Sermon – November 23, 2014 Christ the King

Christ the King, Year A
Look and Listen

So, a woman observed a man looking frantically for something he had obviously lost in the store parking lot.  She went up to him and asked if she could help. “What did you lose?, she inquired. He replied, “I’ve lost my wedding ring.  It is so dear to me, and my wife will be so upset if I don’t find it!” So, the woman said, “I will help you. Where exactly did you lose your ring?” The man pointed across the parking lot, “I lost it over there.” The woman was puzzled. “If you lost it over there, why are you looking here?” “Well,” the man responded impatiently, “the light is better here.”

Sometimes I wonder, as we hear the call to behold Christ among the suffering, that we would rather look elsewhere.  Actually, it takes very little struggle or imagination to get right to the heart of Jesus remarks here. When you love and serve your neighbor, when you attend to the needs of the hungry and the thirsty, when you break through the binds of imprisonment in order to draw near to someone who suffers, we will encounter Jesus.  You don’t need to look any farther than here to get a pointed understanding of what Jesus is up to.

In the last of his public instruction in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus appoints the hungry and the poor and the imprisonment as his representatives. He takes these steps to assure the people that he remains among them, even as his next steps take him into Jerusalem, to trial, to crucifixion, to a public execution. Even as his path leads to Calvary, his promise is to be present among us in at least these ways.

And everyone is surprised. When were you a stranger or hungry or thirsty or naked or imprisoned? Why did we see you? What are you talking about?  Whatever you did to the least of these were members of my family, you did to me. People were surprised, because they did not expect that they would meet Christ in these places. Short memories. His ministry prior to this conversation took him among the poor and the outcast, the rejected and the healing, and to the hungry and the thirsty he fed with miraculous gifts and promised them even more. Here is where he has always hung out. They were surprised, we are surprised because when we think of God, we think of the things we sing in our liturgy–power and wisdom, glory and might be to God and the lamb, forever, Amen.   Jesus is saying that power and glory and honor are reflected in the eyes, hearts, lives of your neighbor. This is an invitation to experience the kingdom now, even as we await the kingdom to come, the life with God just beyond our horizon.  In the meantime, Christ says you may find me here.

And we are surprised.

Those of you who are being married or have been married at St. Matthew have the pleasure of the communications exercise where we reinforce the fundamental components of good communications. The first component is speaking, it is called assertiveness, saying what you want, what you mean. That is the speaking side. The listening side practices active listening. That means that you first hear what the person you are in conversation with says before your own stuff, your own inner dialogue, begins to remake and interpret what she said to you.  I tell the couples that come that this is fun for me because nearly everyone blows it. Either they are unable to say what they want or mean. Or, there is so much going on in their own minds as the other person speaks they don’t hear them.  It is  either by the simple expectation that they already know what that person is going to say, or if there is a whiff of challenge or  criticism, and they begin formulating a response that best serves them. Good communications take practice.

Just like that poor man looking for his ring in the wrong part of the parking lot because the light was better, sometimes we hear what we want to hear and then respond out of what we think we hear.

Too often, when we hear this teaching of Jesus we are quick to run to the separation of the sheep and the goats. Somehow we hear in this, completely inaccurately, that that designation has something  to do with us. What I mean is that the separation, the judgment, the determination of sheep and goat is completely above our pay grade. Jesus is talking about the King’s prerogative. But, if we hear the call to identify sheep and goats and start separating people out, our ears will be deaf to the promise of Christ’s presence in poor, and, in the thirsty, in the neighbor.  Essentially, the exact opposite of what we think.  Sometimes the light is better in our own constructed understanding of how to make our way before the king. That’s nice, that neighbor love, they can’t you see how hard I have worked in worship and prayer himself depravation? These must count. Make them count to.

Jesus is providing clarity for the path of discipleship equipping us for such a journey with his promised presence, knowing that just a few steps along the way we will behold the cross. That is always dissonant to us. We think they’re just has got to be a better way. Something grander something more like how we would run the show. No, the same Jesus who walked among the poor and the least, who healed the sick and drew near to the outcast is this same Jesus with the power to overcome death and break the grip of sin and separation from God.

This is the same Jesus who is still the Jesus of the people, of the present, of the wandering, and of the suffering. Just as he is the same Jesus whom we acclaim today as King, as the one whose reign is eternal and who is seated at the right hand of God. Just the same.

And here is the good news this morning, brothers and sisters, if you haven’t picked it up yet. Jesus is speaking directly to you and to me. This is his promise that he will be found in the midst of us, in our own hunger and thirst, in our own brokenness and bondage.  Healing and making whole.  And even as he does so, He is unveiling the path of discipleship that will take us time and again in his presence.  He is telling us when we step outside his place of worship and praise,  this place of hope building, of fellowship through word and sacrament, he goes with us.  I will be with you in the midst of my creation.    It is a message of hope and promise for us and for the world, but we miss it if we pursue our own ends, define our own salvation, heed only our own voices.  But that is not what Jesus  wants.

Because we hear his voice, because he has called us before him, he names us right now as among his beloved. These words should dispel from us fear and anxiety, uncertainty and doubt. “Come, you that are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!!  Love and tend to this kingdom, these people this creation that I have put in your hands and you will always find me in your midst.

Thanks be to God
Amen