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Sermon for Sunday 21 November 2021

First Reading: Isaiah 51:4-6

4“Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”

Psalm 93

1The Lord is King; he has put on splendid apparel; the Lord has put on his apparel and girded himself with strength. 2He has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved; 3Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; you are from everlasting. 4The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted up their voice; the waters have lifted up their pounding waves. 5Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mightier is the Lord who dwells on high.

6Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and forevermore.

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

4bGrace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

24{Jesus said to Peter, James, John and Andrew,} “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning — 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

A Stand in For Royality

I don’t know what you plan on doing when you turn 95 years old, I certainly don’t.  Since there are only a couple of us here today even close to that mark, I guess we could ask them.  To be honest, I haven’t given it much thought.  But if I were to consider it, I’d have to say that I’d be happy just to get out of bed each morning, eat a nice meal and the spend some time with the people I love.  One thing’s for sure, I’d get rid of the alarm clock and my Outlook calendar for all my daily activities.  The second thing I’m sure of is, I’m pretty sure I won’t be as busy as Queen Elizabeth II.  

The Queen of the United Kingdom attends over 400 events each year, including meetings, ceremonies, presentations, receptions, and charity events.  That’s an average of more than one official event each day.  I get tired just thinking about it.  And again, Queen Elizabeth is 95 years old.  So, it makes perfect sense that the Queen has an official stand-in to help her out.

Ella Slack is a British woman who was chosen in the 1980s to serve as the Queen’s stand-in for all royal dress rehearsals.  As you can imagine, official ceremonies and receptions require a lot of planning and practice to ensure that every detail of the event is perfect.  Queen Elizabeth is far too busy to spend all day at dress rehearsals, so Ms. Slack serves as her stand-in for these practice runs.  The way she got this honor is quite interesting.

Ella Slack was working for the British Broadcasting Corporation when they were preparing to film a national memorial service.  Queen Elizabeth was undergoing the dress rehearsal for that day’s ceremony and the sun kept getting in her eyes.  The members of the stage crew offered to help, but they were all men around 6 feet tall.  A BBC producer spotted Ms. Slack, who is only 5 feet tall, two inches shorter than the Queen.  Ms. Slack was more than happy to serve as the Queen’s stand-in for the rehearsal and has served in that role ever since.

She doesn’t receive any pay for her service, but she doesn’t mind.  She sees it as an honor to serve the Queen.  And one of the fringe benefits of her job is the opportunity to meet members of the royal family and ride in the Queen’s carriage.  Ella Slack doesn’t get to participate in the exciting parts of the events.  She only gets to stand in place, walk from spot to spot, smile, and occasionally wave to crowds.  It’s her job to ensure that when the Queen arrives for the official event, everything is well-organized and running smoothly.  Imagine, if you will, serving as a stand-in for royalty.  When you stop and think about it, you and I have been given a similar role as disciples of Jesus.

As Christians, we too can claim to be official “stand-ins” for royalty.  In baptism, we were commissioned to be representatives of the King of kings, Jesus Christ, in this world.  However, as faithful followers, we need to do a lot more than simply stand in one place, smile, and wave in order to represent our King.  And on this Christ the King Sunday, this is what we need to explore further, as we consider our readings for today.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year, sometimes called the Reign of Christ.  The new Liturgical year begins next Sunday as we anticipate a heaven-sent baby, born in the little town of Bethlehem and ends with the King of kings and Lord of lords sitting on the throne of the universe.  Whoever would have thought that a baby, born in a lowly stable, in a tiny suburb of Jerusalem, would one day become heralded as the King of kings?  It’s hard at times to get our mind wrapped around that isn’t it?  Even today, many people still struggle with this fact and with Jesus’ identity.

It’s unbelievable that the Son of the Almighty God would give up His heavenly throne to take on human flesh, human weakness, and human struggles.  There’s a thought-provoking piece titled “They Missed Him!” that could easily apply to us today.  Here are just a few quotes from it: “They were looking for a lion, He came as a Lamb, and they missed Him.  They were looking for a warrior, He came as a Peacemaker, and they missed Him.  They were looking for a king, He came as a Servant, and they missed Him.  They were looking for liberation from Rome, He submitted himself to a Roman cross, and they missed Him. 

