Sermon
November 27, 2000
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

John 18:33-37

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about

me?"

Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief

priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from

this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over

to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a

king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to

the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

 Philippians 2:1-11

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love,

any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,

make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in

full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others

as better than yourselves.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of

others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as

something to be exploited,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human

likeness. And being found in human form,

he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death

on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above

every name,

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth

and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of

God the Father.

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Sermon: Yes, your Majesty! No, your Majesty!

To those of us who believe that the millennium should be celebrated in 35

days, the current confusion over the Presidential vote comes as no surprise.

Those who cannot accurately count from one to two thousand can hardly be

expected to count in the hundreds of thousands, and certainly not to discern

between the simply dimpled and the pregnant chad. I have always thought

that there was a vast difference between dimples and pregnancy, but I am

proven wrong again.

Actually, this Sunday might be a good time to celebrate the new millennium,

since this the last Sunday of the church calendar in the year of our Lord

2000. Next Sunday begins the season of Advent, the first Sunday and the

first season of the church year. The four Sundays of Advent have

traditionally been a time of recalling the Jewish prophetic expectation for

the coming of the Savior, and the Christian expectation that the Lord will

come again at the end of time.

This Sunday, the last of the church year, is traditionally called Christ the

King Sunday. The appointed reading, as we read this morning, is from the

Gospel of John:

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,

"Are you the King of the Jews?" …. Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from

this world.

Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a

king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to

the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

What is not an appointed reading for this day, but what I wanted to put in

juxtaposition to the reading from John, is a very old hymn quoted by Paul in

his letter to the church in Philippi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as

something to be exploited,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human

likeness. And being found in human form,

he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death

on a cross.

Now whether or not Jesus would answer Pilate’s question about being a King,

there is no doubt that he was charged with claiming to be a King, that he

was hung on the cross under the sign, "King of the Jews", and that the

church, over the centuries, has claimed for him the title of King of King

and Lord of Lords.

But perhaps we have been mistaken in doing this. Perhaps Jesus resisted the

title "King" because he understood that the baggage that went with that

title would be too prone to misunderstanding.

After all, what character traits do we associate with Kings? Perhaps my

view has been shaped too much by American culture, but I can’t help think of

the song Anna sings in the King and I when she’s just about fed up to here

with bowing and kow-towing to King Mongkut. The song is entitled "Shall I

Tell You What I Think of You?" and I’m going to play the last little bit.

The King is spoiled, the King is the one to whom you must bow and scrape and

defer, the King must be served. But Jesus comes not as the one who must be

served, but as the one who serves. By his humility he subverts the whole

notion of Kingship and elevates the dignity of the poor and common and all

without name, title, or rank among us.

You could never imagine such a song being sung to Christ the King. With

Jesus it was never, Yes your majesty, No your majesty, tell us how low we

must go your majesty!

No, his whole message, his whole ministry, his whole death on the cross

subverts such a message and renders it ridiculous:

For though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as

something to be exploited,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human

likeness. And being found in human form,

he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death

on a cross.

And so if it was not that way with the King of King and Lord of Lords, why

would it be that way with any human king or human Lord?

Well there’s quite a tale in that story. A tale of a church soft peddling

this message and trying to appear non-threatening to the Roman authorities

so that the church could survive; a tale of a church that is given official

state recognition as long as the Bishops and Patriarchs and Popes do not

oppose state authority; a tale of a church whose own leadership too quickly

becomes accustomed to the same sort of esteem, obsequious deference, and

high-class living that befit a King or an Emperor.

To say the least, over the centuries church leadership drifted far away from

the mind of Christ, and came to preach that both Bishop and King should be

served by the people because those who occupied these offices were elevated

to this stature and responsibility by the authority of God and God’s son

Jesus Christ. All the people needed to know was "Yes your majesty, No your

majesty, tell us how low we must go your majesty."

The authority of Crown and Church was set forth in scripture, it carried the

weight of tradition, and any and all who dared to question it or resist it

were silenced, punished, even killed, all in the name of Christ the King.

And then something strange happened. Thanks to the printing press and the

work of translators, the words of scripture became available to a wide range

of people who could read them and judge them for themselves. They looked in

vain in the words of Christ for what they had been taught about the

authority of Kings and Bishops, and found instead quite a different truth:

"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will

never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is

the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over

them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among

you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.

Rather than the authority of the King, they found the dignity of each person

affirmed. The did not see in there a community based on authority, but one

based on mutual respect and the affirmation of the gifts of every person.

They came to understand that the church was formed by the agreement of the

members and that the authority of the leadership flowed upward from the

consent of the congregation. For this insight they were given the name

Congregationalists, and for the exercise of this insight both Church and

Crown drove them from their homes and their lands and their parishes.

They were fortunate, however, because in God’s good timing, their exile came

right when a new world was opening up before them. It was an ocean away and

it was a world far removed from what was familiar, but it was a land of

opportunity where they could establish themselves and their beliefs and

begin a grand experiment in freedom and democracy and the worship of a King

who is the servant of all.

And so when these Congregationalists, these Pilgrims, left England for

Holland and eventually for the New World, America, they brought with them

the notion that the Sovereignty of Christ gave them liberty and the right to

determine their own future free of Bishop and King.

The humility of Christ had planted a seed of freedom in the soil of human

history, and from that seed grew a vine that became the notion of democracy,

self-determination, the equality of human rights before and above all human

laws, traditions, and conceits.

It is interesting to note that this vine of freedom bore especially

important fruit right here in our congregation when it allowed Roger Sherman

to assume a position of public leadership as Clerk and Deacon of this

church. Every schoolchild should know that our Deacon went on to sign the

Declaration of Independence and to represent Connecticut at the

Constitutional Convention in 1787. There he gained fame as the author of

the "Great Compromise" which set up a federal legislature with an equal

number of Senators from each state and a House of Representatives based on

population.

What is less well known is Sherman’s role in deciding how to pick the

President and Vice President. He brought the same spirit of compromise to

this task, chairing the committee that brought in the recommendation for

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, setting up the Electoral College

But perhaps, given the current status of our Presidential Election, we

should not mention that too loudly.

Let us simply say that we are blessed to live in a land that could have this

much confusion and keep on course. We should recognize that God acted

humbly in history to serve us and ensure our freedom. Christ the King

planted a seed of liberty that toppled all other Kings and bore the fruit of

democracy and self-determination; and that even here in our little corner of

the world great minds took that notion of liberty and made it work for our

benefit and for the benefit of all people. Thanks be to God.  Amen

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