About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Be Prepared

2016-12-18 Matthew 01 18-25 "Be Prepared"

"Be Prepared"

The whole theme of the season of Advent is to "Be Prepared" for the birth of Jesus.

That's what we've been doing the past 3 weeks in worship: getting prepared.

We've lit candles. One for hope, one for peace, the pink one for joy, and today one for love. We haven't lit the tall, white one in the middle yet.

Remember the Children's Sermon when I asked the kids, "What do we call the tall candle in the middle?"?

And one hollered back: "The Santa candle!"

Close enough.

We've lit candles. The choir sang a magnificent Cantata. We've had a potluck dinner. The handbells and chimes have rung.

And we've brought gifts. Pledges for 2017. Offerings for Gatlinburg. Baskets of food for the hungry. Socks for the sockless.

We've decorated the church as a gift of love to praise God and to remind us – to remind us what the season's about. All this is to remind us what the season's about. It's not about shopping. Not parties. Not the sacred tradition of arguing with our relatives. Not politics. Not even football, although we couldn't be happier for Florida Atlantic.

All this, all these activities, all these weeks are to remind us that the season is all about Getting Ready. It's all about Being Prepared. It's about preparing our hearts, preparing our homes, preparing our minds, our spirits, our souls for the birth of Christ the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Jesus the Messiah, Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace – one a lowly child born in a manger to bring salvation to all the earth.


The scriptures are filled with preparation. God sent prophets. God sent great signs. God sent Isaiah and Ezekiel and John the Baptist to tell everybody to Be Prepared.

And were they? After generation upon generation of getting the people ready, were they ready? Really?

When you read the Bible, you see that they were sort of ready, but not really. Mary wasn't ready. Matthew says she was "found to be with child from the Holy Spirit." Not something you can be ready for. Joseph wasn't ready. He wondered, "What should I do?" Not what he was expecting. And despite the preaching of John by the River Jordan, the world wasn't ready, not for this kind of Savior, not a child, not a vulnerable infant God.

That's the way God comes into the world. Even if we THINK we're prepared, we're not. Not really. Nobody is ever really prepared for the Advent of God.

Advent isn't one day. Advent is a season. Truth be told, we could make Advent not four weeks but fifty-one, and we still wouldn't be truly prepared. Because to Be Prepared is always a "Be" not an "Am."


Dennis McCurry has spent forty-three years teaching the Boy Scouts of Troop 457 to Be Prepared. Corey Pelton is one of the 30+ Eagle Scouts the Troop has produced. Corey grew up and became a pastor, and that got my attention. So I wrote him, and asked him about Being Prepared.

And this is what he said:

I always felt duped by the Scout Law. It reads like this:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

I know no scout whose true duty it is to fulfill the Scout law. To say it, yes. To fulfill it, no. Certainly not me. I could never meet up to such a high standard. In reality, we ought to have a revised Scout law:

A scout is sometimes trustworthy, occasionally loyal, can be helpful, wants to be friendly…
when in the presence of a girl . . . courteous, frequently kind, reluctantly obedient, often cheerful, rarely thrifty, feigns brave, sort of clean, and honestly mostly ir-reverent.

You see… Scouts are in process of "being prepared."

Dennis McCurry has been mightily used in that process.

My favorite breakfast is a steak and egg biscuit from Hardees because that's what Dennis bought me on the way to the Clinch River to duck hunt one October in early wood duck and teal season.

I love the idea of fly fishing for trout (idea because I still stink at it) because Dennis taught me to tie flies and build my own fly rod.

I hate water skiing, but that's not because of Dennis. I got up waterskiing for the first time being pulled by Dennis on Ft. Loudon lake. I just don't like waterskiing.

I often tell the story of plucking ducks using melted paraffin, because Dennis took me hunting and later melted the vat of wax and showed me how to peel the ducks like an orange.

I long to paddle the lakes of Canada again because Dennis organized us to take multiple trips on those beautiful lakes . . . though portage you must.

I like smallmouth fishing more than fishing for pike, because Dennis taught me to appreciate the battle more than the brawn and the fillets more than the bones.

I like brook trout over all other trout species, because they are what we caught on Eagle Creek. The miles and elevation were worth the beauty of one five inch brook.

When I take my family camping we use a dutch oven to cook chicken, pineapple upside down cake, sweet potatoes, etc. because Dennis taught me how to load it with charcoal and leave it for the day only to come back to camp with dinner hot and ready.

