Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
1st Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
2nd Reading: Epesians 1:15-23
“I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy.” This reminds me of the Magnificat, the part of the Bible where the Virgin Mary has just learned that she will carry the Son of God and she sings a song that we sing at Holden Evening Prayer, “You have filled the hungry with wondrous things and left the wealthy no part.”
When I was growing up, I would never sing this part because I was in the poorest family in my congregation, and I couldn't sing this about the wealthier people in my congregation. They were so kind to me. They gave me their hand-me-downs, gave me employment babysitting and picking blueberries. They served with me on committees. They were my Sunday School teachers and Confirmation Instructors. They were my fellow Christians and I loved them and they loved me.
Now I have stepped out of poverty. I find myself in a place of privilege. I can pay my bills without worrying where the money will come from. I have disposable income.
So who am I, in this story? I have been both the poor, and the wealthy. I have been hungry and fed. At times in our lives we have been all of these things. Some have said that these readings aren't about us. They are about who Jesus is. And on Christ the King Sunday it is a good idea to stop thinking of ourselves all the time and really celebrate Christ Jesus.
So what does this reading say about Jesus? As king, where is his throne? Where is his Kingdom and what is it like? Who is this King that we celebrate on Christ the King day and who we've even named our church after?
For a long time, God was the only ruler the Israelites knew. God led them out of Egypt and set them up in a new land, gave them laws to guide them, and gave them judges to help resolve disputes. But the people really wanted a king, like all the other nations around them. They begged for one. God told them they would regret it, that a king would never rule with the compassion and justice of God. The king would get wrapped up in getting more riches and impressing people. No matter how good the king, he would get off track and lose sight of the ideals and values of God. But the people still insisted. If you read the books of Kings in the Old Testament, you've got about 6 good kings total in a list of about 40 between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In other words, having a king was a failure. The kingdom was divided into two. Kings kept taking the throne by coup. They didn't take care of their widows and orphans. They kept going back to worshiping Baal. If one king got the nation back in order, the next ruined all his good work. The kings were unreliable, and even those who were pretty faithful usually lost their way and made huge mistakes that hurt people and dishonored God.
Now enter, Christ the King. God is saying, “Human kings didn't work out very well. You want a ruler, a king. I will come in person and be your king.” Put aside everything you've ever thought about a king, because God is going to show us how it is done. This is a king who isn't concerned with amassing power, or conquering other lands, or being big and powerful the way we think of power. This is a king who gives power away and when necessary takes it away from those who are hoarding it, to pass it around.
To Christ the King, power is not something that you can run out of or is scarce. Jesus knows that power is something that can be shared between us and that can grow and increase as people are empowered. The other kings thought of land and money as power. Those things are finite. They are meaningless because they can be taken away. They aren't powerful at all.
Jesus thought of as power in a completely different way. To him it was powerful to share so that everyone had enough and could contribute. Sharing food and drink, sharing clothing, sharing stories, sharing our time. What Jesus thought of as powerful were relationships of care and love in which the poor and hungry and imprisoned were ministered to and valued as part of the whole, where everyone's well-being was considered and tended to. What Jesus thought of as powerful was thinking the best about another person and letting God be the judge, so that there weren't barriers or prejudices that keep us from helping people in need. When we see someone suffering, we want to tell ourselves that couldn't happen to me. We make up some story in our minds about how they deserve their fate of being lost or hurting—whether we blame a bad decision or drug abuse or whether a person got an education or not. And in the same breath, we worship ourselves and our actions and give ourselves credit for many accidents of life that give us wealth and stability.
When we are poor, we also believe in the stories we tell ourselves that someone must have done something to deserve that wealth, that opulent house, all those amazing vacations, all those nice clothes. That's the myth in our society—that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that if we're poor we deserve it and if we are rich we deserve it. These stories we tell ourselves keep us from reaching across to our neighbor who is different from us and getting to know them, to find out the real story and from building power between us that grows.
Jesus is turning that myth on its head. The creator of the universe deserved to have all the comforts and luxuries of life. Instead he had a pile of hay to be born in, fled for his life, had no possessions, was misunderstood by his family, didn't even have competent followers, and was executed as a young man in the prime of his life for standing up to this myth and spending time with the most rejected people of his time. Christ the King is a different kind of king, valuing the poor, redistributing resources, and subjecting the rich to judgment.
A congregation can be a beautiful place where people come together of all different socio-economic backgrounds and situations. It was in my home congregation and it is here. Where else do different kinds of people gather and make decisions together and build relationships and work and worship side by side? Christ has brought rich and poor together to destroy these myths we've been living with and replace them with real relationships, the stuff that really matters and builds power between people for good in the world.
I see before me, a lot of people who are wealthy. I also see people who struggle with finances. Some in this congregation are formerly homeless. Some are just squeaking by and some I would describe living in mansions. Some are rich in money, some rich in health, some rich in family relationships, some rich in friendship. Some are poor in health, some poor in possessions, some poor in self-esteem, some have experienced great losses in their lives, most have had their share of struggles, rich or poor. I would say to all, Jesus is with you. Jesus is the kind of King whose throne is in the midst of struggles and difficulties. And I would say, value one another and get to know one another. You are each a gift and you each have pieces of a puzzle can help other people, here and in the wider world, meet a need or find a connection. God has given us one another as a gift, so open this gift, invite one another to form deeper relationships, share your hopes and dreams and struggles and joys and frustrations. This will build power, it will build compassion, it will make this church stronger and richer in the ways that matter most and that will last.
Jesus is the kind of King who would lose it all to show us what power and glory are really about. I am reminded of the way they stripped Jesus of his clothes at his arrest in Jerusalem—how he stood naked. I am reminded of how he was charged with a crime and held as a criminal in prison. I a reminded of Jesus' words on the cross, “I thirst.” I am reminded of how Peter denied him and no one came to his aid. He was hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, a stranger, naked, and sick. He's been there. What a comfort for us when we are there to know that we are not alone. And he is there. Whenever we meet someone in any of these difficult situations, we remember Jesus and how he did not deserve it and how whatever life choices people have made, no one deserves to suffer like this. Human beings ought to be able to eat and drink, to be clothed, to be visited and cared for and to receive justice. We think of food and water and clothing and medicine as limited resources, but how many of us couldn't afford to feed one more person, or is in danger of running out of clothes with a dozen pairs of shoes and four or five coats in the closet. We aren't running out of anything! There is plenty to go around if we would let Christ be our King and remind us of the plenty we have been given. Because of Christ our King, we will never run out of the things that are most important, the things that grow by giving them away: compassion, relationship, sharing, and love.