Christ the King Sunday
November 23, 2014
This is the third parable we have from Jesus at the conclusion of Matthew’s telling of his ministry. In the next chapters, Jesus will be arrested, interrogated, brutally murdered, and rise again to the shock of the authorities, and the joy of his followers. The “Church Year” is funny this way – we’ve already read those parts of Matthew’s Gospel. It was way out of order back in the spring when we were in Lent and Easter. And last Christmas we read the story of Jesus’ birth from this Gospel, too. So now we are officially at the end of the church year, and the end of our time in Matthew. Next week will be the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new church year and we will be reading from Mark’s Gospel through the year.
These three parables in Matthew’s 25th chapter follow Jesus’ prediction that the beautiful temple, the culture around them, yes, even the world as they know it will all pass away, and a new age will come to pass. When the disciples want to know when that will happen, Jesus tells them these three parables about waiting. Today’s story has the King returning in glory, filled with power, sitting on a throne that fills the heavens. You’ve probably heard this story dozens of times – how the sheep are separated from the goats and congratulated for all the wonderful things they’ve done for Jesus. They are shocked, not understanding how that could be true, since Jesus has been gone. The goats are equally mystified when they are accused of not doing things for Jesus. But Jesus explains that he has been present all the time, in the lowest of the low, the people who needed the most help: the hungry, the incarcerated, the sick, the poor.
There’s a story of a man coming to a famous Rabbi, asking if he has seen the face of God. “No,” says the Rabbi, “no human has seen the face of God. No one has been able to stoop so low.”
We’ve been thinking about the question of how God’s people live in the meantime, that time between when Jesus said he was coming back and the day when he actually returns. Even though we still live in a world of pain and suffering, we are already part of the New Creation, revealed to all in Jesus’ resurrection. God’s future calls us forward into the reality of the day when there will be no crying or grief or pain. We are surely living “in the meantime.” What does this writing from Matthew tell us about living now?
I’ve heard this story used to urge people to get up and get busy, get out there and do what you need to do to please God so that you don’t have to worry about being cast out into eternal punishment. That’s not the way I think of it. I think that we are already saved for eternity by what God has done, forgiving our sin through the outcast and murdered and risen Jesus. We don’t have to earn anything, rather we are free to help create a just world in which all people have what they need to thrive. In the meantime, we care about people because God cares about people. We want them to be fed, sheltered, safe, educated, employed because the love of God for us makes it possible for us to love others, who we see are also God’s people. As I look out on this assembly, I see that everyone here is engaged in this work somehow.
If you are an elected city or county official, stand up. If you are active in any of the organizations that feed people, stand up. If you are part of an organization that houses and shelters people, stand up. If you are an educator, a teacher, a tutor, a SMART reader, a coach, a Boy or Girl Scout leader, a grandma or grandpa who takes care of your grandkids, stand up. If you are a doctor, a nurse, a care-giver, a hospice volunteer, a meals-on-wheels volunteer, someone who visits sick people or gives them rides to the doctor, stand up. If you’ve brought food to someone who’s ill or grieving, stand up. If you drive kids, parent kids, feed kids, manage a family, stand up. If you get people to work, keep them safe, care for their homes or cars or other equipment, stand up. If you knit, quilt, sew, pack toothbrushes or pencils to send to people you may not even know because it makes you happy to help, stand up. If you are a student, planning to teach, to create a business, to live in a clean and healthy world, stand up.
Look around. If you are not standing, you probably are just being modest, because I know how connected people in this congregation are to the health of our community and it’s families. OK, you can sit down now.
Maybe, you do what you do because you want to make a difference in the world, or maybe you do it because it is worthwhile to you. Maybe you even do it because God has been good to you, and you want to be good to others – you take your role as God’s people seriously in the world. But I wonder if you’ve ever seen Jesus in your children, your sick friend, the people who need food or shelter, your clients, those people in Africa or Macedonia who need school and health supplies. If you have, I’d love to hear about it. What did it feel like?
On this day when we think about the final Coming of the Kingdom of God, remember that every day is another opportunity to be Jesus for someone who needs to know that Jesus is still at work in the world. And it is a chance to see Jesus in the people you meet, waiting to grace you with a smile that says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.