This text is not meant to stand on its own.† After each segment, there is a musical piece, a spiritual, to be sung by choir or solo voice.† If you listen to the audio of this sermon, you will hear the choir at the United Methodist Church of Westford singing the numbers.† Bill Kruger is the soloist on the final piece.

 

GIVE ME JESUS

 

††††††††††† In all of my 47 years, I think the number of Sundays that I have not been in church probably numbers in the single digits.† But that doesnít necessarily mean that worship services were always exciting or relevant to me.† I grew up in the days where even here in New England the whole family went to Sunday School and then the whole family stayed for church.† That meant that as a child I sat through every service, every sermon, every week with not so much as a childrenís sermon to entertain me.† I have to say that there were not many sermons that I understood, especially in my elementary school years, and I could get pretty bored.

††††††††††† Fortunately, one of the members of the congregation was an artist and hanging on the sanctuary walls were four enormous oil paintings of scenes from Jesusí life.† Just like today families tend to stake out a pew and sit there every week, and we were no different.† That meant one of the paintings was easier for me to look at than the others.† Unlike the other three, the one by our pew wasnít really a scene of Jesusí ministry.† It was simply a large picture of Jesus standing with a shepherdís crook against a background of sky and clouds.†

††††††††††† As I looked at that picture, it didnít seem to me that he was paying much attention to the sermon either, and I connected to the Jesus in that painting as a friend who was in the same boat I wasÖkind of bored in church and wishing we could be doing something a bit more exciting.† So my imagination took off, and like Lucy entering the magic wardrobe that transported her to Narnia, I entered the painting and Jesus and I went off and did fun things together until the closing hymn brought us back.

††††††††††† I say all of that because I donít think children are alone in finding church boring and Jesus kind of cool.† The church is not supposed to be an end in itself.† The church is supposed to be the vehicle for helping people meet Jesus and feel like Jesus is someone they can go off and have adventures with.† But often we forget that.† The church becomes all about the church and Jesus gets relegated to a picture on the wall or a story in a book.† Jesus becomes a set of doctrines to agree with instead of a person to know and enjoy and love.† Itís time to get Jesus back.

††††††††††† Especially in those times when we are feeling aloneóthe times when everybody seems different or distant for whatever reason, the times when we canít see past ourselves and what we are going throughóJesus is who we need.† Jesus is who we need in those times because Jesus is the one who makes God accessible.† Jesus gives God a human face and we trust him because he has lived this lifeÖthe real life, the hard life, the life where they gang up and kill you for no good reason.

††††††††††† I have been in church all my life for only one reasonóit is a place where Jesus has promised to meet me, and that promise has been faithfully kept.† I do meet Jesus in other places as well, but like a couple that returns time and time again to the place of their first meeting, I come back to the place where, despite all the baggage of organized religion, somehow I managed to meet Jesus and fall in love.†

††††††††††† Ultimately, however, itís not about the church as an organized structure.† Organized religion is as likely to make you crazy as it is to make you holy.† Itís not about doctrine or dogma or whether worship services are stately and traditional or raucous and contemporary.† Give me either or neither, it doesnít matter.† The church is not being the church unless it gives me Jesus.

[Choir Sings: ďGive Me JesusĒ]

EVERY TIME I THINK ABOUT JESUS

††††††††††† As I was preparing these meditations, I came across an article about a meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Chicago in 2005.† They had many things on the agenda for their three-day meeting one of which was a vote on retaining some of the liturgy that was put into the Mass during the liturgical reforms in the 1960ís and 70ís.† Well, one of the Bishops had issues with the phrase ďChrist has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.Ē† They ended up debating it the entire morning and then tabling the discussion for another time.

††††††††††† Those words are not just part of the Catholic Mass.† They are also part of our own communion liturgy.† We call it a proclamation of the mystery of faith and everyone says it together.† Apparently the words came to both the Catholic liturgy and to us from French liturgist Father Lucien Deiss, who wrote the phrase in 1964.† The details and quotes from the debate were pretty wild to read about, and the controversy seemed to have more to do with the fact that the words were not part of the old Latin Mass than anything else, although some tried to make a theological argument.†

All in all it seemed to be a nice summary of why the church is in troubleónot just the Catholic church, but all of us.† Those types of academic debates are not limited to Catholic circles, we all have them.† While I served at St. Johnís a woman in the congregation made an appointment to see me.† Raised in the Catholic church, she was trying to understand how United Methodists viewed Holy Communion.† So she went online and found a statement produced by a study group that our denomination had appointed to look at our own communion liturgy.† It was 42 pages long.† She came into my office, threw down the 42 pages on the coffee table and said, ďWhatís all this about?† Either itís the body of Christ or itís not.† What can possibly take 42 pages?Ē

