Feast Day: The Reign of Christ (A)
Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
I’m going to begin this morning’s sermon with an exercise that may make the introverts among us very uncomfortable—I want you to turn and talk with one of your neighbours, beside, in front, or behind you. I’m going to give you about 30 seconds and in that time I want you both—you have about 15 seconds each—to attempt to explain the gospel to one another in as concise a way as possible. This is the elevator pitch, if you will. And at the end, depending on how you have done, we will separate the sheep from the goats and well you know what happens from there. Alright, ready? Go.
Now, how was that? Raise your hand if you had some difficulty with that exercise. I suppose there are a few ways you could have gone about it and if you had something to say about the cross and the forgiveness of sin well then you’re off to a very good start. Yet, as central as the cross and forgiveness of sin is to the gospel I want to suggest this morning that the gospel is even bigger than that. I want to suggest that the gospel is ultimately about the authority of Jesus Christ over all things, seen and unseen.
The early Christians had a way of summing up the gospel in just three words: Jesus is Lord. Jesus. Is. Lord. That is a good shorthand for the gospel but what does it mean? The Apostle Paul, in our reading from Ephesians (and one of my own favourite passages in the Epistles), puts it in a remarkable way. Close your eyes for a moment and really listen to these words.
“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all,” (1:20-23).
The gospel, the good news, is that Jesus is Lord. To say this is to say that Jesus Christ is risen and living and at this very moment has authority over every square inch of the universe, you and I as well.
We live on one planet that is part of one solar system that rotates around one star in one galaxy in the known universe. In our galaxy alone it is estimated that in addition to our own sun there are 100-400 billion other stars. Moreover, it is estimated that the observable universe contains 200 billion to 2 trillion galaxies. We think that the observable universe is approximately 90.68 billion light-years across. Now if the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s then in order to travel across the known universe it would take you approximately…and that is where I say a number that just makes your brain melt and your central nervous system shut-down. And that’s just the part of the universe that we think we know.
Your body is composed of roughly 37.2 trillion cells. Give or take a few trillion. Each cell contains molecules that are made up of even smaller components called atoms. There are approximately 100 trillion atoms in a human cell. So, to re-cap, that’s 37.2 trillion cells each of which is composed of roughly 100 trillion atoms. Again, give or take. I’m a theologian not a micro-biologist. But you’ll remember from high school that atoms are made up of even smaller particles, electrons, protons, and neutrons. And protons and neutrons are made up of particles called hadrons which themselves are made up of quarks.
Here’s the point. There is no square-inch of the universe, no star burning somewhere at the edge of a galaxy that we do not even know exists yet, no square-inch of you, no single cell, no subatomic particle known or unknown to man, over which Jesus Christ does not rule as Lord. To sum it up using Paul’s words from Ephesians: “And he has put all things under his feet.” All things.
Paul wants his hearers to come to know the truth of this gospel more fully. “I pray,” he says, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Let me just summarize by saying that Paul wants this young Christian community to know more deeply the hope that is theirs in Christ, the hope that comes from being called into relationship with the God who made them. And, moreover, he wants them to know the “immeasurable greatness” of the power of God that is available to those who believe.
That’s a really important point and I want you to know it as well. The very same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated him above all other powers is available to you. It is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you even now. And that divine power is not like human power except greater. It is of an entirely different category altogether. Human power cannot raise the dead. But God’s power, God’s power raised Jesus Christ from the dead and raised you up with him in baptism, dwells in you presently and will give you all that you need, all that we need, to grow in Christian maturity.
This is my prayer for us here at St. Paul’s/John’s as well. I want us to be a church that is growing, always growing, in our knowledge and love of Christ. I doesn’t matter how long you’ve been going to church, you are never finished growing. If you think you have arrived, if you think you have exhausted all that there is to know about God, if you think that you’ve grown as much as you can in your faith let me tell you that you are only just beginning. The Holy Spirit wants to continually enlighten your heart and mind with the light that you received in baptism and lead you even deeper into the love of Christ Jesus that can never be exhausted. He is not finished with you yet.
So, the Apostle Paul might say something like, growing in Christian maturity begins with the knowledge that Jesus Christ has been exalted as Lord over all but that Christian growth continues as we willingly and joyfully submit ourselves to Christ and appropriate this power for ourselves.
I recently heard one preacher say that Jesus makes a really bad accessory. He’s not good at being an addition to whatever else it is you’ve got going on. Like, here’s the career part of my life, and here’s my relationship part, and here’s my retirement part, and here’s my God part. God is not good with that. He doesn’t play nice being relegated to Sunday morning. See, the problem is that he wants it all.
“But Father Jonathan I just don’t know that I like the sound of that. It sounds a little extreme.” Well, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, you gotta serve somebody. There is no un-ruled life. Everybody submits to something, some idea, some guiding philosophy or worldview. In our time and place we generally submit to the tyranny of self. To relinquish control of our life to Christ is the duty of Christians, yes, but it is a joy to know that the one who has all things under his control and authority holds your life in those same loving hands. Behold Christ, his love and goodness and beauty. Why wouldn’t you trust him over everything else?
And this isn’t just for our benefit. It is for the sake of Christ’s mission to reconcile all things to God. A little later in the same letter Paul will say that the grace and power of God has been given to Christians, “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” (3:10).
In other words, God gives us the Holy Spirit so that the Church can be a visible sign in the world of the joy and freedom of a life that lovingly obeys Jesus Christ. To be a visible sign of a community in which everyone matters and is named, including the weakest. You are not an insignificant gathering of people. You have been brought into relationship with the exalted Christ and he has given you a share in his power to live by a new set of rules, governed by the grace and mercy of God, so that our neighbours might know his great love.
So, this Advent I am inviting you to go deeper, to grow in your knowledge and love of Christ. In addition to Sunday we will gather right here at St. Paul’s/John’s on Thursdays/Wednesdays for a noon mass. I encourage you to make this simple and short (30 minute) service a part of your lunch break. Then from 2:00pm-4:00pm the church will be open for Confession. I will have information about this available next week and if you have any questions please ask. Finally, at 7:30pm we will say Evening Prayer together after which the church will remain open for an hour for prayer and stillness.
And may the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him more fully. Amen.