Sermon – November 26, 2017 – Christ the King

Christ the King

 

It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to us if a stranger who knew nothing about Christianity came up to us and said, What is that you guys are all about?  What is it that you do?  How do you live in the world?  What is it that you believe?  You know as well as I that you don’t have to look too far to see the faith peddled as a get rich quick opportunity, with Jesus as the cash cow.  This prosperity religion not only infects the church at home, but is emerging with a vengeance abroad.

Likewise, the church seems to be regarded by some these days as an annoying voice or a second choice in the face of public issues.  This is a failure to distinguish the cross from the flag and it is not a new phenomenon.  So, once in a while it is helpful to dig around in the roots a bit. To the question of what are you Christians all about, this reading from Matthew might not be a bad response.

Talking about Jesus telling the disciples, that which you’ve done for the least among us you did for me. . .  feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, slaking the thirst of the parched.  It’s a pretty good snapshot of how it is that we as a Christian community are to be in the world, in relationship with others, playing a role of advocate and compassionate community, partner.

So the next question from our stranger might be, “Why?”   And there are a couple of answers to that.  One might be that we do this out of fear that God will strike us dead if we don’t or that we won’t meet God’s approval, that we will be left out.  That’s one answer.  I don’t think it’s a good one, but it’s an answer and it is a popular one.   The second answer could be, “because we can.  We do this because we are free to do so.”  We are freed from seeing people in one-dimensional ways.  We are freed from the cultural dismissal of the least because they have no power, because they are different or are strangers, because they have dramatic needs, because they may have failed.  The culture would see them one way.  The gospel, this second response, is that we are free to see them another way, and then see even more.

Now, you might not make that distinction because the action, whether in fear or freedom is the same.   Let’s remember the theological difference between the two..   An ethic of fear is based on the following constructions, If/Then.   If you do this good thing, if you do this magnanimous act, if you show some compassion, then God will bless you.  And if you fail to do this, if you screw up, then God will punish you.  If/then.  Of course, this all depends on us, if you, if you, if you.

The gospel on the other hand, the second answer to our stranger, speaks to us under this construction.  Because/therefore.  Because God loves us therefore we have peace.  Because Christ died and was raised we are justified before God and forgiven.  Because Christ loves then we are able to love.  Because Christ is the king of history, then we need not be the designers of history.  Then we are free to live without fear, judgment or recrimination.

So that would be the correct, most meaningful answer to our stranger.  Because we are free to do so.  Because Christ died and rose, because Christ promised to always be with us, because Christ says don’t be afraid because he has brought his forgiving power into the world.

This raises Cain with our need to be judgmental of those who are the least.   As I mentioned, the culture puts these folks on the margins because of who they are, they are sick or they have failed or they are somehow not vigorous participants in the power or money making machinations of the world so they are seen differently.  So, we have the cultural permission—we think–to be their judges.  To see them in terms of their failure, difference, or limitations.  But this kind of judgment clouds vision, limits positive action.  Listen, Jesus never gave us permission, prerogative, opportunity, direction to be the judge of another person.  All the judgment language came on him.  He is the one who decides.  We don’t have that option.  We take that option and then impose this fear, uncertainty and even shame on another, and it says more about us than it does about them.  No, it undermines action; it causes not to act on behalf of another.  It clouds our mission.

The gospel allows us to see others as who they truly are.  Children of God created in the image of God.  Not an object of ridicule or judgment but as persons who offer us an opportunity to love, change the world, and to see Christ.    Christ is showing us the way to live in the world, vigorously and at peace in relationship with him and with the other.  It is a beautiful construction that ought to bring us great peace, because as followers of Jesus we know our way.

Now, the size of the challenge can sometimes put us off.  If we are to see Christ in the prisoner, the hungry and the thirsty, we better get after solving the problem of hunger, thirst, injustice, persecution, even crime.  Now, anybody who considers taking all that on is going to have a stroke.   They will say I’m just not up to it and walk away.  It’s demoralizing.

Well, listen to the parable.  Jesus isn’t saying that we have to solve these problems.   He is saying that in these venues these circumstances you will encounter me.  In these faces, in these persons.   If we lump all of these folks into a class and say we have to solve the problems of the class of the poor, the class of those who face injustice, the class of those who commit crime or are victims of persecution, then we fail to see the faces.  Jesus says I am found in the faces, the persons, the lives of these folks.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The writer and education advocate, Jonathan Kozol,  who has devoted much of his career to studying children, says that he is now embarrassed to remember some of the ways by which he himself once talked. Kozol says that he used to march up to Capitol Hill in Washington to advocate for more money for good programs like Headstart. And when he did, he’d say things like, “Every dollar you invest in Headstart today will save the country $6 later on in lower prison costs.” But now, Kozol confesses, he’s ashamed he put it that way, all in terms of dollars and cents and the public interest in revenue and bottom lines. Now he says, “Why not invest in them just because they’re babies and they deserve to have some joy in life before they die!?”    We Christians know better than that: they’re God’s kids, chips off the divine block as surely as any one of us.

Might Christ not be saying that in your acts of kindness, love and mercy to these the kingdom is upheld, invigorated because Christ is honored and blessed?  I think so.

Finally, our answer to our stranger about the why is that this is where Jesus found us, in our hunger for truth, our need for forgiveness, in our thirst for understanding and a place, in the imprisonment of our sinfulness and narrow vision.  And this is where we will discover him as we bear our thankfulness into the lives of others.   This is where we see Jesus acting in and through us, reflected in the other as he heals and lifts up, encourages and forgives, blesses and finally, friends, triumphs.  This is where we see Christ in the world.  He says so.  Look for me in the unexpected places.  Look for me in those you might look past.  Find me in the broken heart of a stranger.    Look for me while I confirm the wideness of my mercy.

So, we tell the stranger, this is where we see Christ.  In our freedom and not our fear.  In our hope and not our despair.  In our compassion and not our judgment.  This is where we see Jesus.   The great gift of this is Christ reminding us that he is ever and always around us, even in the places we least expect.

This friends, is a gift, to be received not in fear but in joy, and as we are bid to follow his loving and compassionate work we will run into him face to face.

Grace opens our eyes to see things we might otherwise miss if our vision is clouded with fear and judgment and uncertainty.  Grace gives us a glimpse of how God orders the kingdom, that none are to be left out, that Christ goes into the places we dare not or would not, and then bids us follow in confidence.

And if that stranger has one more question, it might be, “when may I see this Lord of yours,”  we might share the answer told in this lovely parable.  “When would you not?”

Amen