Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Christ The King, RCL, Year C
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Clothed In Love

Most merciful God, clothe us with your love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Amen.

I would like for you to find a conversation partner, someone near you, preferably not related. I want you to take turns asking and answering the question: “Who is your momma’s momma?”

This was how the late Dr. Vincent Harding, Professor of Religion and Transformation at the Iliff School of Theology, would get his students to introduce themselves at the beginning of class. Vincent Harding was a scholar and a leader in the Civil Rights movement, a companion to Martin Luther King Jr.

This question: “who is your momma’s momma?” taps into a key piece of our being: our identity. Remembering and sharing these stories helps us acknowledge the powerful influences that have shaped us in ways known and unknown that result in who we are today. Our identity provides us with an orientation to the world, a sense of who we are and where we’re going, it’s like a compass helping us interpret our experience and shapes our understanding of our role in the world we live in.

Identity is at the heart of the feast that we celebrate today: Christ’s identity and our identity.

The feast of Christ the King marks the end of our church year. It is a relatively new addition to the church calendar, added in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in the Roman Catholic Church, and observed in the Episcopal Church since 1970. Pope Pius XI was responding to the political climate developing in Europe, post WWI.[1]

In January 1925, Mussolini assembled a cabinet entirely of fascist party members and in February of that same year, Hitler re-founded the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which had been banned for about a year, while Hitler was in jail. This feast was also a response to the political debate that was occurring in Italy regarding the Vatican’s authority over civil territories.

This feast reminds the church that our leader is first and foremost Christ. The ancient Christian hymn that we read in the passage from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians tells us just that:

“Christ is the image of the unseen God and the firstborn of all creation,
for in Christ were created
all things in heaven and on earth,
everything visible and invisible,
Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers –
all things were created through Christ and for Christ.” (Col 1:15-16)[2]

Given the events over the past couple of weeks, it seems like a good time to pause, take a breath, remember who we are and who we are called to follow.

This week many of you may have heard about the events that took place at Grosse Pointe South, the high school that neighbours this church.

Following the election, the principal received several reports of hurtful statements and actions occurring between students along political lines. In response to these incidents, the principal decided to read a statement over the PA system. The statement called for unity and urged students to engage in tough but respectful conversations about race, civil rights and immigration. He also vowed to stand up for ethnic and religious minorities at the school as well as disabled and LGBTQ students.[3]   

His speech elicited mixed responses from students and parents, a few of whom made demands for the principal to be fired. In a Board meeting on Tuesday, the Superintendent of the Grosse Pointe Public School District affirmed that the principal would not be fired.[4] 

The principal used his role to affirm the vision of a unified community; a community that embraces diversity and protects those who are more vulnerable in our society, and called on the students to participate actively as co-creators of that vision.

As I processed these events, and reflected on several other events that have taken place at South during my short residence here in Grosse Pointe, I began to be curious about the school, and went to my trusty teacher Wikipedia to learn more about its history.

I found out that in 1968, 3 weeks before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at South. When I shared this with our group of youth on Wednesday night, they already knew this, so this is probably unsurprising news to many of you too.

Two things struck me about his speech.

The first is that it was clear from the transcript that his speech was interrupted by angry audience members. It didn’t seem like those interruptions were courteously made.

In an interview I recently listened to of Dr. Harding, he reflected on language, and observed that the term ‘civil’ did not even come close to describing the vision of the transformation of society that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. The dream of the beloved community far surpassed the notions of civility and tolerance.

The other striking thing about Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech were his comments on leadership. Towards the end of the speech King reasserts his stance against the Vietnam War. A reporter asked him whether he felt the need to reverse his position because many disagreed with him. The reporter said that King’s stance on the war meant that he would lose respect, and observed that it had already in fact negatively affected the budget of his organization.

King replied: “I'm sorry sir but you don't know me. I'm not a consensus leader and I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or by taking a look at a Gallup poll and getting the expression of the majority opinion… On some positions cowardice asks the question “is it safe?” Expediency asks the question “is it [politically viable]?” Vanity asks the question “is it popular?” The conscience asks the question “is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor [politically expedient] nor popular but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”[5]

The author of the letter to the Colossians, instructs the faithful to set their hearts on what pertains to higher realms, where Christ abides (Col 3:1-2). The faithful are to clothe themselves with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col 3:12). The faithful are not to get trapped by principles of the world (Col 2:8). But in sending our roots deep and growing strong in Christ, by acknowledging Christ’s sovereignty over everything, we gain the freedom to live like Christ did (Col 2:7).

The author instructs the faithful to: “bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another – forgive in the same way God has forgiven you.” (Col 3:13). But “above all else, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14).

This is what it means to be a member of the beloved community: it is to live a life clothed with love. 

The author of the letter tells us that in baptism we put aside the old self with its past deeds and have put on a new self, the self clothed in love, which grows in knowledge as it is formed anew in the image of its Creator (Col 3:9).

This is our hope and our faith, that as we journey on this earth, as we strive to love each other, as we are shaped through our friction with one other, as we seek to encounter God in the wilderness of our lives, God uses those experiences as a chisel to shape us more fully into God’s image.

The feast of Christ the King reminds us that Christ was not ‘successful’ by worldly standards – in fact he failed the expectations of many, including his disciples. He did not gather up an army and overthrow Roman colonial rule. Instead he openly confronted the brokenness of human society, by asking questions, by healing, by teaching,

by telling stories, by showing mercy and compassion, by calling out injustice and hypocrisy, by opening his heart to be touched by those around him.

He sought to expose the truth of what was in the human heart and kept calling us deeper into right relationship with God and each other. This feast reminds us that although he was crucified, as many stood by and watched, his death was not the last word. Christ revealed God’s love for us in his resurrection and ascension. This feast reminds us that love is a more powerful force than any other. 

In a 21st century world that is choking on its ineptness at forming community, at living in peace and friendship, at sustaining our planet’s life and at finding spiritual practices that suit the clean air of a vibrant, diverse and democratic society[6], we are called now more than ever to embody God’s love for this broken and hurting world.

Perhaps if we allow ourselves to be clothed in that love, we may find that there is no longer black or white, Democrat or Republican, citizen or illegal immigrant, gay or straight, female or male, but instead we may see that there is only Christ who is all and in all (Col 3:11b).

[1] St Paul’s Within the Walls, Weekly Epistle: Christ the King, sent Nov 17, 2016.

[2] The Inclusive Bible translation.




[6] Vintage Voice, a remembrance of Dr. Vincent Harding by the Rev’d Canon Ron Spann.