11/26/17 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
November 26, 2017
Christ the King Sunday
“The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In an effort to assist in removing any remaining tryptophan inhibiting the little grey cells, Q: When is a 'piece of wood' like a King? A. When it's a ruler! Q: Which one of Henry VIII's wives enjoyed playing golf? A: Catharine Par. Q: What do Richard the Lionheart and Winnie the Pooh have in common? A: The same middle name! Q: What member of the royal family should always carry an umbrella? A: the Reigning Monarch!
Though not a king, Pope Pius XI, in 1925 and in response to growing secularism, determined that there should be a special Sunday, a feast Sunday in Catholic churches, to remember and honor the holy combination of Christ’s deity and reign as the Son of God.
Wanting to give this feast day all the solemnity it is due, in 1970 it was determined that this Christ the King Sunday should fall on the last Sunday before the beginning of the new church year, that being the first Sunday in Advent. Because of our calendar, sometimes Christ the King and the First Sunday in Advent fall on the same day. This year, Christ the King gets its very own day. For whatever reasons, many Protestant churches took up the celebration of The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, as is its proper name.
For a good many Protestants, giving attention to this day may seem irrelevant. But Christ the King Sunday marks the ending of a year and sets the scene for the wondrous unfolding and waiting of Advent. And it can bring us back in touch with some of the breadth and depth of Christ, not only in celebrating the King of Kings, but the servant and Shepherd King, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Beloved Son of God, the Chief Cornerstone, Immanuel, our Great High Priest, the Good Shepherd, Light of the World, the Lamb of God, Messiah, Redeemer, our Rock, the Way, the Truth and the Life, Wonderful Counselor and the host of other names by which Jesus is known. There are way more names of Jesus than you can shake a stick at, and without them, I think our faith would be more shallow and less meaningful.
To celebrate this special day, our scripture passage comes from the book of Ephesians. It’s an appropriate book for this day, because Ephesus, being the most easily accessed city in Asia, both by land and sea, was a hub for a plethora of different religions. According legend, Ephesus was founded by a tribe of the Amazons, and after numerous take-overs and invasions, by the time we get to this morning’s passage, Ephesus was ruled by Rome and Caesar. It is against this backdrop that Paul developed the main theme of his letter to the Ephesians: "the Church, which is the Body of Christ.”
Ephesians 1:15-23 (NIV)
Thanksgiving and Prayer
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Thank you, Michael Grant. Amy Peeler, Associate Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill had a great way of giving this passage a little more shape - as in a sandwich. She said, “Paul has begun and ended this section with comments about the Ephesians, their faith and their participation in the church, but it is the meat in the middle that gives the bread on the outside its identity as a sandwich. In other words, they know who they are because they are coming to know who God in Christ is.
It is, I think, fascinating that this theological sandwich is really one long sentence in the original Greek: a 169 word sentence. And much of it hinges on the part from verse 16, where Paul says, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” He starts with a prayer of thanksgiving, but then he moves on to prayers of supplication, asking God to give the Ephesians the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, a power like that which raised Jesus from the dead to the place that is above all power, rule, authority and dominion.
Think about that for a minute. There are some mighty prayers out there, the Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer, the Irish Blessing. None of them, however, ask for the Spirit of Wisdom AND Revelation. What if we started praying that for each other - for those in this place, certainly. But what if we started to pray for a Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation for our friends who attend other churches, acquaintances and unknown people who attend other kinds of churches, even synagogues, mosques and atheists? What would the kingdom of God on earth look like?
I think, in someways, the idea of having a Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation is linked to a maturation of faith, a growing up in God that begins to better understand Christ’s place in the universe and the church’s participation - as a whole body - in Christ’s sovereignty. It is an understanding that appreciates both the greatness and the intimacy of God’s love for us.
In some ways, a Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation would be a better version of the world in which we live. But I wonder if it would be a little like C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” when the children at one point walk into what appeared from the outside to be no more than a shabby little building. But once they step into it, they discover a vastness they could not have guessed at before. “Why,” Lucy exclaims, “it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside.” “Yes,” another character replies, “something like that once happened on earth. In a place called Bethlehem there was a tiny stable whose inside was bigger than its outside because that stable contained the whole world.”
Lest we focus only on a future world of such maturation, wisdom and revelation, those aspects of life are here with us now. The idea of understanding the majesty and sovereignty of Christ in the spirit of wisdom and revelation pairs perfectly with a verse from Philippians 2, “Therefore God exalted him (Christ) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth….”
But - and no good sermon worth its salt is without a “but,” How can one be bigger than the entire solar systems and yet still have one’s on the sparrow? How can you be mightier than the sum total of every president, king, queen, prime minister, dictator, and ruler on the earth right now and yet at also be concerned for the welfare of the widow and the orphan?
For a while, I would send an article I thought interesting to my niece. I probably sent the articles without any explanation or my understanding of their relevance, which was definitely a mistake. I didn’t understand that my niece took these articles as threats to her parenting skills. Now the articles weren’t all about parenting, but just stuff I thought she might find interesting, some on parenting, probably, but not all.
After she blew up at me for her perceived attack on parenting, in some wondrous, revelatory way, I understood that I could argue about the intent of my digital gifts till the cows came home, but my niece needs to learn her lessons herself. Much as I’d love to try to spare her and my nephew some of the heartache I’ve encountered over all 35 years of my life, I only learned the lessons because I learned them myself.
Scott Hoezee said something similar. "Each generation of believers should challenge all the notions concerning the identity of God. Christians should be involved in a self-discovery of God: asking new questions, discovering new ways of seeing and relating to God.”
In some Eastern and Greek Orthodox churches, there is a huge icon, or painting of Christ, on the ceiling or the front of the church. This art type is called a Pantocrator, which is Greek for “Ruler of All.” In these works of art, Jesus seems to stare directly out at you with wide and often rather stern eyes. His outer robe is deep blue, symbolizing the majesty and mystery of God and the tunic he wears under this robe is red, symbolizing Jesus’ shed blood. In his left hand Jesus holds a Bible, and his right hand is raised to give a blessing, with two fingers held up and the other three fingers held together, symbolizing the two natures of Christ (divine and human) and the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The size, awe and grandeur of these works seem to dwarf the one looking at the icon and certainly leaves one with a sense of a stern Ruler of All. In some of those same places of holiness, there are other works of art, smaller, at a more human level that gives Jesus a gentler facial expression and kinder eyes.
There are layers to the Good News of Christ, that Christ rose from the dead and promises that those who follow him will be raised from the dead, too. And there is the Good News that Christ sent us the Holy Spirit so that we are never alone in continuing Christ’s ministry on earth. There are undoubtedly scores of other layers to the Good News of Christ, but for today, there is the layer that is the miracle of God’s Holy Spirit, as huge as the Ruler of All that can collapse down into something shaped just like and fit into the human heart. And with that Good News comes the power of the Holy Spirit that can do what seems far beyond reality. So let us enter into this week, mindful of the power of God’s gifts of wisdom and revelation that God’s Holy Spirit gives us.
God of Wisdom and Revelation, we thank you for these powerful gifts that we too often take for granted or fail to recognize. We pray for your Spirit to develop better - deeper and richer - wisdom and revelation in our own lives, that they may help us to mature in our faith and following of Christ. For the grace that you call us into ministry with you to help others understand you and all your gifts, we thank you. Help us to better appreciate the gift that is wisdom and revelation that permeates our hearts - now and in all our days this week and years and all time. For all the answers to our prayers and gifts of your Trinity, all your people say, Amen.
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