Christ the King Sunday
St. James’s Episcopal Church
November 22, 2009
Next week is the first Sunday of the new church year. Beginning on Advent 1 we start again the process of waiting and praying for our savior to be born. Today is the last Sunday of the old year. It’s known as Christ the King Sunday. Today we are asked to come to terms with just who is this king whose birth we will begin to herald next week. In other words, if we say Jesus is our king . . . what kind of king is he? The gospel says he’s a suffering king. He’s a king of love. He’s a king that doesn’t look for us to serve him . . . because he’s more interested in serving us. What does a king like that look like? I came across a story last week that helped me. It’s an ancient Asian wisdom story about bamboo. I wonder if you have ever heard it?
Once upon a time, in the heart of a very old kingdom, there was a garden. The master of the kingdom would often walk through the garden and visit his favorite tree, the beautiful Bamboo. Year by year, Bamboo grew tall and beautiful. She loved the master, and her greatest desire was to dance for him. When the breeze blew, she would sway backwards and forwards, tossing and bowing, and dancing her best—which made the master joyful.
One day the master came to visit Bamboo. His brow was furrowed, and he was deep in thought. “My Bamboo,” said the master, “Today I must ask you to help me in an important task.” Bamboo was thrilled. There was nothing she would not do for her master. But the master was troubled at what he had to ask. “I need you,” he implored. “But I must cut you down in order to use you for my great work.”
“Cut me down?” Bamboo said. “But master, then how shall I dance?” But the master was firm. “Bamboo, if I do not cut you down, I cannot use you.” Sadness filed poor Bamboo but she consented. So the master cut her down. But the worst was still to come. “If I am to use you”, the master said, “I must now split you in two”. “But master,” cried Bamboo. “Must this be?” “I cannot use you unless you consent to be split and emptied,” he replied. “Then,” consented Bamboo, “do what you must do.”
So the master split Bamboo and gently lifted her to a place in the garden where a fresh, stream flowed. There he laid her down, placing one end of her in the stream and the other in the dry field beyond the garden. The water flowed across Bamboo flooded the dry field and the master planted a new crop. The days passed. Fresh green shoots appeared. At harvest time, Bamboo, once so gracious as she danced for the master of the garden, was even more gracious in her brokenness, bringing new life to the whole field. Once she had been life abundant; now she was the bringer of abundant life to the world beyond the garden.
I believe this king of ours we celebrate today is much more like Bamboo then he is like Henry the VIII. He isn’t someone who sought power but someone who had great power and gave it up. Jesus our king is someone who knew that to lay down one’s life for another is the most godlike thing a person could do. He knew that through his own brokenness he could heal the world. He’s a king who ruled by serving, a king who would rather love than win, a king who wanted peace not prosperity, a king who cared more for the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcast than he did the wealthy, the beautiful, or the powerful. He put people first, making economics and politics less important than men and women. Jesus willingly went to the cross and allowed God use his crucifixion as means of redemption. And here is the tricky part – if we are really interested in being his subjects then we have to follow where he leads.
This means we have to be willing to allow our own brokenness to be a source of new life for others. That doesn’t mean we have to volunteer to be crucified, but I do think we are all more like Bamboo than we might imagine. The struggles of life are like a sharp axe that cuts us open. Whether it is a battle with cancer, the loss of a job and a family’s income, the death of someone we love, the falling apart of a relationship – we all know what it is like to be wounded, hurt, split open by the world. The question becomes – are we allowing our brokenness to, as it says in the story, bring new life to the whole field? Are we living in such a way, following our king in such a way, that our suffering is offered up to God as a means of grace for others?
Often I encounter people who come to church and begin to explore a life of faith because they want to feel better. They hope religion will be like an antibiotic that heals them and makes them stronger. They see faith as something they need to get for themselves. What they fail to understand is that what they seek can only be found by giving themselves. It’s like the recovering alcoholic who realizes that the only way he can maintain his sobriety is by helping others to find their sobriety. He discovers that by sharing his own pain, by offering up his own brokenness he can find healing for them both.
There is a gentleman I know who now lives in the health care unit of a retirement home. His once vibrant life has been reduced to little more than a hospital bed and a wheelchair. The only privacy he has is a curtain between his bed and the one next to him. His roommate is so plagued with dementia that he no longer knows his own name or has the ability to control his own bowels. During the night my friend tells me he can hear others on his floor crying out in pain or moaning in despair. I went to visit this wonderful man not long ago expecting to find him depressed and defeated. I thought for sure my job would be to try and perk him up, to find some way to offer him a little bit of hope. What I found was the same vibrant man I had always known determined to use his difficult situation in the best way he knew how.
I went to his room but he wasn’t there. As I wandered the floor looking for him I heard his voice coming from down the hall. Rounding the corner, I saw him sitting in his wheelchair in the middle of the small dining room with a smile on his face. With his arms outstretched he was welcoming and inviting each resident as they came into the room. “John,” I heard him say to another man in a wheelchair, “How are you today? Come on over here and sit with Ted, I think he’s a little lonely. Nurse, push John over this way. Come on John, Mrs. Jones will be here soon and you three can sit together. Nurse, get John a coke, you know how he loves a cold coke.”
Later, after lunch, as we sat and talked my friend told me that although his health was poor and his legs didn’t work he still wanted to be useful. He said he liked to think of himself as the host of the dining room. Pointing his finger toward the other rooms on the floor he said, “I guess I’m one of them now and they need me. I can’t do much but I can let them know that there is at least one person glad to see them three times a day.” My friend was struggling with the ravages of age, but even so he knew he still had something important to give.
How many of us see our hurts, our struggles, our losses in this life only as liabilities and not as opportunities? The king we proclaim today and the king we wait for in Advent is the King who says that there is strength in weakness, there is meaning in sacrifice, and there is redemptive power in offering our own broken selves to the world. Amen.