Sunday’s Sermon: An Important Question, An Elusive Answer

  • In the PC(USA), the last step that you have to complete before your Committee on Preparation for Ministry certifies you ready to seek a call – ready to look for a church – is the final assessment.
    • Hour-long interview with entire committee – question you on …
      • Theology
      • Personal practices (self-care, spirituality, etc.)
      • Statement of faith
      • Responses to profile questions (what type of church you want to serve, leadership style, etc.)
      • [UCC equivalent ~ ecclesiastical council –> less people, similar types of questions]
    • One particular question that stuck in my mind after my final assessment – Denise’s question: Who is Jesus Christ to you?
      • Now, I know it sounds like a simple question, but think about it for a minute. Who is Jesus Christ to you? I bet if I asked every single person in this room, I’d get a whole bunch of different answers.
        • Answers history has given us: Jewish man, probably a carpenter
        • Answers we’ve been taught – church/Sunday school: Son of God; Redeemer of the world
          • Small sampling of names found throughout Scripture
            • 1 John = our “advocate with [God]”[1]
            • Rev = alpha and omega[2]
            • Gospel of John = bread of life, light of the world, lamb of God[3]
            • Isaiah = Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace[4]
            • Psalms = cornerstone[5]
          • Answers we’ve experienced in our own lives: friend, confidant, teacher
          • Answer Denise was looking for: Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior (comes from PC(USA) confessions)
          • There are so many layers to who Jesus is! And today is Reign of Christ Sunday … what used to be called Christ the King Sunday. It’s a special Sunday but unfortunately one that I think often gets overlooked in the church year. We’re already looking ahead toward Advent. We’re already looking ahead toward Christmas. And in all that looking ahead, we miss the significance of this day, the last Sunday in the church calendar year: Reign of Christ Sunday, a Sunday focused on how essential and compelling the person and work of Jesus Christ really is.
            • History: instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as reaction to rising non-Christian dictatorships in Europe and global secularism at the time –> point: try to draw focus of church and world back to Christ[6]
              • Papal letter sent to bishops –> hoped “that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies”[7]
              • Question that Pope Pius XI was trying to answer at the time = essentially same as Denise’s question: Who is Jesus Christ for you?
    • And this is such an important question for us. It truly is a pivotal question for our own lives and for the life of the church. It sheds light on how we understand our faith, express it, interact with it, and share it. But at the same time, it’s a question with such an elusive answer. –> many roles Jesus plays/fulfills throughout our lives 
      • Roles are often shifting and changing
        • Changes as our needs change
        • Changes as we mature in faith
    • So this morning, on this Reign of Christ Sunday, I want to talk about some of those roles that Christ can play in our lives.
  • First role: Jesus = teacher/guide
    • Familiar role – portrayed throughout all the gospels
      • Taught through Scripture references (OT) – speaks of fulfilling what was written by prophets, quotes from the law (often Deut), references story of the exodus from Egypt[8]
      • Taught by e.g. – constantly welcoming marginalized into his circle
        • Lepers
        • Women
        • Sinners
      • Taught through stories – parables
    • See reference to guidance provided by this teaching in Jer
      • Refers to God designating a shepherd to lead the flock
        • Scholar: No matter where one wanders, one needs eventually to come home. In Christian tradition, home is found by following the Shepherd king who knows the way in and through the grace and power of God.[9] –> find that guidance in Jesus as teacher
    • Continues to teach/guide us today through God’s Word
      • Remember, one of the many Scriptural names for Jesus is the Word.
        • Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[10]
        • Scholar: The truth is that, at one and the same time, [Scripture] speaks powerfully both to what God will do in the future and what God is doing in the here and now. Such is the dynamic life of the word of God wherever it is uttered. It speaks to the possibilities of the present, as well as to the hopes of the future. God is able to do all of that under one and the same word of promise.[11] –> shows us the “doing” side of God; embodies our still-active, still-speaking God
          • That “word of promise” – the Word of God, that Jesus-Wordis always working to form, reform, and transform
    • What does that look like in our lives? –> turning to Christ when we’re questioning/unsure
      • Find Jesus in Scripture
      • Find Jesus in prayer
      • Listen for God speaking in and through others
  • Another role: Jesus = servant
    • I think that most of the time we feel a little uncomfortable with seeing Jesus in this role. Unlike those around him during his time, we know how important this Son-of-God-Jesus-man really is. We know the weight that he is going to have to bear for our sakes. We know the ultimate sacrifice that he is going to make. And we don’t want to add to the burden of one already so loaded down.
