God Will Judge Those Who Put Children in Cages

Preacher: Micah Bales

Scripture Readings: Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

“The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in time of trouble. Those who know your name will put their trust in you, for you never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.”

We give thanks this morning, that we worship a God who cares for his children. A God who stands up for the weak, the poor, the oppressed.

We give thanks, because we need this liberating God of the oppressed. We know that we live in a country that is full of oppression. We can no longer close our eyes to the violence being done to black and brown lives every day in our streets. Nor can we ignore the outrageous violence, torture, and cruelty being done to our brothers and sisters at the border. Men, women, and children locked in cages. Parents shackled to walls. Children stolen from their parents in the middle of the night as a form of punishment. Punishment for seeking asylum. Punishment for fleeing poverty and violence in their native lands.

We give thanks this morning to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows what it is to suffer. Who knows what it means to lose a child. Our God is no stranger to violence, torture, and state-sanctioned oppression.

So we give God praise this morning, for the way he cares for us. He loves those whom the world hates. And he sees what is being done to his children.

We are thankful this morning, because we know that the God we worship is not a weakling. Our God is not a God of sentimentality. He is a God of action. His love is powerful, able to change time and circumstances. He proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. He liberates the oppressed. He is able to do these things, because he created us and called us “good”, and he is determined that the world will be made good once again. Through his love and power, God has promised to bind up our wounds and heal this broken earth.

“The Lord is known by his acts of justice.” That’s who God is. It is true to say “God is love.” It is equally true to say, “God is justice.” It is in this knowledge that the psalmist cries out, “Rise up, O Lord, let not the ungodly have the upper hand; let them be judged before you. Put fear upon them, O Lord; let the ungodly know they are but mortal.”

Let not the ungodly have the upper hand, O Lord. Let them be judged before you. Let them know they are but mortal.

The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. Our God does not stand idly by while cruelty and sadism reign. God judges the wicked. The avenger of blood will remember the children locked in cages. He will remember the infants ripped from their mothers’ breasts. God will remember the government officials who implement obscene border policies and then lie to the world about why these injustices are happening. God will not forget those who grow rich off the prison industrial complex that has spread like a cancer across this land – even to the border.

“The wicked shall be given over to the grave, and also all the peoples that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.”

What does it mean for us to be the people of God in the midst of this wicked and violent generation? For those of us with the privilege of citizenship, what does it mean to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are oppressed for their lack of legal status? For those of us who are white, how does God call us to submit ourselves to our black and brown sisters and brothers in Christ who are bearing the weight of entrenched racism and state violence? What does it mean for us to be made in the image of the God who stands with the outsider, the foreigner, the poor?

Our God is not a weakling. He hears the cry of the oppressed. He calls us into action, to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, healing, and justice. God’s love changes things – it comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable. The light of Christ is a balm to those who are suffering for righteousness, but it is a burning flame to those who hate God and neighbor.

Our scripture readings this morning encourage us to hear and act on God’s call to justice and reconciliation. They remind us that we aren’t in this struggle alone. God’s love is powerful, and we are called to become agents and ambassadors of this love in the world.

This means we don’t have to be afraid. As hard as it may be to believe, despite all the horror that we see around us, God is ultimately in control of this world he created. And his justice will not sleep forever.

This is something that Jesus’ disciples learned during a nighttime voyage across the sea of Galilee.

Jesus and a little fleet of fishing boats were moving across the water, when a huge windstorm came out of nowhere and the disciples’ sailboat was being swamped. It looked like the ship might go down.

Meanwhile, Jesus was in the back of the boat, asleep on a cushion. So here are the disciples, running around and struggling to keep the boat above the waves, and Jesus is somehow sleeping through the whole thing! Finally, the disciples wake him up. I imagine them shouting over this freight train of a storm, “Wake up, Jesus! How can you sleep through this chaos? We’re all gonna drown and you’re taking a nap!?”

And it says that Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind. “Peace! Be still!” The storm stopped immediately, and there was dead calm. After the noise and tumult of the storm, the silence must have been deafening – and probably a little creepy. It says that the disciples were filled with “great awe” and said to one another, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

In times of darkness and fear, we’re all like the disciples. We cry out to God for help. We’re upset, because God seems to be asleep in the back of the boat while all hell is breaking loose. We need help, and we need it now. Families are being ripped apart. People are dying. Where are you, God?

I don’t know what the disciples thought Jesus was going to do when he woke up. Maybe they thought he would lend a hand in bailing out water from the boat. They surely didn’t expect that he could speak a word and silence the storm. The disciples were frustrated that Jesus was sleeping through the storm, but they couldn’t foresee what Jesus would do to deliver them.

Like most of us, the disciples didn’t really believe in miracles. They had seen Jesus heal people and change lives in unexpected ways, but still they couldn’t wrap their heads around a God who intervenes in history, making the impossible possible. Despite everything Jesus had shown them, they weren’t expecting a miracle. They were relying on their own strength to ride out the storm and keep their little sailboat afloat. And the ship was going down.

Until it wasn’t. Jesus woke up. He rebuked the wind, and the storm stopped immediately.

Whoa.

In some ways, Jesus’ act of deliverance must have been even more terrifying than the storm he delivered them from. The disciples all thought they wanted to see Jesus display his power. They wanted to see their big, bad messiah in action. Preferably in battle. But when Jesus actually does perform a miracle, the disciples are often confused or even terrified.

You know, we all want to see a miracle. But we want a certain kind of miracle. We want miracles that we can contain and control, miracles that we can understand on our own terms. We want miracles that make things go our way, that fulfill our wishes for how the world ought to be.

Real miracles aren’t like that. True miracles challenge what we know about the world, ourselves, and God. When God’s power and deliverance shows up, it breaks down our whole sense of order and control. The presence of God humbles us, because it’s not something we ever could have anticipated.

