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The King Is In The Audience

John 20:19-29

Back in 1970, God in His gracious goodness, allowed me the privilege of meeting Catherine Marshall. My mother and Catherine Marshall had been in college together at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, and therefore, during all my growing-up years, I had been told of Catherine Marshall and her husband, Peter Marshall, the great Presbyterian preacher and Chaplain of the Senate. I was thrilled, to say the least, when in the summer of 1970, I had the opportunity to meet Catherine Marshall in person. I shared with her my gratitude that she had brought the story of Peter Marshall to public attention through her book and the subsequent movie, both entitled A Man Called Peter, thus allowing the ministry of that great man to have an impact upon those like me who never had the chance to know him or to hear him when he was alive.

Can you imagine then how overwhelmed I was just weeks later, in October of 1970, to receive a wonderful letter from Catherine Marshall, together with a packet of Dr. Peter Marshall’s sermons, most of them never published, all of them typed by his own hands. That little trove of thirty or so sermons I count to be one of my most priceless treasures. It was the beginning of a friendship and correspondence with Catherine Marshall which continued until her death a few years ago.

Among the sermons she gave me was an original copy of Peter Marshall’s great sermon entitled “The King is in the Audience”. The sermon began with a vivid word picture of an incident which took place one night at the theatre in London. Peter Marshall, whose ability to paint a word picture is almost unsurpassed, describes the audience filing slowly into the theatre, chatting amiably; the orchestra, tuning their varied instruments; the stagehands scurrying behind the heavy curtains checking the lights, the props, and the ropes; the house lights dim, the conductor mounting the podium and lifting his baton; and then with the wave of his hand, the orchestra begins to play the overture. All is in readiness. The players are in the wings waiting for the curtain to be raised. Then suddenly, the orchestra stops playing. There is a moment of deathly stillness, followed by the stately, thrilling strains of the national anthem filling the theatre. Then a torrent of cheers and applause erupts. The stage manager runs excitedly along the line of players in the wings, whispering to each one: “You must do your best. Give it all you’ve got. Play your part as you have never played it before!” Why the commotion? “Because King George has just entered the theatre. The king is in the audience!”

Peter Marshall went on in that sermon to remind his listeners that Christ the King is in the audience every time Christians gather to worship. Furthermore, he declared, that Christ the King is in the audience of our lives as we perform on the stage of life. Therefore, he said in our worship and in our living, we must do our best and give our best. We must play it like we’ve never played it before, for the King is in the audience!

It’s a great sermon, but let me set the image in a slightly different cast. Suppose we were to announce that the President of the United States and his entourage were going to worship here next Sunday. I can guarantee you that there would be no room to put all the people. And think of the special preparations we would make for that occasion. Choir members would be called in for extra rehearsals. The housekeeping staff would have this place spotless. The television and sound crew would be checking the lights and the cameras and the sound system. The ushers would rehearse their role in seating special guests. And then everyone leading worship and everyone participating in worship would pour themselves into their praying and their praising. Yes, we would do all of that and more if the President of the United States were to come to worship here at First Presbyterian. And yet, the reality is that Christ the King is here in this sanctuary every single Sunday, and we take it all so casually.

It is possible, you see, to come to church and sing the hymns, listen to the sermon and still miss the presence of the risen Christ among us. It happened to the disciples, and if it happened to them, it can happen to us. In the Gospel of John we are told that after the death of Jesus on the cross, the disciples hid behind locked doors in fear for their lives. They felt that if the authorities put out the word to round up the usual suspects, that they might wind up as dead as Jesus. But then suddenly the risen Christ appeared in their midst and showed Himself to be very much alive. “Dead Man Walking” is not just an award-winning movie about a nun working among prisoners on death row. “Dead Man Walking” is the story of what those disciples experienced. And once they realized that Jesus Christ was going to be present with them everyday, their fright was transformed into faith; their cowardice was transformed into courage. No more hiding out; now they were ready to turn the world upside down. And because they knew the King was in the audience, they lived their lives as they had never lived them before. So does it make a difference that Jesus Christ is in the audience every time we gather to worship and that Jesus Christ is in the audience as we play out our lives every day? I think it does…

If we are aware that the King is in the audience of our lives, it helps us to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong.