I could go on, and on, and on.

You see, Dennis was a vital part of the process of my being prepared for life . . . of growing up.

I know I am just one of many. But I know that he gave much of his time and life for that young boy who was hungry to learn and who still appreciates the countless hours of Dennis' service to Boy Scout Troop 457.
Ironically, while I was on the path of earning merit badges, the most significant thing I learned through scouting was that my merit earned meant absolutely nothing in the eyes of God.

One scout meeting evening Dennis invited a friend to come teach, what I thought, was another way to add a notch in my belt toward being the perfect Eagle scout. It turned out to be a diagnostic of my heart and my soul.

What would I say to God when I died? Why should I enter into heaven? My answer was basically that I had done good enough. On my scale, my merit was weightier than my demerit.

Dennis' friend opened the Bible and read passages that revealed my true heart. I could never do enough to gain God's favor. I could never earn enough merit to merit His attention. I was prideful and thought myself greater than others because of what I thought I had earned. But then I heard the good news of from where real preparedness comes: "For our sake, God made Jesus His Son (who knew no sin) to be sin on our behalf, so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God." God exchanged the merit of Jesus for my demerits. Now not only can I not fetch God's love through my good attempts at merit, but my demerits are not held against me. That news changed the course of my life forever.

We are not prepared through becoming better people. We are prepared through faith in One who was prepared for us through His birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Through scouting, God has used Dennis McCurry to prepare the way for true life for me and countless others. Whether he knows it or not, he has been an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer. I am forever grateful.

- Corey Pelton, December 2016


I have always loved how the first people to follow the star and visit the baby were shepherds. Time and again the people God chooses are simple shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks, guiding them, leading them, caring for them.

Not even the shepherds, though, were really prepared. The angels appeared and "stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."

They were terrified, but they went. They were unworthy, but they followed. As unprepared as they were, they saw.

And after they saw, "…the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."

Like the shepherds, we're all in the process of being prepared. We're not there, yet. We never will be, not totally. But in the meantime, God gives us signs and seasons, and our own shepherds, some in Scout uniforms, to guide us and care for us along the way.

Be Prepared. Be prepared for Christmas, as much as you can. Be prepared for the Advent of Christ in your life, today, tomorrow, as the Spirit pleases. As much as you can. Help others Be Prepared.

And then, if you can Be Prepared for something, Be Prepared to glorify and praise God for all you have heard and seen.

The Boy Scout motto is: Be Prepared.
As people of faith we are Being Prepared.
Not by our own works, but by the will of God.
By God's love, God's hope, God's peace, and God's joy, we are prepared for the light of Christ.
Be as prepared as you can.
And then, be amazed.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Shoots and Stumps and Baby Goats

2016-12-04 Isaiah 11:1-10 Matthew 3:1-12 Shoots and Stumps and Baby Goats

Children's Church started back today. Sarah found a curriculum with preaching guides that are shared by both the grown-up sermon preacher (that's me) and the Children's Church sermon preacher (today that's Sharon Gant). So, while you're in here, getting the grown-up sermon (from me), the kids are getting a different version of the same sermon (from Sharon). The kids' version not only has Sharon. It also comes with stick puppets, songs, puzzles, and pictures of happy animals. You, on the other hand, get an overweight, middle-aged white guy. This is why we have to limit Children's Church to grades K through 2.


The kids are focusing on the part of Isaiah we know as, "The Peaceable Kingdom." It's poetry, and it's magnificent.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

The lesson asks how the animals – who are by nature, different from one another – might help each other. "For instance, a lamb could give a wolf some of its wool to make a bed. A wolf could sing for the lamb." When you let your mind float on the breeze of Isaiah's poetry, you can go some fun (and holy) places.


It reminds me of a story I saw last week. You might have seen it, too.


The headline read:

Baby Goat Can Only Truly Relax When Dressed As A Duck


Polly, a 6-month-old goat in Annandale, New Jersey, is blind and experiences anxiety.


Polly came to the Goats Of Anarchy (love the name) animal sanctuary four months ago with some very serious problems, according to manager Leanne Lauricella.

Lauricella said: "When she was born, she was tiny and blind and couldn't nurse,"

"Her owners worked away from home and didn't have time to bottle-feed her."

Lauricella soon discovered that Polly had many issues, including severe anxiety and repetitive behaviors.

