Christ is Our King, the Baptismal Covenant is Our Guide

Sermon for Sunday, November 20th, 2016 || Proper 29, Year C || Christ the King Sunday || Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43|| by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer

This is our last Sunday of our liturgical Year C– and marvelously, it is also Christ the King Sunday, a newcomer’s welcoming Sunday, another opportunity for ingathering of our annual financial pledges and donations AND we have the joy of baptizing Oliver and Murphy’s brother, three month old Quinn Buchanan this morning.

We are also welcoming our pilgrims Margot, David Bigley and Tim Reynolds back from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Since we met a week ago our teens and tweens and their leaders have learned more about themselves scrambling on a high and low ropes course at Tree Top Adventures in Canton, and they and others have been grappling with the highs and the lows of our national election and its on-going aftermath.

So there is a great deal going on in the life of this church this morning and it has been a complicated, emotional and challenging week for many. Let’s begin this part of our time together with an appreciative and shared deep breath. We are grateful to be in God’s house with one another out of the rain and bluster. We cherish this time to be with God’s people surrounded by friends, family, loved ones and newcomers warming up for the wonder of the coming season.

This morning we focus on the Kingship of Christ, his sovereignty and the nature of his power. It always feels odd to wrap up our liturgical year with this stark Gospel reminder of Jesus’ crucifixion and with it, one of the most uncomfortable aspects of God – Christ’s Kingship. We are a nation whose system of government was established as a direct response to eschewing a monarchy and royal rein and subjugation, but as Christians we are ruled by a sovereign unique in all the world and human history. In this morning’s gospel our King, Jesus Christ is on the cross, suffering the human trauma of approaching death, yet fully divine and powerfully able to save himself if he were to so chose. To respond to the taunts and jeers of those at his feet by wielding his great power….and as we heard, he did respond.

He demonstrated his revolutionary, world and soul- saving power by saving another. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He was wrongly convicted. Those who taunted him, condemned him to death and nailed him to the cross knew that he had done nothing wrong, but he was persecuted for shaking the status quo, for upending the power structure and threatening the control of the state. To be crucified in Roman times was to be visibly killed as an enemy of the state and made an example for passers by.

We, today’s listeners know the good news that is to follow. Three days after the story in today’s gospel Jesus rose and rejoined his friends. But this morning we contemplate how the fully divine and fully human Jesus demonstrated his Kingship by dying on the cross, without retribution, without a show of force and without saving himself.

Jesus heard the man hanging next to him affirm that Jesus had not sinned, and while this condemned man could have been understandably consumed by his own discomfort and pain, this criminal acknowledged Jesus’ divinity and asked to be remembered in Christ’s Kingdom. And Jesus saved him.

This is the King that we worship and celebrate this morning, whose sovereignty we acknowledge and by whose power we are ruled, Christ the King who demonstrates his authority wielding the revolutionary tools of compassion, humility and love. Christ the King who is focused on saving others. This is the King that we are promising to help Quinn understand and love.

We have so many opportunities to practice this radical power. Listen to your fellow parishioners about their work in the world. We will all hear about the trip to White Earth Reservation that our advance team of pilgrims concluded this week, and several of us are strengthening our relationship with our sister parish, with whom we share our namesake’s saint, St. Stephens Boston, with two teams of tutors working with young people a couple of times a month. Each encounter is an opportunity to build bridges, which are aimed at lifting us up, helping us to see Christ in others and expanding our appreciation of the diversity and needs of God’s kingdom on earth.

St. Stephens’ rector Rev. Tim Crellin will visit us sometime early next year to talk about the ministries underway in the South End and how we may continue to draw closer together in our life in Christ, to more closely connect our children to one another and to listen to how their church community feeds their spiritual and social needs as we do here. Let us be curious about how to share the witness and the pain and angst of community members who experience life very differently from ours in Cohasset.

Among the faith filled mysteries and connections that we share with one another is baptism and our baptismal covenant. This morning we are blessed to be baptizing Quinn and welcoming his Godparents and loved ones to our parish community and into a life of fullness in the body of Christ. This is not something that we will be doing to Quinn and his family. Baptism is something that we will be doing with the Buchanan family. Each of us renewing our baptismal covenant, promising the Buchanans, God and each other that we believe in God, renounce evil and promise to persevere in resisting its effects. We are going to promise to continue in the apostles teaching and to love and serve god and one another.

If you’ve been in the Episcopal Church for a long time, you may be tempted to say these words by rote. They are familiar, they echo the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, and we read them each time we baptize and welcome someone into the full life of Christ. This morning I want to set them apart and ask you to simultaneously listen to someone close to you, while you are reciting and affirming your own renewal of your Baptismal Vows. Listen and speak generously as you think God hears and welcomes your words and those in this sanctuary. If the Baptismal Covenant is less familiar to you, it offers us both a statement of our shared faith and guidance for how to live into its promise. It also provides a wonderful road map to consider as we grapple with how to love one another demonstrating the skills of compassion, humility and love.

The five questions we are asked in our vow renewal are big thorny questions “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you strive for justice an peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” Fortunately, as we signal with our answers, we are not left to do this tough work alone – we affirm that we will do these critically important, Christian things, with God’s help.

I want to challenge us to spend some extra time with our baptismal covenant as we approach the new church year. Let us think about some concrete tangible ways that we will live into the challenging promises we will affirm during the coming year. The cliff’s notes version of our Baptismal Covenant is – how are we going to demonstrate Christ’s love in the world, at home or school or at work and here in our church community? How are we going to reach beyond ourselves, understanding that our job is not to save ourselves, but to save another, and how might we demonstrate compassion, humility and love to one another and to strangers.

This morning it is easy to imagine ourselves modeling and demonstrating God’s love to Quinn as we baptize and welcome him into our community – and into the fullness of Christ. Jesus in today’s gospel reminds us that we are to love, serve and save all, which can be much more difficult. Our friend and colleague, Dr. Frank Wade whom many of you know and who has been a mentor and guide for both me and for Margot, wrote a prayer of petition to help remind us and ask for God’s help as we work toward realizing the challenging promises we make in our Baptismal covenant.

Let us pray—

Lord God, who has made all manner of people wonderfully and disturbingly different, hurl us into the differences that beset us. Grant us the cross bearing patience to listen when we would rather speak, to understand when we would rather proclaim and to draw near when we would rather push back that we might make harmony out of discord, trust out of skepticism and community out of conflict.

If we can spend the coming year – Year A– finding the patience to listen, experiencing comfort in understanding rather than satisfaction in our urgency to be understood, if we can find pleasure in harmony and nurture trust and community, then we too will be with Christ the King in Paradise.  Amen.

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