Dr. Bill Hinson is the Senior Pastor of First Methodist Church in Houston. He tells about an experience he had not long ago with Houston’s Intercontinental Airport. Dr. Hinson said that he took a “red-eye” flight from Miami to Houston, following a speaking engagement there. He was dreading the amount of time it would take for him to get home from the airport. If you know the Houston airport, you know that it is way out on the north side of town. Dr. Hinson’s plane would arrive at about 3:00 a.m., followed by a shuttle ride to the airport parking lot, and then a line of cars at the parking lot toll booth. However, to Hinson’s great surprise, the traffic was moving out of the parking lot rather quickly. He soon discovered why. The attendant had fallen asleep and had left the gate up, and so the cars were just zipping on by. As Dr. Hinson pulled up to the booth, he thought to himself: “Now wait a minute. I’m the minister of the largest Methodist church in the world. What kind of example would I be setting if I didn’t pay? And what if the supervisor found that lady attendant asleep? She could be fired, or worse yet, unable to explain her lack of receipts.” So Dr. Hinson rapped on the booth window and awakened the attendant. Rather startled, she snapped at him: “Give me your ticket.” She rang it up and in a demanding voice said: “That will be $20.00.” At that moment, Bill Hinson remembered that he had bought a hamburger just before his flight home, and all he had with him was $17.50. He asked if she would take a credit card or a check. She said: “No.” He said: “Well, what do you suggest that I do? I have only $17.50.” She replied: “I suggest that you back up your car, park it, and go get $2.50.” So Hinson parked his car, shuttled back to the airport, only to discover that there was no place to cash a check, and no ATM was operating. He ended up having to call his wife at 4:00 in the morning and then she had to drive forty miles across Houston to bail him out. The next morning at the breakfast table, he said to his weary wife , “Do you think I did the right thing in waking up that parking lot attendant?” Hinson never told us what his wife said, but I know what Jesus said. Honesty and integrity are the marks of a Christian, even if it costs us something. It’s a great thing to have someone standing at your side to keep you at your best, to keep you doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The risen Christ is always present at your side. Therefore, as you play out your life on the stage of this world, remember that Christ the King is in the audience.

And if we are aware that the King is in the audience of our lives, it helps us to keep God top priority in our lives.

After Elizabeth Dole’s stunning and stirring speech at the Republican National Convention, the public has become fascinated with this woman who in recent years has been designated as one of the ten most admired women in the world. She is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, has served in the President’s Cabinet, and is presently on leave from her post as President of the American Red Cross. But by her own admission, there was a time in her life when something was missing, and she didn’t know what it was. Art Lindsley is a Presbyterian minister who has long been a friend of mine, and who in recent years has become a spiritual mentor to Mrs. Dole. Art Lindsley recently shared with me and some others these words from Mrs. Dole: “I was blessed with a beautiful marriage and a challenging career, but gradually, over the years, I realized that something was missing in my life. Then I came to discover that I was being threatened with spiritual starvation. I had built up my own little self-sufficient world. I had God neatly compartmentalized somewhere between ‘gardening’ and ‘government’. I had let public service crowd out the spiritual lessons I had learned at my grandmother’s knee. All of that changed when I began attending a Senate Wives’ Prayer and Bible study group in Washington. It was there that Christ came alive for me. I now spend at least 30 minutes a day in prayer, recharging my spiritual batteries. Sundays are now a time for God, church, friends, and no appointments. I now realize that I am living my life before an audience of one—the ultimate audience—Jesus Christ.”

Mark it down. Regular worship, prayer, and Bible study help us keep our priorities straight, giving God the top-most place in our hearts and in our lives. The risen Christ is present with us every single day. As we play out our lives on the stage of this world, remember, Christ the King is in the audience.

Then when we remember that the King is in the audience, it makes a difference in how we deal with other people.

Jesus said: “By this shall the world know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” We are to be a people of love—loving God and loving others.

At this very moment, a woman who exemplifies Jesus’ words as few ever have, lies desperately ill and fighting for life. I refer, of course, to Mother Teresa. In just a couple of days, if she lives, she will turn 86. Since age 18, when she yielded her life to the Risen Christ, she has played her role in life to the hilt. This tiny but tough Roman Catholic nun, having nothing, gives it all away. It’s not what she does or what she has, but who she is that feeds the fires of our spiritual imagination. I’ve seen her work in India, and I can tell you it is overpowering both in its breadth and its depth. How does she do it? She plays her life out on the world’s stage for the sheer pleasure of Jesus Christ, and she is motivated by the word He spoke in Matthew: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you do it unto me.”

Here, in what may be the waning moments of her extraordinary life for Christ, it is worth remembering again a speech she delivered a few years ago to those who were volunteers in her work. She said to them: “Jesus is found in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, the neediest of the needy, the sickest of the sick.” And then, you may remember, she said to the crowd: “Hold up both of your hands. Now let me attach a word to each of your fingers so that you will never forget the sacredness of your task.” And then, touching her own fingers, one by one, with a word for each finger she said: “What you do for them, you also do for Him.” Over and over she said it, driving her point home. “What you do for them, you also do for Him.” She finished her speech with these words: “Look at your fingers and you will always remember that when you are touching the poor, you are touching the Christ. When you are serving the needy, you are serving the Lord. “What you do for them, you also do for Him.”

Helping others really matters. The risen Christ is present in your life every day. He is there in the person of those people around you who need the loving touch of your hand upon their lives. What you do for them, you also do for Him.

So…

Please hear me today, my beloved. You must do your best in life. You must give it all you’ve got. You must make your life count for something. You must strive to make a difference in the world. You must play it like you’ve never played it before. Why?

Because

The King is in the audience.

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