The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday November 25, 2018.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Tonight is the final Sunday in the liturgical year, the last Sunday before Advent, commonly called Christ the King Sunday.  It is a Sunday to focus on Christ’s power and authority before we shift to the themes of Advent and begin to wait for the Christ who comes as a child in a manger.

Not every denomination celebrates Christ the King Sunday.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden used to call this Sunday the Sunday of Doom, which is pretty intense.  Now they call it Return of Christ Sunday, which I think was a pretty wise decision.

In some Anglican Churches, today is also referred to as “Stir Up Sunday,” in part because the collect that used to be said at the beginning of the service began, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” but also because if you want to have your fancy Christmas pudding ready by December 25th, you need to stir it up today.

But here, tonight, we are celebrating Christ the King Sunday, so it’s fitting that our reading from the Psalms begins, “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.”

The Lord is king, Christ is king. What does that mean to you? When you hear the word “king,” what images come to mind?

Personally, the images that come to my mind, aren’t overly helpful.

Queen Elizabeth is my clearest association with the idea of a ruling monarch. I couldn’t come up with the name of a modern day king without the help of Google. It turns some countries still do have kings, but not ones I’m overly familiar with.

As a kid, I understood that kings were boys and I wasn’t a boy so they were never the character I was overly interested in paying attention to in books or films. But it was more than a gender issue, because almost all of the kings I can think of from films and literature are awful human beings who use their power only for personal gain, do not listen to or care for the people in their realms, and quite often behave like petulant children throwing temper tantrum after temper tantrum.   Not much to inspire in that.

It makes it difficult for me to get excited about celebrating Jesus Christ as a King.  Christ the mother hen Sunday I could get behind. Christ the social justice warrior. Christ the destroyer of hierarchy. Christ the host of great feasts.  All of these images are infinitely more exciting to me than Christ the king.

But today the lectionary says we need to talk about Christ the King.  Which is probably one of the best reasons to use a lectionary. It forces us to talk about things we would rather ignore and means that as a preacher, I can’t just cherry pick and preach only on the passages of scripture I like.

In tonight’s gospel reading, Pilate asks Jesus directly if he is a king and Jesus gives characteristically vague answers.  He never explicitly says, “I am a king,” but, in this exchange with Pilate, Jesus does describe his kingdom, saying, “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.” (v.36)

“By explaining that his rule or kingdom is not of this world, Jesus means that its origin, values, and methods are from God rather than the world (v.36), evidenced by the refusal of the use of force and violence to defend himself.” (Collegeville Commentary 358)

Jesus may be a king, but he is not a king like any king we have ever known and so in order to understand what kind of a king he is, we have to set aside everything we think we know about kings.

About a month ago, Matthew Shepard’s remains were interred in Washington National Cathedral. The church service was broadcasted via live stream and was something to behold.

Matthew Shepard was a university student who volunteered in his local Episcopal Church. He loved his friends and family, and knew from an early age that he was gay. He died twenty years ago at the age of 21 because some people did not like the way Matthew loved. They drove him to a remote area, tied him to a fence, beat him savagely and left him to die.

His death made national news and inspired an entire generation of people to work to ensure that love is love and that no one would ever again have to feel that their life was in danger because of who God created them to be.

I watched the service at the Cathedral where Matt’s life was celebrated and his ashes were interred and I thought,  “For all the things the church gets so very, very wrong, when we get it right, it is truly beautiful.”

I watched Bishop Gene Robinson gently place the urn containing Matthew’s remains in a place of prominence at the front of the church and carefully, reverently smooth out the veil covering the urn, treating them with a care and a gentleness that Matthew did not receive in life and I thought, “This is what is means to use power and authority for all the right reasons and in all the right ways.”  To show love and care for the one that many despised. To take the one that many wanted to say did not belong, and to say not only that he belongs, but to place him in the seat of honour.

Theologian Gordon Lathrope says, “Draw a line that includes us and excludes many others, and Jesus Christ is always on the other side of the line. At least that is so if we are speaking of the biblical, historic Christ who eats with sinners and outsiders, who is made a curse and sin itself for us, who justifies the ungodly, and who is himself the hole in any system.” (Lathrop, Holy Ground: a Liturgical Cosmology)

Draw a line that includes us and excludes many others, and Jesus Christ is always on the other side of the line.

Jesus is a king whose power and authority is always used to erase the dividing lines we so love to draw.

