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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Feast of Christ The King

“This is the King of the Jews.”
Luke 23:33-43
Last Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 29 C – November 25, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton,
rector and pastor

I don’t know about you, but I just stopped eating my Thanksgiving dinner about an hour ago. I jest, of course, but my goodness, there was so much food! More importantly, there was so much for which to be deeply thankful. I trust your experience was much the same.

And so it goes. With the festivities of Thanksgiving over, we celebrate today The Feast of Christ the King, and, as we do, we come closer to the end of another liturgical year. It is unbelievable to me to note that Advent I is next week, and just four weeks later, it will be Christmas.

I was commenting on this to one of our kids as we cleaned up the dishes from one of the many meals which seemed to roll right into yet another meal.

She looked up at me and said, “The FEAST of Christ the King? Really? Is that what Sunday is? Mom, I don’t get it! What kind of King dies on a cross? Why do we call him our King?”

I’m thinking that if this child grew up in a house where church attendance was a necessary requirement and talk of Jesus was rampant, and she has to ask this question, someone in this congregation this morning might just have the same question dancing around in their head.

It’s important to note that The Episcopal Church, for oh, about the last 40 years or so, has also elected this Sunday, The Feast of Christ the King, as Addiction Sunday – a day when we celebrate the difficult journey of Recovery of many of our members.

We also take note, on this day, that many of our families continue to struggle on the road to Recovery from the disease of addiction to drugs or alcohol or food or gambling.

This is not an accident – this confluence of Christ the King and Addiction Sunday. The 12 Step Program has provided the path back on the road to Redemption and Salvation for more people than polite Christian folk – especially those of the very polite Episcopal / Anglican persuasion – might care to admit.

That brilliant story teller Madeleine L’Engle writes of a friend who despaired of seeking help from the church for her addiction. Ultimately, she had stopped going to church and turned to a twelve-step program for help and a sense of spirituality.

Madeleine asked her why and was startled to hear her friend’s tearful reply. “Because this simple Twelve-Step Program knows who is the enemy.”

I think that’s right, but I also think “this simple Twelve Step Program” also knows who is charge. They call it, “Higher Power” and not without good reason.

In order to find the path to recovery, to fight the evil of addiction, one must admit that they are powerless over their addiction and surrender their lives to that Higher Power. God, or however the addict wants to name God, is that ‘Higher Power’ –which is a power higher than the power of the enemy of addiction.

For the Christian, the name for that Higher Power is Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This ‘King Jesus’ is not like any earthly sovereign.

Jesus rules not by intimidation but by identification.

Jesus does not ‘lord it over’ with rigid rules one must follow. Instead, Jesus walks the 12 Steps of Redemption in solidarity and companionship with those who suffer from this dreadful disease.

There’s an old saying in some 12 Step Programs about the difference between religion and spirituality. It is said that religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell and spirituality is for people who have already been there and come back.

I would hope this is not so of all religions, but I fear it is true for some.

Those addicts who are religious and spiritual are who they are because they know that it was Jesus who walked with them – all the way to Hell and back, because He's been there. In truth, this is the Way of Jesus for us all, if we allow it. The Addict knows something that many of us can only guess at. The truth is that we live in a Culture of Addiction.

My friend, Lane Denison, a fellow priest and grateful alcoholic in recovery says that we must broaden our understanding of addiction.

He writes, “Perhaps we have already learned or will soon learn, Satan to the contrary, that addiction’s tentacles extend far beyond the chemicals such as nicotine, alcohol, and those other paralyzing narcotics. Addiction is our enemy at all levels of life, whether it be addiction to power or to greed or to war or to orthodoxy or to tradition or to whatever. It affects all our relationships. It is habitual, and it is a behavior, and it lurks.”

Addiction lurks. We, in this Culture of Addiction, have become hopelessly addicted to greed and violence. I do believe this addiction is fueling the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Middle East and Ireland. I believe it is also fueling the alarming rise in reported cases of domestic violence and child abuse. It most certainly fuels the violence on our streets.

