Crunch!—-the sound of gears suddenly shifting. I recently offered my car to the Canon Musician to use on an errand only to discover he has never learned to drive stick shift. So, I am aware that my verbal allusion of “crunch” to the sound of gears grinding might be an unfamiliar sound for Americans, who it seems to me universally drive automatic transmission vehicles. Yet, the gospel reading today evokes for me the sound of gears grinding as the Lectionary seeks to take us through a sudden turn and up a steep hill.
Since September, we have been working through the central sections of Mark’s gospel and arrive on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time with a quick change of gear as we shift into John. Mark’s Gospel has been a good companion for us during the two months of our Annual Renewal Program at Trinity Cathedral. It has provided us with our central motif, that of being on the road accompanying Jesus and his uncomprehending disciples as they walk the road to Jerusalem. The road to Jerusalem has become for us a metaphor for our own journeys, the journeys we are making as individual disciples. Together we make a journey as the community of God’s people in this location of time and place.
Mark’s very human portrayal of Jesus as a prophet and visionary, walking, talking, teaching, healing, and confronting both those who accompany him and those he meets on the way, is replaced by John’s very different image of Jesus. The prophet-visionary, reminiscent of Isaiah’s Son of Man, gives way to John’s majestic and self-contained Son of God.
We encounter a regal Jesus, who throughout his encounter with Pilate remains stationary, a seemingly non-anxious presence standing alone in the portico of Pilate’s Praetorium. It is Pilate who, no less than seven times, rushes in and out, shuttling between his judgement seat, the source of his power, and the portico, the place of unnerving encounter with this mysterious and perplexing figure. Throughout their encounter, it is Jesus, not Pilate, who controls the direction of the conversation. We miss the point if we simply focus on the content of the debate Pilate is seeking to have with Jesus concerning the nature of kingship. The power of John’s image lies in the way Jesus embodies the kingship of God. Like a Wimbledon Champion, who has gained control of the match forcing his opponent to run all over the court, Jesus remains still in the face of Pilate’s increasingly anxious scurrying to and fro.
While the image of Christ as King can be squarely located in the Christology of John’s Gospel, the feast of Christ the King is, comparatively, of recent origin. In 1925 Pius XI instituted the feast as a protest against the rise of fascism. In 1969 Paul VI moved it from the last Sunday in October to last Sunday before Advent. With the adoption of the Ecumenical Three Year Lectionary, Anglican Churches, including the Episcopal Church, have adopted Christ the King as the finale to the liturgical year. Christ the King has replaced our old Stir-up Sunday, a name commonly thought by many in England to derive from the Sunday when your gestating Christmas Pudding gets its first vigorous stir. Actually, the name comes from the opening lines of the Collect: Stir up our hearts, O Lord.
Today was chosen as Commitment Sunday to bring our Annual Renewal Program to a close. Last week, I posed the question, “does today present the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning with respect to stewardship?” Our intention is that, today, we mark the end of the beginning as our focus on stewardship becomes a year long process extending throughout 2013.
The notion of year-long stewardship goes to the heart of the journey we take when we set out on the road with Jesus. Time and again, I have referred to our difficulty of being on this road. The necessary limitations of our own small imaginations make it frightening for us to consider the changes that will result when we shift from identifying with the worldly appearance of our lives to identify with the dream that God is dreaming us into becoming.
Identifying with God’s dream for us, and for our world, leads us want to love God and God’s world. When we are changed through love our anxious, culturally inculcated, self-sufficiency becomes transformed into an experience of being enough and of having enough.
Discovering that we are enough and we have enough is the fruit of discipleship, a fruit that takes us beyond the limitations of our imaginations:
into a freedom to celebrate with joy rather than frenzy, to buy and give only out of love rather than out of insecurity or compulsion, and to give thanks for all that we have been blessed with rather than focus on what we’ve been told we lack (David Lose, A Kings Gift, Working Preacher 2012).
As Jesus stands before Pilate, he is the image of a non-anxious presence. His is a life given over to the love he shares with God, and this frees him from fear. Many of us feel that we don’t know how to love God. Yet, within each of us is a deep ache. When we find the place where we ache we become aware of our deep need to want to love God. It is from here that we start on the road to loving God.
Since the second week of September, I have been encouraging us to notice the journey of being on the road. Along the way we have passed key sign posts. Each sign post directs us towards a possibility of deepening our sense of meaning and purpose in life by following Christ into love with God.
Being dutiful servants, doing good to feel good, is not enough. Christians are more than good people doing what good people do. Being faithful givers, honoring our responsibilities to the institution that does good is not enough. We must become people who open our wallets because we long to open our hearts. It’s our desire to open our hearts that conforms our generosity. Our hearts become filled with gratitude as our eyes open to the goodness of God’s love, manifested through the ordinary joys of living. We begin to become less anxious as we let go of the illusions of self-sufficiency and the need for self-assertion.
As Jesus stands before Pilate, he is the image of a non-anxious presence. Parker Palmer in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, offers us an image taken from his Quaker wisdom. It’s the image of letting your life speak. This is how Jesus embodies his Kingship before Pilate. He is not attempting to speak his life, rather he is simply letting his life speak him.
Palmer’s Quaker wisdom suggests to me a picture for our transformation into discipleship:
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.
Year-long stewardship is to embody our calling, our vocation to discipleship. Our motivation comes from that place where we ache to fall more deeply in love with God and with one another. Jesus’ embodiment of his Kingship speaks-out his life of love with God. This is a different vision of power, and Pilate is unable to imagine it. Amid the sound of gears crunching our lives speak out our longing to love God more. For is not our calling, our vocation as disciples, to become centers of non-anxious presence in a world constrained by fear?