      • But remember … this is a role Christ chose – so many times throughout the gospels where we see Jesus serving others
        • Jesus’ own words in Mark: The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve[12]
        • E.g. – washing his disciples feet à Jesus’ example of service is one not of obligation and requirement but humility and grace. Jesus served those around him because he loved them.
          • Scholar: Living under Christ’s reign means we are called to … model Christ’s example to love God and neighbor. We are called to see the value God has bestowed on every human being and thereby work toward justice and God’s restoration for all people.[13]
    • Where we meet servant-Christ in our lives –> through others
      • Give us a hand when we need help
      • Serving alongside others in mission
        • [O – serving at Dorothy Day house, helping with food shelf, nursing home birthday party]
        • [Z – serving Towers dinner]
  • 3rd role = Jesus as friend
    • Let me ask you a question. Why are your friends your friends? What role do they play in your life? What place do they inhabit in your heart?
      • My friends = people who …
        • Share similar values
        • Share similar interests
        • Most importantly: make me feel treasured
        • Values and interests that Christ put forth as central: Love God … love your neighbor … love as I have loved you.[14] –> The driving force here is love, and in this, we see how much we are truly treasured by God. God loves us because we are God’s own creation – unique, quirky, astonishing, and precious.
    • Another important element of friendship = those who understand where we are and where we’ve been – hold us up when we’re struggling, cheer with us when we’re celebrating –> Jesus was God incarnate, yes, but he was also a man. He laughed. He delighted in the presence of children. He mourned his friends. His heart broke for those who had strayed from God, and he wept. He can understand where we are and where we’ve been because Christ has been there, too.
      • Rejoices when we rejoice
      • Weeps when we weep
      • Prays for us
      • That all sounds like what a friend does to me.
    • Another role that we encounter most often through others –> kindness of others offering us a hand when we need it most
  • Most constant role Christ always has always played and will always play = role that Denise brought up (from confessions) – Jesus Christ as Savior
    • See it in both texts
      • Jer speaks of righteous branch that will come from David: In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.[15]
      • Col: He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[16] –> Through his death on the cross and his resurrection, Christ freely gave us this redemption and forgiveness, and it is in this loving sacrifice alone that we find our salvation.
        • Scholar: On [Reign of Christ] Sunday, worshipers are reminded that, as Christians, they are subjects of Christ and Christ alone. Christ’s power transcends all other powers. Moreover, salvation in Christ has been achieved for all.[17]
    • Role that we see in a thousand different ways – those little God-moments that bring hope, strength, comfort when we need it most –> In these moments, God is reminding us that we are not alone. Jesus is saying to us, “You have already been saved. You are my own, and I love you. Even though what you’re facing right now seems bad, I will get you through this, too.”
  • Each and every one of us has experienced the guidance, the companionship, and the saving power of Christ in different ways in our lives. But I want to make it clear that the question I’m asking this morning isn’t just a hypothetical question. I really want to know who Jesus Christ is to you!
    • My hope: question will spur actual discussions – today, tomorrow, next week, next year
      • Between you and me
      • Between each other
      • Between you and other people in your lives
    • Question presents opportunity to learn more about each other’s lives and faith journeys
      • So tell me … tell each other … who is Jesus Christ to you? Amen.

[1] 1 Jn 2:1.

[2] Rev 1:8.

[3] Jn 6:32; 8:12; 1:29 (respectively).

[4] Is 9:6.

[5] Ps 118:22.

[6] David Bennett. “Christ the King Sunday: History, Information, Prayers, Resources, Traditions, & More – Introduction.” Last update: Nov. 18, 2013. Visited: Nov. 21, 2013.

[7] Pope Pius XI. Quas Primas, 33.

[8] Variety of quotation cross-references can be found at

[9] Martha Stearn. “Proper 29 (Reign of Christ) – Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 319.

[10] Jn 1:1.

[11] Nelson Rivera. “Proper 29 (Reign of Christ) – Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 318.

[12] Mk 10:45.

[13] Mary Eleanor Johns. “Proper 29 (Reign of Christ) – Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 4. (Louisvilly, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 316, 318.

[14] Mk 12:30-31; Jn 13:34 (respectively).

[15] Jer 23:6a (emphasis added).

[16] Col 1:13-14.

[17] Barbara J. Blodgett. “Proper 29 (Reign of Christ) – Colossians 1:11-20 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 326.

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