Sermon: “In the Eyes of Christ the King” (November 20, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“In the Eyes of Christ the King” (Colossians 1:19-20)
November 20, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On his classic 1986 album So Peter Gabriel had a hit that many consider to be his best song ever, a song called “In Your Eyes.”  See if you can relate to these lyrics:

Love, I get so lost sometimes
Days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
When I want to run away
I drive off in my car
But whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are

All my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

In your eyes
The light the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
In your eyes
The resolution of all the fruitless searches

Today is the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday, in which we are reminded that Jesus Christ, our Risen King, is the One who brings about “the resolution of all the fruitless searches.”  The collect for today beautifully sums up the reality of the brokenness of the human condition, and points to the cosmic restoring work of God, “whose will it is to restore all things” in Jesus Christ, “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (The Book of Common Prayer 236).

Along these lines I am preaching on the final two verses of today’s lesson from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, where the Apostle wrote:

For in (Jesus Christ) 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, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:19-20).

Again, in Jesus Christ “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

What is it in your life that needs to be reconciled?

Many years ago when I was in my early twenties I received a bank statement and when I went to reconcile the statement with my checkbook I thought I found an error on the part of the bank.  I went to the bank to “straighten it out,” only to be gently shown by the patient manager of the branch that I was the one in error, not the bank.  My checkbook needed to be reconciled according to the bank statement, not the other way around.

In our lives we do not need to look far to see things that need to be reconciled.  It may be our bank statement, or it may be something much more important, like a relationship, or an event or memory of something hurtful, something with which you thought you had already dealt, something with which you thought you had already achieved closure.

The problem is that closure is often a myth.  Closure is something we try to achieve in order to gain some sense of control over something over which in reality we actually have no control at all.  Again, Peter Gabriel opens “In Your Eyes” with a confessional statement, “Love, I get so lost sometimes.”  The reason for this is that we have suffered what is known as “ambiguous loss.”

Ambiguous loss is a loss that happens in which there is neither closure nor understanding, a loss that cannot be fixed or cured or categorized.  Such ambiguous loss may involve physical absence with psychological presence—the person is physically gone but always on your mind.  This may result from divorce, adoption, or when a loved one moves away or is institutionalized or incarcerated or missing.  In physical ambiguous loss the person has left without saying goodbye.

Or ambiguous loss may be the other way around and involve physical presence but psychological absence.  This can happen with a loved one experiencing depression, dementia, addiction, or mental illness.  The loved one is present physically but absent psychologically.  In psychological ambiguous loss the person has said goodbye so to speak, without leaving.

Such ambiguous loss, whether physical or psychological reminds you of things in your life, very important things, that are not reconciled, and leaves you feeling a sense of hurt and loss that is anything but ambiguous, because the need for reconciliation is still there.

In the moving 2001 film I Am Sam Sean Penn plays Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled man who loses custody of his seven year-old daughter Lucy.  Sam is experiencing physical ambiguous loss.  His lawyer, Rita Williams, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is a beautiful successful attorney on the outside, but under the surface struggles with a marriage that is falling apart, and a strained relationship with her son William, who blames her for the family stress.  Rita is experiencing psychological ambiguous loss.  Late in the film Rita comes to Sam’s apartment to encourage him to keep fighting for custody, and Sam unloads on her.

“You don’t know!  You don’t know!” Sam yells.  Rita throws her hands into the air, “I don’t know what?”  Sam continues, “You don’t know what it’s like when you try and you try and you try and you try and you don’t ever get there!  Because you were born perfect, and I was born like this, and you’re perfect!”  “Oh, is that right?” Rita interjects.  “People like you don’t know!”  Rita gently asks, “People like me?” Sam keeps yelling, “People like you don’t know what’s like to get hurt, because you don’t have feelings, because people like you don’t feel anything!”

At this point Rita has had enough—“You think you got the market cornered on human suffering?  Let me tell you something about ‘people like me.’  People like me feel lost and little and ugly and dispensable.  People like me have husbands (having sex with) someone else far more perfect than me.  People like me have sons who hate them…It’s like every morning I wake up and I fail, and I look around and everyone seems to be pulling up but somehow I can’t no matter how hard I try.  Somehow I’ll never be enough.”   Sam has calmed down and softly responds, “You’re enough.  You’re much more than enough.”

What is it in your life that needs to be reconciled?  Have you suffered ambiguous loss that is either physical, psychological, or both?  Like Sam Dawson do you ever feel like “you try and try and try and try and you don’t ever get there”—or like Rita Williams do you ever feel “lost and little and ugly and dispensable” or that somehow you’ll never be enough?  If so, you are not alone.

And that is exactly where the good news of the gospel enters the scene.

Again, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, in Jesus Christ “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, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  Jesus’ “reconciling all things” includes all the things in your life that are unreconciled or when it comes to your ability to fix them, irreconcilable—and yes, Jesus’ “reconciling all things” includes all the ambiguous losses in your life, whether physical, psychological or both.

This points us to today’s gospel lesson in which we read the final earthly words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross to reconcile all things.  What were the first words Jesus said after being crucified?  “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  But people continued mocking Jesus, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  Little did they know they were not only mocking the King of the Jews, they were also mocking the King of kings.  Then in response to the penitent thief whose last request was “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

On the cross Jesus himself experienced both physical and psychological ambiguous loss in suffering that was anything but ambiguous.  And yet the good news is that the blood Jesus shed on the cross is enough—it is much more than enough, for people like you—to reconcile all things to God.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19), and as he put it in his Letter to the Romans, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).  We do not reconcile God to ourselves according to our own “checkbook”; we are reconciled to God according to Jesus’ blood.

An Episcopal priest from Virginia named Francis Bland Tucker, who later served as rector of Christ Church in Savannah, summed it all up this way:

All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine
Didst yield the glory that of right was thine
That in our darkened hearts thy grace might shine

Thou cam’st to us in lowliness of thought
By thee the outcast and the poor were sought
And by thy death was God’s salvation wrought
(Hymn 477 in The Hymnal 1982)

Through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.”  In other words, ultimately God will do what only God can do, bring closure, and that is no myth.

One final illustration…In The Return of the King, the final volume of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is a chapter entitled “The Houses of Healing” in which one of the characters named Ioreth longingly says, “Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say!  For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  And so the rightful king could ever be known” (The Lord of the Rings, 50th Anniversary One-volume edition 860).  Later Aragorn is revealed to be that king, and when he returns to Middle Earth and the healing work has begun, Ioreth, speaking to her friend just prior to Aragorn’s being crowned king, joyfully says: “He has a golden heart, as the saying is; and he has the healing hands.  ‘The hands of the king are the hands of a healer,’ I said; and that is how it was all discovered” (966).

Indeed the scarred hands of the Risen Jesus are the hands of a Healer, the One whose shed blood ensures that in time God will indeed reconcile to himself everything in your life that needs to be reconciled.  And in heaven you too will join the penitent thief in Paradise, where you will, as we prayed in the collect for today, “be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule” (BCP 236).

And you will finally see “the resolution of all the fruitless searches” in the eyes of your Savior, Christ the King.

Amen.