He came as a Lamb to be sacrificed for our sin.  Will you miss Him?  He came to make peace between God and man.  Will you miss Him?  He came to model servanthood for all humanity.  Will you miss Him?  . . .  He came that we might have true liberty.  Will you miss Him?  He came to give you eternal life.  Will you miss Him?  When we submit to the Lamb, we will meet the Lion.  Join with the Peacemaker and we will meet the Warrior.  Work with the Servant and we will meet the King . . .” 

Throughout history, there have been people who met Jesus face-to-face, yet they still dismissed or rejected Him.  Many saw and experienced His love.  They heard His message of truth.  And yet, they refused to believe in Him because He wasn’t what they were expecting.  Sad, isn’t it? to stand in the very presence of the Way, the Truth and the Life, and to miss Him.  Yet, it was a minor official in the Roman Empire, Pontius Pilate, who first asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”   Jesus obviously convinced him that He was.

Anytime we look at the Crucifix here above the altar, we see the letters INRI.  Those letters stand for YESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDA-E-ORUM, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  These were the words that Pilate ordered written at the top of Jesus’ cross.  We don’t know what motivated Pilate to order those words; maybe it was fear, regret, or possibly, it was done in sarcasm.  What we do know is, what was in the hearts of the disciples.  Peter would write later in his epistle, “We actually saw his majesty with our own eyes” (II Peter 1:16ff).  That word majesty means “superbness, magnificence, glory, splendor or mighty power.”  You can almost feel Peter’s excitement leap off the page as we read those words.  And yet Pilate stood in Jesus’ presence and . . . missed it.

We need to remember that the truth of who Jesus is, isn’t dependent on how we respond to Him.  Peter and the disciples stood in awe of His majesty.  The religious leaders stood in contempt of His message.  Whether we accept Him or reject Him, neither response changes the truth that Jesus is who He says He is—the King of all creation.  But what does it mean for us to claim that Jesus is the King of all that was, all that is and all that is to come?  For one, our claim that Jesus is the King must mean that Jesus is ultimately in charge, and that because of our sin, there must be unfinished business in this world that needs His attention.  If Jesus then has unfinished business, then we, as His stand-ins, must first consider what His finished world would look like.  And the answer may be found in His actions and teachings while He walked on this earth.

A pastor from Maryland writes that he gained a new understanding of what Jesus wanted for this world from his seminary professor.  Professor Drew Dyson said that whenever Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, what He meant was, “Imagine a world . . .”  “Imagine a world where a rich man throws a party and invites the marginalized and outcasts of society to come and enjoy His bounty.  Imagine a world where a Samaritan goes out of his way to help a man who held him in contempt.  Imagine a world where a son, who walks away from his family and curses his father’s name, is welcomed back with open arms.”  That’s what the kingdom of God looks like.  That’s what Jesus the King came to establish.  This world, because of our sin, means Jesus has unfinished business.  

And the reason for the unfinished business is that was we, as sinful people, need someone to right the wrong.  If I were to ask you to whistle a few bars of the song “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, could you do it?  Even though the song came out in 1968, it’s still popular today.  If you know the song, then you know the last few seconds of the song just feature Redding whistling the tune until the song fades away.  Did you know that Redding never intended to finish the song that way?  He had planned to record some final lyrics to end the song.

