When the most powerful shows concern to least powerful, hope is engendered among all.

Did you know that today is the last Sunday of the year?
In the liturgical calendar shared by many Christian denominations,
today is the last Sunday of the worship year.
Today is what we call Christ the King Sunday, the culmination of a year of liturgical worship
which begins not with the bang of fireworks, but with a four-week period of preparation and anticipation which we call Advent. Following the preparation of Advent, we celebrate the joy of Christmas, the arrival of the Messiah.

Twelve days later comes Epiphany, then a few weeks of ordinary time,
then we put Ashes on our foreheads as we begin the Lenten journey toward Holy Week and Easter.
The 40-day Lenten journey, like Advent, is meant as a time of spiritual reflection and preparation
leading up to angst and pain of Holy Week, then into the joy of Easter morning.
Easter is not just a day in our worship calendar, but six weeks,
a 50-day season of celebration which culminates on the day of Pentecost.
Next, there is an extended time between June and November that we call ordinary time,
when we utilize the green paraments, symbolizing the ordinariness of those Sundays.
This last Sunday of the worship year, when we bring back the white paraments for celebration,
is called Christ the King Sunday. On this day, we worship a different sort of king,
the One who ushered in a kingdom with very different values than the kingdom of this world.

Psalm 147 has been meaningful to me over the past months.
Psalm 147 reminds us that when the one with great power shows concern for the most needful among us,
hope is engendered among all.
On this Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate a powerful king who emptied himself, who gave up power,
even gave up his life, in order to show concern for the least powerful of humanity,
for outcasts, for the broken-hearted, and for the downtrodden.
The nation of Israel had moments of power and influence, but for much of its history,
it was a relatively small nation kicked around and treated as a pawn by the large worldly powers.
Located on the main thoroughfare between the continents, Israel was a gathering of tribes
who discovered that their only hope for survival was not in their own power,
but in humble recognition of the grace and power of God.
Pay attention to the verbs in this psalm. God is the one who, for the sake of Israel,
builds up, heals, prepares, lifts up, gives, takes pleasure, strengthens, and blesses.

Psalm 147
Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.
He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!

When the most powerful shows concern for the well-being of the least powerful, hope is nurtured in all.
When God cares for the least and the lost and the lowest, this self-emptying action engenders hope.
God showed concern for the beaten and oppressed slaves of Egypt.
In Exodus 3, as Moses was going about his own business, tending his flock in the wilderness,
he happens upon a burning bush and hears a word from the Lord,
“I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt;
I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians,
and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Again, notice the verbs, I have seen, I have heard, I know, I have come down, I will bring up…
And our forefathers and mothers in faith were not the only ones delivered by the hand of God.
There are three exoduses mentioned in the Bible. The prophet Amos declared (9:7):
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
AND the Philistines from Caphtor AND the Arameans from Kir?

The Hebrews of the Old Testament were not the only “chosen people of God” delivered from captivity.
God is the God of the whole world, not just of particular countries or peoples.
Humility recognizes that God loves the whole world, not just our people or nation.
We seek the good of the world because God seeks the good of the world.
We open our doors to the world because God has first opened doors to us.

When God cares for the least among us, hope is engendered among all.
Do you remember Hannah? She was the barren wife of Elkanah who longed for a child.
On their annual visit to the temple, she goes to pray at the altar.
She prays so fervently that the priest thinks she is drunk.
The priest Eli promises to her a son and she becomes mother to the righteous prophet Samuel.
The story of the powerful King David begins with the humble birth of Samuel.
Years later, when the prophet Samuel arrives at his Jesse’s home,
David, the 8th son, is out tending the sheep.
The story of the glorious King David begins with his anointing by Samuel.
The prophet passes over David’s seven older brothers to anoint the 8th son,
from one of the smallest tribes of Israel, to become king.
David is the most unexpected person ever to ascend to a throne.

When God shows concern for the least, hope is engendered.
The gospels describe Jesus as the one born in a stable, a carpenter turned rabbi,
one who welcomes street kids, who reaches out and touches the leper, the one who heals the lame beggar.
Jesus is described as the one who calls simple fishermen as his disciples.
He not only dines with powerful and righteous Pharisees,
but is also accused of hanging out with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus is the one who speaks with the woman who is retrieving water from the well at noon,
the one who had been married multiple times, and is currently living with a man who is not her husband.
He not only speaks to her, but makes her the bearer of good news to her community.

Our New Testament text for today is from Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi.
Paul wrote this letter to early believers in a beloved congregation which Paul himself had started.
Beginning with only a few converts out at the Jewish gathering place by the river outside of town,
the church grew and became deeply rooted in a secular Roman town,
full of Gentile people searching for meaning in life.
From Paul’s letter it seems that there was some tendency in the church,
and probably in the community at large, towards pride and individualism,
towards seeking one’s own desires and interests to the neglect of the needs of others
He didn’t want to see his beloved congregation break down over petty gossip or self-serving attitudes.
What he desired deeply was that they would continue the work that he began with them,
that they would continue to share with their friends and neighbors the good news
that they had received and heard and learned in him.
What Paul most wanted to see in this young congregation was unity,
unity of mind and of spirit in Christ Jesus.

Listen to the Word of God as found in Philippians 2:1-13.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit,
any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love,
being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me,
not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence,
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Jesus is the King who humbled himself, who emptied himself,
who looked not to his own interests but to the interests of others.
When the congregation in Philippi began to seek first its own interests and neglect the interests of others,
their actions grieved Paul, for they had stopped imitating the self-emptying ministry of Christ.
The outward-focused, self-giving attitude of Jesus Christ was the model Paul gave them for the way
he desired those early Christians to live together.

What Paul had in his mind for the believers in Philippi was that they would live their lives together
in humble service, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,
so that they would know grace and peace in their life together,
and so that the good news Paul had shared with them would continue to spread.
That same desire exists for the Church of Jesus Christ today –
that we would live our lives together in humble service, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
so that the good news that we have received will continue to spread to all peoples and nations.

Elsewhere, Paul writes that the Church is the body of Christ.
We are his ears to hear the cries of those who need Christ and the fellowship of the church.
We are his voice to tell the story of his love and to speak for those who have no voice,
who will never be heard unless we speak on their behalf.
We are his hands to lift the fallen and his feet to go where there is need.
We are his heart to respond to the needs and inner conflicts which assail modern people.
We are his head to create plans to reach those who do not know, who have never heard
the name that is above every name. (Harrington, p.35)

As the church, the body of Christ, we are the voice of hope in a world of hopelessness.
Where you live and work, you may be the only voice willing to speak of Christ’s love and forgiveness.
Where you live and work, you may be the only one willing to seek the mind of Christ,
willing to humble yourself in obedience to Jesus Christ, even if at great risk to yourself.

A few years ago, I discovered a quote hanging in the old political prison in Johannesburg,
South Africa, a place where tremendous human indignities had been suffered.
In that terrible place, where thousands had been beaten, malnourished,
and often unjustly imprisoned, a sign now reads:
“A nation (will) not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones.”
(Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom)
God will not judge our church or our nation according to the condition of its highest citizens,
but by the conditions of the least and the lost and the lowest.
When the most powerful shows concern for the well-being of the least powerful,
hope is nurtured in all. Hope is powerful. Hope will not disappoint us.

All is not well in the world; the saving work of Jesus Christ is not done.
Frank Harrington, the former pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, once told his congregation:
“If our ears are deaf to the cries of need, those who cry out may not receive help.
(Christ’s) plans may not be fulfilled if our hearts and minds are not attuned to the needs around us.
Everyone of us is somebody in the church, the body of Christ,
and the work of the church is to be done by everybody, not somebody else.” (Harrington, p.35)

The world is still in need of a Savior.
The world still needs the church to be his body, his hands, his feet, his voice.
May God grant today’s church enough humility to…
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than ourselves.
Let each of us look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…humbled himself and became obedient…
When Jesus emptied himself and became obedient, even unto death, the world was saved from sin and death.
When the Church empties itself in concern for the least of these in the congregation and community,
the hope of salvation is engendered among all.


Rev. J. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
November 26, 2017

Gillespie, Tom. “The Issues and Challenges of Evangelism Today.” Evangelism in the Reformed Tradition,
ed. by Arnold B. Lovell. CTS Press, 1990.
Harrington, Frank. First Comes Faith. Geneva Press, 1998.