So, when we cry out for justice, we have to ask ourselves: Are we truly ready for God to act? Are we prepared for something totally unexpected? Do we really believe that God can rebuke the wind and silence the storm? Do we have faith that, despite all appearances, there is a life and power at work behind the scenes – a boundless love that can deliver us from evil and transform our society?

Do we believe that God will judge the world? All the things being done in darkness will be brought to light. Everything done in secret will be revealed. God will judge the wicked and lift up the oppressed. Are we ready for the power of God to break us down so that we can be remade in Christ’s image?

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation! This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! God is not asleep as some suppose. He is here to judge the world – to bind up the wounds of the broken and stay the hand of tyrants. As the apostle John writes, The son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil. We share in this ministry with him.

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. God will judge those who put children in cages. God will destroy the works of the devil. The spirit of Jesus will restore our world. He will reunite families, heal the sick, and abolish borders. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving in this place. The light of Jesus shines to convict us of our sin – all the ways we have turned away from God – and gives us power to turn our lives back towards God.

Will we accept this invitation? Will we become followers of Jesus in both word and deed? Will we embrace the miracle that disrupts our lives, allowing the love and justice of God to take full control?

I would like to invite you to join me in a time of open worship. Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Father God. Come, living Jesus. Move in our midst. Work on our hearts. Show us how to be your children, living in your truth, mercy, and righteousness.

REFUGEE WELCOME SUNDAY

Psalm 105:12-15, Leviticus 19:33-34, Ephesians 2:15-20

Nate Hosler

If you have ever been hiking in a forest you will probably remember that the trail often changes. At times a trail is more like a road. Perhaps it was an old railroad bed turned into a bike path. At other times it might be a single track—a narrow groove of bare ground which weaves through the forest. On several occasions I’ve been on such trails which are not used often and it takes careful observation to detect the path and keep on track. In most of cases there is some sort of marker on rocks or trees. Most typically these are swatches of paint which correspond to the particular trail. Yesterday morning I was running on several types of trail. We set off well before sunrise and so were carrying lights. The trails were muddy from the rain—very muddy. Since this was a race they put up temporary markers on the trees which corresponded to the race you were running. We started on a paved road in the park, then switched to gravel road after a mile, and then hit the real trail. Because the terrain was flat and often muddy the trail had become quite wide from people trying to get around the puddles. I couldn’t really see the markers because my flashlight’s batteries were pretty weak but also because my eyes were attentively watching the trail so as not to trip or slip or otherwise wreck. While the markers led the way, on this path we still needed to find the best way forward. There was certainly a path, but unlike a single track trail there was still discernment needed on the way forward.

As I was running yesterday I was thinking about this Sunday’s reflection (I imagine I may have been the only runner out of several hundred thinking about a sermon). As I sloshed along and followed my color ribbon (orange), I thought that these passages are markers for us. They are markers which set a direction. The markers set a direction but do not provide a detailed outline which cannot be interpreted in different ways drawn up precisely for this context.  These markers do, however, set a direction. So when we read in Leviticus 19:33-34

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

When we read this we see a very particular instruction which shapes our direction. God values welcoming the “alien”—that is, the one who is from somewhere else. This is more complicated because it is written to the people of Israel which were both a religious and political entity before the formation of the modern nation-state and before Jesus came and called a people which crossed such ethnic, linguistic, regional, and cultural boundaries. None-the-less the passage points to God valuing and commanding a position of welcome and a position of not oppressing.

Another marker which we read today was Ephesians 2:15-20,

15 He [Jesus] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[a] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[b] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[c]

In this passage Jesus is theologized as the one who broke down the dividing walls between people. This is what I was referring to when I noted how the Leviticus passage about welcoming the stranger is somewhat complicated. Whereas God’s people were limited in scope Jesus broke this open. The 3 verses before our passage read, 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

“he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

These passages are markers which guide and shape our thinking. As we hear Mehmet sharing about the situation of Syrian refugees in his home country of Turkey let us consider how we live in light of the markers and his testimony.

OUR MISSION IS THIS

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

 Nathan Hosler

Last Tuesday I was with the daily #bringbackourgirls campaign vigil in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. This was their 649th day keeping watch and raising a voice for the abducted girls. On the drive back to my guest house with one of the organizers, we talked about their frustrations, fluctuations in attendance, from 500 at times to around 20 at others—how they have cried together, argued about politics and approach, been ridiculed by people who say “I can imagine you still out here once your hair is gray.” They gather daily to proclaim freedom.

Our passage in Luke begins–

4:14 “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.”

The “then” reminds us that this passage comes after something. It comes after something—and Jesus is “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Perhaps surprisingly he returns from the desert where we saw a feat of endurance. Directly after being baptized by John the Baptizer, as a sort of grand opening to his ministry, Jesus heads to the desert for fasting and prayer—and is tempted. In this same first verse there are three significant things noted. The first we just noted. Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit. The second is that he returned to Galilee and thirdly that a “report” about him spread throughout the surrounding area. We don’t hear why this report spread but apparently returning in this power entailed notable or newsworthy activity. At least part of this was teaching in their synagogues—for in the next verse we read He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” He was a circuit preacher and he was gaining a reputation.

And then he makes it to his home town—Nazareth where his reputation—the news of his activity—has already arrived ahead of him. Until this point in Luke we have not heard Jesus’ teaching or even the scripture he was teaching. We simply know that whatever it was, was noteworthy and creating a stir. In this we still don’t get a whole lot of his content other than the scripture he chooses and one note of his own thinking.

