Keep Swimming (8:30am)
November 20, 2016 Series: Exploring the Pastoral Epistles
Topic: Christian Living & Discipleship Scripture: Psalm 47–47, Titus 3:3–3:8
Today is called Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday. It’s the last Sunday of the Christian year. We end on the high note of the exalted Jesus, his teachings and values, ruling in love over all the world. In a supreme irony, John’s gospel tells us that Pontius Pilate placed a sing above the crucified Christ, proclaiming his kingship in three languages—Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. Was the intended message, “Some king! Behold what happens when you challenge for the throne”? In the long arc of history, the Risen One and his message went global. We along with millions around the world are thinking of the kingdom of God.
Last week in Kids Worship I spoke briefly to the children about my service as an Army chaplain. One of the most meaningful times was when I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony during training at Gowan Field in Idaho. I thought of how proud I was of this, our country. The military incorporates values of fairness, respect, and equal opportunity for all. People of every race, nationality, gender, orientation, and even some with disabilities are able to serve. Of course there is a vast mix of personalities—saints, sinners, and everything in between. A core principle is that any person can participate, and rise to the highest of their abilities. Air Force General Lori Robinson, for instance, is the head of the US Northern Command, the highest post achieved by a woman. It also makes me appreciate how essential immigration is to our country. It’s not just a good idea: it’s key to our world leadership, in science, business, entrepreneurs, agriculture, sports, health care, universities, military, and politics. To choke off this immense stream of talent would be self-defeating.
Is the military the kingdom of God? Hardly. We do catch a glimpse of the biblical vision: all peoples together, turning to God, living in harmony with a common purpose. This American ideal stands out as a shining star in the sad annals of history. I loathe the empowerment of individuals whose whole lives have been devoted to restricting others: civil rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, immigrants, Native Americans, women’s rights, and the seemingly sadistic desire to persecute and torture just for the sake of it. I don’t get it.
There are times in history when there comes a sharp divide between the ideals of God’s realm and the harsh realities of this world. Such was the case in 1934 when the Theological Declaration of Barmen was adopted. Mainly written by Karl Barth, Barmen emphasized the primacy of Word and Spirit. It denounced the Third Reich’s attempt to impose its racist ideology not only on the nation but also on the church. Tragically, far too many Christians not only failed to resist--they eagerly embraced the Nazi line, rendering the Lordship of Christ meaningless. A few, however, stood up. Barmen responded to the prevailing sentiment by proclaiming in effect, “No, the Fuehrer is not Lord. Jesus is Lord!” This document today forms part of the PCUSA’s constitution, along with that of the Moravian Church.
I heard a story on the radio about the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Museum in Church Creek, MD. The curator being interviewed said many people come here expecting to see a tunnel, leading to tracks, underground, and maybe an old-time locomotive that transported escaping slaves. He has to explain, it’s only a metaphor! There’s no mid-19th century subway. People walked, and ran, under cover of darkness, and sometimes were saved by the kindness of strangers along the way. Harriet Tubman, who led people to freedom: what a soul. Like Congressman John Lewis, she suffered a traumatic head wound. In Harriet Tubman’s case, it came from a heavy piece of metal intended to hit another slave. It did lasting damage. Yet she pressed on. In the 1850’s she guided several along the “railroad,” although by law all Americans were required to report and turn over fugitive slaves. Harriet Tubman was a devout Christian. We might say she had an extreme faith. Nothing could stop her from her mission of protecting the defenseless.
There are several quotes attributed to Harriet Tubman on the internet. Don’t believe all of them. There’s a lot of fake news—fake everything—out there, even on reputable sites. This one I think rings true: “I said to the Lord, ‘I’m going to hold steady on to you, an’ I know you’ll see me through.” That one’s a keeper.
I’ve been waking up in the morning with a vague but strong feeling of dread. Even before I can identify the reason for it, it’s there. In the night I’m haunted by it, a kind of mental dis-ease. I fear what lies ahead, not in the sense of what might happen, but in the certainty of what will happen. I think of our children and grandchildren, our core values, untold suffering, our global environment.
Then I think of all the faithful who have stayed true, and I realize Jesus is Lord, and you don’t have the luxury of dwelling in the swamp of despair. If we read with hope in our hearts, we’ll see where people have stood by those under attack, surrounding them with protection. There’s hope if we look for it.
A wise man recently sought to explain the situation to his daughters. “What I say to them is that people are complicated. Societies and cultures are really complicated. This isn’t math: it’s biology and chemistry. These are living organisms and it’s messy. Your job as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.”
In our house we have a saying: “Just keep swimming.” It comes from the movie Finding Dory. Dory is a little fish with short-term memory issues and abandonment issues. She felt all alone, but there were many who helped her along the way. Her friends motivate her by this little jingle and it becomes her song: “When life gets you down, do you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming…just keep swimming.” Titus tells us that saving faith in Jesus our king leads to good works. To paraphrase John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, in as many ways as you can, for all the people you can, for as long as you can.” Resist the darkness. Find a good cause to counteract the forces that have been unleashed. Don’t give up don’t give in. Remember that Christ is Lord…love wins….and—just keep swimming!