Where do we go from here?
Where do we go from here?
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on November 24, 2019
A little strange isn’t? Today, on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, we hear Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus. We have been journeying through Luke since last December, with a few side trips through John’s Gospel over the summer. But it still doesn’t add up that we end the Liturgical Year with Jesus hanging on the cross between the two criminals. “There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’,” Luke tells us. It would seem an appropriate passage for this Sunday also known as Christ the King Sunday. It highlights, bluntly and in our faces that Jesus was not a king or ruler or leader than anyone was expecting or even knew what to do with. He was a king who landed on a cross, the worst the Roman Empire could offer, and he still managed to say, “Father, forgive them.” Every Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I’m wondering what Jesus’ followers thought as they saw him hanging there, stripped, suffering, dying. And if they heard him ask God to forgive those who put him there and if they heard him offer comfort and hope to the criminal who knew Jesus was more than a rabble-rousing thug on the wrong side of the law.
And I wonder, too, what hope those followers of Jesus had in what was going to come next. It was certainly a time of uncertainty and disorder. With the Passover festival about to kick-off, it was entirely possible that this episode would be forgotten about in 48 hours. I’m sure that’s what Caiphas the High Priest hoped. I’m sure that’s what Pontius Pilate thought would happen. Neither of them wanted the festival-goers to cause any problems, and Jesus was causing problems, so he landed on the cross to set an example to those who might cause further problems. So for those who saw all that, who lived it first hand, did they go cowering back to where they were staying? We will likely never know what would have happened to Jesus’ message of loving God and loving neighbor had he not risen from the dead. But in those moments, his followers didn’t know that was going to happen. So what was their hope? What were their fears?
As we are in a season of the calendar year where the light is getting shorter and shorter. And we are in a season where finding hope can be a lot of work. It’s there for the finding if we are willing to look for it and point it out.
And there is a lot of hope that happens at Christ Church, New Bern. It was 51 Sundays ago today that we held the 2018 edition of the Annual Meeting of Christ Church. In fact, we are bookending this whole liturgical year with an Annual Meeting. Last year’s meeting was on the First Sunday of Advent, this meeting comes the week before that. In those 51 weeks, folks from Christ Church have made thousands of meals at Religious Community Services, tutored for hundreds of hours through Growing in Grace and the Craven Literacy Council, clothed and fed countless of migrant farmworkers, and made it possible for over 70 children with an incarcerated parent to go to camp without paying a dime. On top of that, our Pumpkin Patch this year netted over $10,000, which is a record for us, and all of it is going back out into our community. And you helped make it happen. Your work, your dollars, your prayers… they all brought hope that would not have happened otherwise.
On top of all that, we gathered feedback about what this worship space means to the people of Christ Church, and how we can care for it for generations to come. We are taking a leap of faith and hope by embarking on a campaign to renew this corner of God’s kingdom so we can better tell of God’s glory in all we do, and especially in our worship.
I said this at our Annual Meeting a couple of years ago, and it bears repeating. Not one single thing that I just mentioned occurred because of any one person, nor did it happen overnight. And for those things that began in the past 52 weeks, I doubt the seed of an idea was planted recently. A couple of years ago, I suggested putting a big mirror over the arches up above here that would allow everyone to see everyone else. The mirror would have the words These are the ministers of Christ Church emblazoned on it. We aren’t going to do that of course, but what would happen if you put those words on the review mirror on your car, or on a mirror at your house? Something that might remind you that you are someone who brings hope and joy into the world. Think of how much more hope we might see in hopeless places if we remembered every day that we are all ministers of Christ Church and we all carry that with us where we go, that the work of because the work that happens here is all part of turning the world right-side-up is ours to do because Jesus did it first and showed us how. We are far from perfect (don’t think that I’m going to toot our horn too much), but we are one little corner of the Kingdom of God helping to realize the mission and vision of God for all humanity to be reconciled to its Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
This effort to bring hope and make the world right-side-up is not without its challenges. Even here in the Bible belt, the mention of God or Church or Jesus can be met with a skeptical side-eye. Christians of all stripes and flavors carry out their “family” squabbles in the public view, driving away believers and would-be believers. Christians are seen defending abusers and perpetrators because it seems to protect the institution when in fact it has people sprinting for the exits. It leaves victims wondering for good reason why the Church has abandoned them. Sports fields seem a more attractive alternative for busy families.
Where do we go from here? I’m guessing it was a question the witnesses to Jesus’ execution asked themselves as they saw him hanging there helpless and dying. The quickest of internet searches reveal a bevy of ideas about what churches should do to remind the world of our presence and our importance. Few, if any, go to the heart of the question which is not what would Jesus do, but WHY did Jesus do it? And if we are supposed to be followers of Jesus, being reminded of his directive to love God and neighbor and his forgiving even those who killed him, then how can we live that message in 365 days a year? Jesus loved people unconditionally, offered healing, refuge, and hope. He did it while sitting on a hillside and while walking down the street. His harshest words were saved for those times he was in a house of worship. The irony of that should not be lost on us 2,000 years later.
Throughout history, the Church has been her strongest, not when Christians grappled for power and fame, but when Christians discerned the heart of God for God’s creation.
The Church has been her best not when we basked in the glory of our laws and canons, but when she actively invited those on the margins of society to be a part of her work and mission.
The Church has been her most faithful when her people have known themselves as ministers of the Gospel, having the humbling opportunity to be the hands, feet, and voice of Christ in this world.
Those are the times when the Church has gotten it right. And in so many ways, that’s what we do here. Over the next 52 weeks, what will you and I do as ministers of Christ Church to bring hope and turn the world right-side-up?