I’ve never had a king. Not in the literal, flesh-and-blood “don’t-get-in-trouble-with-that-guy-or-else” kind of a way. I came of age in the 1980s, and I remember the curated courtship of Charles and Diana, remember waking up in the night to watch their royal wedding. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I do love a parade, and that was as pretty as any I’ve seen. In the end, though, when I think of what it is to be king, the pageantry of it all seems sort of beautiful and quaint, maybe an interesting distraction, but ultimately not relevant to my life. And I kind of want to ask that queen, or that king: “Who are you, really? And why are you doing this?”
Today is the day we celebrate as Christ the King Sunday. The readings all talk about sovereignty and dominion. And I wonder, as I imagine someone coming to us today, I wonder how the church might respond to those same questions: Who are you, really? And why are you doing this? Our response matters, for us and for those who would ask. Because in this time of Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and now Mali, in this time of debates and budget cuts and refugees, those twin seductions of fear and isolation are very much with us. And I don’t believe that the church can afford, in this moment or any other, to be a quaint distraction, finally irrelevant to people’s lives.
I want to ask if those are the real questions behind Pontius Pilate’s defensive words to Jesus in today’s gospel: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus doesn’t seem to think it’s Pilate’s question anyway. “Do you ask this on your own?” he says. Is there a chance that what that threatened and anxious governor wants to know of the strange prisoner before him is this: “Who are you, really? And why are you doing this?”
“But as it is,” Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
Last Sunday Bryan preached a remarkable sermon about telling the truth in the hardness of this time – of Paris, of the shootings that continue to happen, of the death that is too much with us. He shared that truth, in his words, “Because I’m your pastor. And I love you.” He shared the promise of our baptism: that God does have a plan for the hope of the world. And that plan? It’s us.
More than a year ago, we dug in hard to the question of who we are, really, as St. Augustine’s Church, of why we do what we do. We had conversations all over the place – among vestry and wardens and clergy, at coffee hour, by email, at adult forums. We wanted to say something real and true of our mission. And this is it:
We invite people into our midst.
We connect with God and each other.
We equip ourselves as disciples.
We ask God to send us forth.
When we created this year’s annual giving campaign, the thing that made the most sense was to share who we are, really, and to talk about why we’re doing this. We’re telling the story of being Shaped by Mission in letters and pictures, in newsletter reflections, in people speaking of their experience as Margaret will today.
Who are we, really? We are a church that, when we found out four days before Christmas last year that a girls’ choir from Kenya had arrived in Chicago without a place to stay, members of St. Augustine's invited them to stay in your homes. We invited them to sing at our Christmas Eve service, invited them around our table, invited them into our lives: ice skating and learning to ride a bicycle and watching for the first snowfall of their lives. Who are we, really? We’re a church that connects our lives of worship inside this space with the hard things and the beautiful things happening out in the world – a church that on the Sunday after the President’s eulogy at Clementa Pinkney’s funeral, at direction not my own, turned together to connect our voices as we sang about God’s Amazing Grace. Who are we, really? We are a church equipping ourselves from smallest to tallest, with children carrying the stories of Jesus into our lives. Who are we, really? We are a church asking that God will send us forth, just as we prepare to send out a truckload of gifts; so that 35 families who otherwise might not have Christmas presents, now will.
As I thought about this sermon today, and the stories and pictures that people have shared, and will, it made perfect sense that I would be talking about our giving campaign on Christ the King Sunday. Because every one of those stories and pictures offers a glimpse of the kingdom. A kingdom not of the world as it is, but of the world as it should be.
I’ve been thinking of Bryan’s sermon all week, in a call-and-response kind of a way. The phrase I can’t get out of my head is this: “Because I’m your pastor. And I love you.” It drew me in, and compelled something from within me. And I hold that for the church, together with those questions: Who are you, really? And why are you doing this? I hold it all, with the tragedy in our world and in our communities and in our own lives. I hold it all, standing against the fear and isolation that would seduce us into thinking we can build a fortress that promises our own security. And what I hear us say, together, to that question: Who are you, really? Is this: We are the Church. We invite and we connect and we equip and we send. And what I hear us say, together, in the face of tragedy, and to people understandably seduced by fear and isolation, and to people who suffer the results of that seduction…what I hear us say, together, to the question: Why are you doing this? Because we’re the Church. And we love you.
On this Sunday of Christ the King, I give thanks for you – for a church that I would describe as many things, but never quaint or irrelevant. I give thanks for a church that really is Shaped by Mission, a church living into God’s call in a world that starves for a worthy hope. I give thanks for the church I love. And I ask that you give as generously as you can, to help us be who we are, as fully as we are able. I will tell you that I’m not asking you to do anything that I do not. As a sign of our commitment to this parish, John and I pledge 10% of our income to St. Augustine’s.
I’m glad to talk about the practicalities of what would be possible as we all give from our generosity. Please let me know if you want to talk more about that. What I will say to you now is that when I heard about Beirut and Paris, about refugees and poor people who need a place to be welcome…when my dear friend was diagnosed with cancer…when doctors admitted my sister’s husband to Intensive Care last Thursday…what I wished for them all was that they had this church. I wished for them all to have St. Augustine’s.
And I know that we can’t be everywhere. But we can be right here, as fully as we are able.
Who are we, really? And why are we doing this?
Because we’re the Church. And we love you.