"Since she was unable to feed herself, she lives inside my house with a diaper and a baby onesie," she said. "We noticed that she felt comforted when she was swaddled."

Lauricella found an unorthodox treatment for Polly's anxiety issues last month while shopping at Marshalls: a duck costume.

The costume was designed for small kids of the human variety, not the goat variety, but Lauricella put it on Polly.

Immediately, something strange happened.

"She fell asleep ― like she had a blanket," Lauricella said. "It was lights out!"

Lauricella had previously tried dog undershirts that are designed to ease anxiety, but they didn't work as well as the duck costume.

She tried other costumes, including a pig and a fox, but they didn't have the same effect either.

Things may be changing, though. In the next couple of months, Polly is scheduled to meet with a neurological expert in Philadelphia to see if he can offer solutions for when she gets too big for the duck costume.

Help may have also arrived in the form of a male rescue goat named Pocket, who was born with undersized rear legs.

Lauricella says when Pocket lies on Polly's back, Polly calms down and is able to go to sleep.

"I've noticed that anytime he's lying next to her, she just gets calm. I've never seen her do that with another goat here," Lauricella [said]. "I'm hoping she won't need [her duck suit]. I hope that Pocket becomes her duck suit."



If you haven't seen pictures of Polly in her duck suit, or Polly with Pocket (Polly… Pocket… can't be a coincidence), you need to pull our your phone as soon as you leave today and Google "Goat Duck Suit". It will make you smile.


This neurologically-challenged baby goat has found her peaceable kingdom in a duck suit. Maybe we all should have one.


I have this image of Jesus, sitting in a garden with Isaiah's little child who leads them, with Polly, and Pocket, and a bunch of other beasts who have different gifts, different opinions, and different values - all getting along. Wouldn't that be a nice change?




The other part of Isaiah's vision the Children's lesson talks about is the shoot [that] shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and [the] branch [that] shall grow out of his roots.


Jesse was the father of King David. Isaiah dreamed of the day when David's kingdom would be restored and peace would rule the People of God.


The New Testament sees Jesus as Isaiah's dream come true.  Jesus is the new David, as the one foreseen by Isaiah when he says:


The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might….

Jesus is the shoot that has come forth from the stump of Jesse.


The Children's lesson asks the teacher, as she or he gets her mind around the scripture, to ask herself:

Where are the stumps in our own lives; where do we feel cut off?


And I can't help but think of the charred and broken stumps left from the fires in Gatlinburg and Sevier County.


The smoldering stumps of foundations where homes and businesses used to be.


The lives and livelihoods, the dreams and visions of a peaceable kingdom that people had a week ago that have now been burned and cut away, leaving them with anxiety, leaving them wondering, "What just happened" and "What do I do now?" Leaving them stumped.


What, for them, in this season of Advent, this season of waiting – what for them is the shoot that comes from the stump? What for them is the branch pushing up from hidden roots?


Where is their comfort? Where is their hope?


The lesson tells the teacher, and the kids, the same thing God said to Isaiah, the same words Isaiah said to the people whose hope had been reduced to ash. It looks at that one green sprig and says:


"This is how hope gets its start—it emerges as a tiny tendril in an unexpected place. …Can we imagine or believe that even now God might be nurturing the growth of something new and good from our old, dead dreams? Consider what areas of our lives most need the promise of new life, and how we might become open to such newness. Isaiah's promise is not just a future one; even now there are tiny signs of hope and life in places that look dead and discarded.


The churches in our presbytery are banding together, as East Tennesseans do, to be a sign of hope and life for the people of Sevier County. Greg Bennett preaches at Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church. And he's preaching hope. Just like Isaiah did. Just like John the Baptist did. Our churches are working with Greg and Gatlinburg on concrete things we can do right now and through the long haul which it will be. There's an insert in your bulletins about it. Right now, they need money. You can write a check today and put it in the offering plate.


You're already helping. You're already supporting the work of the presbytery through the pledges you make to and through this church. We're connected to all the other Presbyterian churches from Huntsville to Chattanooga, and to places like the Presbyterian Center at UT, and to Camp John Knox. Part of every dollar you share in your offering goes to churches and ministries in need. And there's a lot of need out there. The Presbytery doesn't have much overhead. We don't even have offices. Judd, our Exec, works out of his car. Dana, our Administrator, works out of her home. And I, as Stated Clerk, work out of Panera. Way too much Panera. The Presbytery depends on pledges from our churches the same way this church depends on pledges from you, like the pledge you're making today. And through our connections, you're already helping places in need. You're already being a comfort, whether you know it or not.




