Sermon Text

November 25, 2012 11:15 AM • Christ the King Sunday

Sermon

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

Transcribed from the audio recording.

Gracious God, help us always to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.

The deep wisdom of truth is available for us if we only will seek it.

This Sunday marks the last Sunday in the church calendar and it seems particularly appropriate that we remember it and celebrate it as Christ the King Sunday. For in fact, it represents the culmination of our twelve-month journey of exploring and living into the teaching and ministry in the life of Jesus Christ. And so today, Christ the King comes as almost a theological “Amen exclamation point,” that as Christians, we confess and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and sovereign over all things.

One of the great joys and privileges of worshiping and preaching in this Cathedral is that almost anywhere you look you will see representations in our carvings, sculpture, and glass that underpin all the theological points that we would seek to make. And today is no exception. If you let your eyes move to the east end of this Cathedral you will see one great big visual aid to help you recognize and live into Christ the King. It’s the Majestus sculpture. In it, Jesus is seated. One hand is raised in blessing; the other hand holds the earth symbolizing for us that, in fact, Jesus is sovereign over all things. If you look above Jesus’ head there are two angels holding a crown, again, signifying for us that Christ is King—not by human election—but by divine appointment. No human hands put that crown on Jesus’ head; no human hands can remove it. And we heard in the gospel lesson today that whole dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, about kings and kingdoms and Jesus is trying to articulate in a way that Pilate can’t fully grasp that his kingdom is not from this world. And then he finally is able to move on to the point that he wants to make when he says. “For this reason I was born, for this reason I came into the world to testify to the truth.” Pilate’s response to that is, “What is truth?” Well, that’s a good question. It was a great question in the moment it was asked; it remains a vital and urgent question for us today.

What is truth? If you look up “truth” or “true” in the dictionary it will tell you: that which is in accordance with fact. And through our lens as Christians we can attest that that’s partially correct, but not fully so—not full in the truth that we have come to recognize and to seek as the eternal truths made known to us by Jesus—with his life, with his teachings, with his ministry. The deep wisdom of truth is available for us if we only will seek it.

I recently heard a really interesting and thoughtful homily by my former systematic theology professor, Dr. Kendall Soulen. In that homily he was lifting up the difference between knowledge—fact, information—and wisdom. And he said, in a way that we all would recognize, that we’re still in an explosive information age. That one can buy a cut-rate Kindle on a clearance shelf that has a greater storage capacity than the entirety of the library of Alexandria, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. A cut-rate Kindle. He went on to say that for those who study these things and believe they can measure them, that if one were to get the storage capacity for all knowledge from the beginning of recorded history to 1999, it would equate to 1.5 exabytes. That’s about 1 billion gigabytes—all the known information in the world from the beginning of recorded history to 1999. Within three years that information and knowledge had doubled. We are in an information age where it’s doubling in three-year cycles now. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.

But what Dr. Soulen went on to say is that wisdom is not keeping pace with the explosion of information and facts and knowledge. He said that knowledge helps us do things right; but wisdom helps us do the right thing. That knowledge tells us how to get there; but wisdom tells us where to go. That knowledge can be stored on a thumb drive; but only wisdom shows us how to put it to good use. That’s the sort of wisdom that we’ve come to know and to seek and to yearn for in the life and teaching and ministry of Christ—real wisdom, deep wisdom of God in Christ.

And I was thinking about that dichotomy of knowledge and wisdom when recently my husband and I were standing in a very long line waiting to exercise our privilege of early voting in the last election cycle. Now I will confess to you that the sort of cranky side of me looked at the long line, realized it was going to take over two hours, and I got a little cranky. But I had plenty of time to reflect on what the meaning of that was, besides being cranky, since I had over two hours to do it. And the better part of me finally took over and I looked at what that represented. I looked at the people who were standing in line to exercise the privilege of their vote and their voice. They were different races, they were from different countries of origin, all waiting to give voice to what mattered to them.

And wasn’t that what Jesus was about? Helping to give voice to those on the margins, to those who were oppressed, to those who were poor? And I thought back within my lifetime when the privilege as an American to vote was not a privilege extended to everyone. You’ll recall that in 1965 there was a seminal turning event in our country that ultimately led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There was a time in our country, within my memory, when all African-Americans didn’t have the right to vote. And in his book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz talks about how some of that came to be. That President Johnson set as a heartfelt goal the opportunity for all Americans to have that right. And he had private conversations with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on how they might be able to bring that about; how they might be able to move a nation to take a hard look at the disease of racism that was in our country and precluded people from having the right to vote, giving them a voice as well.

And the march ensued from Selma to Montgomery and we saw before our very eyes on our TV screens that innocent men, women, and children were beaten and gassed all because they dared to stand up to get the right to vote. And the outcry in this country was huge, as it should be. But they were all begging President Johnson to send in the National Guard to bring the peace, to restore order. And President Johnson knew that if he did that, the country wouldn’t own the issue. That it took the hard, cold, violent reality of the sin and disease of racism to change hearts and minds and wills to do what was right. He held out one day; he held out two days; he held out several days until the pressure was so intense and there was no ignoring the sin that was existing in our country that the opportunity presented itself when Governor Wallace came forward and asked him to bring in the National Guard. In August of 1965 President Johnson proudly signed the Voting Rights Act.

Jesus was all about giving voice—and vote, if you will—to those who were the least and the last; that is our calling. We don’t lack for knowledge or information or resources on how to do things. What we are called to do requires wisdom and courage and the commitment of our convictions to do the right things. And we can look at the world about us and realize that the kingdom of God is certainly not yet. That we all have work to do, to do together, to bring our resources to bear with wisdom and courage to help stand up for those who are still the last and the least among us.

“What is truth? For this I was born, for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Gracious God, help us always to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.