November 26 2017 Sermon
Christ the King
31 ‘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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And 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.” 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.” 44Then 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?” 45Then 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.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Let me begin by offering my heartfelt wishes to you and your loved ones for a Happy Thanksgiving this past week. I hope that you traveled safely or that those coming to visit in your homes traveled without incident. I look forward to hearing more about your Thanksgiving festivities over this next week.
I want you to take a trip with me for a moment back to the church I grew up in. Close your eyes if you wish and I’ll paint you a picture. As you enter the back of the sanctuary through two solid wooden doors, marked on each side by a cheerful usher, the 8’ ceiling of the narthex transforms as you cross the threshold. No longer 8’ high, the vaulted ceiling hangs what seems to be over three stories above your head. The wooden beams of the vaulted ceiling creek quietly as the wind blows over the roof. Every few feet throughout the cathedral like nave, cylindrical chandeliers hang down from oil rubbed bronze chains. If you sit still and focus long enough, you can see the slightest sway of the chandeliers from side to side.
Rolled out like a movie premiere at the theater, crimson red carpet stretches from the threshold straight down the center aisle of the nave, all the way up the chancel steps to the foot of the altar table. Accompanying that run of crimson red carpet are at least 50 rows of wooden pews perfectly positioned through the length of the nave. And then on each side of the sanctuary are six stained glass windows, the forebearers in faith on the left side (Abraham, Moses, and the like) and the magnanimous personalities of Protestant Christianity on the right (Francis Asbury, Martin Luther, and some others). These stained glass windows stretch from floor to ceiling and the personalities encased in each watch over the worshipping body. As you arrive at the front of the nave, an oversized pulpit is positioned quite stately to emphasize the proclamation of the gospel. At the very front of the chancel, you have to bend your neck up as if you’re looking up at the clouds to see a rose window in which the central motif is a lamb with a cross positioned in the crooks of its legs. It’s the Paschal Lamb, a symbol for the crucified Christ-the object of all of our worship.
Now in your mind, turn around, and look closely at the back of the sanctuary, high up above the balcony. There are three stained glass windows, the Victorious Christ flanked by two angels, one on his right, and one on his left. And in the hand of Christ, is an orb with a cross positioned on it. When the Son of Man comes in glory, all the nations will be gathered before him for Judgment Day as he is enthroned with angels at his sides.
As a teenager, Christ the King kept me company as I sat in the balcony positioned closer to that stained glass window than any other one in the church. To any would be preacher that climbed into that oversized stately pulpit, Christ the King encased in that stained glass window is a remainder of the task at hand to preach the reign of God, and no other.
Today, segments of the church universal, particularly those attuned to the teachings and traditions of Western Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It is always, at least since 1969, the Sunday that precedes Advent and the start of the church’s liturgical calendar. Christ the King was originally a Roman Catholic feast day, first celebrated under the instruction of Pope Pius XI and then renewed under Pope Paul VI. Sharing a liturgical calendar with the Roman Catholic Church and several other branches of Protestant churches, it has become part of our tradition as well. And so today we affirm that the Reign of Christ is at hand.
So if Christ is King, we must be asking what does that mean for us and our neighbors? It means at the least there is an authority that is sovereign that orders the world apart from our warring madness. The kingship of Christ and the reign of God in the world open doors to justice that others preferred stay closed. The reign of God in the world says to the individual with no community, come into the center and experience home, the place where you are always called beloved. The reign of God goes into shadow places where hope and joy hardly exist and pronounces that your sorrow will turn into laughter. The kingship of Christ exposes the insanity of patterns of violence around the world and says ‘no more.’
When Christ is King, we are able to see ourselves more clearly. We are able to see and know how well we’re living as a reflection of Jesus to our neighbors. When Christ is King, our values, politicking, economic machines, actions, allegiances, and worship are all brought out clearly into the light of the noonday sun. Christ’s kingship means that if we’re serious about the life of faith, it’s time to ask corporately and privately, ‘how’s that going for you?’ Answering that question is to make a judgment call.
Judgment should not be a dirty word but we’ve certainly made it out to be that. I bet when you hear ‘judgment’ your mind conjures up all sorts of unhelpful images, especially oriented toward the idea of Hell. Maybe that billboard between here and Cookeville that asks you where you’re going to spend eternity. Or maybe you remember that hateful self righteous teenager that told you that you were going to hell because of your religious practice or lack thereof. There are prevailing perceptions of Christians and churches in wider culture being chock full of judgmental attitudes. And these attitudes are oft-cited as a primary reason why the nominally religious or dechurched folks have no interest in giving the church a try. Recently, your church leadership went through an exercise in which I invited them to prayerfully consider why a friend, coworker, or loved one gave up on the church. At the center of nearly every situation was a poor judgmental encounter with another church member-damage was done. And there was no undoing it. Oh the damage that has been done because judgmental Christ followers have been more preoccupied with heaven and hell than Jesus ever was.
‘N.T. Wright notes that there is almost no talk in the Bible about going to live in Heaven when you die, and less still about Hell. He also reminds us that the continuous talk about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s gospel is not about a place-Heaven-but about something else entirely, God’s sovereign rule breaking through into the earthly realm.’ (Surprised by Hope, 18)
God’s rule breaking into the earthly realm where we live, work, and play is a gift to all of creation. God’s rule in our midst means we can take pause and look deeply into whether or not our lives are filled with joy, hope, and peace. God’s reign is a judgment on our life, every facet of it, and I believe that is good news. Judgment can help peel back layers of deception and delusion until we see ourselves and one another clearly. Then, certainly then, when we see ourselves truthfully can God’s saving and transformative grace begin to shape us more fully into a reflection of Christ. Perhaps our distaste for judgment is really a fear that someone might speak lovingly a truth in our life we don’t really want to hear.
Judgment needs to be reframed as a tool that helps Christ followers grow into a fuller reflection of Jesus. It can be a grace filled tool that leads to freedom. The reign of Christ is the environment in which we can evaluate how it is with our souls, our life with God and one another. And so Jesus, in the last image that he offers to his disciples and the crowds, is one of Final Judgment to mark the glory of the Son of Man.
Christ is enthroned, angels by his side, and the nations gathered at his feet as he begins the work of parsing out the work of the righteous and the unrighteous.
Notice how the criteria for judgment has nothing to do with belief, baptism, or one’s acceptance of Jesus Christ into his or her heart as personal Lord and Savior. The day of reckoning before Christ’s throne is an exercise in hospitality and attending to the very basic material and relational needs of a brother or sister. Did you offer your neighbor food and drink, or did you blame them for their poverty and empty cupboards? Did you welcome the stranger or cheer when news of their deportation was announced? Did you offer a place of rest and sanctuary to the homeless sojourner? It’s absolutely amazing and simple that the kingdom criteria for right living with God is hospitality toward neighbors who are often vulnerable and suffering.
Does it seem to you that we are relating appropriately to our neighbors who embody the very presence of Jesus Christ in the world? Are we feeding the ones who are hungry? How well are we doing binding up the broken hearted? Are we welcoming the stranger? Do we care about the brown and black men who are more likely to end up in jail than as college graduates? Are we visiting those locked up in the county jail because of the ravages of addiction? Are we caring for all the children and women who have said #metoo because of assault against their bodies and personhood? “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.”
May the reign of God in the world help us see ourselves and ministry clearly that we might grow into the full likeness of Christ-full of hope, compassion, and self-giving love.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. (Franciscan Blessing)