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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christ the King Sunday - 11/20/2016

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year and because it is the last Sunday it has liturgical significance and shouldn’t be overlooked. But we also decided to try something new this year and include a Thanksgiving theme in what we do today in advance of our national day of Thanksgiving this coming Thursday. My task then was to find a way to connect the two, Christ the King along with Thanksgiving. When I started to think about it, it wasn’t that hard because both observances have a reflective, looking back quality about them.

Christ the King Sunday, you might remember, is a relatively recent addition to the church calendar, a day added to the Catholic Church calendar in 1925 in response to a society that was seen as becoming increasingly secular, less focused on the church. The day was intended to remind the faithful that in the midst of a changing world, Christ was still king and hope should lie with him, not with any secular powers or other political movements that were promising a better world, communism being a primary target at that time. Eventually other church bodies, including Lutherans, joined the Catholics in observing this day.

Close to a hundred years later, the more things change the more they stay the same. Communism isn’t so much the target anymore, but there are still secular powers and forces like consumerism and militarism and nationalism, that promise that they’ll make everything better, they’ll make you happy, wealthy and safe. They’re all versions of the truth but versions that turn out to be not so true after all as they don’t deliver on what they promise.

On Christ the King Sunday we’re reminded that for us, Jesus is the truth and our primary allegiance is to him. Today we reflect on another liturgical year gone by, and during that span of time, for any of us there have been personal highs and lows, things large and small that have made us happy, but also things that have saddened us. But through it all we have again heard the stories that ground us. Again we have gone through the cycle of festivals and Sundays that tell us of God’s love for us. They tell us about Jesus who is not just a prophet and teacher, but Jesus, who by the grace of his life, death and resurrection makes us children of God. By sharing in our human nature he transforms it with his divine nature. That is our truth, the one that we come back to today as we end the church year with the exclamation point of Christ the King Sunday.

With that, we get different images. In thinking about Christ as king our first thoughts probably turn toward the kind of image that’s behind me in stained glass or the image on the wall or what’s on the cover of the bulletin, Christ enthroned in glory, the divine majesty of the creator and ruler of the world, Christ Jesus our redeemer, made flesh and visible to us. In today’s gospel though, that’s not what we get. Instead we get the crucified Jesus being mocked as the King of the Jews. We get Jesus as a different kind of king with a different kind of kingdom, one in which power is made known in weakness and in loving service to others.

We need both images; it’s not that one is right and one is wrong; both represent truth about Christ the King. They’re images that Paul seems to have in mind as he wrote his letter to the Colossians. He gives us Jesus as the first born of creation; all things have been created through him and for him; he is before all things; all things hold together in him; he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first born of the dead; he is in first place in everything; in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. We ought to pause here and let all that sink in. This is Paul poetically overcome as he considers the majesty of Jesus and the awesomeness of the truth that he represents. You can hear echoes of his words in the Nicene Creed which we will confess in a few minutes: God from God, light from light, true God from true God.

From there though, Paul reverses his thought and reflects on the suffering of Jesus, who makes peace through the blood of his cross. With that he proclaims this contradictory truth concerning Jesus, truth made known by revelation, not reason. What appears to be humiliation and defeat is actually just the opposite and this too is an image of Christ the King, a king whose kingdom is made known in self giving sacrifice and, on the cross, he has done it! For us and for our salvation he has done it and for that we give thanks.

Paul mentions thanks too; in the verses that precede his powerful and poetic image of Jesus he implores his audience to joyfully give thanks to the Father. Keep in mind that in this and in most of Paul’s letters there are issues within the community to whom he writes, conflicts or hardships of one kind or another that were not sources of joy. In the midst of it though there is the reminder to offer thanks and it’s a good reminder as it helps to keep things in perspective.

As a nation, on the fourth Thursday of November, we observe a day of Thanksgiving. It’s not a church holiday; it could be argued that in the church we don’t need such a day because giving thanks is part of pretty much every service all year long. In our communion liturgy I say or sing, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and you respond, “It is right to give our thanks and praise.” We do this; we give thanks.

Still, a day to consciously focus on giving thanks is a good thing; a day to reflect on life’s blessings is a good thing. It’s easy to become consumed by that which is not good but we can keep things in perspective by asking the question, “What am I thankful for today, or this year?” For most of us, the list is long. It’s not to deny any sadness or hardship that life brings; that’s real too. But in giving thanks maybe we’re better able to recognize God’s presence and support even during the sad times, even in the brokenness.

That’s why on Christ the King Sunday we have the image of the crucified Jesus alongside Christ enthroned in glory. We remember that the central story of our faith is that of hope and new life out of brokenness. We remember that we can’t lose hope, we can’t despair and giving thanks helps with that. Again, it keeps things in perspective.

On top of that, studies show that giving thanks makes you healthier; I’m always a little leery when I hear or read that “studies show” because I think you can make studies show most anything, but anyway, studies show that giving thanks is not just a spiritual thing, it’s a physical thing. Being grateful gives you a better attitude about life so that you take better care of yourself, eat better, exercise more, cope better with stress and be more optimistic about the future. Giving thanks is a step toward overall good health. Take that for what it’s worth, but studies show…..

As we think about our national day of Thanksgiving though, the sad thing is that in many cases it has very little to do with giving thanks. There are lots of good things about it; I love Thanksgiving, it just seems that giving thanks is pretty far down the list. In Thanksgiving sermons I’ve done before I’ve mentioned that when you read the Thanksgiving proclamations of presidents like Washington and Lincoln, they actually gave thanks to God. It might have been a rather generic version of God, but still they gave thanks. These days, presidential proclamations on Thanksgiving tend to mostly be self congratulation about what wonderful people we are. We give thanks to and for each other, which isn’t a bad thing, but God isn’t really part of the equation and with that, an important piece is missing.

Worse than that, the gods of consumerism and capitalism have greatly co-opted Thanksgiving. Black Friday has become a bigger deal than Thanksgiving, now even extending backwards into Thanksgiving Day itself. For a long time Thanksgiving has marked the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season but it’s reached rather absurd proportions and I don’t think we’re better for it. Rather than giving thanks, some spend the day plotting their shopping strategy, perhaps giving thanks for deals but not much else.

Maybe it’s good then that we put Christ the King Sunday together with Thanksgiving today. As I said, Christ the King Sunday was added to the church calendar in response to what was perceived as creeping secularism and today that secularism is most blatantly obvious at this time of year when consumerism or materialism or whatever you want to call it, overshadow the meaning of Thanksgiving and then do the same thing to Christmas.

We end the church year again reminded of the truth that Christ is king and it is in him that our hope lies. Other versions of the truth are out there but the truth that makes us free, the truth that makes us children of God is found in Christ. He has won the victory. He is our king, and for that, we really can give thanks.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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