May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, for you are our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Good morning, Cathedral family worldwide. I remember one day, when my son was in elementary school, he came home very excited about a new subject. They were introduced to that day. History. He then eagerly went on to tell me some of the things that he had learned. At the end of exhausting the day’s history lesson, he stopped and said, “So mommy, I really still don’t understand. What is history?” I remember telling him that history was about the story that people write with their lives in their time. With that answer, he got this big smile on his face and he said, “Oh cool! So I can make history with my life!” To which I then smiled and said, “Yes, yes, you sure can.”
Cathedral community, today is the feast day of Christ the King. This day marks for us the end of the long season of Pentecost, the end of our liturgical year, as it is the last Sunday before advent. But this day is also about much more than that. For in as much as we proclaim that Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as we did in this morning’s collect, then this is the day we recognize that through Christ, the story of heaven comes down to earth. To proclaim that Christ is King is to affirm the story of God’s kingdom, the future that God promises us all, to proclaim that it will be breaking into our history. And for those of us who claim to be followers of the Jesus that is Christ, this is the story, that on this day, we are invited into. The story we are invited to write with our very lives. Simply put, as people of faith, we are invited to partner with God in bringing our world and this our time to make history just a little bit closer to God’s promised, just future.
And so, the question is, what kind of story is it? What is the story that we are invited to write with our lives that breaks into our history, through Christ the King? I like to think of it as a story defined by the P’s of God’s promise. And so, it is a story that began with the powerless. “Whatever you did or didn’t do unto the least of these, you did or didn’t do unto me.” Jesus tells us. Our gospel reading this morning makes clear to us that the promise of God that breaks into our history through Christ the King is one of uncompromising identification and solidarity with the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the stranger, the imprisoned, that is with those who are on the underside of justice, centrally those who have no power in this world. And so it is that the story we are invited to write with our lives is one that must began with the powerless in our time. It is with the powerless that God’s kingdom, that God’s promised future is integrated in our history.
Cathedral community, here’s the thing. In as much as God’s just future means a restoration of and respect for the sacred dignity of all of God’s people, and it does, then it must begin with, to borrow from the words of Missouri’s newly elected Congresswoman Cory Bush, it must begin with whom she describes as the counted out, the forgotten about, the marginalized and the push aside. Those she says, who have the least, who have suffered the worst.
Let us make no mistake about it. It is only when they who are the least of these, when they who have experienced the harsh realities of injustice, it is only when they are free to live into the fullness of their created humanity and potential, that God’s justice can be realized.
Her name was Pamela Rush. Catherine Flowers tells us in a recent New York Times article that Pamela was the 42-year-old mother of two children living in a single wide trailer in Lowndes County, Alabama. The trailer had gaps in the walls where possums and wild animals could squeeze in, Flowers writes. She continues that it was musty, poorly ventilated and poorly lit. Pamela’s daughter’s bedroom had mold everywhere, leaving her daughter with asthma. Outside of the trailer, a pipe spewed raw sewage on the ground. Pamela could not afford to move. She said she and her children were trapped, trapped in the death, dealing inhumanity of poverty. Soon COVID-19 would ravage Lowndes County and in July, Pamela would succumb to it leaving behind her two children.
The story that Christ the King invites us to write with our lives is one that begins with the children of the Pamela’s in our world. It is when they have enough to eat, when they have clean water to drink, a safe bedroom to sleep in, clothes to wear, means to care for their health. When they are free to grow into whomever God has put them on this earth to be, it is then that we will know that we are writing a story that at least bends toward justice and mercy that is God’s promised future for all of God’s people.
And so what kind of story is it that Christ the King invites us to write with our lives? It is a story that begins with the powerless and it is one that is personal. “When did you see me?” They asked Jesus. And Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you just, as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
As God’s kingdom breaks into our history through Christ, it breaks in as a personal story. For it was the case that Jesus saw himself in the face of the weak and the vulnerable, of those on the underside of injustice. It was personal for him. And as it was for him, it is to be for us.
The way to God’s promise began with us, seeing ourselves and the other in ourselves. It is in this way that the story we are invited to write with our lives is indeed personal. Here’s the thing, behind the statistics of poverty, police brutality and the daily counts of COVID are real people. They are persons like you and like me. They are somebody’s fathers, somebody’s mothers, somebody’s daughters, sons, and children. And so it is that the story we were invited to write with our lives begins not with what seems like the out of reach, improbable and impersonal task of changing systems and structures, though change them we must, but this story begins with the probable, which is recognizing and affirming the value, the worth, the dignity, the personhood of those who are just like us but find themselves trapped in the violent cycles of systemic and structural injury and injustice.
