“Lifted Up” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! This is Thanksgiving Sunday: it is also the last Sunday of the church year, known as Christ the King Sunday or Eternity Sunday. Of course, you can make the case — and I plan to pretty shortly — that every Sunday should be Thanksgiving Sunday and Christ the King Sunday, but this a day to give particular emphasis to both of those things. I appreciate this text from 1 Timothy, because it combines both prayers of thanksgiving and the work of Jesus Christ, and I want to be sure that we forge the connection between those two. It may seem obvious to you that preachers choose texts which illustrate the point which they want to make; the discipline of preaching from the lectionary — texts which were chosen years ago by someone else — helps to temper this impulse somewhat. Of course, all scripture is inspired by God, but some takes more wrestling with than others.
1 Timothy 2:1-8, which Jean read for us this morning is a great text for today — 1 Timothy 2:9-15 is a message for another day. You may read it yourself and form your own opinions. The next time it comes up in the lectionary you’ll hear mine.
There are a couple of themes here which I want to lift up today: the ideas of prayers of intercession and thanksgiving for everyone, and particularly for those in positions of power or leadership. It is worth noting that when this letter was written in the late first to early 2nd century, there was a phenomena which may be familiar today: We don’t always agree with the people who are in power. Imagine that. Whether they are kings or military leaders or governors of an occupying country or presidents whom we have elected ourselves — we may not like them or what they are doing. At least in this country we are free to express that without being beaten, imprisoned or killed. But these verses are not about praying for people we like or agree with. It is about praying for people who need prayer — which is everyone. Human leaders — good, bad, corrupt, or decent — are human, and therefore flawed. Those people who have the potential to inflict bad leadership on large groups of people are in need of prayer, for sure. Pastors are not political leaders, but they would fall into this group, as far as I’m concerned. Whether we pray that they will succeed, or they will fail, or that they would see the light and change their ways, leaders are in need of prayer because it is hard for any country or organization to succeed if its leadership is deeply flawed.
1 Timothy portrays a different leader, a king, who is human but perfect; a leader who never departs from the truth because he IS the Truth and the Way. That king is Jesus Christ, and I am unapologetically going to ask you to speak the name of Jesus Christ this morning. I’m going to lift my hands when I say it, and I invite you to say it with me: Who is our king? Jesus Christ. Thank you. You heard our new member and our deacons re-affirm their faith in Christ this morning; it’s a fine practice for anyone who has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As you know, the Church of the Brethren is non-creedal; that is, there is not a theological statement, or creed, which you must subscribe to in order to belong to the church. But being non-creedal should never keep us from frequently, boldly, and gratefully sharing that our Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ. You may not have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior: we pray that you will, but in the meantime, you are welcome here, and we want you to hear and learn more about how God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, not to judge the world, but to save it. Our salvation is in Jesus Christ, who lived, died and was resurrected so that we might have freedom from sin and be given eternal life.
Maybe you are not a demonstrative person, and the idea of lifting up your hands in worship or speaking out loud makes you uncomfortable. There is no compulsion to do something you don’t want to do, but I would remind you that worship is not about you; it certainly isn’t about me; and it isn’t even about us: the purpose of worship is to lift up holy hands without anger or argument, and give praise and thanksgiving to Jesus Christ.
The author of 1 Timothy reminds us that there is one God, and one mediator — the one who intercedes on behalf of humanity. The mediator who not only pleads for grace for us so that that we do not receive the punishment of death which we deserve for our sin, but a mediator who gave his own life as a ransom for our sin. That mediator is Jesus Christ.
Christ gives us strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow. Political leaders, ideologies, cultures rise and fall, but Jesus is Lord not only of this world but of time itself. The gospel of John describes the Logos, or Word, the image of God transcribed in human form. The Word was with God at the beginning of Creation, before the universe had form or meaning: the Word was with God when God separated light from darkness and created the heavens and the earth. That same Word became flesh and came to our neighborhood: a baby born to a human mother in humble circumstances. Angels and shepherds proclaimed his birth, and wise men from distant countries knelt to pay him homage. The Word of God in human form is Jesus Christ.
We have been given an example of how to live and treat one another. In his earthly ministry, Jesus preached repentance from sin, compassion for the outcast, and justice for the poor. He not only spoke these things, he lived them, and challenged his disciples to follow his example. Jesus called out hypocrisy in the religious leaders of his time, and challenged the power of Jewish leaders and Roman occupiers who put corruption before compassion. He healed people, even on the Sabbath, and cast out demons; he fed people who were hungry, he defied Satan’s temptations, including the temptation to avoid suffering and death. He was condemned, mocked, tortured, crucified, and he was abandoned by his disciples. He was buried in a stone tomb for three days. God’s beloved Son and our teacher and example is Jesus Christ. He died for us.
The story did not end with his death. On a Sunday morning, women went to the tomb to anoint his body, and it was not there. The tomb was empty: Christ had risen, just as he said. He was alive and on the loose — appearing to his disciples and to other believers and skeptics. He ascended to heaven and told us to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to do everything that he commanded. Jesus Christ promised to be with us always. To the end of the age.
Christ is now at the right hand of God in heaven, surrounded by the company of saints and martyrs: those who witnessed on earth. He is the Lamb of God, and he alone is worthy to take the scroll of God and open the seal. The living creatures and elders and thousands and thousands surrounding the throne sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” The Lamb who was sacrificed for us and is now in the throne room of God is Jesus Christ and he is ruler forever and ever. Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.
There’s a lot to unpack in that exercise which we just went through: there’s a reason we don’t hit all of that on every Sunday. But it’s a story that is important to tell, because we are a part of the story, and it’s a story which isn’t done yet. Our part of the story is this: to acknowledge the truth of this story, to believe it, and to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. You may have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior years ago — for most of us it was probably in the last millennium — but it is always, always our job as Christians to re-affirm for ourselves and others our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. It’s a risky statement: maybe you won’t get thrown into jail for it in the United States like you might in some parts of the world, but if you believe it, it means a radical re-ordering of your life. Pledging allegiance to Jesus Christ means that Christ is who we serve and follow and live for and die for.
If you believe this story — and it is a true story — than we cannot help but to respond to the story of God’s love for us with thanksgiving. We owe everything to God: our existence, our world, our life right now, and our future in eternity. We have not always been faithful with the good gifts God has given us: we have messed up our lives and have messed up God’s world: we do not deserve forgiveness and eternal life. But God so loved the world that he gave us a way out of the messes we have made. Thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ, because whoever accepts him as Lord will not perish, but have everlasting life. He is Lord, he is Lord, he is risen from the dead and he is Lord. Every knew shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.