Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Kingdom of God in Christ and the Inner Person

Christ the King + 2014                                The Reverend  Robert RM Bagwell+

Proper 29 + Year A                                                              23 November 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24                                                                                                    Psalm 100

Ephesians 1:15-23                                                                                                Matthew 25:31-46


In 1981, comedian actor Mel Brooks released his film "The history of the World, Part one" While playing his character, Louie the King of France he repeated over and over this phrase: "it's good to be the king". In the film he used his 'title' to exploit others around him by repeatedly dipping into impropriety in outrageous fashion.  Although satire, this has all too often been the impression left upon the governed by earthly monarchs of world history. That power and authority in earthly monarchs both fascinates and at time repels us.  This is true to the point that some in our day call for our ceasing to use the term "king" with God and Christ, as inappropriate and even a false portrayal of their respective Divine character. But are we really comparing Jesus and God the Father to Earthly monarchs of whatever description?  Not at all, rather we compare these earthly figures with the character of God in Christ!  It is that same character we are called to imitate and emulate in our earthly walk.  Perhaps if we thought of our pilgrim way as walking in the way of Royalty and the character of God, it might make this earthly journey easier to bear.


But Kingship is something that belongs to "another time".  Like "Lordship" it is something that is more difficult to relate to in our personal experience.  When we think of these terms we may be tempted to think of "tyrants" like George the Third who motivated the founding of our country or titled Lords who look down upon the little people or commoners of the past.  But these are not the accurate images of either Kingship or Lordship.  They are rather an earthly imitation of these designations.  There is only one King: King Jesus.  There is only one Lord: the Lord God. 


Why do I say this?  Because the Creator, the Lord, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is the one who rules in the hearts of his own.  His reign is one of Love and Compassion. He is the King who took the form of a servant, entered our world, was born of a virgin woman, lived among us, healed, taught, loved and gave.  He is the one others who would be king in earthly power, wielding power by force, exploitation, deceit, coercion and manipulation, command and demand  could not tolerate..  They still cannot. Many of them rule or reign as though there were no God to whom they will ever answer.  Their "god" is power.  Their "god" is wealth.  Their "god" is themselves. 


What are our images of Jesus Christ, I mean in our minds and emotions? The children of Israel in Jesus' day were awaiting their Messiah, their Anointed of God to be their deliverer. They had a preconceived view based on Tradition, imagination, longing and desire. Were their imaginations inaccurate?  No more than any other imaginations of the human imagination.  If we look to the hymn writers of our tradition we find titles like: "The King of Love my Shepherd is", "O Worship the King all Glorious Above," "King of Glory, King of Peace," and "O Worship the King all Glorious Above."  These are only a few of the character traits associated with Jesus, the Christ or Anointed One.  Jesus is anything but that kind of God: King, Lord.  He now reigns in our hearts, calls us to love, calls us to be Christ's emissary and messenger to the "neighbors: other human beings" whose paths we cross. Jesus defines Kingship.  This Lord rather than dominating his subjects allowed them to exercise tyranny over him during his earthly ministry.  He laid down his life for his enemies!  Such a character in our human realm brings the title of hero.  We call him King and Lord.  However, he was not the one that the powers of His day sought.  He brought change from the heart to the actions of humanity rather than the brute force and arrogance of the human will.

