Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Where Is the King?”
(Matthew 25: 31-46)
November 26, 2017 (Christ the King Sunday)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park
A blessed Christ the King morning, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am the son and grandson and husband of realtors. That means, for a lifetime, I have been told that housing prices are directly linked to three critical factors: location, location, and location. You New Yorkers know this even if you don’t have realtors in the family: $1.5 million might get you 800 square feet if you are lucky. Yes indeed, location, location, location.
On this Christ the King Sunday location is critical as well—you know that, too. Last Sunday, at our adult forum, we discussed “All the Lutheran Questions I Am Afraid to Ask.” The most pressing question was the pesky one about sheep and goats. Put another way, who is ending up in heaven and who’s headed for hell?
Whether driven by fear or fascination, we can’t ponder the question enough: who will join Jesus as he sits on his throne of glory and who will graze with the goats in the eternal fires of Hades. We wonder about the destination of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, and, to be blunt, even of Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians.
We so want to end up on the right side! We have heard about the heavenly side for our entire lives, the side where the streets are lined with gold, the gates constructed of exquisite pearls, and angels will serenade us forever.
Oh yes, we wonder: who will end up in heaven and who will end up in hell?
I increasingly wonder if we might just be looking for heaven in all the wrong places. I am reminded of the charming children’s book, “Where’s Waldo.” We snuggle up together and search and search for Waldo and it seems, every time, Waldo pops up in the strangest places.
Might Jesus do the same thing? What if we get to heaven and it looks just like New York City? What if the entire heavenly welcoming committee is composed of people who keep us awake at night, cause us to clench our fists, and make our blood pressure skyrocket? What if the heavenly receiving line is composed of the same people who make us want to change jobs just to get away from them, move out of our apartments because they drive us nuts, and change churches because they seem so unchristian?
I wonder, what if we get to heaven and it is no different from right here, right now.
It’s curious that when Christ the King gives us instructions as to “Where’s Jesus,” this is almost precisely what he tells us: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Flabbergasting! We have been looking for Christ the King in such different places. Positively discombobulating! Where is Jesus?
The clues have nothing to do with pearly gates and golden-lined streets. And, if you look at the company this king keeps, Jesus is not to be found with the lords and the ladies, the well-heeled and the well-kempt, or even with the unspoiled and the goody two shoes. We don’t even see him hobnobbing with those who can expound precisely on Lutheran theology or wax eloquently about the quaint niceties of proper liturgy.
No, Christ the King is found with the hungry and outcast, the naked and sick, the slobs and scallywags.
This entire church year at Holy Trinity has been devised in such a way to equip us in discovering heavenly splendor in the mundane affairs of our daily living, in simple things like bread and wine and water, in run of the mill folks like you and me. We have been told that Jesus can be found with parents who aren’t quite sure if the baby Jesus is theirs or not; he is found not in palatial splendor but in a reeking barn out back; he never dines with powerful politicos except when they are after his neck; he is hounded persistently by the holy pious ones. More often than not, this most peculiar king is located with hookers and pimps, nincompoops and cheats, flimflam artists and also rans. And to cap it off, his enthronement is, of all places, on a nauseating cross in a Jerusalem trash heap. Who would think to look for Jesus in the ordinary occasions of life, in people that madden us, in locations that goad us to flee in dread and disgust?
I really am not certain about this sheep and goat stuff. I am even less certain about who will end up in heaven and who will be cast to the hellfires—that’s God’s business not mine or yours. What increasingly surprises me though—and actually gives me considerable hope—is that our king, more often than not, is found grazing with the goats, and goats that are the least heavenly breed of all.
Could it be, though, that we catch a peek of heaven this very moment? Of all places, we gaze into heaven right here at 65th and Central Park West as Christ the King gathers with us, misfits and malcontents, nervous nellies and the great unwashed. “Take and eat, this is my body given for you,” says Christ the King…“for you and you and you.”
Where is Christ the King? Let’s start looking right here, now, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SERMON – Bishop Robert A. Rimbo
Christ the King – Year A
Installation of Pastor Wilbert Miller
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
The City of New York
20 November 2016 at 5 p.m.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday, on the way into this sanctuary for an amazing and timely Bach Vespers, Lois and I turned the corner at 65th and Central Park West and were met by a team of what seemed to be 20 police officers. (Perhaps I overstate the number a bit; there were probably 8.) My first thought?? “What has Wilk done now?” Then I realized it probably had something to do with the protests going on around our City. I said to one of the officers, “Thanks for your service,” and, seeing the collar, he replied, “My pleasure, father. The other priest said that, too.” Then I knew what Wilk had done: he had already been out there making a connection on the corner.
Today, the Feast of Christ the King, is a day for making such connections on the corner, where church meets world, if you will. Holy Trinity is in a position to make ever-increasing, visible, powerful connections in witness to Christ right here and throughout our Synod and our City and our world.
My expectations might seem a bit high, but they are not unrealistic. We serve the Ruler of the Universe, so I have great expectations and enthusiasm for this next chapter in the story of this beloved congregation as we install its 14th pastor. (Remember: I was number 12. Like the disciples.)