4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“to bring good news to the poor.” “proclaim release to the captives”

Recovery of sight–healing

Freedom for the oppressed

While we have two verses of the passage we only have a one line summary of what Jesus preached. “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.” He claims that he is the anointed one of God and that this anointing carries these actions. One commentator notes, [quote] “It is interesting that in Luke’s Gospel, the first public word of Jesus as an adult, apart from reading Scripture, is ‘today.’ The age of God’s reign is here; the eschatological time when God’s promises are fulfilled and God’s purpose comes to fruition has arrived; there will be changes in the conditions of those who have waited and hoped. Those changes for the poor and the wrongs and the oppressed will occur today. This is the beginning of jubilee. The time of God is today, and the ministries of Jesus and the church according to Luke-Acts demonstrate that ‘today’ continued. Throughout these two volumes, ‘today’ is never allowed to become ‘yesterday’ or to slip again into a vague ‘someday.’ The history of the church does not, however, bear unbroken testimony to Jesus’ announcement, ‘Today the scripture has been fulfilled’” (Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, 62).

The writer is stating that in the two books Luke and Acts (the first and second volumes of writing by the same author) the focus in on “today.” It is not a recounting of history as gone and dead or a hopeful, idealized, or theoretical future just over the horizon but is showing Jesus and the early church as being and acting out the presence of God’s kingdom—of God’s presence in the world.

At the beginning of his ministry as recorded in Luke, this would seem to be a succinct statement of Jesus’ mission in his ministry. It is not, however, only a mission statement that sets a trajectory of the sorts of things Jesus will do but in saying “it is fulfilled today” he is asserting an arrival—this arrival though, needs to be continually acted out—for certainly, there remain captives of oppression, those suffering in poverty, as well as sickness and the marginalization of the sick. It is also a continuation and affirmation by Jesus of his mother Marie’s song before his birth. She said

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Jesus’ claim is not an outlier or overly dramatic statement but is part of a stream of witnesses to God’s care for the poor and oppressed. Jesus simply embodies this and brings its manifestation. The Brethren have consistently looked to Jesus as a foundation of our faith—of our understanding of God and how we live this out. This is proclaiming and enacting justice and freedom and release from dept and the bondage of oppression. These are the foundations of a true peace.

In this practice the unofficial mission statement of Jesus is of great importance.

#1 Jesus mission defines our mission and this is to bring freedom, justice, forgiveness, and healing.

Now this sounds like good stuff—freedom, justice, forgiveness, healing—hard to complain about that (in the abstract at least). When you start bringing in Mary’s song about the powerful being cast down now that starts to be challenging for some of us. But even apart from reversals in status and power actually living this is quite another thing. One such effort I witnessed was in the town of Lassa. Lassa is on the way to Chibok and has been heavily affected.

After a first attack unsuccessful attack in November 2014 the town was surrounded at night. I didn’t hear how many people were killed but saw the destroyed police barracks, a large Brethren church, one of EYN’s ministry training schools, part of the hospital…I was there primarily to see the Education Must Continue school. They have 16 teachers who are essentially volunteering their time and are meeting under trees and in an around a wrecked police barracks without books or furniture—trying to provide education for 2018 elementary school students. Rooms the half the size of this space in front of our pews seated maybe 70 students sitting almost on top of each other on the floor or on rocks. Students have gathered from surrounding smaller even more remote villages.

Many hadn’t been in school for over two years. Part of the purpose of my trip was to work to find support for such efforts. After visiting the students we were escorted by several motorcycles with armed local vigilantes as we went around the village. Even that night there was an attack about two villages out from there near the Sambisa forest. Though it was far from secure the teachers and organizers believed that education must continue even in the face of what they call “insurgents.” This is what bringing freedom to the oppressed looks like. This is what proclaiming the good news to the poor looks like.

Jesus mission defines our mission and this is to bring freedom, justice, forgiveness, and healing.

#2 From Nehemiah—upon hearing of the situation he is moved to action

In the passage we read from Nehemiah we don’t get much sense of the context of the scene. It starts, all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel…. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.”

The book starts out “The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, In the month of Chisley, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capital, one of my brothers, cam with certain men from Judah; and asked them about the Jews that survive, those who had escaped the captivity about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame, the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates destroyed.”” Nehemiah sits down and weeps upon hearing this. He prays confessing to God. Nehemiah is the cup bearer for the king. While this doesn’t sound like anything too impressive he was someone who needed to be fully trusted (since kings can get poisoned) and was often in the presence of the king.  He is so upset by the news of Jerusalem’s trouble that the king sees it on his face—which is in fact a dangerous thing for Nehemiah since part of his job is to be happy and kings could easily have someone removed and killed.

Fortunately, this is not what happened. The king asked him what was wrong and Nehemiah had the courage to tell him and ask to go to take a look. By the time we get to chapter 8 where we read and we see the people reading the law, Nehemiah has gone to Jerusalem, secretly toured the broken wall at night, organized the people still living in area, began repairs, been threatened and mocked by surrounding groups who didn’t want the wall repaired, guarded against these same groups interfering, and finished repairing the wall in record time. In this context the people who have been surviving in the remains of a war torn area and away from their place of worship request the law—their Bible—be read to them.

Nehemiah heard the news of suffering and acted. He literally rebuilt walls but in the process also rebuilt a scattered community. In many places we witnessed the crumbling of structures—from the clinic at EYN headquarters which is rubble, to homes, businesses, churches, mosques, government buildings, and bridges which were bombed or burnt the physical destruction needs repair.

Often the walls look like they would work with a new roof but because of the heat of the fire even these seemingly intact walls will need to be removed. When talking with the associate dean of Kulp Bible College she said that when the tank exploded at the end of their road it shook the whole way up to KBC. Because it was rainy season the walls were more fragile and were damaged by this shock. Not knocked down but weakened. Not only were these destroyed walls and buildings huge investments and often the way of saving for the future but the marks visible destruction are constant reminder to severely traumatized communities. Even small amounts of support are significant. One friend told me that even if someone just receives one meal or one day worth of food this is a type of trauma healing since they know someone cares. I met a man from Chibok at the #bringbackourgirls vigil. He wasn’t Brethren but he remembered that back in 1983 a group of Brethren came from the US and physically helped build in his village. Now financially this doesn’t make sense—the plane ticket for just one of the US workers could hire local workers for days—but the significance of this humble support was immense, especially in times of such suffering as now.