In 1956, CS Lewis wrote a book called: "Surprised by Joy" which was largely a spiritual biography of his Christian walk and journey as a former atheist who passed to a ardent Christian whose experiences served to many as a defense of the Christian faith.   It deals almost exclusively with his adolescent search for "joy" and those events leading up to and just subsequent to his conversion at age thirty-one. It comprises what Lewis himself would refer to as "spiritual autobiography," but not in the genre of "Confessions" like those of St. Augustine or Rousseau. Lewis views himself in Surprised by Joy as no more or less a sinner than anyone else, but it is chiefly his intellectual journey that needs charting; his is not a grand repentance from fleshly indulgence but a recovery of a child-like wonderment at the world and its mysteries.  When we see this image of the Last Judgment in the gospel today, we are challenged to see this as a new beginning of what the collect calls: " his most gracious rule."  Something to notice about this scene of judgment is something that should bring our attention like a laser beam to a great surprise! Both those identified as sheep and those named goats are surprised by what Jesus says. “Lord, when did we…” and “when didn’t we…” both capture the shock each group expresses when Jesus praises or condemns their behavior.  "Lord: when, when did we?????"  One group acted in a "rightly related to God manner" by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned or, on the other hand, in an unrighteous way by neglecting to do the same?  These individuals did what they could to bring healing and love to a hurting world or ignored the brokenness in humanity that our collect called "the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin,"   We live in the "already but not yet".  Redemption has begun in the human heart.  We are both redeemed and being redeemed.  Jesus has begun his reign in the human heart that the Great Judgment will complete.  This text is the only vision of the Last Judgment in the New Testament.  We share in that human redemption.  We do not come to our gathers simply to get but to be fueled to give as we leave this place.  We are a part of the mission of Jesus to our spheres of influence.  Jesus promises to be always with and for those who are in greatest need. If we want to experience God’s presence fully, deeply, and truly, we will look for God in the needs of those around us and, indeed, in our own need as well.  Surprise! God came to identify with us by being born in lowly Bethlehem in the form of a vulnerable infant. And God didn’t come to conquer the world with military or political might, but instead – surprise! – in the scandal, shame, and pain of the cross. So also God continues to come where we least expect God to be: in the plight of the homeless, on the side of the poor, in the face of the needy, and in the company of the imprisoned. Surprise!  God comes to those who need Him most from the hearts of those who know and love him in their own brokenness.  We call those people "Church".  The collect informs us that it is God's will : "to restore all things in 'his' well beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords".   God's purpose is worked out in us and through us to the brokenness of our world.  As we give thanks this week and enter a season of anticipation the next, may we walk as sheep of God's pasture let us be aware as the Lord Jesus guides us as we share in that kingdom walk wherever the Spirit may lead us to each surprise along God's way..

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Life of Vigilance and Walking in God's Light

Proper XXVII+A  9 November 2014 
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
All Saints' Hampton SC
Amos 5: 18:24     Psalm 70    I Thessalonians 4:13-18    Matthew 25:1-13

A Life of Vigilance and Walking in God's Light

 We will soon enter the season of Advent, the season when we will sing hymns about watchfulness. when we sing hymns like "Sleepers Wake, A voice astounds us" which specifically refers to our texts today. "Prepare ye virgins wise, Rise up with willing feet, Go forth the Bridegroom meet; Bear through the night Your well trimmed light, Speed forth to join the marriage rite."

Preparedness!   We live in a society urging us onward to be a constant readinessCin this world. Buy U.S. Savings Bonds, get mortgage insurance, get insurance on your insurance!  Why do we buy health insurance, fire insurance?  Is it just in case? I think it is wisdom. How many of us know how dramatically our lives can be changed in an unexpected instant!  Then what about buying ahead?  Playing on our fears, insecurities, and weaknesses.  But how many in this world ever worry about, Aliving in such a state that we may never be afraid to die@ as a prayer in the Prayerbook admonishes us? 

Is it because we know that in encountering the Living God face to face, will bring a decisive change in our lives, a turning from what we are to what we can be!  The readings address the Aready@ in contrast to the Aunready@, the Awise@ in contrast to the Afoolish@, the Apresumptuous@ in contrast to the Ahumble@. 

In all cases, the Awise@ are those who are engaged in action appropriate to their professed status.  What are our appropriate actions?  What are we called to in the hour, the period of waiting?     Are we wise? Are we foolish?  

In the first reading we are almost offended that God speaks to his people in the way he does.  After all, aren't we doing the socially and religiously expected things?  AI hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never‑ failing stream!@ What was going on here? Outward show without inward conviction or conversion.  How many think they can buy off God, if he really exists.  Just in case theology, but it does not honor God. The wealthy were exploiting the poor.  God had commanded his people to be compassionate to their blood brothers and sisters of the nation, but greed had become their God and their presumption was that God was ok in his place but certainly it had nothing to do with them and their business. Their fellow Israelites were becoming bond slaves indentured by debt.