Standing in a big fancy church, wearing fancy clothing, and treating Matthew’s remains and his memory with such love and respect, Bishop Gene gave me a glimpse of what it might mean in the Psalms when it says that “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength”

It looks a lot like love.

But even before I watched that service, and saw a glimpse of Christ the King in Bishop Gene, I have long considered Matthew Shepard to be a Christ-figure.

There is a song about Matthew on my favourite album by Peter, Paul, and Mary, “In These Times.” We’ll put a link to it on the website this week. (  In the song, Mary sings alone, her warm voice telling the story of Matthew’s last days on earth, and after each verse, Peter and Paul join in on the chorus that opens with the line, “Jesus, is on the wire.”

The album came out in 2004, I have listened to it countless time, and it still gets me every time.

The line works in two ways, first, because I do believe that Jesus was with Matthew that night. But also because Jesus, like Matthew, was killed because people didn’t like the way he loved. They didn’t like the way Jesus threatened the status quo, they didn’t like the kind of king Jesus came to be.

Anytime you see an image of Jesus as King that neatly matches the image you have of an earthly king, something has gotten lost in translation.  You have to look for something different to see the Christ who is king, you have to go to the margins of society, you have to look on the opposite side of any dividing line you are trying to uphold, you have to look on fence in Laramie, you have to look on a cross.

That’s a way of inhabiting kingship that stretches and challenges me to ask, who am I excluding? That’s a way of inhabiting kingship that I can get exited about and celebrate, not just on Christ the King Sunday, but everyday.

But we’re not just here tonight to celebrate Christ the King Sunday, we’re also here to celebrate the baptism of Adalynn Rose Phillips and Danica Si’ipn Phillips and you may think that there is a huge shift to make from the idea of Jesus as a very different kind of king to the baptism of two beautiful little girls, but there really isn’t. Because baptism is also about love and a countercultural narrative that says that God’s way of doing things is different from the world’s way.

Adalynn and Danica are fortunate to have been born into a family that loves them very much – their parents and siblings and extended family love them dearly.

They have two older brothers who are doing a fantastic job of being big brothers. At least when I’m around, Benjamin tends to be the quieter of the two bothers and so tonight I want to share a few things that I’ve learned from Caleb.

Before Adalynn and Danica were born, Caleb came up to me at church and said, “Do you know that we are having two babies? A girl, and a girl.”

And I’ve thought about that many times since then and I think Caleb was saying something very wise. It is really important to remember that while Adalynn and Danica are twins, they are also individuals. They are a girl, and a girl.

It will be so easy to just lump them together as “the twins,” but while that is an important part of their identity, it is not the only thing that will define them.  As they grow older they will have different interests and gifts and passions and we need to watch for and celebrate those things.

And I want to work on seeing them as a girl, and a girl as well, but I’m not quite there yet, I still can’t quite tell them apart, which is why I need to admit that this next story happened when I was holding one of the girls, but I can’t remember if it was Adalynn or Danica.  I’m going to get better at telling them apart, I promise.

On the first Sunday that Adalynn and Danica came to church, I was holding one of them and Caleb wasn’t sure this was a great idea.  He watched me very closely and made sure that I knew that this baby belonged to his family, that she was going to go home with them, that I could NOT take her home with me.

“You could give her back to me right now,” he told me, “I can hold her.”

And Caleb, you were absolutely right once again.  Adalynn and Danica belong to your family, to the Phillip’s family, and tempting as it may be, I can’t take them home with me. They will go home with you, and that’s as it should be.

But tonight, we’re going to publicly celebrate another fact, and that is that while I will never be part of the Phillips family, we are in fact, family.

Tonight through baptism, we are publicly stating that Adalynn and Danica are part of God’s family, just as I am part of God’s family. Just like each person here is part of God’s family.

It still doesn’t mean I get to take your sisters home after church, but it does mean that I have a responsibility to love them and to care for them and play a part in helping them become exactly the people that God created them to be.

I’m supposed to do the same thing for you Caleb, we all are, and you are to do the same for us.  By continuing to be exactly who you are, you are already doing a great job of reminding us of the same things that baptism reminds us of – that God made us, that God loves us, and that we are all part of God’s family. Thank you for that reminder.

And so, now I’ve talked long enough and it’s time for us to welcome Adalynn and Danica into God’s family through baptism.  We’re going to sing shortly, and as we sing, I invite the baptismal party and members of the family to join us at the back of the church. Other friends of Chantelle and David are also invited to gather around the back with us.

Let’s sing.