Meditation delivered on Christ the King Sunday, November 21, 2010, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. There is no audio version of this meditation.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good afternoon, St. Andrew’s! Today is Christ the King Sunday and I want to ask you what kind of King you are expecting to follow in Jesus? Some of us expect to follow a King who will grant us health, wealth, fame, and fortune. Others of us expect to follow a King who will help us defeat our enemies and who will insulate us from all of life’s problems and difficulties. But as our Epistle and Gospel lessons make clear, that is not Christ the King. For you see, we have a crucified King who has rescued us from our permanent exile from God and who blesses us with his Holy Spirit living in us to transform us into his very likeness. No, we follow a King who tells us that if we want to follow him, we had better stop and count the cost before doing so because we will have to deny ourselves, take up our cross each day, and follow him (Luke 9:23).
Where is God’s Grace?
But why would we want to do that? If we are looking for a King of our own making, it is likely we wouldn’t because a King of our own making is bound to disappoint. But the Christ of Scripture and history will not disappoint if we understand what he calls us to do and be. For you see, he has rescued us from death and eternal separation from the Source of all life, a separation that our own waywardness has caused. He has suffered a terrible death on the cross to bear the punishment we justly deserve and he has done that for us because he loves us and wants us to be with him forever where he lives and reigns.
And since he wants us to live with him forever he wants us to become just like him. So what does that look like? Paul tells us in today’s Epistle lesson. We are to learn to endure everything with patience and we are to do it joyfully. In other words, we are to imitate our King on his way to the cross. We are to imitate King Jesus in his infinite kindness and patience toward us, even when we often falter and don’t get things right. If we want to live with him forever as he wants us to, we have to learn how to become like him.
Where is the Application?
But note carefully that Paul does not tell us that we have to be patient and endure the hard things in this life by our own power. If that were the case we would surely fail. No, Paul tells us to draw on the strength of God’s mighty power, a strength that is ours when we allow him to live in us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Living life patiently and with endurance does not mean we live our lives passively, sitting in our rocking chair waiting for our God to do something on our behalf. The kind of patient endurance Paul has in mind is that of a runner who keeps on running even when his body is screaming at him to quit because the runner wants to finish the race and win (cf. Philippians 3:12-14). Our Lord did this very thing in his ministry when he went to the cross and we bids us to do likewise. But in doing so, he also promises to give us his power and strength to help us endure the hardships of this life with patience and with joy.
This may strike us as being very weird. How can we endure our struggles with joy? But we often misunderstand the NT’s use of the word “joy.” We often use the words joy and happiness interchangeably, but a distinction needs to be made. Happiness often depends on happenings. If things are going well and people are kind to us, we are happy. But joy is independent of both circumstances and people because it comes from God. One of the most joyful epistles Paul wrote was Philippians, and he wrote it from jail as he faced the possibility of being martyred for his faith.
So what was Paul’s secret and how do we manage to capture it? Again, he tells us in his letter. We can have joy only when we invite Christ to live in us, strengthening us with his strength and reminding us of the great and wondrous future he has promised us through his blood shed on the cross. Christ’s great love and sacrifice for us makes our hearts overflow with gratitude and love for doing the impossible for us. His living Presence in us allows us to have a joy that this world simply cannot give because this world is finite and passing away. On the other hand, Christ’s love and gift to us is eternal. When we truly know we are loved and redeemed we have real joy. That was Paul’s secret to having joy in the midst of terrible suffering. He knew Christ and knew that he had been given a gift he simply did not deserve. Likewise with us.
“Trust me,” Jesus says. “Allow me to live in you and I will show you a joy and power you did not know exists.” This is what it means to live in Christ. This is what it means to have a saving faith. It is available to anyone who is willing to humble themselves, to let Christ live in them, and to transform them so that they become just like him. None of this is easy. In fact, it is terribly costly because we have to decide that Christ will be the King that we follow and not ourselves. After all, we don’t get patience and learn to endure unless we are thrust into situations time and again that require us to be patient and to endure! But if you want to experience love, joy, peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit, this is what you will have to do to enjoy these gifts, remembering always that you have Christ in you helping you become the human being he created you to be.
In this life there will always be troubles and trials, suffering and heartaches, and if we think otherwise, we are simply being delusional. The question each of us must answer, then, is whether we want to deal with our troubles on our own or to tap the very power of God living in us to help us not only patiently endure our troubles but to do so with joy. Many of us try to be our own King and sooner or later realize that is an exercise in futility because we are profoundly broken and flawed. But there is another way, a better way. We can follow King Jesus, a crucified King who bids us to follow him and become just like him in his patient endurance. Because he loves us so much and wants us to be with him forever, he has given himself for us in a terrible and costly act on the cross. Imagine that. God incarnate pierced and dying so that our exile from him can be ended forever. Not only that, he promises to be with us in power and glory in the Presence of his Holy Spirit to transform and heal us, to make us become like him over time so that we really do have necessary power to help us overcome all the difficulties of life—the very power of God in us. This is not something we should fear. It is something we should be eager to embrace. And when we really understand this, we will discover that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.