Preacher: Charissa Bradstreet
I would like to be the first to wish you a happy new year. I’m not as early as you might think. Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary time and next Sunday is the first day of the new liturgical year. Before we move into Advent, we close the liturgical year celebrating Christ the King.
I wonder what comes to mind for you when you hear the phrase “Christ the King.” Today’s collect begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords…”
We assert that it is the will of God to restore all things in Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. So a few weeks ago, during my morning prayer time, reflecting on the kingship of Jesus and this will of God to see all things restored, some people I love came to mind – people who seem to repeat habits that cause them to suffer and sometimes hurt those they love. They are people who go to church and who pray. And yet they seem stuck and in pain. I found myself suddenly angry with God and in my prayer I actually said out loud, “What kind of a king are you? I mean, really, are you doing anything or not?!” Essentially, I was asking Jesus, if you are a king, where is your power? I probably sounded like the thief on the cross next to Jesus.
There are times in our lives where God does not manifest the kind of power that we understand. In such moments, we are left to ponder, what kind of king is Jesus, what kind of power does he wield?
Some of you may have already anticipated my answer: the power that Jesus wields is love and the tricky bit is that the nature of this love is one that insists on our freedom. It is a power that is not interested in coercion or control. It is the kind of power, the kind of love, that trusts the subject to grow and respond from a place of freedom and within a context of grace. This power is generous with time. Paul tells us in First Corinthians that “love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” So what kind of a king is Jesus?
I suspect that Jesus is the kind of king who chooses to love like a mother achingly loves her children – children who must carve their own paths, surrounded as they are both by glory and by darkness. Jesus loves like a mother who wisely places boundaries but who allows her children to experience the consequences of their actions, and who embraces the immense difficulty of loving within this context of freedom. Jesus loves like a woman who knows she cannot make the choices that her loved ones must make for themselves – in the face of all the fear that might awaken in her. Jesus loves like a mother who continues to remember about them what the children cannot always remember for themselves: that they are loved, they are beautiful, they are gloriously reflective of the image of God, and they are never alone.
Jesus loves like a woman who knows that her children’s capacity for self-love will come at their own timing, both influencing and influenced by the choices they make. Loving others and offering them grace and freedom as they make their own choices can be heart wrenching at times – it takes us to the brink of what we think we can handle, and what we think those we love can manage for themselves.
I think that Christ the King knows this heartache intimately and has chosen this heartache over control. When we love others in this way, we come to know the heart of God – and we are drawn into deeper maturity because this kind of love requires faith and hope and it asks us to surrender what we grip most tightly.
How do we increase our faith and learn to surrender within this framework of freedom and uncertainty? How do we manage to bear our fear, our fragile hopes, and our heartache? How do we live without the level of control that we secretly believe would keep us and our loved ones from harm?
I believe we must embrace what feels like death, following the path of Christ our King. We grieve deeply, marking the transition, and we gradually learn new patterns.
We pray, and we get very still so that we can listen and receive what the Spirit would have us come to know. We trust that when we do not know how to pray the Spirit intercedes with sighs and groans too deep for words, joining us in this labor of loving.
We actively look for God and we spend time with people who are wise and kind.
And, very importantly, we take responsibility for our own freedom, discerning how we might choose well for ourselves – not making the choices that belong to others, but making the choices that are ours to make. We look for where Christ the King, our heavenly mother, calls us to see the inner dignity within and to live more purposefully from that true self. As we do so, we shed bit by bit aspects of the false self and habits that may have served us well at one time, but no longer lead to life and capacity for deeper love. We grow up.
Throughout the world, every day, people gather in church basements and community centers and pray some version of this prayer: “God, give me the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” They acknowledge the wisdom of discerning what there is to accept and what there is to do.
The way the King of kings chooses to rule is through boundless love, committed to the freedom of those who are loved – so that our love may be ours to declare and to give. What kind of king is Jesus? The kind who acts like a mother risking the pain of faith, hope, and love – and embracing the time horizon of grace.
I think this king is also fond of hiding in plain sight. Because we all bear the image of God, whenever we are faithful to the way we uniquely bear that image, it is like the king suddenly appearing in disguise.
If you are in a period now where the heartache of love is present, I hope that you have eyes to see where the king is appearing in disguise to bring you comfort, strength, and to show you that you are not alone.
If you feel at this time more like one whose string of choices have led you to a dead end, explore whether that dead end might be an invitation. Seek out quiet places in which you can hear anew the resounding cries of love that come from God, declaring you far from lost. Look for Jesus in the disguises of friends, family, and random strangers – particularly those who are brave enough to speak truth. Choose well. Seek healing. Surrender what no longer works. You exist, even now, within the kingdom of heaven and God is endlessly creative in redeeming what feel like wasted months or years.
And if you are in a period now where you are at peace within this kingdom of heaven, give thanks and be ready at any moment to be the king in disguise, just by being true to who you really are. You will be called to give expression to what uniquely lives in you.
I preach these words not as one who has it all figured out, but as one who loves and fears – and who is taking greater accountability for her own freedom. Countless times I have been met by Jesus in disguise – often by many of you in this room: an acolyte, a fellow pilgrim, a priest, a friend, someone with a glass of wine or an offer of dinner.
And not long ago Jesus sat across from me disguised as my two-year old nephew, entirely absorbed in eating an apple cider doughnut. That is, totally absorbed until he paused, looked up at me, the person he knew least at the table, and smiled, saying, “I proud of you.” I am rusty on toddler pronunciation and couldn’t make out what he had said. He repeated the words for me and his mother kindly explained, “He said he’s proud of you.” It caught my breath.
There are days when I feel very messy – and worry I have not made good use of the freedom and love that are available to me. And yet I believe that when this toddler said, “I proud of you” Jesus was saying the same. And if that is true, anything is possible.
This is our king, the one who loves us, the one who is proud of us, the one who joins us on this journey along the reckless path of love.
The prophet Daniel wrote, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away. And his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
So take heart, you are loved and those you love are held in the hands of such a king. None are lost.