On the Cusp of a New Season
Author: Nadia VanderKuip
November 26, 2019
Today we are standing on the edge of a new season. Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar, the church’s New Year’s Eve if you will. It is a relativity new addition to the church calendar, if you consider 1925, recent history. Pope Pius of the Roman Catholic church instituted it as a response to the growing secular and nationalism that he saw taking hold of believers. Appropriate…don’t you think?
Christ the King Sunday has this eschatological dimension to it, pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. It leads us into Advent, when the Church anticipates and waits for the birth of the long-awaited Christ. It is a Sunday where we are called to reflect on the mystery of Christ as King, uncomfortable place for some of us perhaps, who are more accustomed to Jesus as Saviour, shepherd or teacher. A king implies someone who has power over us, who can dictate whether our lives will be treasured or used as collateral for their own purposes. There is no shortage of stories in the bible of terrible kings; men who used their power to disrupt societies, enslave people and ruin the earth. To say that we follow a King means that we need a new language, both for ourselves and for each other.
Christ the King Sunday reminds us of a crucial truth about our faith…that we are not alone in this world. That we are created in the Maker’s image and cared for by the Creator. More importantly, we are reminded that though chaos and uncertainty surround us, God, our holy King, is faithful and does not abandon us.
It is a new season in other ways too, we are entering into a brand new decade, a new election year, hopefully the arrival of a new Associate Pastor, our family is transitioning back home to Canada and Pastor Bill is set to retire in the new year. Not only are we leaving an old church year, but we are entering into an unknown future. Today, now more then ever, it is important that we re-orient ourselves to the truth of Scripture – God is with us.
This week’s lectionary readings are full of interesting tensions. The Gospel reading from Luke paints a paradoxical portrait of Christ hanging on the cross and talking about Paradise to a couple of thieves. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah juxtaposes the chaos of scattering sheep beside gathering and protecting sheep. The Epistle reading from Colossians contrasts enduring suffering and giving thanks with joy, and scripture reading today from Psalm contrasts the calamities of the world with the city of God.
Thomas Merton once wrote, The Psalms, will, above all, tell us not merely what we ought to be but the unbelievable thing that we already are… we are at the same time in the desert and in the Promised Land. The Psalms are our Bread of Heaven in the wilderness of our Exodus.”
Psalm 46 is a song of Zion psalm, a type of psalm that focuses on the Kingship of Christ…well suited for today’s theme. It is a psalm that reminds us that even today, we are living in both the Promised land and in the desert.
Verse 1 begins with a reminder to us that God is with us and is our refuge – a hidden place where we can be safe. Verses 7 and 11 both reaffirm that idea that even though troubles may abound, God’s presence and protection holds for us.
Verses 2 and 3 speak of the very earth shaking and changing before our eyes, verses that ring true today as we see the unrelenting fires of California, the Amazon forest and Australia, tsunamis in Asia and even the changes in weather patterns, like tornados and hurricanes right here in the USA. Then we have this transition from horror and chaos in to these beautiful verses of 4-5: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
Throughout the bible, water is a sign of life, refreshing and renewing. Though not to be taken literally, because there is no river that runs through Jerusalem, the imagery of living or running water is meant to be a balm to our souls. A reminder that wherever we stand in this world, God is at work, redeeming and renewing.
In the midst of political uncertainty, (verse 6) God’s voice is heard. In the midst of war, God brings peace (verse 9). Throughout this Psalm, we find this rhythm of hope and chaos, hope and chaos.
And then, arguably the most famous and oft quoted verse of this Psalm – Be still and know that I am God(verse 10). I would guess that many of us know this verse and have our own interpretation of it. Maybe for some of us it is a reminder to slow down our lives, for others it may mean a call to silent, mindful meditation on God. For me, it reminds me of being a young teen in church. All the youth had to sit in the front rows of the church and parents sat behind us. There were many a Sunday where either our eyes would be slow blinking in boredom as the preacher droned on and on, or we would be “taking” sermon notes…that got passed up and down the pew. Evitability, one of the parents would lean over and whacked us on the back of the head with a stern “Pay attention!” causing us to sit up straight, hearts racing and refocus on the lesson before us.
That is what this verse is, calling us to what Susan Olson writes as ‘Alert Stillness”, a snapping to attention and a reorienting towards God. This is not a passive sitting around until God speaks, it is an intentional refocus that directs all our energy to what and how God is moving in this world.
That is what Christ the King Sunday is about. A reorienting us to the truth that we serve a Sovereign God who is present to us in the middle of this messy, chaotic, confusing and beautiful world. This way of faith is not a passive one, but an active, living, breathing, engaging one. And we are not called to do this alone. We are a people created to be in community with each other and with God. This psalm is a perfect launch into Advent, because it holds the story of a God who is with us in everything and leads us into the season where we are reminded of that truth in the story of the miraculous birth of Christ. So, as we enter into Advent, the season of waiting, take comfort that even though this next season of First Presbyterian remains elusive and full of uncertainty, we can rest in the hope of Christ and the truth that we are never alone.
This Psalm has taken new meaning for our family this fall. We are in a season of transition and an unknown future, and there are days where we are standing in the midst of the chaos of hard conversations, unexpected emotion and the literal chaos of our home which is being filled with boxes. It is easy to forget that God is in control here. Even harder to Be Still to make sure we are listening for God’s leading. However, much like the rhythm of the psalm, the ebb and flow of hope and chaos, we too have seen the refuge of Christ the King take hold in our lives. Renewing of family ties for me, provision of 2 jobs for Jeff, the excitement of the girls and most importantly the affirmation of our community here that indeed we are doing the right thing. God is made manifest in the hugs, notes and conversations we have had here in the last few weeks and we are so grateful.
It is often the case that pastors have themes that they preach on and from. Pastor Bill often talks of the Love of God for us. Pastor Laura taught us about the justice of God. And although I am not your pastor, I hope you heard from me the call to radical welcome and permission to be uncomfortable in your faith. It has truly been an honour and privilege to have been trusted with this pulpit. So as I conclude this final sermon to my family of faith at First Presbyterian, I wrote this prayer, a benediction of sorts, inspired by and adapted from Sarah Bessy’s new book, Miracles and other reasonable things…
My prayer for you is that you will stay open to the mysterious ways that God in moving within you and within this church. And when the ebb and flow of Psalm 46 happens, that you remember that God is ever with you all. May you continue to give hope to those around you, welcome to the stranger, voice to the voiceless. May you continue to address injustice in the world through your power and privilege so that all may one day have equity. May you also realize that it is alright to accept help, new ways of thinking and new traditions. May you love because you were first loved by God. I pray for days where you are uncomfortable in your faith, because that is precisely where God will meet you. May you get caught off guard by the fierce unrelenting love of God, the radical welcome of Jesus and the fire of the Holy Spirit. May you be brave enough to invite others into the church, into your homes and into your hearts. May you have the courage to create deep community from which all beautiful things can happen. May you live curiosity, wonder, and gratefulness for the world around you and those that live in it. May you never see others as others.
I pray that we would all live into the truth that God’s love for us holds all the joys and unspoken sorrows, the longings of our heart and our miracles, our grief and our hope and I pray all these things in the name of Christ our King.