The Peaceable Kingdom isn't hard to imagine. Even little kids can do it. They're imagining it right now in the other room. They're playing with it. They're letting the idea pull them places they might not have expected.


What about you? Can you imagine that Peaceable Kingdom? Of course you can. Interesting note: The kingdom isn't peaceable when the animals retreat to their own cages, but when they come together. Just like people and Presbyterians.

Sometimes our skin, our politics, our different gifts, our different opinions, and our different values convince us that it might not really be worth trying to get along. That's why Isaiah preached hope. That's why the shoot from the stump of Jesse was born a little child to lead us. Because we forget hope. We let go of it, instead of praying for it.


In this new year, we all need to dedicate our gifts – financial and otherwise – In this new year we all need to dedicate our gifts to creating hope wherever its light has been burned out. We all need to dedicate, to steward, ourselves, our church, and our world toward a vision of peace. It can be done. It must be done. The light of Peace, and a little child, will lead us.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Do You Want To Be Healed?

2016-11-27 Jn 05 01-09 Stephen Ministry


I am so sinfully proud of the work of our Stephen Ministry. We have 11 trained ministers. For a church our size that's huge. They've each had at least a full year of training. They meet twice each month. They have monthly supervision and continuing education. They take this ministry as their calling from God. And it shows. It shows in their relentless dedication to the group, but even more in loving dedication to the individuals to whom they minister, one-on-one. They're not therapists. They're not people who drop by for tea. They are listeners. They are caregivers. They are healers.


In the passage from John, Jesus comes across a man who has been sitting, alone, waiting for a long, long time. The man couldn't walk. He couldn't get into the mysterious healing waters. And no one would help him. Everyone was looking out for themselves, trying to get their healing so they could leave everyone at the pool behind. The pool was a cruel and lonely place.


Jesus came to the man. He did something I'll bet no one else had done. Jesus spoke to the man. Actually talked to him. Engaged him about his deepest needs. He asked, "Do you want to be made well?"


The man didn't say yes or no. Instead he answered the question he wished he'd been asked. He complained: "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." He had been waiting to be made well for 38 years. He had a lot of frustration. He had some complaints to share.


Jesus listened. Jesus listened without judging him. And then he simply said,


"Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.


Stephen Ministry is modeled on Jesus's ministry. It involves coming across people. Sometimes people ask. They ask me or Cheryl (our Program Director) or another Stephen Minister for help. But sometimes, it just seems like they're led to the Ministry. And then, the ministry asks, "Would you like to have a Stephen Minister?" It's not a complicated question. It's almost as simple as, "Would you like to be made well?"


And then, the caregiver and the care-receiver get together on a weekly basis. They talk. The Stephen Minister isn't there to solve problems, but she or he does listen to them. They hear things like, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool," or something very similar. When we're hurting or when we are hurt, most of us know what healing looks like, maybe even where it is. We just can't get to it on our own. We need help. Like Jesus, a Stephen Minister doesn't carry a person, or take over for them. They listen, they encourage, they prepare them for the day they'll stand up on their own two feet and walk to the healing they know is out there. They pray together. They look toward healing that comes from God, from God and gently floating down the river of relationship.




"Would you like to be made well?"


The author, Margaret Wheatley, wrote about how simple conversation has the power to heal. How simple, one-to-one caring restores hope.


[from Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, January 2002.

By Margaret J. Wheatley]


She writes:


Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. If we can do that, we create moments in which real healing is available. Whatever life we have experienced, if we can tell our story to someone who listens, we find it easier to deal with our circumstances.

I have seen the healing power of good listening so often that I wonder if you've noticed it also. There may have been a time when a friend was telling you such a painful story that you became speechless. You couldn't think of anything to say, so you just sat there, listening closely, but not saying a word. And what was the result of your heartfelt silence, of your listening?

A young black South African woman taught some of my friends a profound lesson about listening. She was sitting in a circle of women from many nations, and each woman had the chance to tell a story from her life. When her turn came, she began quietly to tell a story of true horror -- of how she had found her grandparents slaughtered in their village. Many of the women were Westerners, and in the presence of such pain, they instinctively wanted to do something. They wanted to fix, to make it better, anything to remove the pain of this tragedy from such a young life. The young woman felt their compassion, but also felt them closing in. She put her hands up, as if to push back their desire to help. She said: "I don't need you to fix me. I just need you to listen to me."