Welcome, dear Wilk and dear Dagmar. And thank you for this opportunity to preach as we celebrate the Reign of Christ together.
On his ninetieth birthday, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was asked by a reporter, “What has been the secret of your success?” The illustrious justice solemnly responded: “The secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered that I was not God.”
Not bad advice, not bad at all. There is one who reigns, even though Wilk tried to borrow a crown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for me to wear and Dagmar had to return the dress with the ostrich feathers. (Ask me later; I’ll tell you what that’s all about. Or, better, ask Dagmar or Wilk.)
It’s good to realize that you – each of you and all of us – are not God. Thank God, that job is already taken.
History would have been eminently more peaceful and productive if only its leaders would have discovered the same lesson. Throughout history, rulers were considered divine
because, like God, they held the power of life and death over their subjects. Rome’s emperors proclaimed that indeed they were living gods. Europe’s queens and kings lorded over their subjects by “divine right” – I’ve been binge-watching The Crown on Netflix and highly recommend it, especially the stunning portrayal of the enthronement of Queen Elizabeth II which pointed to this kind of understanding of rule by divine right.
In 1925, Pope Pius XI realized that Europe’s royal reigns would soon become the stuff of fairy tales. But the Pope was convinced that the new rulers of such kingdoms as socialism, communism, and fascism eventually would not save people because these modern “isms” would also lord it over their subjects and rob them of their freedom as children of God.
Because the Feast of Christ the King emerged from such a particular political scene, at the corner of church and state, it is a rather relevant feast to celebrate for us, even though we are Americans. While Lutherans did not really begin to mark the Feast of Christ the King until 1978 there were vile rumors that the Pope saw Lutherans having such a blast with Reformation Day at the end of October each year with tympani and trumpet that he decided to one-up us Lutherans and celebrate this last Sunday in the church year with a whole lot of hoopla. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s the product of Lutheran inferiority complexes.
What is actually more accurate is that the Holy Father saw the fascist Benito Mussolini coming to power in Italy and decided to set the record straight: Christ is the King of the Universe, no politician, no ruler. Only Christ.
Hmmmm…that’s a good message for all of us who meet at this corner this evening. The Church is declaring to all: You are not God.
Today I see our nation and our world shaking in its boots. This morning I was with one of our Arabic pastors who reported great fear among people who are here in the United States – legally or illegally – fear that they will be deported. Hideous graffiti is on the increase, apparently. There is deeply troubling anti-Semitism. Bullying is everywhere. Punch them in the face. Get them out of here. There are increased police numbers on our streets. There is fear about the Thanksgiving Day Parade that will soon course its way toward and beyond this corner. And we are here to worship Christ the King who died naked on a cross between two criminals?!?!
I think we are at the point in our society when ordinary citizens will realize that their God-given rights make them able to move rulers and “isms” by a voice of human solidarity. I hope we in the church and all faith communities will soon say, without tanks or guns but with a loud voice, “You are not God.”
I don’t want to make trouble for you, dear Pastor Miller – all of you pastors – but I have to say that we surrender our souls whenever we fail to speak to those in authority – to our leaders – whether they are communists or congresspersons, parents or teachers, bosses or bishops (!) or, yes, pastors. We surrender our souls whenever we remain silent when those who have authority over us forget that they are not God.
My dear brother, Wilk, has already made it very clear that his ministry here at my beloved Holy Trinity is not about power. You, dear Wilk, have made it clear that you know what real leadership is all about. You proclaim Christ crucified and risen. And you have been reminding us – I read the facebook postings of your sermons faithfully, even when I am not in town – you are reminding us that the reason Christ reigns from a cross is that Christ never failed to tell the political and religious rulers of his time that they were not gods. So they killed him. Christ the King calls us to this kind of witness here in the midst of this world, on this corner.
Our ancestors called the powers around us “gods” and named them Mars, Jupiter, and Venus and told wonderful stories about them. We call them hormones or economics or politics or narcissism, and we have theories about how these forces may be manipulated and managed, but I’m not sure that we know much more about how to deal with these powers than our ancestors did.
We’ve got problems with the powers, don’t we? We feel so power-less ourselves over forces we cannot control.
So in Colossians St. Paul gives thanks that there is a church in the first place because we need each other to deal with life. And then the Apostle urges them – and us – to be a song of thanksgiving to God – a motet, a cantata, a hymn that sings “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Here is the basic affirmation on which everything else depends: “All things were made through Christ and for Christ.” And by “all things” St. Paul means all things – including the powers, everything at every corner.
And that is why I dare to say to Pastor Miller, and to Dagmar, and to the members of Holy Trinity, and to the community that gathers for Bach Vespers so faithfully, and to all of you who are here at this corner right now: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from Christ’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father …God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 111-14)
We don’t need anything else as we live and give our witness at this corner.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon by Pastor Wilbert Miller
At The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
“A Most Peculiar King”
(Luke 23: 33-43)
The Feast of Christ the King (November 20, 2016)
In the Name of Christ the King, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The Crucified God”…I remember the first time I heard of this book written by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann. I was horrified—“The Crucified God?!?” I had always thought God was above such barbarity. God, after all, looks down from heaven, refusing to dive into our muddled affairs here on earth. And yet, in a few moments, we will confess in the words of the Nicene Creed that God did exactly that, ending up crucified, dead and buried.
