Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46
Today we celebrate the feast of the Reign of Christ, or for those traditionalists among you, Christ the King Sunday. So with that being the case, what’s the first image in your mind when you hear the words King or Queen? Perhaps you’re a good staunch royalist and you picture Queen Elizabeth II in all her dignified regality. Or perhaps you’re more of the history buff (I know I am!) and the first image that comes to mind is one of the great warrior Kings, like Richard the Lionheart, riding to battle leading his armies to glory. Or maybe after we delved into the Old Testament over the last 8 weeks, you think of David, or Saul or Solomon: one of Israel’s Kings – in all their glory and their flaws.
Sadly, the first image for me that comes to mind when I hear the word King is not so distinguished. In fact, the first image which pops into my head is of Mel Brooks’ portrayal of the King Louis XVI in the movie A History of the World Part 1. I’ve only seen the movie once, back in university, but the caricature has stuck with me. If you haven’t seen the movie (and I don’t recommend it!), in one of the short stories Mel Brooks plays a pretty raunchy, lascivious and greedy King Louis taking whatever or whoever he wants. His signature line in the scene is “It’s good to be the King!”
While the movie and its humor are a little too irreverent for church, the reality is that Mel Brooks’ caricature of King Louis is a lot closer to how our world conceives of power then not. You need only look at the recent string of harassment revelations against very prominent and powerful men throughout the entertainment, political, business and even the President of the United States, to see the mentality of “It’s good to be the King” is not such a far cry from reality.
Power in our world is all too often about domination. It is a tool which people use to benefit themselves, typically after a little bit too long exposure to power and its corruptions. Power tempts the powerful to take advantage of the people they are called to lead, serve, look after.
Today as we celebrate the end of the Church year, Christ the King Sunday, we might be a little leery to use the word king or talk about power, because of it’s negative tones in our world today. In fact, some churches, perhaps even some of you gathered today would prefer the more modern title of the feast: Reign of Christ. It eliminates a little bit of those domineering overtones and the male patriarchy which is so problematic in our culture. While, I have no problem with changing the name of the feast to Reign of Christ – I also don’t want to give up too easily on declaring Christ our King. Jesus’ Kingship – as we saw in our Gospel reading today – is nothing like the world has ever seen. So let’s begin:
“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” – Matthew 25:31-32
Right from the very beginning, our reading affirms that Jesus, the Son of Man, sits enthroned in all of his glory and all the nations will be gathered before him. If ever you wanted an image of power, prestige, glory and honour there you go. Imagine one solitary man, angels flanking his sides with every nation of the world gathered around his throne. He is due honour and power, he is worthy of praise and glory. As our reading from Ephesians declares he is:
‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…and he has put all things under his feet.’ – Ephesians 1:21-22
If there was ever an image which inspired visions of power and domination this is it: Jesus ruling over everything, every conceivable form of power in the world subject to his lordship.
With this picture painted of Jesus’ kingship in immeasurable power and glory you might expect that his kingdom might be reflection of that – that life in his kingdom would be dominated by dominating displays of wealth, power, prestige, a place where the strong survive, those of great personal faith would be lauded… but instead we get a completely different picture for a completely different king.
The bulk of the passage is the king’s interactions with the sheep and the goats, who he has separated one from the other. As we heard the king says to the sheep at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ And to those on the left, to the goats he says ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;’.
The reason Jesus gives is not necessarily great faith, or the number of souls saved, or some other great miraculous work but rather Jesus says when he was hungry they fed him, thirsty they gave him drink, naked they clothed him, a stranger and welcomed him and so on. To the cursed he declares the opposite.
It is notable, that both groups have faith in Jesus – both declare him Lord – so I’m not here to diminish the importance of faith in Jesus and say this is all about what you do. But also both groups fail to realize Jesus in the midst of their actions. Both the righteous and the cursed, failed to recognize Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger since they both inquire, “When was it that we did (or did not) do these things?”
And Jesus’ answer is just as you did to the least of these you did to me. Both groups have had the opportunity to encounter Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, and the prisoners of the world – in the poor, the marginalized, those on the margins of society. What opportunities have we missed to see, and meet Jesus? What opportunities will open us to meet him if we just open our eyes to the people around us, even the people that make us uncomfortable.
