• November 22, 2016

dsc_3982-lColossians 1:11-20

What a glorious inheritance we have.

This season we’ve been digging through the history closet and cracking the spine of our history book, remembering who we’ve been in the past 125 years. We remember the Covenanters, the women and men who first gathered in 1889 to share communion as we will today.  We remember all who have come since then, teaching and serving and leading and building. This community has changed in many ways since our official founding in 1891. Still, there are some markers of a consistent charism, a lasting spiritual personality.

Looking at the church dedication booklet from 1910, you can find this description: “[our church] has always been a peculiar organization in one particular. It is in fact and deed a Union church, and members of many denominations worship under its roof. There has always been harmony in feeling and work to a degree that some denominational churches might envy, and it stands today the only Protestant Church in the community where all may freely feel at home and receive a welcome.”

When I was interviewing for the position of pastor, one search committee member called this church “scrappy.”  This fall, another leader remarked that we were a “motley group.”  Both comments were compliments. Formed by blue collar folks associated with the prison and the mill, there has been a long-standing commitment to inclusion here and a resistance to false pride. We started with economic and denominational diversity. Later, we invited in neighbors with developmental disabilities and made an Open and Affirming commitment. Today we are engaging in anti-racism work.  There’s a warm, small-church feeling here; and we’re working on being not just nice but truly and deeply welcoming.  Always, a work in progress.

What a glorious inheritance we have.

Our inheritance is not only the history of West Concord Union Church, but the traditions of the global and ancient Christian church.  We have two thousand years worth of scripture, music, theology, and practice to inform and support our faith.  There is plenty to be found in this service alone. We heard scriptures written in the early days of the common era.  We will celebrate the ancient sacrament of communion.  We will sing “Holy Is Your Name” in a few minutes, which was written in the 1980s but based on Mary’s Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, which is in turn from Hannah’s song in the book of Samuel.

Another tradition our service relies on today is the tradition of Christ the King Sunday. Celebrated on the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the Sunday before Advent begins, it reminds us that, as Paul writes in the letter to the Colossians, Jesus is “the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might have supremacy in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…” (Colossians 1:18-20).

I suspect that there are several among us today for whom the idea of Jesus as King is not very attractive.  Why should we use such hierarchical imagery for a boundary crosser, for someone who associated with the outcasts in his society, for someone who turned every power dynamic upside down?

Pope Pius XI is the leader who established Christ the King Sunday. But before you dismiss this Pope and his holiday out of hand, consider his motivations.  Pius was leading in the aftermath of World War 1. The war had ended, and yet nations were still uncertain of lasting piece. Europe was full of anxiety and fully armed. There was a rise in class divisions and an unhealthy, exaggerated nationalism.

At the Vatican in Rome the Pope had a close-up view of how Italy was dealing with this difficult time. The Prime Minister, Benito Mussolini, was working systematically to break down democracy over the course of only a few years. By 1925, Mussolini had established a one-party dictatorship.  A champion of fascism, he elevated the state above all things.  As head of state, Mussolini declared earthly supremacy.

Think of what it meant for Pope Pius to declare Jesus’ kingship in this context.  This Pope declared that ultimate loyalty for Christians belongs not with an earthly ruler but with Jesus, the prince of Peace.  The creation of this holiday was an act of non-violent resistance: a statement of spiritual freedom within political oppression.

What a glorious inheritance we have.

Our greatest inheritance is Jesus himself.  The baby messiah whose birth we await in the coming season.  The teacher and healer who offered his disciples a renewed sense of what it was to live a faithful life. In a land where the Roman Emperor claimed dominion and divinity, Jesus led his followers to worship instead a God who cared for the lost and the least and brought strangers and enemies together.  When these followers witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection, they understood that no human authority can destroy the ultimate and eternal power of love.

Today we experience great anxiety and uncertainty in our own society. Our nation is trying to decide if whiteness and wealth and bigotry and war will have supremacy among us. Our values are being tested, our true loyalties questioned.

What a glorious inheritance we have: the example of our forbearers here at West Concord Union Church. The vast riches of Christian tradition. The ultimate gift of Jesus. We have been given everything we need — more than enough. We have been given everything we need to find the wisdom and the will to resist in our own time any power that demands our obedience while acting with violence and  hate towards a child of God.

What a glorious inheritance we have. What important work we have to do.  As we begin the next chapter of our history in this local church, let us ground our feet firmly in our history and our faith. Let us open our eyes wide and truly pay attention to the world around us. Every day is an opportunity for us: an opportunity to resist hate and to participate in the ultimate and eternal power of love.

Are you in? Shall we do this together?  I invite you to stand as you are able, and join in speaking aloud the WCUC Covenant of 1892, still relevant today.

We, as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, do unite ourselves in this Christian Church. We desire to worship and serve God, to walk in the liberty of [God’s] truth, and to minister to our fellow men [and women]. Feeling our individual and united need of divine aid, we desire, through this communion of the visible Church, to strengthen each other by mutual sympathy, forbearance and helpfulness, and in all things looking to his Grace which is ever ready to help us, to do our part to establish the Kingdom of God in the world.

May it be so. Let the people say: Amen.