I know people are very well-intentioned when they think through these issues.† I know that it matters how we talk about God in worship.† But somehow I donít think God ever intended us to take 42 pages to figure out how to share a meal with Jesus.† When we think about Jesus, we think about the parts of his life that have meaning for our own lives.† We think about how he died and how we will die, too.† We think about his resurrection from the dead and how that gives us hope in facing the inevitable.† We think about the promise that he will return and reclaim the world and fix the mess we have gotten ourselves into.† Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

When I think about being a United Methodist, I think about the things that are particular to our denominationóour emphasis on free will, the communion table that is open to anybody, the focus on grace rather than judgment, and so forth.† But when I think about Jesus, itís a whole different thing.† Jesus isnít a denomination or a program or a doctrine.† Jesus is a personóa divine person--with whom I have a loving relationship.

I donít know about you, but if you think about a person you love, are 42 pages of analysis what comes to your mind?† If it is, I have some counselors I can suggest for you, since I think youíll be needing them.† I donít think God ever intended for us to think about Jesus as an intellectual exercise.† God has hoped that we will think about Jesus the way we think about those we love most.

When I think about my father, I think of three things.† I think of the night he died and my overwhelming grief.† I think about the gratitude I have that he lives on with Christ.† And I think about how happy I will be when my own eyes close for the last time on earth, only to open and see him again on the other side.† When it comes down to it, thatís all that really matters in any relationship that really matters.† And thatís what I think of when I think about Jesus.† Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.†

[Choir sings ďEvery Time I Think About JesusĒ]

 

RIDE ON, KING JESUS

††††††††††† On the church calendar, today is Christ the King Sunday.† It is the last Sunday in the church year.† Next week is New Yearís Day for the church.† We begin the church year by preparing for the baby Jesus to be born and then we go right on through Jesusí life, death, and resurrection, ending the church year with the reminder that the one who began as a humble babe in the manger, ends as a King before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.† Now maybe you believe that and maybe you donít; but I want to tell you why I think itís important.

††††††††††† First I think we need the reminder that weíre talking in metaphors.† Whether weíre calling Jesus the Son of God, the King, the good Shepherd, the true vine, the light of the world, or whatever, they are all earthly terms that we use in trying to describe a spiritual reality.† While we live on this earth, we canít know exactly what the spiritual realm is like.† Itís different.† Very different.† All our attempts to describe it are incomplete.† They are just ways that we try to relate by referring to something familiar.

††††††††††† So, when we talk about Jesus as King, weíre saying that he will relate to us as a King to his people. †At first, thatís not very heartening.† To say there will be a King is to say that Heaven is not a democracy.† Godís will is not determined by polling the majority.† To say there is a king is to admit to an authority above and beyond ourselves, and I think thatís an important check on human pride.

††††††††††† But while it makes us a bit nervous to think that someone else has control over us, the good news in this case is that the monarch is Jesus.† It is not a cruel tyrant.† It isnít a wimp.† Itís JesusÖthe one who healed the sick, forgave capital offenses, tossed demons around like ants, outwitted the self-righteous Pharisees, and kicked some serious you-know-what when things got out of line at the Temple.† Whatever your situation is, this is a king that can handle it.† Gentle and kind with the downtrodden, hard as nails with those who distort Godís love, patient and forgiving with those who are trying their best, brilliant and shrewd with the crafty, fiercely protective of those under his care.† This is not a king who will send you out in battle to risk your life for him.† This is a king who will go out himself and die for you.

††††††††††† For the persecuted throughout the ages, this is why the image of King Jesus has risen up time and time again.† He is the champion for those who have none.† He is bad news for those who want to abuse the weak or block some from entering the gateway to his kingdom.† If you have fallen by the side of the road, King Jesus will find you and lift you up.† His chariot will never just roll on by.† He will always have time for those who truly want to know him.† He obliterates any fear because he is stronger than any foe and more loyal even than a mother to her children.† His word is the law, and the law is love.

††††††††††† So on this last Sunday of the Christian year, we remember the promise of how it will be one day.† Probably it wonít look exactly like the common pictures we have of what has been called the Millennium or the age to come or any of those post-apocalyptic images.† Jesus himself says that his kingdom is not of this world.

††††††††††† But we do have the promise that there will be justice.† And mercy.† And victory over all that is evil.† When King Jesus comes riding in, death flees, illness vanishes, violence crawls into a hole and is buried forever.† Nobody debates whether the King rode in properly, nobody writes 42 pages about whether he is A king or THE king or someone who symbolizes a king but isnít really.† And nobody needs to preach sermons that bore children any longer.† You just join in the parade, bask in the love, and shout, Ride on, King Jesus!

[Choir sings:† ďRide On, King Jesus!Ē]

Sermon © 2006, Anne Robertson


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