What is your elevator pitch?

by Fr. Blake

This sermon was preached at 8am and 10am on 23 November 2014 at S. Stephen’s Church, for the feast of Christ the King.  Music at the 10am solemn mass was Domenico Scarlatti’s Messa breve “La Stella”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46

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

Well we’re fresh from election season, and there seem to be a few more sound bites than usual.  Commercials too, with Thanksgiving and Christmas not too far off.  Most of these have the character of an “elevator pitch” — short, pithy statements, meant to communicate what you’re about in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

They’re used for more than just ads and politics.  Some of my students tell me they’re encouraged to put this kind of statement at the tops of their resumes or on cover letters.  Elevator pitches are the kinds of things we might say about ourselves when first meeting a new colleague, or when catching up with a friend we haven’t seen in a long time.  In all these instances, the “elevator pitch” is a way of presenting a narrow, highly organized slice of ourselves such that it opens onto more, and invites people further in to whatever it is we’re offering.

Today’s passage from Ephesians is an elevator pitch.  The whole thing is rendered in English as only one sentence.  Phrase piles on phrase, clause on clause, as Paul sets forth his chief points right at the beginning of the letter.  It’s as if Paul were breathless with the urgency of it all, and finishes with a grand cosmic statement of the unity of all creation, and the Kingship of Christ over all.  The rest of Ephesians is an expansion of this elevator pitch, and Paul develops these statements into a thorough argument about the nature of grace, the mission of the church, and the scale of the Gospel: encompassing every aspect of the heart, every category of human relationship, and all things in heaven and on earth.  We’ll hear an even shorter version off this elevator pitch a little later on this morning, when the choir sings the Te Deum: “Thou art the king of glory, O Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father.”

Today’s readings are appointed for the same reason we’re singing the Te Deum.  Today we keep the feast of Christ the King.  In itself, this feast is an elevator pitch, and reflects the time it was first celebrated.  You may already have read in your Kalendars, or in last week’s Parish Notes, that this feast was first declared in 1925, as a response to the growth of fascism in Europe.  It asserted the kingship of Christ over all earthly rulers, and reminded Christians that their final loyalty was to Him, and not to any authority this world might claim.

Today, Christ the King might sound somewhat less timely, old-fashioned even.  The doctrine of Christ’s kingship is sometimes offensive, especially to those who hold painful memories of ill-placed imperialism undertaken by Christians who forget that Our Lord’s kingdom does not belong to this world alone.  Similarly it can sound like far too removed a claim, that somehow, from far beyond the stars, Christ rules even over the present, which is so patently full of darkness and pain.  Just like the elevator pitches we make about ourselves, “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ,” is a narrow statement, which others are free to accept and learn more, or to reject and have no more to do with.  For those outside the Church, and for many even inside, it can appear as a tiny keyhole, extremely difficult to see through to the other side, let alone to pass through with our minds and hearts intact.

And yet this is what we celebrate today: in Paul’s words, that God the Father, having raised Christ from the dead, “Made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places . . . put all things under his feet, and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  What happens when we unpack that elevator pitch?  What happens when we peer through that keyhole?  What is life like on the other side?

When by faith we manage to pass through, the whole world opens up so exponentially that, on turning around to see where we came from, our whole lives seemed the keyhole.  It was not small after all; we were, our world was.  When we are willing to own Christ enthroned in Glory, we begin to see his glory shot through the whole world.  A painting becomes a window into eternity.  A landscape becomes an icon of tenderness.  Our friends begin to reveal the face of God.  Strangers begin to look familiar, and they appear to us as Christ himself.

In the Kingdom of Christ, our joy increases, but so does our responsibility.  As every thing and every creature and every person takes on added depth of spiritual richness, reflects a greater and greater heavenly light, you and I are more and more duty-bound to love them according to the love of him who sits enthroned in glory, who gave himself up to death for us and for the whole world.  In that death there is a victory to end all victories; for Christ to have conquered death means He is king in deed and not just in word.  But it also means you and I have no excuse for allowing death to retain the upper hand in our lives and in the lives of our fellow human beings.  When our eyes our fixed on the King of Glory, we see that our task in this life is not merely to carve out a pleasant corner for ourselves, doing good where we can and suffering hardship when we must.  Rather our task is nothing less than to strive with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength against whatever pockets of darkness remain, in our lives and in our world.

This requires that you and I pay attention and notice where we are complicit in sin, where we are culpable for preserving the power of the kingdom of death.  It requires that we name our failures, and ask for forgiveness.  It requires that we stand with confidence on the word of our King, who honors our repentance, and encourages us with the promise that his victory is ours too.

“Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ” is an elevator pitch which opens up the world: under his rule it is a far larger, far more cohesive place than it could ever be under any other ruler.  Under his rule the living and the dead are knit together in one fellowship.  Angels and all the ranks of heavenly creatures share in their company.  All the furthest reaches of the universe, and the tiniest subatomic particles are linked in harmony with one another.  The greatest achievements of art and music, the most stunning feats of courage and valor, the quietest, most gentle whispers of a mother to her child, are the common inheritance of all.  The power of sin and death have been broken, and Life is freely offered to everyone.  Wherever we go in his dominion, whatever our life’s work, whomever we find to accompany us on the way: under the Kingship of Christ, everything is seeded with glory, and we witness it at every turn.

On this feast of Christ the King, let us give thanks for such a king as this.  Let us pray that his kingdom be manifested in full, even as it is now in part.  Let us work, to strengthen the bonds of our fellowship with all the citizens of Christ’s Kingdom: that even as he fills all in all, so he may dwell in us, and we in him, to ages of ages.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.