I was working here alone on Friday morning, my Thanksgiving dinner still pleasantly digesting as I was pondering what I should have done to make the turkey a little less dry. I haven’t had to cook the turkey for several years now, as we’ve been accustomed to traveling up to Potsdam to be with Bruce’s parents and aunt, and someone else always took care of the turkey. So, I wondered–next year should I use a baking bag, or wrap the bird up tightly in aluminum foil, or maybe just cook it a little slower, but for less time.
I heard the door into Webster Hall open, listened to the footsteps approaching, and a middle-aged gentleman, whom I had seen before, stood in my doorway and said, “I wondered if I might get a gas voucher.” As I was getting the folder with the vouchers, he asked me, “How was your Thanksgiving?” I told him it was good, though a little different this year without a number of family members, who had died this year. “Yes,” he said, “I lost two of my close friends in just these last few weeks. And I didn’t know about the programs here–I went to BROC for help with Thanksgiving, and they told me I was too late. I hadn’t signed up. So I had spaghetti with butter, since I didn’t have any sauce.”
Suddenly I wasn’t worried about whether I’d use more aluminum foil or lower the oven temperature next year. Spaghetti with butter for Thanksgiving? Why wasn’t this man sitting at our dining room table, eating some of our abundant, albeit a little dry, turkey?! If Jesus really was Sovereign of the World, nobody would have to eat spaghetti with butter, alone, for Thanksgiving, unless that’s what they wanted to do.
Delores Williams is a theologian at Union Seminary. “She grew up in the south and remembers Sunday mornings when the minister shouted out: “Who is Jesus?’ The choir responded in voices loud and strong: “King of kings and Lord Almighty!’ Then, [she said] little Miss Huff, in a voice so fragile and soft you could hardly hear, would sing her own answer: “Poor little Mary’s boy.” Back and forth they sang–King of Kings…poor little Mary’s boy. Delores said, “It was the Black church doing theology.” Who is Jesus? ‘King of Kings’ cannot be the answer without seeing, ‘poor little Mary’s boy.’” (told by Barbara Lundblad, Odyssey Network, “A Different King od King,” 11/20/12)
On this last Sunday of the Christian year, we celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday, which used to be “Christ the King Sunday,” when we affirm that Christ is sovereign over all the earth, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. It’s kind of a grandiose concept, easily slipping into triumphalism, rolling over all other faith traditions. Our own “God is still speaking” United Church of Christ has for its symbol a globe with a crown and cross on top. When poor little Mary’s boy is eating spaghetti with butter for Thanksgiving, what do we mean when we talk about the “reign of Christ”? For that matter what does “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” mean?
Pilate wondered that too. “Are you king of the Jews?” he asked Jesus. And Jesus eventually answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. [That’s what rulers of this world do–they have armies. They get their point across with weapons. They back up their claims with artillary.] But as it is, [Jesus said] my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” That’s the real question, isn’t it? What is truth?
In John’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t talk so much about the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven.” John’s Jesus, as we see here, isn’t really interested in “kingdoms.” What he talks about, what he reveals,–what he is–is the truth, the truth about God. “Jesus’ followers [writes John Pilch] are not subjects in a kingdom but persons who hear the truth and respond to it.” (The Cultural World of Jesus, Year B, p. 167) It was the Truth about God who was standing before Pilate. No wonder Pilate couldn’t make up his mind–all his old categories and definitions of “king” didn’t fit into the mystery facing him.
Br. Curtis Almquist says, “If your former experience of ‘God’ no longer has any meaning for you, if it’s too small, too pedestrian, too local, then translate it. Find some new language to speak out of the depths of your life. Get in touch with your ultimate concern, what you take seriously and without reservation.” (Cited by Lundblad, op cit.) Again, what do we mean when we talk about the “reign of Christ” What does it mean to say “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”? Two days after Black Friday (and Gray Thursday), when the rulers of the world, the Magnates of Consumerism, the experts on the economy tell us that we and our children and grandchildren will only be worthy of respect and honor and love if we have the latest mobile device, flat screen TV, video game, sweater with sparkle, swag with style, what does it mean to say “Jesus is Lord”?
We each have to come to terms with that for ourselves; find what speaks to the depth of our experience, what we can take seriously and without reservation. That’s the only unifying theology in the UCC–Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior–each one of us has to figure out what that means for us. For me, to say that Jesus is Lord of my life means that I try to live my life out of a Christ-consciousness–that dinvine-infused humanity that says “I am beloved, a precious child of God. I am enough.” Who I am–without buying or receiving one single thing–who I am is enough. I am worthy of love and honor and respect. And to say that Jesus reveals the truth about God for the world means that every single person, every single creature, is enough, worthy of love and honor and respect. It means that there are other forces and powers competing for my loyalty, even my life, that present themselves beautifully, compellingly, seductively, and if I don’t “know Jesus” well enough, that is, if I’m not grounded in the truth about God that Jesus revealed, I can easily get convinced that lots of other things are more important, that they will make me enough, worthy of love and respect and honor.
Pilate wields his ability to have Jesus put to death over him, but even that doesn’t even register on Jesus’ radar of truth. That, of course, is the real challenge to us who wrestle with what it means for Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior. Do we trust the Truth he revealed enough to entrust our loved ones to it when they die, let alone when we die? Just as Br. Almquist urged us to find new language to speak out of the depth of our lives, so Robert Roth “re-envisions providence”–”God will take care of us,” he writes in Sojourners Magazine (Nov. 2006) “Beyond what we can see–or are willing to see–God is taking care of us already. There is loving, tender guardianship going on. If only we would be more trusting, if only we would let go and see what God is already doing.”
That is easier said than done, isn’t it? Be more trusting, let go and see what God is already doing, when we or our loved ones face ominous diagnoses, when bills pile up or tensions at work or at home get more and more unbearable…”Be more trusting, let go and see what God is already doing…” when the “fiscal cliff” looms, and sea levels rise, when thousands of people die in heatwaves and droughts, and millions in wars and famines. “Brothers and sisters,” begins a recent New Yorker magazine piece by David Remnick) –Brothers and Sisters, before we open our hymnals and sing the many grim verses of ‘Now Cometh the Hard Part,’…the congregation is kindly requested to indulge in a brief interlude of soul-replenishing joy.” (11/19/12) Here at the end of church year, on Reign of Christ Sunday, is the upcoming season of Advent just a “brief interlude of soul-replenishing joy” before we sing the many grim verses of ‘Now Cometh the Hard Part’? If Jesus is Sovereign over all the world, if Christ reveals the truth about God, about who we are and Whose we are, then even in the midst of the “hard part”–even in the midst of death and grief and fear and pain and anxiety–we can trust that we and our loves ones–and everyone else–are being taken care of.
“Ooh, is He safe?” Lucy asks when she see the mighty lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “No,” replies Mrs. Squirrel. “He is not safe, but He is good.” Can we trust that God’s goodness transcends our safety?
Who is Jesus? King of Kings and Lord Almighty. Poor little Mary’s boy. Jesus’ great-great-great-great grandfather David, in one of his wiser moments, is reported to have said, “One who rules over people justly…is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” That is a sovereign worthy of our allegiance and our lives. May we live into that Truth, may we kneel in gratitude and humility before that Truth, and may we allow that Truth to come and live in us this day and every day to come.
Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark