Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Doug Bailey
Memphis, Tennessee
November 26, 2000
The Last Sunday After Pentecost

Living the Language of Faith
The Rev. Dr. Douglass M. Bailey

Gospel: John 18: 33-37

It is one of the best television commercials I have ever seen. It begins with a little boy, approximately four years old, making his way early in the morning to his parents' bedroom. He pushes their door open and steps inside. They hear him, but pretend they're asleep, hoping he will turn around and go back to bed. But he persists.

He moves into the bedroom and opens the blinds. As the early light of dawn begins to stream in, they keep their eyes shut, still hoping that he will go back to bed for one more half hour. Instead, he climbs up on the bed, crawls over top of his Dad and leans down and gives him a big kiss on the cheek. With that, the Dad says, "Son, how many times have I told you not to bother us this early in the morning? Won't you please go back to sleep?"

The father lies back down and shuts his eyes. The camera zooms in on the little boy-lying there on his Dad's tummy with his hands cupped around his jaw and big tears spilling down his cheeks. He says, "But Daddy, I didn't come to bother you. I came to give you a kiss." There is silence in the commercial, and in large, bold print on the bottom of the screen are the words, "Jesus Christ comes to kiss a sleepy world. We invite you to worship at your nearby Catholic Church." It is truly one of the greatest commercials I've ever seen. Jesus Christ comes to kiss and awaken a sleepy world.

On this last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, which is also the last Sunday in the Church Year, often referred to as Christ the King Sunday, we place before you an image of a King who comes to kiss you awake. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The one who reigns forever and ever. This King comes to you this day to kiss you awake with renewed faith.

In the Gospel lesson for today we encounter this King of Kings, who is on trial in the Roman Praetorian. Pontius Pilate asks him the question, "Are you the King?" Jesus responds by saying, "You don't understand. My kingdom is not of this world." Oh, how true and authentic that is for each of us.

God's kingdom is not of this world--not of this world of votes and voices, not of this world of cheers and chads, not of this world of power and control. Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world."

So, if we are going to be kissed with new faith, we will each have to learn a new language, a second language, the language of faith--faith for a kingdom that is beyond this world. Faith for a kingdom not of this world's understanding.

When the Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon, who is Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and a great preaching voice in the United Methodist Church, preached in the Calvary Lenten Series several years ago, he told a wonderful and humorous story. It has to do with the journey of a mother cat and her kitten through the neighborhood. The mother cat warns and alerts the young kitten that there are some things to be keenly aware of in the neighborhood. There are some things of which you need to be alert, and one of them is that vicious dog that lives in this neighborhood. So keep your eyes always alert.

She leads her young kitten out around the fence, and just on the other side of the fence there is that vicious dog waiting for them. The dog begins to growl with all of its fierce power, and the mother cat looks back at the dog and goes, "Arf, arf, arf, arf, arf." The dog is so undone that it turns around and runs away. The mother cat then looks down at her kitten and says, "This is a very important lesson on the value of learning a second language." We, too, desperately need to learn a second language, the language of faith.

Steven L. Carter, a professor of Law at Yale University, has written a book titled, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. In this book, he tells about a survey conducted among people of faith. He says that 90 percent of the people in America who say they are believers give some true assent to God, 90 percent.

Less than 40 percent of the people surveyed practice their faith by worshiping with any honest regularity in their church or synagogue. Less than 40 percent. And, only 9 percent believe that God is a significant factor in the way they make their decisions in their life-the way they make their family decisions, their decisions about their money, their decisions about those important things that make up their life. For instance, when asked whether it's more important to have children involved in athletic events on Sunday mornings or children involved in worship on Sunday mornings, only 9 percent thought having their children in church was more important.

Steven Carter goes on to say that what we've done is turn God into a hobby-a hobby that we can pick up when it's comfortable or whenever there are not other things in its way. We pick up God as a hobby, or we can lay God aside as a hobby when it's not comfortable or incidental or whatever. This whole image that Steven Carter gives us in this book, this whole image of God as a hobby, has been haunting me. And it may be haunting us here in Calvary Church.

We need so desperately to model for our children the language of faith--a language of deep trust, a language of an authentic relationship with the Holy One. It is the second language of another kingdom, but it's the most important language our children will ever learn. It will provide security for them in their life. It will for adults as well. We each need to learn and learn and learn again the second language of faith.

"My kingdom is not of this world," says Jesus. Here is the assurance that God's kingdom is everlasting, reigning forever and ever. And the deep truth of this kingdom is that God's kingdom is inside of you. That's right. We don't learn that easily, but the language of faith informs us over and over again that God's kingdom, that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who reigns forever… well that kingdom reigns inside of us if it reigns in this world at all.

One of the superb stories that illustrates this is the story called "the rabbi's gift." It's a story of a monastic order in the late 18th century that has fallen on a very difficult time. There are very few people who come to the monastery anymore. There are very few funds that are given to the order house, and there are no new people who find their way into the monastic order. In fact, there are only five people left in the once proud and strong monastery-only the abbot and four brothers.

They are deeply worried about their future. So the brothers ask the abbot to talk to the village rabbi when he next comes to his prayer hut in the nearby woods. Perhaps the rabbi would have some advice about what they might do to renew and rebuild their order.

The day comes when the rabbi passes the monastery on his way to his prayer hut in the woods, and so the abbot makes his way into the woods and to the prayer hut. The rabbi is in prayer and the abbot joins him. At a pause the abbot says, "I've come to ask you a question. You know how much our monastery and order have fallen down. You know that not only our spiritual life seems to be low but also our physical plant, the very fabric of the order house, has fallen into great disrepair. We are deeply worried about our future. Can you give us any advice?" The rabbi pauses and says, "Oh, I understand. I too know this happens to us in many of our synagogues. In fact it's happened in my own synagogue. I don't know that I can give you any advice, but I will tell you that the Messiah is one of you." The abbot is shocked into silence and disbelief--and he is shocked into prayer.

They conclude their prayers and the abbot walks silently back in the evening light for dinner. On his return to the monastic house, the abbot and the brothers have their silent meal together. After silence is broken, the brothers, all at the edge of their seats, wait to learn if the rabbi had some word of hope, some word of advice. The abbot says to them, "Well, the rabbi and I talked for a while, and we said our prayers together. Then he said the strangest thing. He said that the Messiah is one of us."

Each of the brothers is equally shocked in utter disbelief. They ponder silently who could possibly be the Messiah among them. They say each to themselves-I know it's not me. I mean, I know me. I know I'm not the Messiah, that's for sure. Could it be the abbot? Well, he's a deep man of God and a good leader, but you know, he has his blemishes as well. We all know him, and we know those blemishes. No, it's not the abbot. Could it be Brother Elrod? No, we know Brother Elrod. We know that it's not Elrod. Could it be Brother Phillip? Well, no, because we know this about Phillip, and Phillip is consistently this way. Oh, he may change for a while, but then he comes back. Could it be Thomas? No, it couldn't be Thomas. I mean, we know Thomas too well. Each of them goes through this exercise in his mind.

But just on the wild, outrageous possibility that they've misunderstood, and that the Messiah just might be one of them, they begin to treat each other differently. They begin to respond to one another differently. There is a new spirit. They begin to read the Scriptures differently. They begin to worship with the Sacraments differently. They begin to have an entire new life about themselves. And people who come from the outside into the monastery, they experience it. They feel it, they notice it. Something's changed. Something is very different. Lo and behold, money starts coming in, and they begin to restore the order house. Now people begin to come and say, "We would like to be part of this order." And they come into the training program and the order starts building up again. The spirit builds and builds, just on the wild, outrageous possibility that the Messiah is one of them.

Today the King of Kings comes to your very life. Jesus Christ comes to you and to me today, to kiss a sleepy faith awake. God comes to renew us, to teach us the value and the importance of a second language, the language of faith, and to live it abundantly. Christ comes to kiss us with a message deeper than our understanding of it: The one who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords --the Messiah--lives in you. This is the God's truth. Amen.

Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: John 18: 33-37
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "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." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice."

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