I want to make a confession before I begin the sermon today. Although
I love this congregation and preaching in this church, I’ve
had a secret wish to preach in a black gospel congregation. Some
of the obstacles to me doing this are obvious -- it isn’t
my tradition and training. There is a specific cadence and rhetorical
style that would not be authentic for me. What is appealing though,
is the idea of a congregation which gives verbal feedback -- hopefully
positive -- during the sermon. I’m talking about Preach it,
Sister! Halleluia! And Amen! I know that this is not our tradition
either: we’ve been taught to be reverent and quiet during
worship, and that’s fine, too. But since today is Christ the
King Sunday, I’m going to be leaving some spaces in the sermon
and inviting you to fill them. I’m not going to tell you what
you have to say, but I’m going to repeat which I’ve
shared a story before , that might give you a hint:
A group of kids were sitting in the front of the church during
the children’s story, and the storyteller asked, What has
a big bushy tail and climbs up trees and collects nuts in the fall?
And one kid turned to his neighbor and said, “I know the answer
is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
That’s your hint. I’ve instructed the ushers that if
anyone shouts “Squirrel!” during the sermon they should
be escorted out of the Worship Center.
This is our fourth and last Sunday to talk about gratitude, and
I have saved the best and most important for last. Today we are
giving thanks for our Lord and Savior Jesus (whew, thanks. Just
checking) Our text is from Ephesians Chapter 3; verses 14-21 are
a prayer from the apostle Paul. He prays that the church would not
lose heart because of his sufferings. Paul’s prayer is one
which we could all take to heart, so I want to go through it with
you. Paul prays that every family in heaven and on earth would take
its name from Jesus and that through the riches of the glory of
Jesus we would be strengthened through his Spirit. Paul prays that
through faith, Jesus would dwell in our hearts as we are rooted
and grounded in love, and that we would have the power to comprehend
the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Jesus
, and that we would be filled with the fullness of God. Amen.
Christ is not a King or a ruler in earthly sense with which we
are most familiar: he was not born into privilege, he was not elected
to office, he cannot be overthrown or voted out or impeached. He
was executed, but instead of ending his reign, his death and resurrection
insured that he would rule for eternity. Today we celebrate the
power of our King, Jesus a power which defeated death forever, a
power which serves the kingdom of God, a power which is beyond the
width and length and height and depth of our comprehension.
It isn’t easy for me to explain something to you which is
beyond my comprehension. I searched for images which might express
the kind of king I’m talking about -- images of crowns and
scepters and thrones. But none of those are what I want to say,
or what I think Paul is trying to say about the king we know as
our Lord and Savior, Jesus. So I have found pictures of one of the
oldest -- perhaps the oldest--symbol of Christianity. It’s
still in use today, I’m sure you are familiar with it, and
pretty sure at least one member of this congregation has it as a
tattoo: it’s symbol which Christians used before they used
the symbol of the cross.
[Slide 1] This is a fish. Some of Jesus’ disciples were fisherman,
as we know, and Jesus told them that he would make them fishers
of people. But this symbol is not about evangelism, although I suppose
it could be. That’s not the origin of this symbol, though.
In the early centuries of the church, the church was a group of
believers who were living outside the law. The simple proclamation
that Jesus is Lord was illegal. Say it with me if you dare: “Jesus
is Lord.” That could have gotten you killed in the Roman Empire
which maintained that the only Lord was Cesar. Christians had to
meet secretly, and a simple line drawing of a fish was a way to
mark where they were meeting, or to identify whom could be trusted.
But why a fish?
[Slide 2] Ichthus is the Greek work for fish, but early Christians
used it as an acronym. An acronyms a set of initial letters which
spell a word, like KISS: keep it simple, stupid. But the initials
of this word stand for something much more profound, as you can
see from this slide: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. This is the
image I’d like you to carry with you today, and every day:
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Can you say it with me? Jesus
Christ, Son of God, Savior.
No gratitude that we can offer will be sufficient for this gift.
You can -- and I hope you do -- try to spend the rest of your life
giving thanks, but we will never come to the end of what it means
to be saved by the grace of Jesus. You can -- and I hope you do
-- go to all nations, or even just to your neighbors to share that
good news but there will always be more to tell. The Christian year
begins by preparing for the birth of a baby, because that’s
where the story of Jesus on earth begins. But the story of Christ
the King has no beginning and no ending: Christ was with God before
time began and will rule in heaven after time on earth is no more.
There are big cosmic consequences to the birth of that little baby,
but there are also personal consequences. Romans 10:9 says, “if
you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe with your
heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
And verse 13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the
Lord shall be saved.” These are eternal consequences for each
person who has heard the good news that Jesus is Lord.
As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s appropriate for us to express
gratitude for our family and friends, for food and shelter, for
our church. But if we acknowledge God as the source of every good
thing, we should never forget to give thanks for God’s greatest
gift, Jesus. Jesus is a gift which you must accept for yourself,
because no one else can accept Jesus for you. You can’t accept
Jesus for your children or grandchildren, for people you love or
for people think ought to change. Jesus is the gift which everyone
needs, a gift which lasts forever. The gift of knowing Jesus as
God’s Son and Savior is free, but it comes at great cost.
Jesus gave his life on a cross so our sins could be forgiven, and
when we accept Jesus, we lay down a life lived for ourselves alone,
and take up a life with Christ with his will for our lives at the
center. This is something we have to do day after day if we are
to live as children of the King.
I know that you are believers, and that most of you have known
Jesus Christ for longer than I have been your pastor, and in many
cases, longer than I have been alive. I pray for our church and
for people in it regularly, but I’d like to invite you to
pray with me now. I will be adapting Paul’s prayer from Ephesians
3 as a pray of dedication to Jesus Christ, Son of God, Our Savior.
I can only offer these words, you can accept them if they speak
to you. Will you pray with me?
Jesus, Son of God, Savior: we come before you with gratitude this
morning for the gift of your grace, gratitude for the love which
you showed us while we were yet sinners; love which is beyond our
understanding. I pray that if there is anyone here who has not accepted
the gift of your grace and salvation that they would open their
heart to you and you would dwell within them through faith. We pray
that each one of us would be rooted and grounded in love, and confess
with our lips and believe in our hearts that you are raised from
the dead and you are Lord of life. Give us the power to do the costly
work of living as your disciples, so that we may be filled with
the fullness of God, and crown you as King of our lives. Amen.
Through the month of November I have been suggesting practices
for gratitude each week. I have been heartened by the cards, thanks,
and scriptures you have shared. Today I’d like to give you
a very modest gift, which is a reminder of a much greater gift.
On the usher’s table is a small bowl with fish charms with
the name Jesus inside. I had to buy a whole bunch of these, so take
as many as you want, but don’t take them lightly. Put one
in your wallet or coin purse, thread it on a necklace or a bookmark,
put it by an alarm clock or somewhere you’ll see it at home.
When you see these, remember to give thanks for Jesus Christ, Son
of God, Savior who is Redeemer and Lord. We crown him with many
crowns, because the King of heaven and earth is Jesus. Amen.