Sadly, Otis Redding died in a plane crash in December 1967 and never had the chance to record the final lyrics.  His record company, Stax Records, released the unfinished song in January 1968.  It won two Grammys and ranks at #21 on the list of top songs of the 20th century as chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Ordinarily, unfinished work is unintentional.  But there’s unfinished business in this world and Jesus had a plan when He ascended to the Father.  When Jesus returned to the Father, He planned to send the Holy Spirit to work in us to conform us to the image of God.  And as we do the work that Jesus invites us to do, the work of bringing the kingdom of God on earth, we will grow in our love for God, and people will see the image of God in our actions.  God also promises all throughout the Old and New Testaments that He is working in His people.  As St. Paul writes, He is making us into a new creation (II Corinthians 5: 17).  And the clincher is found in this promise from Philippians 1: 6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

There is unfinished business in this world, and we are the people in whom God is still working.  Even at our best we know we’re not all what God intends for us to be.  The good news for us is, into this unfinished world has come the King of kings.  In 1928, a small ship called the Helen B. Sterling was caught in a tremendous storm a few hundred miles off the coast of Oregon.  The captain broadcast a desperate call for help.  The storm continued to batter their ship, so he sent out a second call.  Suddenly he heard another voice on the line.  The captain of the Melbourne, an Australian battleship, radioed back that he was changing course and coming to rescue the sailors of the Helen B. Sterling.

The storm raged on as the captain and crew of the Helen B. Sterling scanned the horizon.  All they could see were waves swelling and churning in the darkness.  Hours passed, and the captain sent one more message: “Can’t last another hour . . . Sea sweeping right over us.  Clearing boats, but impossible to live in this sea.  Farewell!”

And in the next moment, he heard the captain of the Melbourne reply, “We are certain to reach you.  Keep good heart!”

The Melbourne did reach the Helen B. Sterling just in time.  As the small ship was beginning to sink, the battleship pulled alongside them.  The captain and the entire crew were saved.  God had a plan for this world from the beginning.  He had always planned to redeem it and return it to His original perfection.  So, whenever world events seem overwhelming, when the outlook for the future seems desperate and hopeless, we can be assured that because the King of kings came into this world with a message of hope and life, that He is ultimately in control, and He will come again to establish His perfect reign and kingdom someday.  And we can be certain that He will reach us in time.

One final thing we need to say about the unfinished business of this world, is that we are those who have been called to bring it to completion.  This isn’t to say that the kingdom of God will be brought in by our efforts.  It’s Christ who builds the kingdom, but He chooses to build it through those who are receptive to His word.  That’s where you and I come in.  Jesus needs people who are eager and ready to serve, who are willing to stand-in for the King until He returns.  And the ironic thing is, when we subject our desires to His desires, when we faithfully serve as priests in His kingdom, when we humble ourselves in His service, it’s then that we’re lifted up.  When we lose ourselves in Jesus, that’s when we find ourselves.  That’s the nature of God’s kingdom.

In 1947, Bob Pierce went on a preaching tour in China with Youth for Christ.  Tena Holkeboer, a missionary who had founded a school for girls on the Chinese island of Amoy, invited Pierce to speak to her students.  Several of the girls accepted Jesus as King of their lives after hearing Bob Pierce speak.  A few days later, he returned to the school.  He arrived to find Tena holding a bruised girl in her arms.  The girl had turned her life over to Jesus at the recent youth service where Pierce had preached.  When she returned home to tell her family, they had beaten her and kicked her out.  Bob Pierce was naturally shaken.  How could this happen to a child?  What was he supposed to do?  He asked Tena, “You will take care of her, won’t you?” 

Tena said, “I am feeding as many children as I can.  The question is, ‘What are you going to do?’”  Bob Pierce dug the last $5 out of his pocket and handed it to Tena with a promise that he would do more.  That moment and that promise led Bob Pierce to return home and start one of the most effective international humanitarian organizations in history, World Vision International.  Since its founding in 1950, World Vision has provided food, clean drinking water, education, shelter, child protection services and disaster relief to tens of thousands of people around the world.  All because one man was willing to be a stand-in for Jesus. 

This world has a lot of unfinished business to attend to.  And into this sin filled world came the King of kingsJesus came and made the ultimate sacrifice in our behalf.  And now, He invites us to be His stand-ins in the work of God’s kingdom.  Jesus’ question to us today is, “I did the work I was sent to do.  Now what are you going to do?”  Until Jesus returns in His glory, it’s our responsibility to attend to the unfinished business of this world until such time as He returns to reign supreme forever.


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