She taught many women that day that being listened to is enough. If we can speak our story, and know that others hear it, we are somehow healed by that.


She goes on to say, somewhat prophetically back in 2002:


This is an increasingly noisy era - people shout at each other in print, at work, on TV. I believe the volume is directly related to our need to be listened to. In public places, in the media, we reward the loudest and most outrageous. People are literally clamoring for attention, and they'll do whatever it takes to be noticed. Things will only get louder until we figure out how to sit down and listen. Most of us would welcome things quieting down. We can do our part to begin lowering the volume by our own willingness to listen.


She tells the story of a teacher who listened.

A school teacher told me how one day a sixteen year old became disruptive - shouting angrily, threatening her verbally. She could have called the authorities - there were laws to protect her from such abuse. Instead, she sat down, and asked the student to talk to her. It took some time for him to quiet down, as he was very agitated and kept pacing the room. But finally he walked over to her and began talking about his life. She just listened. No one had listened to him in a long time. Her attentive silence gave him space to see himself, to hear himself. She didn't offer advice. She couldn't figure out his life, and she didn't have to. He could do it himself once she had listened.




The Bible tells us Jesus replied:


"Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.


It has been said that "Walking is controlled falling." That's kind of true. You stick a leg out and catch yourself before your nose hits the gravel, over and over and over again. Are we walking or are we falling? Yes we are.

Jesus told the man to stand up, take his mat, and to catch himself from falling – over and over and over again. When we share our burdens, when we allow someone to listen to our burdens, we lighten our load just enough, just enough, to take another awkward step toward healing. Not perfection. Healing.


Some of us have scars from surgeries. They never completely go away, do they? The scars remind us that healing isn't perfection. It's just not-falling-down. It helps when someone's there to not-fall-down with us.




Leonard Cohen, the artist who died a few weeks ago, wasn't much of a singer. But he was one heck of a poet. His song, Anthem, has a refrain that goes…


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.


As you go out today, in the hallway, there's a Stephen Ministry banner. It has the image of a person with a crack running from head to toe. And then there's the image of another person, without the jagged line. In between them is the cross. The first person's behind the cross. The second's in front of it. Apparently, the light of the cross fills in our broken cracks.


The mission of Stephen Ministry comes from Ephesians 4:12-13:

 "To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12–13).


We all have our broken parts. We all need repairs of at least one sort or another. Some physical, some mental, some emotional, some spiritual. To tell the truth, it's usually a little of them all. God gives us each other. God gives us each other to help put the parts back together, not to make us perfect, but so we build up the body of Christ, in the unity of the faith, to the full, scarred but living stature of Christ.












Sunday, November 20, 2016

Happy New Year!

2016-11-20 Lk 23 33-43 Happy New Year 

Luke 23:33-43 

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  


So you might be wondering, "Why in the world are we reading an Easter passage – Good Friday, actually – here the week before Thanksgiving? Tell you truth, I wondered the same thing. "Did he hit his head or something?" Don't think so. But, if I did, I might not rememberThere's a reason we're jumping aheadIt's not a mistake.  

It's that Jesus doesn't go by your calendar. 

And a new year is on the way. 




What year is it? That's one of the questions they ask in memory evaluations. What year is it and who's the president? That second question's been causing problems, lately. It's not that people don't know, they just can't believe it. 


What year is it? If you lived in Israel, you'd say it's 5777. The Jewish calendar counts time from Saturday night, October 6, 3761 BC, when it was believed God created the world. Jewish New Year started back on October 2, Rosh Hashanah, and you missed it. Happy New Year. 


But there are other calendars. According to the placemats at Chinese restaurants, the definitive source of cultural sensitivityChinese New Year doesn't come until January 28, 2017That's very close to Inauguration Day. It's going to be the Year of the Rooster. And yes, that is a both a hair joke and a spooky coincidence. Happy Early New Year. 


And there are still other calendars. There's also the Christian Liturgical Calendar that tells us the days and seasons of the churchAccording to this calendar, the Christian new year starts next Sunday – next Sunday! – on the First Sunday of AdventIf that seems startlingly early, good. It's supposed to beEarly. And startling. 




Find a Bible. If you can't lay your hands on one, look at somebody else's. Go ahead.  