So with Nehemiah we are moved to action–

#3 But these are big tasks and the Body imagery gives a direction in how to act

So with Nehemiah we are moved to action–But these are big tasks and the Body imagery gives a direction in how to act

Remember back to the comments on Luke. Jesus said that “today this is fulfilled in your presence.” He asserted that in his coming the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah were brought into the presence of those at the synagogue in Nazareth. In 1 Corinthians the writer uses the imagery of the “Body of Christ” for the church. In Christ’s physical absence we, the gathered community, become the presence of Christ in our community. We continue the work of Jesus—we continue the ministry of Jesus. In this reality the mission of Jesus becomes our mission.

But these are big tasks for an individual—the situation in Nigeria, much less the rest of the world and our communities and our workplaces. We, however, believe we carry them out as a body. Not only are we a body here but we are a body with EYN. They are not the helpless and we the helpers. They are not without gifts of the body. As we traveled fairly far into the northeast—well into areas formerly held by Boko Haram and still experiencing fairly regular attacks—I was surprised how some things looked so normal, at least on the surface. Passing EYN headquarters in Mararaba (past a few burnt out tanks) heading in direction of Chibok we passed through Uba. Uba had been emptied and at least 3 Brethren churches destroyed but the market by the road bustled. Despite continued threat people are moving back and attempting to get on with survival. Since many lost their livelihoods, possessions, and the value of property things are far from fine. But even in these difficult situation people continue on largely without external support.

My friends we are called as the body of Christ to continue his work of proclaiming freedom, healing. Our mission is this.

O BETHLEHEM

Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

Nathan Hosler

Advent is a time of light and darkness, hope and exile and welcome. A baby will be welcomed that brings hope but under the occupation of the Roman Empire and soon the holy family will flee into exile.

There is much talk about refugees these days—frankly much of what is heard is quite upsetting. Whether it is news about the conditions that drive communities and families from homes to the conditions of travel to the struggle to find a welcoming place to settle to the ways that many politicians talk about our policies towards accepting refugees—much of what we hear is troubling.

In addition to 3 million Syrian refugees there are thought to be 60 million refugees in the world. Refugee is a legal status of someone who been forced to leave their country to flee war, persecution, or natural disaster. This being the case many Brethren in Nigeria’s displaced for similar reasons are not refugees but IPDs—internally displaced persons (in Syria the internally displaced are 6.5 million). So the number of displaced persons—whether across international borders or internally—is much higher than the number of refugees.

Today I am going to read our scriptures—particularly the Luke passage—alongside considering the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you have paid attention to the so called “peace process” to find a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will know that the “return of refugees” is one of the ongoing contentious components. A few weeks ago I visited Bethlehem. I was in Palestine and Israel with Warren Clark, the head of Churches for Middle East Peace—of which the Church of the Brethren is a member. We were taken around Bethlehem by a refugee. He was a Palestinian Christian and, quite honestly, did not look like what one might expect a refugee to look like.  He was, however, legally a refugee—his grandparents lost their land and had to flee during the nakba “the catastrophe” in 1948. What was a celebrated event by one community is considered the catastrophe by another. Our guide was probably about my age, his grandparents lost their home during the 1948 war. While many families remained in camps for generations his grandparents had the resources to buy a house in or near Bethlehem. So while still living in the under the military rule of occupation this family is in a better position than many of the 5 million that have this statues—1.5  million of which are live in refugee camps.

While many of our meetings during this trip were more formal in nature—with activists or political, business, and religious leaders—we had hired this fellow as a guide. He took us to the wall (which many tours to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity strategically avoid—an enormous wall that looks like a high security prison isn’t good for business). The wall is ostensibly for security but is highly disruptive to life for Palestinians and often is used to separate people from the land and livelihoods. Our guide showed prominent graffiti from Banksy and others, much of which expressed the hope that the wall would come down. One read “1989 Berlin Wall, 2010 this Wall”. Another read “Make hummus not walls.” We also witnessed one of the regular protests with Palestinian youth throwing rocks and flinging marbles and tear gas being used to try to deter this next to a refugee camp near a military base.

Last year at Annual Conference (the big yearly gathering of the Church of the Brethren in which churches send delegates to discuss and make decisions guiding the life of the denomination) there was a “Resolution on Christian Minority Communities.” While it was officially brought from the Mission and Ministry Board, I had written an early draft and suggested this as a possible resolution. The idea emerged for me during a board meeting for Churches for Middle East Peace at the Franciscan Monastery in the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast DC. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Church expressed great distress at the rapidly diminishing churches in the Middle East, the places of the earliest churches—particularly in Iraq and Palestine. In these places the percentage of the population has decreased but overall numbers have also decreased because of people moving away because of the difficulty of living under occupation or in the midst of conflict. The statement which was accepted at Annual Conference reads in part.

“As members of the global body of Christ we are concerned with the destruction of Christian communities in regions where Christians are targeted as religious minorities. While we are deeply concerned about the persecution of religious minorities regardless of religion or tradition, we feel a distinct call to speak out on behalf of those who are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10).”…

It continues,

“We also are alarmed by the rapidly diminishing Christian communities in places such as Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. The elimination of these ancient yet still vital Christian communities would not only be a human rights disaster and a loss for the peoples of the region, but also a tragic loss of historic Christian witness in the land where the church first took root.”

John—a prophet –judgment as good news?