On the other hand, in the religious world, it was business as usual.  They came. They did their religious obligation  The feasts were celebrated.  The wealthy gave what they gave to the religious establishment, presumably a Atithe@ of their wealthBthe rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  And these folks thought they were Agood people@.  We could translate, Agood Christians@.  I mean, they went to church, they tithed, they probably even prayed.  But what does God say?  I HATE IT!  We would call them "hypocrites" something we hate in others but tolerate in ourselves.

 They waited for the day of the Lord, thinking it would bring more of a good thing to them ! Unfortunately, their injustice and indifference toward God and others was going to come around their way and it would be a day of great darkness. God sent Amos to preach this message to these fat cats of the business world.  . They were comfortable in their ease. Nothing was going to happen to them! ABut all too soon the Assyrian armies would devastate their land of plenty. Justice would pour down.  God's justice is to be worshipped truthfully and not presumptively. How many of us do not like to be taken for granted?

The message of this reading is Awatch for yourselves and watch yourselves!@ that what you do on the outside toward God and your fellow human beings is consistent with who you claim to be on the inside, you know like Sunday in Church In a book I read ages ago called "How to be a Bishop without being Religious", tongue in cheek, the neophyte clergy are counseled in preaching to " make them laugh, make them cry, make them feel religious." Religion is about doing, faith is about being.  But is that what God desires? From this text we must conclude a resounding "NO".

 The sense of the gospel reading today is again watch! But this watching is done in anticipation of the coming of the Bride GroomBthat is Jesus the Messiah. This coming is an occasion of joy, expectation like we used to have for Christmas and Halloween as children. The is the occasion of a Jewish wedding and the groom would go to the bride=s house and abscond with her to his residence where there would be a great wedding celebration. These virgins were waiting hoping that if they should light the way to the groom=s house, they would be invited into the banquet, but once the groom and the guests had gone in, the doors would be shut and anyone not already inside, would be left out.

Again, these people were not "bad people," but they were counting on the Bridegroom being "on time". They "hoped" he would be on time.This challenge to always be ready has a silver lining.  If we live in such a state, that means we are in constant awareness of living in the "kingdom of God" which began when we believed and will culminate at earthly death.  It is to live in that "holy hope" that the scriptures speak of; "in Him we live and move and have our being." Paul writes. (Acts 17:28)

Hope after all, is at the very heart of the Christian gospel. Our collect says that Jesus "came into the world to destroy the works of the Devil" We must ask the scriptures to further enlighten us on those works.  Over the years I have found that many of us have all kinds of definitions of what those works of the Devil.  "Devil" by the way means to "slander" by basic word meaning, "to take apart." I would like to suggest that the greatest work of the Devil is "death." That is "to take apart life."  In I Corinthians 15 we read: "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  These Christians in Thessolinika were beginning to die and Jesus had not returned yet.  Paul writes them to tell them what is going on in God's unfolding revelation. God has not forgotten us.  He's got it all under control. As a priest and full time Hospice Chaplain, I have preached a lot of funerals and ministered to many grieving families grasping at hope.  The scripture tends to refer to a believers' deaths as "dying" and believers' deaths as "falling asleep." The Eastern Orthodox Easter Vigil sings: "He has trampled death, by His death"  Christ's resurrection took the kingdom of hell by complete surprise.  Scripture promises that as Jesus is we will be, for "we will see him as he is." (I Jn 3:2)  Yet we hide from death.  "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die" I have heard it said. As Jesus was born to die for our salvation, we must die to enter into the fullness of salvation.  We are being redeemed, a lifelong process of become more the child of God.

In Mark=s gospel we read:  ATherefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back ‑ whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: `Watch!=@ (Mark 13:35-37)

Sleeping on the earth is not living in awareness of what is going on around you, sub consciousness. Life is about preparing for eternity, whether by earthly death, or by being caught up to heaven to be with the Lord. Life is about preparing for eternity.

Jesus said "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  This is true of us as well.  So let us live in the Light of Christ until we see him face to face.