Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
1st Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-24
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
People seek a King: Help wanted. Must be strong and handsome, able to win wars and secure land, bring prosperity, help us to grow strong families, bring us through trouble, feed us good food, heal all our maladies, organize all the people and govern with wisdom. Must be healthy, have a great wardrobe, eat the most luscious food every day, live in a fancy castle, and live a life among the rich and famous. Must make us the envy of our neighbors, destroy all who stand in our way, allow us to amass wealth, and reward the rich with power while the poor get what they deserve for being lazy. This King should be somewhat distant, letting us govern ourselves and make decisions that benefit us, staying out of our way and not changing us. We are a people who easily forget. So don’t make us remember that we were ever slaves in Egypt or that we ever wandered the wilderness, lost. Make of us a great nation, better than other nations, and then let us defeat them and take everything that is theirs. We like wealth and shiny things. We like to be powerful and we like to win. Give us those things, and you can be our King.
King seeking people: Help wanted. King seeks people who have been mistreated and scorned, enslaved and beaten. Must want to be free and willing to learn that freedom means caring for one another and complete focus on Kingdom values of sharing and not hoarding, of being willing to wander and seek rather than know all the answers, of learning to trust the King rather than themselves, of treating one another with equity regardless of social status, of commitment to each other and the kingdom. The people must be poor and lost, the underdogs, weak and scrappy, faithful and focused, generous and thankful. Give me some people who are open to this kind of King and I will shape them into my people. I will bring my Kingdom among them. We will learn to be King and people together. Through them I will bring my blessing to all the earth. Through them the world will know me and learn my Kingdom values and find peace, cooperation, love, and abundance. My gifts include being willing to live among my people, working side by side with them, not compelling them to do things my way but allowing them to make decisions for themselves. In addition, I am a hard-worker, have been around since the beginning of time, and have a vision of a peaceful and equitable world that I will carry out with or without the people’s help.
Christ the King Sunday: What does it mean to us whose main concept of a king comes from fairy tales? What does it mean to a congregation that is named King of Kings? What is King in our lives? What matters most to us? What are our priorities? In a religion that has been so misused to intimidate and take away power from people who are suffering, in a religion that has been used to point to people on the margins, who are sick or in prison or in the way of a hurricane, and say, “You deserve what you get!” how does our view of our King make a difference in our response to our neighbors?
In our reading from Ezekiel today, we get an image of a King who is seeking us out, all who have been scattered, who have been hurt and betrayed and damaged by the value system of this world—the greed, the blaming of the poor and weak, the favoritism of the powerful. We are a people who don’t know what we’re looking for. We might not even know we’re looking. But we are aware that we are afraid, overwhelmed by the powers of this world. We have hurt our neighbors, trampled them as we fled for safety. We had been betrayed by shepherds, abandoned and left alone for the wolves. Our ways have not been serving us. They are not working well. They are not bringing about life for us or anyone else. Into our woundedness and pain, comes a king like none we’ve ever encountered. This King is muddy. He’s been searching. He’s covered in scratches from the thorns along the path. He’s desperate and calling to us. He’s gathering us together. He helps us up. He’s not afraid to touch us. He notices our wounds and binds them up. He lies down at the gate of the sheepfold to protect us. He learns our names. He knows our fears and our habits. He leads us to abundant pastures and keeps our hooves from polluting the waters of life. He is a king we follow because he is reliable, he is there, and we are slowly learning to trust. When we get out of line, when we start to think we are better than others, this shepherd King puts us in our place. We realize that we are in his presence, not because we deserve to be, but because our King is one of life and love. We realize that there is more than enough of that love and pasture to go around, so we can stop being anxious and afraid and get on to the task of living, not just for ourselves but in community, in the flock.
The King we believe in is described in our reading from Ephesians. This is a King who showed his power in his willingness to let go of power, one who drew all kinds of people to himself, not just the right kind of people. This is a King who gives hope to us not in the temporary, material things of this world, but a permanent relationship of love, adoption into a family, responsibilities, powers, and a new vision of what really matters. This is a King who, because of the people he talked to and empowered, and because of the Kings he defied, the values he was not willing to live under, was handed over to death. He was so threatening to the values that rule this world, that he was put to death. People thought they could kill his vision, that they could kill those values, that they could kill the hope that people had in a new and refreshing value system. But that vision had already been passed on to a small, scrappy group of disciples, who were forever changed by their encounter with this King, and they found that King was still with them, and that the spirit of the King was stronger than ever, giving them courage to go forth and tell the good news, the vision, the love, the community, the empowerment available, the alternative view, the vision of truth that turned the world upside down.
In our world, kings and law makers are far away, rich, inaccessible. They seek to serve the very rich, the ones who line their pockets with donations. They make rules that benefit themselves. They don’t know us and they don’t care about us, except that we make them look good. So here is the alternative view—that we have access to our King, we can be in his presence, seek it out and we are constantly being heard. The cries of the hungry reach the ears of this King. He knows their stories. He knows their names. He sits at their tables. He feels their wants. Here is a king who went about having dinner with people who didn’t matter to any King or even mayor before him, who knew the pain of hunger himself. Here is a King who was a stranger, born a bastard child, with no where to lay his head, in an occupied country, a refugee in Egypt, a wanted man from boyhood, who has known scorn, an enigma to his own disciples, rejected and hated. Here is a King who was stripped of his clothing, naked upon the cross. Here is a King who said on the cross, “I thirst.” Here is a King was sick and imprisoned, betrayed, arrested, denied, mocked, and killed. This is a King we can meet everyday, everywhere people are hungry or thirsty, naked, alone, afraid, sick, or imprisoned. This is a King of all of us. When we are doing well, our own desires become our King. We make King the value system of this world that says we get what we deserve. But we all find ourselves in need and that does not mean our King has abandoned us, but that he loves us and is with us. How do we serve this King, even when we’re doing ok, when we are tempted by the gods of prosperity and belief that we can do it ourselves? How do we get in the sheep line rather than the goat line? How do we make Christ our King?
I really struggle with this, because often times I shape my work week by keeping my sermon writing time and time for meetings pretty firm, and then I see how many hospital or prison visits I can fit around all that. I only serve at the pantry, if I have all my other work done. If I have time, I’ll spend those Thursdays with hungry people. I’m starting to think I’ve got it backward. How do we make our encounter with Jesus in the sick and hungry the priority? How do we change our priorities to make this vision in the Gospel the focus? This is what we are each here to do: visit the sick and imprisoned, give clothing food and water, meet Jesus in the poor and lonely, welcome the stranger. How do we open our eyes to see Jesus? How do we make room in our lives to meet him in people around us?
Thankfully we operate in a system of love and grace. Jesus welcomes us, feeds and clothes us, leads us beside still waters, puts us back in the sheep line when we wander off, makes a community of us, encourages us, loves us, and reigns as our King. We don’t need to be afraid that we’ll end up in the goat line, but only trusting Jesus to keep seeking us out. And we don’t need to look at others and decide they are among the goats, because Christ is King, and this King keeps seeking us until all are in the sheep line, safe in the fold. Just keep looking to the King and listening for his voice, accept his healing, and tend to him among the wounded and weak. This vision of an abundant pasture with a shepherd leading us is assured. And we shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.