Today Christians around the world are celebrating a holy day established a century ago by Pope Pius XI. It was 1925. WWI had ended after four years of brutal violence. Competing political forces were swirling across the world and the pope wanted to call Catholics back to a faith that acknowledged the true locus of authority for followers of Jesus. The pope was prescient. Only a few years later, fascism gained power in Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Pope Pius wanted to counter the rise of authoritarianism. He called the new feast day The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. We Protestants, especially the Presbyterians, whose theology has always centered on the sovereignty of God, did a rare thing in those days: we followed the Catholic lead. We thought it was a good idea to return the focus of our people to the sovereignty of Christ – only we dubbed it, simply, Christ the King Sunday. With the pope, we, too, were concerned that Christians were running the risk of substituting other authorities, primarily political allegiances, for the centrality of Christ in the lives of the faithful.
Given the realities of life today in this land and in others, the Church still needs this annual reminder of what and who is at the heart of our faith. It is notpolitical ideology. Christian nationalism and other distortions want to substitute themselves for the core claims of the faith, shoving aside the Jesus of the gospels and inserting Jesus the gun-toting Savior, Jesus the guide to prosperity and wealth, Jesus the affirmer of exclusion and rejector of pluralism.
We need Christ the King Sunday today more than ever to reclaim Jesus, the one “seated at the right hand of God” and yet who came that “all may have life and have it in abundance.” Jesus, the one who calls us to serve and advocate for people pushed to the margins. Jesus, the one who invites us to love God and love neighbor and enemy alike. Jesus, the one who suffered and died and then broke free of the tomb that we might have courage to face any challenge in life, even death itself.
“We have this hope,” the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “A sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”
We have this hope – because we trust in One who reigns over all principalities and powers, over all ideologies and falsifications of the gospel – a steadfast anchor of the soul.
In 1939, when the great contralto Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing in Constitutional Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was Black, she was invited instead to give what became a famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Although she sang mostly classical European music, she chose as her last piece the Spiritual My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord:
Though the storms keep on raging in my life
And sometimes it’s hard to tell the night from day
Still that hope that lies within is reassured
as I keep my eyes upon the distant shore
I know He’ll lead me safely to that blessed place He has prepared
But if the storm don’t cease and if the winds keep on
blowing in my life
My soul has been anchored in the Lord.
She was signifying that her dignity was intact despite the racism of the day. She was demonstrating that her faith was strong enough to convey her through any turbulence caused by the world around her. She was not alone facing those harsh winds: she had a Sovereign not only distant in the heavens, but also deep within.
We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.
On this Sunday we turn to Jesus, the one to whom we owe our deepest commitment. “We who have taken refuge,” the letter to the Hebrews says, “Might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:19-18)
Hope for today. Enduring hope for tomorrow.
This year Christ the King Sunday coincides with Stewardship Sunday at Westminster, and it’s perfect timing. They both ask the same question: what is at the heart of our faith. Stewardship is a metaphor for Christian living. We are not our own, John Calvin said in the 16th century. We do not live for ourselves, but for the one who is sovereign over all.
You and I have received and been entrusted with the grace of God – not for our own benefit, but for the sake of the world. Christian living centers on our responsibility as stewards of the love and justice of God to share that grace as generously as we can.
We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.
Generations of Westminster members have done their part to steward the hope we have received and pass it on to those coming next. This hope endures for all time. It has anchored the soul of this congregation since the beginning, way back in 1857.
Today we will welcome those who have made the decision to unite with our congregation and join us in seizing together the hope that is set before us. Westminster’s first new member class, 165 years ago, had eight people, all immigrants. They were among the European settlers that began arriving in that time in such numbers and with such fierce ambition that the native population was driven off the land.
Our church was born in that era, a time of upheaval and calamity, and in many ways it has ever been thus. The Civil War started one month after Westminster completed its first building at 4th and Nicollet, for which we had to borrow funds from the national Presbyterian Church. Eighteen months later the Dakota War broke out in Minnesota, culminating in the mass execution of indigenous leaders and the merciless expulsion of Dakota people from the state. Westminster was witness to that cruel and violent history.
As the city grew so did the church. We had to leave our first facility after only 20 years and construct a new church at 7th and Nicollet in 1883. The project budget was $45,000, but it cost three times that by the time it was completed. Again, we had to borrow funds to build it. It was during that time, in the 1880s, that Westminster began welcoming Chinese individuals and families to Minnesota as they fled racial violence on the west coast.
Fire destroyed the new building after only 12 years, in 1895, at the height of a national economic collapse. Westminster relocated and managed to build our present sanctuary on this corner in 1897. From this vantage point we have watched the city and its suburbs grow into neighborhoods intentionally segregated by race and religion, the legacy of which we see still today in north and south Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.
Along the way on Westminster’s pilgrimage, this text from Hebrews has echoed in the ears of the faithful: We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.
In reflecting on these lines from Hebrews, Bible scholar Fred Craddock says they reflect “the two modes of the Christian life: tenacious faithfulness and continuous pilgrimage toward the city that is to come.” (New Interpreters’ Bible, Vol. 12, p. 12-13)
Tenacious faithfulness and continuous pilgrimage.
In other words, stability, as with an anchor that steadies us when hard winds blow, and that anchor is our trust in God through Jesus Christ. And adaptability, as on a journey where sometimes we make wrong turns and take risks as we follow where God would lead.
Tenacious faithfulness and continuous pilgrimage. Stability and adaptability. Hope for today and enduring hope for tomorrow.
In our time we find Westminster living in the midst of a culture of anxiety and a period of economic and political uncertainty, with concern about public safety and desire to dismantle racial disparities and finally decrease gun violence – and eagerness to reach new neighbors, to expand the church’s impact in the community, and to grow the congregation.
And we have built another new building, again with borrowing. Westminster took out two loans six years ago, one with Thrivent and the other with the national Presbyterian Church. Today I am delighted to report that with payments already made on campaign pledges we will pay off the Thrivent loan next month – more than a year early.
As was true for each of the major projects over the years, Westminster’s new wing is a strategic investment in the future of the church. Without it our congregation would have struggled to thrive into the 21st century, with inadequate space for church activities the likes of which we see this morning, poor access to the building, minimal parking, no on-site mission, little capacity to create community through the arts, and limited possibilities for the future.
Today, on Stewardship Sunday, each of us has the opportunity to make an accounting of the hope that is within us, to give witness to that anchor deep in our soul. We are invited to do what Westminster members have done since the beginning: seize the hope that is set before us by supporting the ministry and mission of this church we love, both in the short-term with a commitment for 2023 and long-term with a pledge to the capital campaign.
The church is not in the business of protecting anyone from their own generosity. The church is in the business of generously conveying hope for today and enduring hope for tomorrow – every way we can, every day we can.
On this Christ the King Sunday, let us remember, and celebrate, and give witness to what we know: we have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.
Thanks be to God.