In Luke 3:7-18 we see John the Baptizer doing his thing. Last Sunday Jeff preached on the first half of this chapter. It starts with a list of rulers—people in charge—Jeff noted that the word of God came from a wild eyed preacher living in the desert rather than any of these allegedly powerful people. He noted that the Spirit still speaks through us and we hear God speaking through one another—particularly as we gather here. John the Baptizer was this preacher—in last week’s text we read—“He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,”

It then continues to give him context within the biblical and prophetic tradition by quoting from Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

This takes us to our passage. These verses start out sounding rather harsh—for example John begins by calling them a “brood of vipers”—though it sounds pretty judgmental the passage concludes saying–

18 “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

He starts, saying, 8 “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” This is the good news. Though people stand under judgment they can turn.

“ Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham . Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Being the children of Abraham is not enough. Family connections and ancestry don’t save you. This is not saying “be a self-made person without history or heritage” but it is saying this doesn’t save you. This was part of the point—perhaps the main point—when the first brethren baptized themselves in the Eder River. They believed that being reconciled to God—joining the way of Jesus—was something that an adult needed to decide, and they re-baptized themselves.

In his preaching John poses what he takes to be a standard reply when calling people to repentance—Abraham is our father—and says God can make ancestors of Abraham for these rocks. He says if you are truly repenting you will prove it by the “fruits.” If you say you turn to God then particular things will happen. He gives very practical advice to those around him.

 “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

In response to repentance and the question of what to do, John suggests seemingly simple acts of justice. These are not elaborate system overturning things. They do not appear to be system altering acts. I kind of would like him to provide what I would think is the more substantial challenge to justice. How about challenging the system of the Roman Empire’s military occupation? How about radically altering the things taxes are used for in the vein of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund–which would allow those opposed to war not to pay for war but for peacebuilding efforts?

The first few days of our trip we met with people and organizations working toward a resolution to this conflict—toward justice and peace for all wrapped up in the system. We met with the head of a bank, a chief negotiator, a head of a church in Jerusalem. We also met with former soldiers telling the story of their change and an activist who has documented the expansion of settlements for many years, all of which were discouraging, and really didn’t give me much idea how my little office could be involved.

My final meeting was with Omar at Sabeel. I was to meet Omar at the offices of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center at 2:00 on Monday. Since I was no longer traveling with Churches for Middle East Peace I decided to utilize the bus system rather than a taxi to get there. After boarding and figuring out the number of shekels needed to pay for the trip I waited to get to the stop that might be nearest to Sabeel.

At Sabeel I met Omar. We sat and discussed their work, the situation, and theology. He told me he had met a group of students from a Brethren college recently and that they “couldn’t even see him” because he was Palestinian. He said that in the face of this great disappointment my simple email asking to meet him was something—I forget his exact words—I believe the gist was that it was a sign that in spite of disappointments by Christians in America who cannot see Christians in Palestine—that the Spirit is still at work and that there is yet hope.

Though there is much more to say I would like to highlight three practical (and by practical I mean spiritual and theological) points from these comments on a visit to the Holy Land and an Advent reading.

#1  There are social consequences of reading the Bible. Reading the Bible is not a spiritual practice detached from our lives, social context, or the world. The work of Sabeel is to read the Bible as Palestinian Christians in the context of living under military occupation. The context is not irrelevant for the work of the Spirit in the reading of our text. The Brethren are a community that is reading community and a praying community. In doing this we will be changed. There is proposed a  Bible study in the new year. Do we think we are ready for it? As Sabeel reads John the Baptizer and Jesus proclaiming the good news they realize that the occupation is not  only not good news for them it is not good news for anyone.

Let us read together.

#2. In our reading in Luke we see John give guidance on means of repentance. These are relatively simple acts of justice and compassion. Here is I will be very transparent—I have the privilege of getting a salary to work on this type of things. This means I get to spend all my time on big problems and conflicts and, and, and—truthfully even though I get to spend all my time on this I still feel overwhelmed and tired and powerless and inadequate. One evening during my trip while texting Jenn I had to say–“it’s been a rough day.” In the face of seemingly countless and insurmountable injustice John’s word’s commending [relatively] simple acts of justice and compassion are indeed good news. We are called to act but not to control history. For me this is good news.

Let us do simple acts of justice together.

#3. While meeting with Omar he asked that we remember the Christians of Palestine and pray for them. This is a man who is acutely aware of the political, social, and religious challenges. He said on several occasions he has counted the guns aimed at him while walking from his office to near where I was staying just outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City Jerusalem (which was a distance of about 2 miles)—the number was around 40.  He is not unaware but what he asked for was prayer. He asked that we pray.

Let us pray together.

STAND UP, RAISE YOUR HEADS

Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-26

Jennifer Hosler

On Halloween, I walked into a drugstore and noticed little drummer boys marking the edge of each aisle. It had started. Was I surprised? Not exactly—I’ve heard people say that each new commercial holiday scheme is rolled out immediately after the last one ends (if not before). But it was definitely strange to see it beginning as trick-or-treaters were still tramping about at that very moment.

Drugstores, grocery stores, and departments stores have been at preparing for quite some time, but we—as a church—are officially starting our preparation towards Christmas today. As you heard earlier, this is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, comes from a Latin word which means coming or arrival. Historically, it’s been seen in the church calendar as a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.

If you look around on TV, in stores or online, the idea of preparation is everywhere: getting ready for Christmas through shopping and gift-buying, eating, and celebrating with family. ‘Tis the season of shopping, lots of food, and a really big credit card bill at the end. Our culture tells us we have a month of buying and celebrating from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but that message doesn’t match with what we see in our Lectionary passages today. Advent, we know in theory, isn’t really about presents. But Advent is also not about rejoicing. Christmas is a time to rejoice and feast and celebrate, for sure, but we aren’t there yet. We’re in Advent.

In our gospel passage this week, we see chaos and terror. The Message bible paraphrases Luke this way: “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all around the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking” (The Message, Luke 21:25-26). This clearly isn’t angels or shepherds or joy to the world. If Advent is not about rejoicing, what is the message of Advent?

