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.