As I imagine families and neighbors gathering this week around Thanksgiving Tables, I’m reminded of the scenes from the Christmas Truce of 1914 in Europe during WWI. Men who hours before had been bitter enemies found commonality in a historic hope for a future peace. Though they came from different sides of the battle, they shared a deep longing around which they could agree.
Perhaps this image is a starting place for us this week. We will not resolve our differences on Thursday, or even in a few weeks or months. Perhaps there is enough at the core of our being to find basic humanity in those around us, even if we’ve known or suspected that they previously did not acknowledge our humanity.
When we look with fear or hatred at the other with whom we disagree, we lose. When we demonize the person, the devil wins. When Jesus encountered a demon-possessed man, the response was pity, and a prayer of healing. When Jesus was tortured, his response was a prayer of forgiveness “for they no not what they do.”
Loving our enemies does not mean accepting their positions or their words and actions. It does mean seeking an upwelling of love within ourselves so that we can see the image of God within them, see them as a child of God who is beloved as we are. If we can’t figure out how to think, feel or behave in a loving way, then we ask God to help us. We trust that if Jesus asks it of us, then we will also receive the strength and grace needed to obey.
Sitting down at table with the other presumes that they will at least be civil, laying down their swords and spears. It may not be time to beat them into plowshares and pruning hooks. “There is a time for love and a time for hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:8 This week, let it be a time for love, and a time for peace. Perhaps we might even find that when we return to the battle we have less energy for hate and for war, and more hope for a lasting peace founded in God’s justice and shalom.
The last Sunday before Advent (also the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the USA) is Christ the King Sunday. It is the culmination of our yearlong journey through the faith story held by our liturgical calendar: Advent – Christmas – Epiphany – (Mardi Gras) - Ash Wednesday - Lent – Holy Week – Easter – Pentecost – followed by what we call “Common Time.” The exaltation of Jesus the Christ as Lord and King “seated at the right hand of God the Father” is an ancient way of affirming that in Jesus we encounter the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Jesus is not merely a good man, a great teacher, a healing miracle worker, an exorcist or a prophet, though he is all of these things. By affirming Jesus as The Christ, we are saying that Jesus is the one sent by God to fulfill all of the prophecies of the coming Messiah, redeemer of Israel and of all Creation.
I’ve been struggling with how to appropriately and humbly address the election results and the ongoing “discussions” among the various political and social positions. I am confident that I cannot and should not pretend we don’t live in the real world – ignoring what is happening outside the walls of the sanctuary. After all, each of us come from and will return to that world, needing to know how then we should live as followers of Jesus. Neither am I willing to take up a position on one side or the other, since I am the pastor to all the congregation, and since I don’t really have all the answers to those questions anyway – I’m neither a political scientist or a historian. I’m a theologian. So my task, it seems, is to seek a word of help and hope for all of us. How might the Holy Spirit be desiring to work in and through us here at Central Christian Church of Dallas to proclaim God’s good news in this time and place?
Each Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father, who art in heaven…”* This prayer was taught to the disciples by Jesus as a way to help them understand not just specific words to pray, but literally how to pray – how to think about the content, focus, spirit and structure of our prayers - what to put in and what to leave out. We ask God to enact the divine reign and will in our midst – and then God responds by saying, “Yes, let’s do that together.” We ask God to “forgive us our sins as (in the same way and to the same degree that) we forgive those who sin against us" – and then God responds by saying, “Are you sure you only want to experience my forgiveness as much as you have forgiven those who you believe have wronged you?”
The life of following Jesus, whom we celebrate as “Christ the King”, is a life of submission to the lordship of Jesus, in whom we encounter the fullness of God. This life of faithfulness informs and shapes and transforms every aspect of our lives: our relationships; our physical health and wellness habits; how we perform our jobs; how we think about social issues; how we understand political structures and relationships - whether local, national or global. It’s not just about our private prayer and devotion or our congregational worship and volunteer service. If we proclaim Christ as King, then he deserves to be the Lord of our whole lives, and have first place in every thought, word, decision and action.
The point is not then for us to preach these truths AT others when we encounter conflict. Rather, at such times we might consider entering even more deeply into a place of quiet reflection, with trust listening and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us to a place of loving our friend or adversary. As we conclude this liturgical year, let us truly count our blessings this next week. In the process, our hearts and minds will be preparing room for the anticipation of the Christ Child – the greatest promise of the greatest gift humanity ever received, in the most humble and vulnerable way possible. If ever there was evidence that the way of God’s peace, the way of Christ, was the way of humble service rather than forceful conquest, the truth we affirm over the next few weeks is it.
* The Lord’s Prayer (expanded)
Our Father in heaven, even your very name is holy and you are worthy of all our praise. Bring your kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace (your kingdom of shalom), in, through and all around us, and let your will be done by and through us, here on earth as they are in the fullness of your heavenly presence.
Provide for us today the food and everything we need to sustain a good life – not only for us but for all people. Take note of how we live with forgiveness toward others, and in that same measure may we experience forgiveness from you.
Don’t allow us to walk a path of temptation that destroys ourselves, other people, your creation, or the relationships among them. Instead, deliver us from the evil things we might do as well as those that might be done to us.
We pray these things with confidence because we believe that you alone are worthy of possessing and receiving the true lordship and leadership, the true power, and all the praise and adoration we might acknowledge and offer. Amen.