Advent is about recognizing our world’s brokenness and longing for God’s intervention. It’s about seeing the violence and terror and hopelessness in this world, and looking to Jesus’ coming for hope. What do today’s Scriptures have to teach us? Though the world might be overcome by fear, Christians are called not fall prey to fear and terror. Jesus instructs his disciples to fight fear with hope, saying, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (NRSV, Luke 21:28).

Why a Messiah?

This year, two countries dear to my heart held elections: Nigeria and Canada. In both of them, many people were unhappy with the ruling party and the trajectory being set for each country. People longed for new leaders to bring the country in another direction.  So the ruling parties were kicked out: each country has a completely new government that, at least in word, is seeking to make a break from the recent past. I’m watching hopefully: in Nigeria, I’m hoping to see less corruption and more peace between Christians and Muslims; in Canada, I’m hoping for better care for the environment and more justice for indigenous peoples (Native North Americans).

When we read the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, we see a similar longing for a new leader. But the people of Israel weren’t just waiting for a new political leader to give them a fresh start. They were waiting for a Messiah, an anointed person sent from God. This leader would rule in righteousness and lead the people to worship Yahweh in peace. Today’s Old Testament passage illustrates this Messianic hope, with Jeremiah prophesying about a Branch from David’s family line, a ruler who would deliver Judah and allow the people of Jerusalem to live in safety.

After experiencing judgment and exile, the people of Israel had returned to the land, only to be overrun a few years later by the Roman Empire. When we think about the setting for the first Advent, we shouldn’t picture a happy country. There was a foreign army occupying Israel, militants causing havoc, massive social inequality, and general uncertainty about the place of God’s people in the world: this was the first Advent.

Two Advents

I say first Advent because the season of Advent has a dual purpose: to reflect on Israel’s longing for a Messiah and its fulfillment in Jesus, Immanuel; and to look ahead to the second Advent, when Jesus will come again. Advent is a bit strange because we look at texts that talk about the Jesus’ first coming and we also read texts with Jesus describing about what is to come. Forwards and backwards and present: expectation then that speaks to our expectation now, of Jesus coming once, and of Jesus coming once again, finally ridding our world of violence and fear and hatred and pain.

Fear is everywhere: U.S. politicians are telling us that we should be afraid of certain people; Daesh or ISIS also want us to be afraid to live here in Washington, DC. When I read our Luke passage this week, I couldn’t help but think about our present context, where it seems like terror and fear are pervasive, overrunning the world.

Our gospel text in Luke is set at the tail end of Jesus’ ministry. We are just a few verses away from the last supper, the trials, and the crucifixion. Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about what is to come next. He says to the disciples, “It will be like the world is ending and the earth is being ripped apart.  Chaos and fear will reign; people will be terrorized. Then, the Son of Man will appear. So when you see all of this, stand up and raise your heads because God’s redemption has come” (paraphrase, 25-28). The disciples are instructed not to be afraid, even though everyone else will be afraid. They are to stand up without fear because of their hope that Jesus will return and reign as the righteous ruler, making things whole and bringing peace.

Jesus continues on and tells his disciples a parable about fig trees. In the Middle East, the fig trees were the first to get their leaves. You really knew that summer was at hand when the fig trees had leaves—everything else would follow in green and springing to full life. The disciples were to pay attention to the fig trees, to be alert, observing the state of the world around them and looking forward to the future hope of Jesus’ reign. “When you see these things taking place,” Jesus says, “you know that the kingdom of God is near. God will not abandon humanity without bringing it fully to redemption.” Though the signs may say the world is overrun in terror and chaos, followers of Jesus are called to choose hope instead of despair and fear.

Choosing hope over despair

This past week, Nate returned from Israel and Palestine. Since we were both traveling and not together, his trip came up a lot in my conversations with people. When I was speaking with a new acquaintance in Puerto Rico, our conversation moved from Christian Peacemaker Teams to terrorism and to the conflict between Israel and Palestine (all light conversation topics). My new acquaintance said to me, “I don’t think that the Israel/Palestine conflict will ever be solved. What each side has done to the other, killing children or parents. It’s not going to happen.” I told him that I understood, but I couldn’t agree.

I’ve studied a fair bit about trauma, conflict, and cycles of violence, so I agree that there are significant hurdles and wounds to overcome. There so many entangled factors: power and land mixed with religious beliefs and ideology, combined with prejudice, violence, geopolitics, and genocide. And yet—as a Christian, I can’t say it won’t ever be solved. I can’t despair.

We proclaim faith in a Messiah who healed the sick, cared for the poor, embraced the outcast, and who was crucified and raised from the dead in that very land. As followers of Jesus, we proclaim a King who is just and righteous and who is our peace, bringing together Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free, into one body in the church. So while things look so bleak in Israel and Palestine, while stabbings and barrier walls and shootings and checkpoints and rockets all bring fear and hopelessness, I look to the One who is God with us and trust that in Him, there will be peace. Peace in the Holy Land might only come during that 2nd Advent, but God has called us to reject hopelessness and fear. “Stand up, raise your heads,” Jesus said.

Armed with Hope and Love to Fight Hate and Fear

As all of you know, our city is on higher alert than normal. My recent trips through Union Station have involved the sight of several heavily armed security guards, with big assault weapons ready. On Wednesday, I went for a run on the Mall and saw new guards walking through the Lincoln Memorial and a plain clothes policeman “casually” walking a German Shepherd near the reflecting pool (his earbud gave him away, along with some small official writing on the dog’s harness). Security is heightened and they’re watching for signs.

Thinking back to our gospel passage, it’s a passage where some people get stuck on the signs and their timing. Jesus is talking about signs of the end: what applied to the first century? What applies now? How can we know when the end is? While Jesus talks about signs, his exhortation really emphasizes two things: 1) hope; and 2) readiness to act for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus says, “everyone is going to be terrified! When that happens, stand up, raise your heads… be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (vv. 28, 34-36). Stand up, raise your heads, Jesus says. Don’t be so consumed with yourself. Be alert, be on guard.

