alexander III, was known for her charitable works. In fact, she once saved a condemned man from exile in Siberia by changing a single comma in the warrant signed by her husband. Instead of reading: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia," she changed the document to read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." It wasn’t a word, but a grammatical symbol that saved and released the man.
Today’s scripture passage has a lot of commas in it, mostly because the original manuscripts didn’t have commas or periods or semicolons, so translators have to do a good share of guessing where to put the punctuation. Despite the difficulty of translation, there is still a lot for us modern day followers of Christ.
When we think about the Holy Spirit as that part of God left to us to help us continue the work of Christ, we may be good with that, or understand that as being cool. But the writer of Colossians tells us that he or she prayed that those reading the letter would be filled with all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Not just some. Not just a lot - but all that the Spirit has to give.
That’s an important piece of knowledge, especially when we are engaged with someone that can push our buttons or threatens to unravel our sanity. Here we have the promise that God gives us all the wisdom and understanding we need in those situations, that we can be the kind and gentler people we want to be - we know we can be.
The passage also says that the Spirit also gives us all power so that we may have great endurance and patience. Sure wish I’d known about these pieces of wisdom and promise when we had to celebrate holidays as a kid. Being the ding-a-ling I was, I’d have probably held those things up to God and said something snide like, “Hey, God! You’re going to need to dump a truckload of your wisdom, understanding and power on my family, cuz it’s time for tucking in the napkin again,”obviously putting the problem on the rellies rather than myself. So if we have nothing else for which to give thanks this week, we can remember those times when God’s Spirit held our tongue or our temper for us.
It was the second part of this morning’s passage that popped out in terms of Reign of Christ Sunday, tho. It may be hard to imagine, but even so, the Son is the image of the invisible God. If you ever need to change the direction of your thoughts, sit a spell with that one. All that Jesus was, is or will be, God is even more so. Or the next phrase - the firstborn over all creation. That will let you sit with the Trinity for a while, too.
And what an exercise in blessing we would have - together or individually - if we took a piece of paper and made columns with the labels of heaven, earth, visible, invisible, thrones, powers, rulers and authorities, and then started writing all the things we could think of to fall in each category. Actually, the last three items would be a really good exercise - powers, rulers and authorities - to see the immense good that comes to us through those who serve us - from police departments to the laws that govern us to the experts, teachers, elders, politicians and everyone else that would fall under the label of authority.
Most of the time, we all want to do well. But every so often, we fail or miss the mark of success, and/or goof up. But here’s the really good news: as it says in verse 17 of our passage, all things are held together in Christ. No matter what is going on in the world, God’s got it in hand. Regardless of how dumb we can sometimes act, Christ gets us and offers us mercy and healing. And every time we think we are “less than,” the Spirit says we are “more than.”
In all serious cheesiness, Christ really is - always has been - always will be - the glue that holds us stable, the twine that binds us, the tape that straps us together; simply because God loves us. Loved us enough to give us God’s own Son. Whether the reason is the coming holiday, because there’s a whole year of material, or because God holds us when all else looks unlike that, our cornucopia truly overflows with blessings for gratitude. So let’s get right on that.
Gracious, loving God, we are truly grateful for the many blessings with which you favor us. We ask your forgiveness when fear, insensitivity or frustration has stolen space in our hearts and minds. Help us to comprehend what your royalty really means, and what it does in us, as Christ’s brothers and sisters and your own sons and daughters. Guide us this week to find the depth of gratitude that we’d all like to espouse. And thank you, God, for giving us your Son, that we don’t have to keep it all together, because Christ already does so. In your holy name, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.