Zay Jones, a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Raiders said that one day he was in a store shopping with his cousin and an elderly white woman approached them and said, “I’m from Minneapolis and I just want you to know that you matter.”
Jones said that, “I could see it was very sincere and heartfelt.” And so, he asked for permission to hug her, even amid the Corona virus. He said, I just felt like that was the right thing to do. And in an instance, he said, she just kind of fell into my arms. And she just started crying.
Doing justice is within our reach. It’s about affirming the personhood of one another. That is the personal story that Christ the King invites us to write with our lives. And as it is personal, it is also partial. That is, it is partial to the values that are God’s. And here’s the thing. These values don’t change. They are not subject to the mercurial and changing personalities of partisan politics of our times. No, they are steadfast, as they reflect the steadfastness of a God who is love.
And so during these times that are ours, when bigotry overwhelms goodness and privilege masquerades as justice and greatness overrides graciousness, we are to show forth the generosity, the righteousness, the compassion that is the promise of God’s love. These are the values that we are to be partial to at all times. Simply put, went all around us goes low, we are to reach high, reaching high for the values that are God’s heaven.
Sean Drumgold, who’s a 29-year-old black man, who has lived in the same Nashville neighborhood his entire life, said that he watched as his neighborhood became gentrified and fewer and fewer people who looked like him remained in the neighborhood. So with each passing year, he said he felt more and more unwelcome and more and more afraid. After watching what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, he said, “I was afraid to leave my porch. I was afraid to walk by myself in my childhood neighborhood because I was afraid that I wouldn’t live to see another day. When I shared my fear on social media, my neighbor said, ‘We’ll walk with you.’”
“Whatever’s true. Whatever is honorable. Whatever is right. Whatever is of good repute. If there is any excellence in anything worthy of praise”, Paul says, “We must dwell on them.”
And so, the neighbors defied the values that fostered fear. And they walked.
That is what it means to write with our lives. A story that is partial to the waves and valves of God’s promised future. And if we do this, if we do this, then the story we write must ultimately be one defined by prayer.
Of all of the images that run through my mind when I think of Jesus, the one that always stands out to me the most is that of Jesus going off to a lonely place to pray. The Jesus that is Christ the King invites us to write a story with our lives that is marked by prayer.
To pray is to recognize that it’s not all up to us, but there is a power that is beyond us that will indeed complete the work of justice, even as it sustains us in doing that work in our time. For it is through prayer that we can actually reach beyond ourselves to the mystery that is God’s transforming power. It is prayer that connects us to God’s very promise. Indeed, that we pray signifies our faith and the God who promises us a more just future.
It is for this reason that the late Congressman John Lewis would say, Without prayer, without faith in God almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”
And so it was, on the Sunday after a week of protests, following George Floyd’s murder, the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, sponsored a day of prayer on the National Mall where thousands gathered. As one man explained, “After all that is going on, coming here to pray, makes me feel that change is going to comem, because God is with us.”
There’s no getting around it. Prayer is at the heart of the story that Jesus, who is Christ the King, invites us to write with our lives.
So there you have it. What is the story of God’s promised future that on this day, Christ the King invites us to write with our lives? It is a story that reflects the P’s of that promise. So it is a story that begins with the powerless, a story that is personal, partial and defined by prayer. Cathedral family, my great-grandmother, whom I knew, was born into slavery. She died when I was about six or seven years old. Given the world and to which my great-grandmother was born, and even the one in which she died, I know that she could never, ever have fathom a black president or a black, South Asian female vice-president. This is the story that my son now has inherited. It reflects a history that my great-grandmother, his great-great-grandmother, didn’t get to experience. Yet, it is her story of hope that he and his children and his children’s children can continue to write with their lives. It is a story of a future where all of God’s children can truly achieve their dreams and live into the fullness of their created potential. This is a story that bends toward the justice that is the promise of God.
“Oh cool,” My son said, “I can make history.” Cathedral family, we can make history. We can make it through the stories that we write with our lives, left for us to decide is the kind of stories we want to write, and thus, the side of history we want to be on. On this day, we are invited to be on the side of history that is Christ the King’s, the side of history that is God’s just future coming to earth, and thus to write the story that begins with the powerless, that is personal, that is partial and is defined by prayer. We are invited to write that story of promise. May it be so.