What does alertness look like for the church? I see this passage speaking to the climate of fear and discrimination around refugees, people of Arab descent, and Muslims. When we are concerned heavily with our own welfare, our own prosperity and safety, we get blinded from the call of Jesus to care for the stranger, the sick, the widow, the orphan, or even, gasp, our enemies. What does Jesus want us to have strength to escape? We are called to be alert and pray, that we might escape falling into hatred and discrimination and fear and injustice.

Many Christians have been aroused in shock at hateful, discriminatory language used by people in politics. Words of internment in camps, forced registration for people of a certain religion: these, my sisters and brothers, are times of fear and terror. We are called not to be lulled into complacency with our holiday celebrations or by concern for our own well-being, but we’re called to live out Jesus’ call to stand up, raise our heads, and be alert. We are called to look in hope to a world where Christ Jesus will reign—and to demonstrate what hope in our Savior looks like. It looks like sacrificial love and nonviolence. It looks like welcome for refugees, for hospitality to those who look different from us, it looks like loving our enemies and praying for those who would persecute us.

This morning, in addition to our Old Testament and gospel passages, we read words from the book of 1st Thessalonians. It is the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessaloniki, a city located on the coast of Greece. How poignant that we receive a word from God, connected to the coast where refugees are journeying through on the way to Europe. Paul’s words to the early church in Thessaloniki included a prayer that they would remain firm, that they would “increase and abound in love for one another and for all,” that God would “strengthen [their] hearts in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). For Paul, being ready for Jesus’ return, for the 2nd Advent, means increasing and abounding in our love for each other and for all. This, friends, is holiness, being set apart from the world, by choosing love over fear.

How can we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ return, this Advent? How can we increase in love for all people? How can we stave off complacency and the overindulgence in food and shopping—in order to proclaim God’s Kingdom is at hand? What, friends, does this have to do with refugees? What does this have to do with choosing hope over fear? How can we, as a congregation of Jesus followers, show love to our neighbors who are Muslim?

I would like to take a few moments for silent prayer, for discernment. How can we as a church stand up and raise our heads, while others around us are overcome by fear?

[time for silent prayer and discernment; time for sharing]

Dear sisters and brothers, Advent is a time for preparation. While gifts and feasting and family are good things—and we know that good things, rightly placed, are from God—how can we also prepare our hearts and our church for the Coming of the Lord? Sisters and brothers, let us stand up and raise our heads, choosing hope over fear, choosing love over terror. We pray this in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord. AMEN.

Benediction

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all… And may he strength your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

THANKS, KING

Psalm 93, John 18:33 – 37, Revelation 1:4b – 8

Jeff Davidson

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the years, I am an adopted child. When I was young, like kindergarten and first grade, I would wonder who my birth parents were. I would wonder to myself, “What if my birth mother is the Queen of England? What if I could be a king, or at least a prince or a duke or something?”

I don’t wonder that any more, but sometimes when I’m watching or reading something about royalty, either current day royalty or famous kings and queens in history, I do wonder what it’s like. I wonder what it’s like to have all those servants, and all those royal houses throughout the country, and does the king or the queen ever just wish they could sit around wearing a crown and eating pizza in their underwear or something?

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to meet someone like that. What would we say if for some reason the Pope came to worship here, or the President, or someone like that? What would we say? What would we do? How would we change what we usually do, and if we did would it would we somehow change the reason this famous person came to visit us? I’m sometimes not even sure what to say to the District Executive. If Gene Hagenberger is too much for me, how would I ever deal with President Obama?

There’s a story about Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was a Native American, and he was certainly the greatest athlete of his time, maybe of all times. He was an All-American football player in college, and he was a pro football star. He played six years in major league baseball.  In the 1912 Olympics, he won the gold medal in the pentathlon and the decathlon – events that no one tries to do at the same time anymore. He was also fourth in the high jump and seventh in the long jump.

Back then all of the medals were presented at one time at the end of the Games. It is said that when Thorpe was being given his medals by King Gustav V of Sweden, the King said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Thorpe is said to have replied, “Thanks, King.”

I like that. Don’t worry about protocol. Don’t worry about whether he’s Your Highness or Your Excellency. Don’t worry about whether to bow or to kneel or to look him in the eye or to offer him a toast or to shake his hand. Just “Thanks, King.”

Thursday is Thanksgiving. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. And today is a special Sunday too! Today is Christ the King Sunday. It comes around every year, usually either on or just before the first Sunday of Advent. As holidays go, Christ the King Sunday is not a big deal – I don’t think any of us have tomorrow off to celebrate it. And as special days of the church go, days like Advent or Lent or something like that, here in the United States Christ the King Sunday isn’t nearly as big as some of those other days I mentioned. It started for Catholics back in 1925, and most Protestants began observing it around 1970.

I think it’s good that Christ the King Sunday is so close to Thanksgiving. I think the two go together. I think if we don’t recognize that Christ is King, we really can’t celebrate a true Thanksgiving.

You might think that our Gospel reading this morning is unusual to use just before Christmas. Christmas is the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, and this reading comes from near the end of his earthly life. Jesus and Pilate talk about the nature of kingdoms, kingdoms that are of this world and kingdoms that are not of this world.

In Protestant theology, this is called “Two Kingdom theology.” It’s the belief that Christ’s kingdom, both the heavenly kingdom and the kingdom of God here, the church, is separate and distinct from the kingdom of the world, the political kingdom. For Anabaptists, which the early Brethren were, it goes a little further than that. Not only are they two different kingdoms, but the two kingdoms aren’t to interfere with each other. The state is supposed to stay out of matters involving the church, and the church is supposed to stay out of matters involving the state.