I want to share a personal experience from earlier this week, not to laud my great faith: exactly the opposite in fact, but which is nonetheless a testament to how God works.
On Wednesdays we were doing a Bible Study on the Gospel text for today and we had a great discussion. Later in the day I took a little bit of time before picking up my daughter at her Montessori school to walk around her neighbourhood, something I often do to clear my head and get a little bit of physical activity.
That day as I walked, I passed a woman who I have passed dozens of times over the last 3 years on my walks – often muttering to herself, walking with a limp with unkempt hair – and for the first time in all those years she asked if I had any spare change for coffee.
Truth be told, in this day and age of microchips which let us tap our credit cards and debit cards for payment, I almost never have cash in my wallet. Typically, I will just politely say ‘don’t have any change sorry’, and try to walk as quickly by to put as much distance in between myself and the asker as possible. I’m not proud of the behvaiour, but it is what it is. That day however I was convicted by studying our Gospel passage in Bible Study, so I told her the truth – I had no change for coffee, but if she wanted I’d be more than happy to walk with her and share a coffee with her.
She happily accepted, and we quickly decided that we would head to Starbucks rather than Tim Hortons for a ‘treat’, and we started walking. Walking with this woman, I quickly learned her name was Catherine, we shared stories of our children, pleasantries about how the neighbourhood had changed over the years she had lived in it and there was such a warmth of spirit and love in her that I never would have imagined from the unkempt hair and talking to herself. I ordered my coffee and she got a seasonal specialty hot chocolate and we sipped a bit together and then parted ways.
The whole experience probably lasted only 5, maybe 10 minutes, but I cannot do justice by putting into words the feeling of warmth and joy I had as I continued my walk that day, and which I feel again as I relate this story. Even in my selfishness – I was responding to her plea only because I felt a little guilty as a pastor – God had used my guilt and transformed it, so that I might get a glimpse of Jesus in the face of this woman, in the face of Catherine – unkempt hair and all.
The kingdom which the ‘righteous’ inherit is a kingdom marked by loving service, of care for the poor, the marginalized, the naked, the hungry. This is what Jesus’ kingship is all about – it is about power, privilege, glory and honour in service of others, in service of those who are in need. Jesus’ kingdom, all his glory and honour is rooted in justice and love, in service in the recognition that everyone is worthy of care, everyone is worthy of love and grace.
How we respond to those in our parish, our community, our city and the world who are in need is a testament to the faith we have in Jesus. If we believe that Jesus is Lord, if we have faith that he is our saviour and redeemer than our lives will reflect his life, our life will reflect his kingdom which is marked by justice and mercy. We are saved by grace alone, we are invited into this life by the sheer will and gift of God – but as it says in the book of James ‘faith without works is dead’. If our faith and commitment to Jesus do not bear the fruits of justice, mercy, and care for the poor and oppressed then we need to repent, we need to ask God to remove from our lives the obstacles which keep us from seeing the world as Jesus invites us to see it, from living lives as Jesus invites us to live them.
Later this morning, I will have the great privilege to extend Jesus’ invitation into this life to you Anastasia through the sacrament of baptism. Anastasia, in a few moments you will express the desire you shared with me and your parents to be baptised, you – with the help of your parents, godparents and the whole gathered assembly – will respond to Jesus’ invitation into this life marked by care for those in need, this life marked by justice and mercy, this life marked by God’s love pouring out into the world. It is not an easy journey, Kingdom life – the life of the baptized – is challenging, and joyful all at the same time, but we are not alone. By the grace of God, and by the support of all the faithful in every age we are strengthened for the task and prepared for the Kingdom, that we might know eternal and abundant life here and now as we seek the presence of Jesus in the world.
May each of you encounter Jesus in one another today: may you see him in your neighbour; may you see him in the face of the commuter on your bus ride home; may you see him in the face of the man who asks for your change and may you see him in the unkempt faces of the Catherine’s of the world.
Let us pray.
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