We cry, foul! That’s no way to treat God and, far worse, it is no way for God to behave. God must stand clear of the riff-raff. Respectable gods are untouchable.
We conclude another church year today, Christ the King. The entire year has been a tutorial in helping us spot this most peculiar king amidst the chaos. We are like school children trying to locate God in a religious version of “Where’s Waldo.”
Christ the King is so hard to find, especially if we seek him among the company we expect: the landed gentry, the power-brokers, the goody two-shoes. When God came to earth, his Son was born in a stinky stable, in the alleyway of oblivion—and here we thought we would find him in an ornate palace. When he preached his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, family and friends tried to toss him off a cliff; they were outraged that he sided with the trampled upon, the broken, the prisoners—this is no king! When the Son of God met up with religious leaders, they scolded him for hanging with fraudulent tax collectors and scandalous prostitutes—no king here. When he died, his enthronement occurred, not inside a majestic pyramid, but on an ugly instrument of torture and execution. Where’s Christ the King?
Jesus is a most peculiar king, especially for those who prefer their kings a bit less sullied and far more formidable.
Where might we spot such a king? Jesus helps us in our search: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Whoever dreams of finding God in people like this?
When Holy Trinity’s Call Committee interviewed me about nine months ago, they asked about the themes you might expect to hear in my preaching. I told them of my favorite character in all of literature, Mr. Fruit. Mr. Fruit appears in the novel, “The Prince of Tides.” He lives in a little village in South Carolina’s low country. Every town has a Mr. Fruit as does every church. He is the misfit who directs the 5 p.m. traffic at the busiest intersection and yet is not the constable; he leads the 4th of July parade, waving a tiny American flag, always marching proudly ahead of the high school band, the VFW float, and the mayor in the vintage Cadillac. Remarkably, the people of Colleton are not embarrassed at all by Mr. Fruit; in fact, they usher him to the center of their life. The author Pat Conroy notes: the character of any community is measured by how it treats its Mr. Fruits.
Most of us avoid the Mr. and Ms. Fruits. They drive us crazy. And yet, we dare not forget Christ the King who said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
As we arrive at the end of another church year, we are invited to behold this most peculiar king. So often, we look for him in all the wrong places and, even when we stare at him face-to-face, we end up befuddled.
We have a number of staff members living in this building—your fine cantor Donald Meineke and your pastor and his wife, Dagmar. You treat us quite nicely. Others live here though you have not formally met them. This evening, immediately after I am installed as your pastor and the front doors are locked tight, a few hapless souls will spread out their raggedy beds on our front steps. Jesus will be among them as he promised he would but we may be tempted to reckon the whole lot as revolting vermin scampering around our building. Some will object, they always do, though they will couch their indignation in a more refined manner. Our natural inclination is to keep our church tidy, free of riff-raff, certainly free of controversy. Even if taking such risks lifts up God’s blessed poor ones, we prefer a bit less drama.
Soon after we arrived, I met a woman at a party who lives two blocks from here. As soon as she found out I was Holy Trinity’s new pastor, she launched into her speech. I was panicky. She proceeded to thank me that this church allows homeless people to sleep at our doors. She knows the well-honed opposition—she lives here after all. She then added, “I am Jewish, but I so admire your ministry.” Interesting, isn’t it, how so-called “outsiders” sometimes glimpse this peculiar king more quickly than those who think they know him so well?
On this final Sunday of the church year, it would be easy to get caught up in the royal razzle-dazzle. But, surprisingly, today’s gospel reading reveals a different kind of king, one nailed to Calvary’s tree between two other despicable criminals; that is God’s royal enthronement.
Maybe we are best when people wag their tongues and ridicule us for the company we keep. Maybe we are far closer to our king when we end up being Mr. and Ms. Fruit ourselves, standing up for the hungry and the thirsty, the sick and naked, the outcast and refugees, and getting punched in the nose every step of the way by the powerful. All we can do is trust that our peculiar king will defeat wickedness and death through breathtaking love and bring all his subjects to life everlasting.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Your prayers and presence are requested
at Solemn Vespers on
the Feast of Christ the King
Sunday, November 20th
at 5 o’clock in the afternoon
for the Installation of
The Rev. Wilbert S. Miller
as the 14th Pastor of
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
Central Park West & 65th Street
in the city of New York
Bishop Robert Rimbo, preaching
The Rev. John Flack, presiding at the Installation
The Choirs of Holy Trinity and Bach Players
featuring music by Nicolaus Bruhns & Franz Tunder
A reception will follow.
All rostered ministers are invited to vest and process.
The color of the day is white.
The Rev. Dr. William Heisley
Lessons: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
St. Gregory the Great served as the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, from 590 to 604 AD. He wrote more than any other Roman bishop before him and is remembered as the father of the direction our liturgy has taken ever since. In the midst of his prolific writing there is a story that is at once quaint and holy and precious and challenging. (more…)