That’s why a lot of the early Brethren in the United States didn’t take part in the Revolutionary War. Not only was it wrong to kill, they believed, but it was wrong to get involved in matters of government. Let King George do what he was going to do, and let the colonists fighting him do what they were going to do. Either way, we’ll stay out of it and we’ll obey whoever wins as long as they don’t infringe on our practices and beliefs.

One of the formative stories for me about this kind of separation of the two kingdoms is the story of John Naas. Many of you may know this story from the children’s book “The Tall Man.” The story goes that back in the 1700’s the King of Prussia wanted John Naas to serve in his army, because Naas was tall and strong. When Naas refused, he was captured and tortured, to the point of being hung up by his thumb and his big toe. After this torture Naas was taken before the king, and asked if he would join the army. Naas said that he couldn’t, because he was already enlisted in the service of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The king was impressed, and released John Naas, and eventually Naas came to America where he was one of the early leaders of the Church of the Brethren.

For a long time the Brethren didn’t vote, and for an even longer time they didn’t hold political office. Now, of course, it’s different. Most of us vote, some of us lobby the government on various issues, some of us work for the government; I don’t know if anyone here has run for office, but Brethren have served in political office. Some of us sometimes struggle with where we draw the lines between our citizenship in the kingdom of the world and our citizenship in the kingdom of God. I know that I do.

So Christ the King Sunday is important because it makes us think once again about what it is that we really believe, what it is about who we really serve, which kingdom it is that we really want to identify with.

I’ve thought about this some over the last week when I read the various arguments about whether we should accept Syrian refugees. I’ve read a lot of articles and watched a lot of Facebook debates, using the word “debate” very loosely. I also read Jesse’s excellent, excellent sermon from last week. If you weren’t here or if you have not read it, I encourage you to go to our website and check it out.

The debate is primarily on the level of what is best for our nation. There are some people who say that there is significant risk in taking in refugees from Syria. There are some folks who go over the top, but there are plenty of people who are rational and thoughtful about it. They believe that it is possible for terrorists to infiltrate the refugees, and that the risk of that happening is too great a risk for us to take. They recognize that not all of the refugees are Muslim, and they recognize that among those that are Muslim the ones who sympathize with ISIL or other terrorist organizations are a very small percentage, but they use the analogy of candy. If there are 100 pieces of candy and five of them are poison, would I scoop up a handful and eat?

The other side of that debate is that the risk of accepting the refugees is one that is worth taking. There are people who seem to deny any risk, but I think they are too optimistic. Even if there is a small risk, a blanket ban on Syrian refugees, or even worse accepting refugees who can prove that they are not Muslim plays into ISIL’s hands. It turns the war in Syria from a civil war among a variety of competing political and religious groups into a war against Islam. It makes the refugees and their families back home more hostile towards the United States, it runs a risk of radicalizing a significant number of them, and gives ISIL a huge propaganda victory and recruiting tool.

On a political level, I agree with the second position. I understand and respect that there are thoughtful and compassionate and faithful people who disagree with me. I would not scoop up the handful of candy, but I would take a piece and subject it to scientific examination to see if it is in fact poison, and if it isn’t then I’d eat it and start on another piece. That’s my “kingdom of this world” view.

The debate is not being held on a spiritual level. The debate is not being held with consideration of what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of God. That’s not a surprise. Most people do not see the divide between the two kingdoms. The boundaries have become blurred as the church has often used the state to try to achieve worthy ends, and as the state is happy to co-opt the church whenever and wherever it can. Many Christians do not see a difference between being citizens of the United States and citizens of the kingdom of God, and to the extent they do they often choose to favor the United States because of the constitutional guarantees of religious and other freedoms that are provided here. I understand and respect that position too, and I have many friends who hold it. There are many Christian denominations that do not see a clear boundary between the two kingdoms.

But the debate about what is the Christian position on the refugees really isn’t happening, or if it is I haven’t seen it. That’s because if anyone seriously asks themselves what would Christ say, what would Jesus have me do, the answer is pretty clear. The Jewish people, God’s chosen people, were slaves and then later wandered in the wilderness as refugees for forty years. Jesus, Joseph and Mary were refugees. The kingdom of this world tried to kill baby Jesus by having the wise men scout out where he was, and the adult Jesus was killed by the Roman government, the kingdom of this world. The Bible’s stance on how you treat refugees is incredibly clear. That’s why it really isn’t part of the debate. No one who claims to be a Christian wants to come out and say, “I am choosing to ignore Jesus” or “I love my country more than I love my Lord.”

That’s why Christ the King Sunday is important. It reminds us of who Jesus really is. We often talk about Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We often act like Jesus is our Savior, and we are grateful for the gift of salvation. But is Jesus really our Lord? Is Jesus really our King? Christ the King Sunday says yes.

The message that Christ is king is throughout the Bible. We hear it in our Old Testament reading – The Lord is King! We hear it in other Old Testament books – listen to Daniel 7:13-14:  “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” That’s Jesus, given his kingship and dominion by God long, long before the birth of the Christ child.

We hear the message at the very end of the Bible. In our reading from the Revelation it says that Jesus “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”

Jesus Christ is not king because you or I say so. Jesus Christ is king because that’s who he is, whether we recognize it or not. Jesus Christ is king because he says so.

I don’t know how King Gustav V felt about Jim Thorpe’s thanks.  Maybe he was offended, maybe he smiled. I don’t know. I do know that Jesus would be pleased with it, if it’s not the end of our response but the beginning. If we say “Thanks, King” in word and in deed. If we can do that, then this coming Thanksgiving will be the beginning of a revolution. Not a revolution of terror, or of weapons, or of violence. It will be the beginning of a revolution of love. A revolution that will change the world. A revolution that will put the world where God intended it to be – as a part of Jesus’ Kingdom of love, and mercy and peace. May that day soon come. Amen.