The Last Sunday After Pentecost: Christ the King
Listening to The Voice
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
So, in case you don't really know me all that well, I will go ahead and openly confess that I am a stubborn man. Recently I had a pretty important learning as a result of my being stubborn, that I'd like to share with you today. You see, many ordained people, priests and deacons, even before they are ordained, usually in seminary, are typically encouraged ( and of course that really means they are told and expected ) to find and meet regularly with a spiritual director. A person who is trained to be kind of a spirituality coach. A person who can provide some sort of spiritual accountability, and who can function as a kind of advisor for all things spiritual. So, a few years ago, I, just like all of my colleagues in seminary heard this message, received this command, and because at the time I really didn't like being told what to do much, well, I ended up just never doing it. I never sought a spiritual director. For years, I was certain that that was ok, and that I truly did not need any direction or help in this matter. I knew how to pray, I actually had a good prayer life, and I felt in relationship with God. There was no need for help in my spiritual life, that is, until I actually became a priest. Go figure!
So, about 3 or 4 years after becoming a priest, in a very wonderful, but very very busy church, I began to feel as if something was wrong. As if something was missing from my life. As if God was far away, even though God was indeed the very subject of virtually all that I did every single day. It was then that I understood why I was encouraged to seek out a spiritual director all those years back. So I did, and what that process showed me, in the midst of the spiritual darkness that I perceived at the time, was that the only thing that had really changed was that I had stopped doing my part in my relationship with God. I knew God, I truly loved God, but I had stopped doing the work of seeking for, and stopped doing the work of listening to God's constantly present voice in my life.
Now, if I hadn't been so stubborn, would I have still had this experience? Maybe not. But that isn't my point. My point, and the reason I share this experience with you all this morning is because, as I read over our Gospel lesson this past week, to be honest, I couldn't help but to see a little bit of myself and maybe all of us in Pilate. I couldn't help but to see a little bit of myself and maybe all of us in the disciples. I couldn't help but to think about the fact that I, and maybe we, still might not get it, the very reason we gather to celebrate on this special day, Christ the King. That, even though we know Christ, even though we grasp and understand who we are as Christians and what our relationship is with God as a result of Christ the King, we somehow have still not quite managed to truly live into our call to listen to His voice.
We encounter Jesus this morning on the brink of judgment. In the final moments before His destiny is realized and put into motion, and in a unique interaction with Pontius Pilate, where Pilate is given the chance to hear Christ's voice, to see Jesus for who He really is. Pilot, of course misses this opportunity, but not before he ironically proclaims Christ as King in the very sign that he has attached to Jesus' cross. This Scripture is unique for us today as well in a liturgical sense, not only because it is a break from the Gospel of Mark which we have been working our way through for some time now, but because this Sunday also marks for us the end of the church year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent and therefore the first Sunday of the Church calendar, and so essentially this morning we find ourselves in what could liturgically be called the Church's New Year's Eve. Though I am quite positive that my liturgy professor would not have signed off on my calling Christ the King Sunday by such a name, for me, the analogy still holds.
You see, today, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we have the chance to reevaluate our relationship with Christ Jesus. Just like on New Year's Eve when we look into the year to come, thinking of all that we hope to accomplish and hope it to be, and look back on the year that has passed thinking of what could have been done differently, today, we have the chance, as we stand on the brink of Advent, to ask ourselves what we will do differently as Christians. We have a an opportunity to reevaluate the reality of our own personal relationship with Christ the King. Who is it really that we will begin to await? Who is it really that we will begin to prepare for?
For me, that's where the rub comes, and that's the hard part of this message. For me, at the same time, that is also the take home for today. You see, we're Easter people. We're post-resurrection people. Whereas Pilate stood in front of Jesus having the opportunity to see the Christ before him and didn't, and the disciples walked with Jesus and had the opportunity to hear the voice of God but didn't, in all fairness we have to admit that they really didn't know the whole story yet, did they?
They couldn't have really known yet regardless of how hard Jesus tried to tell them. Because, after all, why in the world would they even imagine for a moment that the Messiah, the King, the one they had all been waiting for ages for finally arrived in all His glory only to humble Himself, bow His head, and be sacrificed? What's probably even a little harder to swallow than that, is the fact that, unlike them, we do know. We do already know Him. We do already know what happened in the resurrection, that Jesus is the Christ, the King, and just as we shall witness and participate in through a Holy Baptism in just a few moments, we even go so far as professing our faith and belief in this King. Yet, just like with the story I have shared with you this morning, I suspect that we can all question whether or not we actually listen to His voice. So for me, that is our question today, are we of the Truth, as Jesus says? Even if our lives are so filled with speaking about and thinking about God, church activities and social service, are we listening to His voice?
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, traditionally today is the Sunday on which we boldly proclaim what it is that we believe as Christians, that Christ Jesus is King of all, and that our faith in and proclamation of the Truth through Him can and will radically change this world. Yet today I wish to make us aware also of the very real possibility of our doing so in our daily lives, from Sunday to Sunday, with empty words and empty hearts. Because just as I experienced in the story I shared today, I believe we are all vulnerable to the very real temptation of walking through our day to day lives wearing our cross maybe, but perhaps never truly bearing it. So, on this Liturgical New Year's Eve, as we gaze out and hover on the edge of a season of expectation in Advent, I want to challenge us to take advantage of this moment, of this day, of this sanctified space, and to use it to truly reevaluate what and who it is we believe in, and what and who those beliefs make each of us, so that we might openly and honestly prepare ourselves in this coming season for a new incarnation of Christ in each of our hearts. So, let us stand together today around this font in this service of Holy Baptism, earnestly proclaiming the core of our faith. Let us gather together around this altar table in this and every service of Holy Eucharist, whole heartedly handing over our selves and truly submitting our souls and bodies to the One in whom we live and move and have our being, Jesus Christ our Lord, Christ the King, so that all here present today and all of Creation might ever be desirous of and truly able to listen to His voice.
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”