Addiction lurks, and we have become a Culture of Addiction and our drugs of choice are violence and greed.

From what I have observed over the years in my own Recovery as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, there is an antidote to the poison of Addiction. It is a simple yet elegant and readily available substance, which may be why it seems so elusive to so many. Often, it is hiding in plain sight.

It is this: gratitude.

The 12 Step Program teaches you that you must develop what they call “An Attitude of Gratitude.” It’s not something one develops easily – especially in the face of the powerful evil of Addiction. But, it begins easily enough. First, you bend your knees.

There’s an old saying in AA: If your knees are knocking, kneel on them. First, you bend the knee. First, you admit your powerlessness over your addiction. First, you surrender to a Higher Power – a power higher than the power of the addiction which has made you powerless over your life.

For those who follow Jesus, that formidable, daunting task of humility is made easier by knowing that you are not alone in the vulnerability of that kind of humility. Jesus is right there with you, kneeling besides you.

Today’s gospel assures us that whenever we are in that crucifyingly painful place of facing into our humanity, sacrificing the great I WAS to the Great I Am, Jesus is besides us, just as he was to the thief who hung beside him on that cross in Calvary.

This is not the kind of benevolent King who can wave a magic wand and make all of our troubles disappear. This is not the kind of King who can take away your pain with promises of riches and wealth beyond your imagination. King Jesus does not make those kinds of promises. He does say this to the thief who hangs next to him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

That’s a promise he was willing to die for.

Tidy, proper Episcopalians are not comfortable using this language, but I’m going to say it anyway: That’s a promise written in his blood.

That’s the kind of King Jesus is. Not an earthly sovereign who can only provide material things, but one who gives us the gift of his presence in this life as well as the next.

Indeed, this is the kind of sovereign who will be the first to greet us whenever we allow those things to die in us that need to die so that we may find new life.

When that happens, when the acute suffering has ended and the healing begins, we find ourselves filled with gratitude – and gratitude, I have discovered in my own recovery, is the soil which yields the first and lasting fruit of joy.

You can’t really know the fullness of the joy of Christmas without the pain of Good Friday.

Let me end this sermon by telling you about the 12 Step Program I sponsored in my office as Chaplain at U Lowell. It was an open meeting, so I was graciously allowed to attend, even though I was technically not in recovery from a substance addiction.

Within 4 weeks, my office was filled with faculty, staff and students who had no other weekday meeting to attend, except the one they called “The Noonie Loonies” at City Hall.

One day, a young student, new to recovery, got up to share his story – witnessing is an important part of Recovery. At the end of his story, he finished with words that are familiar to many in AA:

“Well, I guess it’s true that you don’t always get what you want but you always get what you need.”

There was polite applause, a few slaps on the back from his friends, and then he sat down.

As the applause diminished, a voice came from deep in the crowded room.

“Bull!” he said.

We all turned to see an older man, his face lined with a map of the last 100 miles of rough road he had traveled to get to this place in his Recovery. The room hushed to listen to what we knew would be truth and wisdom gained from the crucifying pain of Recovery.

“You don’t always get want you want,” he said, “You don’t always get what you need. You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And, be grateful.”

Those could have been the words Jesus spoke to the man next to him on the cross. If you are going to follow a leader, look for One who has known something about suffering.

Follow the One who leads you away from darkness and into Light.

Follow the One who speaks with Wisdom and Truth and teaches you about gratitude and believes Love is the highest power.

If you follow that leader, you will be following The One who will lead you through your own suffering and into Paradise. Today. And, into Eternity. Amen.


KJ said...

Exactly what I needed to hear in a dark place right now.

Thank you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Gratitude. Yes.

You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And, be grateful.


Muthah+ said...

This is on the order of "I wish I had said that." Thanks for preaching the Gospel, sistah