“Who are we?”

(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)

(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)

This sermon was preached this morning at Church of Our Saviour, Jacksonville, FL
Christ the King Sunday
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 93; Rev 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Today we are invited to be boisterous
and jubilant as we celebrate
Christ the King!
The One who is triumphant.
It is curious and not without purpose that
we celebrate this day on the Sunday before
Advent begins.

Next week the mood will shift as we prepare
to welcome the Light of Christ into the world —
a light that will come in the form of a vulnerable infant, one who is born into a family on the run,
born into a family of refugees.

How do we reconcile these very different images?
Or should we even try?
Perhaps we are meant to hold them in tension:
Christ the King and Christ the helpless child.

As I pondered this, I couldn’t help but
think of when Jesus visited the
countryside of the Gerasenes.
As he stepped out of the boat,
there were many gathered there,
hoping to hear him for themselves,
to encounter him and all his healing grace.

The scene is disrupted when the demonaic
comes running from the tomb,
his shackles broken,
and pleads with Jesus:
“What have you to do with me, Son of God?”

The able bodied there
– those in their right minds –
promptly leave, while Jesus stands calmly,
hands open and inviting,
before the troubled man.
He has compassion and quiets the
many voices, that have plagued him.

Later, when the people muster
the courage to return,
they find the man sitting with Jesus,
clothed and in his right mind.*

This is the overcoming power and authority
that Jesus, our King, wields –
the ability to be present, hands open,
in the midst of deep agony, brokenness and pain.

Earlier this month two of us from Church Without Walls
gathered in Dallas, Texas, with leaders from
30 other similar ministries
from around the country.

Collectively we call ourselves Ecclesia.
We shared stories and best practices and
offered prayer and support for one another.

While what each of our ministries offers varies,
depending on our context and community,
we all share an abiding commitment to a
ministry of presence – of walking alongside.

In our accomplishment-driven, goal-oriented culture,
it can be hard to get our heads around
this concept of presence –
but it is immeasurably powerful.
By consistently showing up for fellowship,
communion and prayer,
we foster a sacred space –
a community in which we witness the
powerful movement of Jesus.

I am wearing a cross that was designed
for Ecclesia ministries.
We are allowed to purchase these crosses,
with the expectation that we will bless them
and distribute them as part of our liturgy.

They are a strong symbol of belonging.
When we see one another on the street,
we know we are part of the same community.
This extends beyond our geography.

Five weeks ago, I was serving coffee from
the back of my car – also known as the Java Jalopy —
when a young man approached me.
He held up an Ecclesia cross and asked:
“Where can I find this church?”
“You’re here,” I explained.
He had received his cross from an Ecclesia
congregation in Philadelphia.

When we gather as a church,
when the powerful and privileged
come together with the broken,
forgotten and despised,
amazing things happen.

In this quiet, easy space, a leveling occurs
where we each let go of the pressure
of who we think we need to be.
We are able to rest — just as we are —
in this simple community.
Many who come from as far as Ponte Vedra
or Orange Park speak of the healing they
have experienced by gathering under
our sycamore tree.

I want to tell you about Richard,
one of our members who was baptized
on All Saints Day two years ago.

I first met Richard at a local shelter.
He visited with me over several months.
Often he wept as he shared about his struggle
with alcohol.

He expressed deep love for his 10-year-old daughter
and for his entire family, from whom he
kept his distance, not wanting to disappoint them.

About 3 months ago,
we learned that Richard died suddenly.
For days, we struggled to find any details
about his death or possible funeral arrangements.

But then, one evening I got a message
through Facebook from a woman in Georgia.
“Richard was my favorite cousin,” she wrote.
“I just want you to know how special
your church was to him, and to thank you
for providing a safe place where
Richard knew he was loved.”

A few days after that, I got a call from Richard’s mother.
She told me he had had a heart attack and
was found on the street.
“He was wearing the cross you gave him.”

As we spoke, we figured out that she volunteers
at a community hospital where I train chaplains.
That week, we were able to meet face-to-face,
and I reassured her that Richard loved her and
had no doubt that he was loved by his family.
Together we planned his service.

The gift of community – of meaningful connections
that can only be formed
by the creative love of Christ –
is greater that anything any of us
could do on our own.

In the Gospel, when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus:
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
his question is just as much about the community
as it is about Jesus.
He is asking the community: “Who are you?”

When Jesus is condemned and crucified, it is as if
the community has been annihilated
but we know the truth:
Jesus’ sacrificial action – his self-giving — is
about gathering the entire community –
it is about gathering all of creation
into Unity in him.

“Who are you?”
You are a beautiful manifestation of
God’s self-giving love.
You are engaged in so many ministries,
including our Church Without Walls.

When we act on behalf of the Gospel –
when we love and serve
the stranger in our midst,
it is not about the strong ministering
to the weak.

It is about a willingness to come together with
those who at first glance may seem quite different.
It is about sharing whatever we may have
or need on any given day.
It is about both giving and receiving.
The One who is at the same time
Triumphant King and Vulnerable Child
allows this leveling to take place.
In Him, mutual ministry is born.

“Who are we?”
We are children of the King.
And we are children of the One
who knows our deepest need,
because he himself has experienced it.

So let us listen to his voice.
It is for this that we were born.

*Adapted from Craig Rennebohm’s Souls in the Hands of a Tender God.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
This entry was posted in 12-step spirituality, Baptism, Christianity, congregational development, Diocese of Florida, Episcopal church, faith, Grace and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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