SERMON 11/20/11 Last Day of Pentecost "Christ the King"
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Greek icon found on today’s bulletin is a vivid depiction of “Christ the King” and it seems fitting to use it considering today’s gospel reading. In the icon, Jesus is sitting in serene and benevolent majesty on an elaborate throne. He is dressed in fine clothes, wearing a crown, and holding a scepter and orb of divine kingship. The icon is reflective of the gospels depiction of the Son of Man who comes in glory, with Angels, on a throne of his glory, around which all nations will be gathered and will be judged. Some of us may struggle a little bit with this imagery. Thrones, crowns, royal courts, etc. are not really a part of the American experience. In our culture, our leaders do not have thrones and crowns, rather they rule from helicopters, private jets, and fancy offices.
To further complicate matters, in the time of the evangelist who recorded today’s depiction of Christ the King, people who were monarchs usually were a bit aloof and in some cases, they were self-centered, a little devious, and they rarely had their subjects best interests at heart. This is not the nature of Christ the King. The evangelist provides us the hearers, a radical picture of what the Kingdom of God is really like and the ruler of that Kingdom, Christ the King. Jesus said, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” All around us in this world, there are hungry folk, thirsty folks, folks estranged, folks who are naked, folks who are sick, and folks imprisoned. The pain and brokenness in the world, in our neighbors, and many among us today may not be this apparent as the obvious suffering associated with visible physical maladies. It is the healing, reconciling, grace-filled response to this pain and brokenness that is prevalent in the Kingdom of God. Suffering from hunger and thirst can include more than living with a lack of food and water. There is a heart and spirit hunger and thirst in our culture. In communities, groups and families, people are estranged from each other and broken relationships are present. Nakedness does not involve merely a lack of clothing or sufficient clothing. Some people find themselves exposed and vulnerable to the elements of societal outcasting, as a result of their addictions, their economic failures, or some other social stigmas. Sickness is not merely physical ailments that require medication and or professional treatments. Some people suffer from emotional, spiritual, and relational ailments that tear at the heart and infect the spirit. Prisons are more than armed guards, metal bars and small rooms. Some folks are imprisoned by the guilt of their own failures and their lack of the ability to forgive either themselves or others.
Life in the Kingdom of God turns upside the plight of human indignity, suffering, and estrangement. The Kingdom of God attempts to reverse the injustices of the world. The Kingdom of God seeks to bring others into unity, peace, love, reconciliation, and mercy. In the Kingdom, the hungry and thirsty are filled, the estranged are welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick are healed, prisoners are set free. The Kingdom of God is not a place, it is the inauguration of what has already begun, but is not yet fully present yet. The Kingdom is among us yet many of us stand on the sidelines.
In a medieval village many, many years ago, there was a blacksmith and his spouse who lived in virtual isolation yet they were among an entire community of people. They had nothing to do with any of their neighbors, nor did they pay homage to the Lord who ruled over the land in which they lived. Despite their refusal, their failure to acknowledged it or not, they were citizens of that kingdom. Because they lived among the people, and because the Lord of the lands owned it all, they were subjects of that nation. It was a sad life for the blacksmith and his spouse, because they refused to accept their responsibility to the Lord and their accountability to the people who were their neighbors. They refused to accept their place in the community and by that, they missed the joy, peace, and love, which was already present all around him. They missed the opportunity to be a blessing, a joy, and a help to those around him. They rejected the citizenship which was already theirs to claim.
As Christians, we all have passed through the waters of baptism, either as an infant or some other time in our lives. We all have followed our Lord’s example claiming his solidarity with humankind, and we took upon ourselves the vows our baptism requires. By our baptism, we are a part of the Kingdom of God, we are living in the Kingdom, which will one day be fulfilled, but has already begun in the life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our citizenship in the Kingdom is ours to claim. At the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue, Jesus opened the scroll of Isaiah and read these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus fulfilled the prophet’s call simply because in him, the poor have good news, prisoners are free, the blind can see, the oppressed are released, and the Lord’s favor has already begun. Consider Jesus’ miracles, teachings, and ministry. Consider his obedience, the love, the non-violent response to rejection that resulted in his death. Look at the never-ending love that overcame death and by that love, resurrection is the new story.
When Christ returns, the Kingdom will all be fulfilled. It will be fully present. However, this is not just a future hope for which we patiently wait. The Kingdom is here now. We see glimpses of the Kingdom’s presence; we just have to open our eyes. We merely have to recognize it and know that we have a place in it. Our mission in the Kingdom is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Thinking back to that blacksmith and his spouse who lived in the little medieval village and rarely interacted with his neighbors, it is so sad to think that they missed out on the life to which they were called, simply by denying their own citizenship in the kingdom in which they lived. Being part of a clan, family, or community goes beyond mere presence, it requires participating in the joy and celebration, dealing with the muck and mire, the difficulties and struggles, and the work and ministry of those around us. Community life is not easy and as a matter of fact, it can be downright messy at times. That is ok. The perfection we seek in community will not emerge fully until Christ returns. However, the Kingdom is present among us right here and right now. The poor have good news, prisoners are free, the blind can see, the oppressed are released, and the Lord’s favor has already begun. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
The questions with which those who claim discipleship of Christ will wrestle is whether we can acknowledge that the Kingdom which is not fully present, is already present now . The bigger challenge for us is whether we can and will claim our own citizenship in the kingdom into which, we have already been welcomed. The biggest challenge for us is whether we will be more than mere observers of the kingdom around us, or will we be active, intentional participants as kingdom people. Our challenge is to answer the prophetic calling of Jesus, the one we claim as Lord, Savior and King and with grateful and sincere hearts proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord is on US, because he has anointed US to preach good news to the poor. He has sent US to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”