"The Invisible Made Visible"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 11/22/1998

Luke 23:33-43; Colossians 1:11-20

     For centuries the Christian Church has celebrated "Christ the King" on the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. Early Church leaders wanted to emphasize one more time what the followers of Jesus were preparing themselves to experience during the weeks of Advent.

     Of course, Jesus personally would have rebelled at the thought of such a celebration. He would not have liked being referred to as "King" because of the thought patterns people would associate with such a label. Jesus constantly reminded his followers that he had come among them as one who serves.

     On one occasion people brought him a crown to make him King and he refused it. And there was a time when he offered words of instruction to his disciples when he found them debating among themselves their own greatness. Why, then, do we celebrate Christ the King Sunday?

     In Paul's letter to the Colossians (1:15) we find these words, "Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God." Such a statement forever changed the beliefs of many people. Paul believed that God's nature had finally been revealed in a form that people could understand. This belief would later be echoed in the Gospel of John. John wrote, "And the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us."

     Why should these insights have significance for us? In answering that question two issues immediately surface. For the first time in history there was a growing consensus in the Church about God's nature, a nature that was very different from the one held by the Patriarchs of Israel. And secondly, for the first time in history Jesus instructed his disciples how to live by a thought system based on love rather than by one based on fear or one based on obedience to the Law.

     In fact, eternal salvation requires nothing from people. Salvation is interpreted as a free gift from God. The Scriptures teach again and again that people cannot earn God's approval by anything they do or believe. While there are no requirements for people, Jesus did extend an invitation. Jesus invited his listeners to follow him.

     Following him does not mean that we now must conform to a new set of disciplines or laws of obedience. Following Jesus means that each of us has been given the ability to become like him in our discipleship, to represent him, and to be the light that could guide others. Those accepting the invitation would have their lives unfold within a new found spiritual freedom. Those who do not accept the invitation would experience no such freedom.

     A timely example illustrates how this works. As we approach Thanksgiving, our remembrance of that first meal gives us the image of colonists breaking bread with a number of Native Americans. During the period of fellowship important information was provided.

     The colonists had no idea of the devastating affects of winter weather. Had it not been for the careful instruction by the Native Americans, the Pilgrims would have died. The new citizens to America made the choice to follow those teachings and they survived. Had some of them not accepted the advice of their new neighbors they would have perished.

     Christ the King Sunday celebrates this same idea. Jesus came to teach us how to protect ourselves from everything that has the power to enslave us. We perish when we become slaves to our material possessions. We perish when our lives are governed by fear. We perish when generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness grow from a discipline or a requirement rather than from the quality of our heart's desire. We perish when guilt keeps us imprisoned by some mistake we made years ago and we cannot let go of it. We perish when our need for approval drives us to meet the expectations of other people. This is not living! Followers of Jesus have made Christ "the King" because he rules over all the elements of living that have the power to set us free.

     A number of examples will help us to understand this freedom. Last week was Stewardship Sunday. Many of you responded very generously on your Estimate of Giving cards. We saw this by the rising thermometer in the narthex. As was mentioned last week, there are lots of reasons and underlying motivations why we give. Regardless of the dollar amount any of us placed on that card, our estimated gift was making a statement of who we are.

     Creation is set up so that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly. Likewise if we sow from a spirit of thanksgiving, our lives will be filled with more causes to celebrate. This process absolutely cannot fail. A grateful spirit is always capable of celebrating the wonders of life. Such people seldom remain distracted for long by life's occasional reversals.

     All that Jesus taught follows this same pattern. When we forgive, we are making a statement of who we are. As we have discussed before, forgiveness has little to do with the person being forgiven. Forgiveness communicates who we have become.

     When we celebrate our spiritual freedom, again we are making a statement of who we are. We must never allow another person's misery to pull us into their negative world. Their thoughts, interpretations and definitions of life's events have created what they are experiencing. When a light enters the darkness it cannot, by its nature, become one with it.

     When we make a statement with our freedom while being in fellowship with people who believe they have been victimized, betrayed or hurt, we become such a light. We mirror back to them all that they can become. This is why Jesus made such a powerful impact on people. Everything he did made a statement of who he was. His invitation was that we follow.

     Always remember that if we are to lift other people from their misery, we have to be standing on higher ground. Jesus was clearly standing on such ground and this is why we have made him our King. This is why we honor him. This is why we follow him. He taught us how to make visible the invisible Spirit of God. Amen.