Find the start of the New Testament.  


Got it?  


OK, put your finger in there and close the Bible around your finger. Look to the left of your finger. See how much more there is BEFORE it gets around the New Testament and Jesus? There's a lot of Bible before Jesus. Jesus was born in the manger, but God was alive and kicking long, long before. There were good times, bad times, prophetic times and poetic times while God was working purposes out, getting everybody ready for the Messiah. I find that very encouraging.  


One, it connects us to our Jewish brothers and sisters, and forebears. It connects us to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ruth and David and Isaiah and Job. We share this holy book. We don't own it. It's not ours. It's not about us. So be humble when you hold this book. 


And, two, it reminds us that resurrection life starts way, way BEFORE Jesus. The church's lifecycle starts before Christmas. And that's good news for anybody who's sick and tired, or sick, or tired, or waitingor praying for salvation, from whateverNew life doesn't start with new birth. Any person who's been pregnant will tell you thatPaul says, in Romans 8:22, "the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves… groan inwardly while we wait for adoption."  


And so, appropriately, the seasons of the Christian year don't start with a party and presents. The Christian life starts with hope. It starts with longing, sometimes long and uncomfortable, painful waitingThe year starts, not with Jesus, but with waiting for Jesus, with waiting – waiting for Christmas, waiting for the SaviorThe church calendar starts by reminding us that Jesus doesn't go by our calendar. We have to wait. 




So, next Sunday is our New Year's DayWhich makes this Sunday – today – New Year's Eve. It's New Year's Eve, people! Woohoo. Party like it's 5799Alas, I see no hats. I hear no tooty horns. I taste no champagne. And that's kind of the way things went for many, many years in the churchThe new year started with Advent, but the old year? The old year went out with a whimper, barely noticed except by priests, pastors, and, of course, choir directors who had to remind their members to change their stoles. Ho hum. That's the way it went. 


That is, until 1925. In 1925, things were not great with the world. Especially in Europe. Fascism, Nazism, Communism, secularism, a divisive nationalism – they were growing. There were dark clouds on the horizon. People could feel it. Pope Pius XI saw itAnd he wrote a decree.  


He wrote,  

"Since the close of the Great War individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace... the old rivalries between nations have not ceased to exert their influence... the nations of today live in a state of armed peace which is scarcely better than war itself, a condition which tends to exhaust national finances, to waste the flower of youth, to muddy and poison the very fountainheads of life, physical, intellectual, religious, and moral." 

Pope Pius XI. "Ubi arcano Dei consilio," ("On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ" or, literally, Where Is the Mystery of God's PlanDecember 1922 


"[…deploring] the rise of class divisions and unbridled nationalism, [Pius] held that true peace can only be found under the Kingship of Christ."  


"For Jesus Christ reigns over the minds of individuals by His teachings, in their hearts by His love, in each one's life by the living according to His law and the imitating of His example." 


Pope Pius XI decided that Christianity should not end its year with a whisper. He proclaimed that the church should mark the end of its year by remembering the end of Christ's ministry, the goal of Christ's kingship, the purpose of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection 




Pius XI designated the last Sunday of the Christian year as Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ. And even Protestants, including grumpy Scots-Irish Presbyterians, said, "Hey, that's a good idea." 


And finally  FINALLY – that's why we're reading these scriptures today. Why does everything about church take so long to explain? Because suffering is good for you. Long sermons build character. Joins you to the cross. 


Observing Christ the King Sunday at year's end reminds us 


It reminds us that we are not the be-all and end-all.  


Reminds us that even in times of suffering and uncertainty, even though the world might seem upside down and inside out, Jesus Christ is King. Jesus Christ is king and we will someday see his glory.  


But not yet.  


There will be waiting. There will be hoping. So we're not going to jump ahead to Easter. We're not even going to jump ahead to Christmas. On the last day of our year, we're staying with the crossWe join our hearts and minds across nations, across classes, across colors, genders, and any other sign of earthly division. We join as citizens under the Sovereign King of All Creation, sisters and brothers united in ChristWe raise our voices, not with crucifying crowds, but with that of the Repentant Thief – the sinner on the cross beside him – praying, "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." 


That's why we read this scripture on the last day. Because it tells us who we are. Because it tells us who Christ is. Anbecause it tells us where we are all headed, no matter what the human year says. 


To God – and God alone – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – be the glory this year, next year, forever and ever. World without end. Amen.