Then 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; for 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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’Matthew 25:34-36
I wonder if you’ve ever thought about how odd it is that we celebrate something called “Christ the King Sunday.” We live in a country, after all, that doesn’t have a king, and we’re proud of that. We live in a democracy. We don’t need to bow before a king. We fought our revolutionary war so that we wouldn’t have to serve a king. And yet, as Christians, we choose to worship a king.
We gather today (wherever we are) to worship Jesus as our King; and not only that but we dare to call him the king of all creation. Today is another of the festivals of the church year that remind us that, as Christians, we march to the beat of a different drum. We are, and always will be, a bit out of step with the rest of our culture.
There might have been a time in our history when the culture around us shared our Christian view of the world, but that time seems now to be past. It is becoming more and more obvious that, as Christians, we are a little out of step with the rest of our culture. Today is another reminder of that.
But what exactly does it mean for us to proclaim Jesus as our king? What does it mean for us to worship a crucified king, who is God’s only begotten Son? I am going to sum up what it means by suggesting that having Jesus as our king is the good news, that is bad news, that is good news.
Good News – Christ Is Our King!
It is good news that Jesus is our king. He is our shepherd-king. The one promised by God in our first reading from Ezekiel. The shepherd king who seeks the lost, and brings back the strayed, and binds up the injured, and strengthens the weak; the shepherd who feeds his sheep.
We need not fear, for God has provided Jesus, God’s own Son, to be our shepherd-king. He is king of kings, lord of lords. All powers and principalities will ultimately answer to him. There is no terror, no evil, no oppressive power, no dictator, nothing in all of creation, that is outside his control. He is king of it all. And he is good. And he loves us. This is the good news. The very good news. That Jesus is our Lord and our God. He is our King.
Bad News – Our King Demands Absolute Allegiance!
But the fact that Jesus is our king is also, in a sense, the bad news. Because, if we have a king, then we also have demands and expectations. Kings expect to be obeyed. They demand absolute allegiance. And Jesus is no different in that regard.
Nothing can come between us and our king – not our country, or our culture, or anything else in all of creation. Our king demands ultimate and absolute allegiance. And this is not something that we necessarily want. Remember that we fought a war so that we wouldn’t have to serve a king. We live in a country where we don’t have to serve a king. We love our freedom. And we don’t like anything to get in the way of that. But having a king means that obeying him comes first.
Not only that, but this particular king demands that we march to a drumbeat so out of step with our current culture that it seems, by the world’s standards, almost absurd. Our king does not ask us to conquer countries, or pile up riches, or expand his kingdom, or anything like that.
Our gospel reading for this Christ the King Sunday (Matthew 25:31-46) reminds us that our king has very different expectations for his servants: He expects us to serve him by serving the very least of all the subjects in his kingdom. He expects us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, to visit the imprisoned, and to care for the sick.
In fact, this is so important to him, he so identifies with the least of his subjects, that he says caring for them is just like caring for him. This is not a typical king. Anything but.
And he warns us that we will be judged by how we care for these that he calls the least of these. So how are we doing with this? How are we doing in caring for the least of these?
There are some obvious ways that we are doing that as a congregation. We collect food to feed the hungry through our local food pantry, SCCM. We volunteer at the Community Table on Fridays. We help serve meals at the Community Inn. We help with Meals on Wheels. We also collect food for our backpack ministry to feed school children. Part of our offering each Sunday goes to the Synod and ELCA, which supports, among other things, the ELCA’s World Hunger Fund. And our Outreach Endowment Fund also helps support this important ministry, along with a number of local community ministries.
These are just a few examples of how our congregation is doing what Jesus commanded, literally. Can we do more? No doubt. And this reading challenges us to do more for the least of these, to always be on the lookout for ways to serve those that our King so identifies with.
Mother Teresa, a woman who served the least of these in a way that continues to inspire our world, put it this way:
At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing – but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks – but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing disguise.Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Christ our king appears in distressing disguise in those who are hungry for love, naked of dignity and respect, and homeless because of rejection. The least of those among us are, in fact, our king in distressing disguise. And we will be judged by how we treat them. It is as simple as that.
If we want Jesus to be our savior, then we must accept him as our king. And that means that we must obey his commands. He will return to hold us accountable for our actions. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Today, we are asked: Are we ready for that?
The Good, Good News – The King Who Will Judge Us Is the Savior Who Died for Us!
Yes, Jesus is our king. And that is very good news. But this king has high expectations for us, and will judge us by how we live up to those expectations. And that can sound like bad news. But the good news, that is bad news, is finally, and ultimately, and overwhelmingly, good news. Because the King who is coming to judge us, is none other than the Savior who died to forgive us.
Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. Yes. But the one who is coming to judge us is the one who died to forgive us. He knows we are not perfect. He died to forgive us. If we are going to be judged one day, who better to judge us, than the one who loves us unconditionally?
Our King, who is our Savior, is also the Shepherd King, who is so beautifully described in today’s first reading:
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land … I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.Ezekiel 34:11-13
This is our Shepherd King. Our King who loves us enough to die for us. To rescue us from all the places where we have strayed. To seek the lost, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak.
We are reminded today that we have a King like no other. Yes, he demands our ultimate allegiance. And, yes, he expects us to serve and obey him by caring the least of these among us. And, yes, he will come one day to ask us whether we have done this.
But this King, when all is said and done, loves us. Truly loves us. There is no greater gift, no greater blessing. Our Creator, who is our Lord and our King, loves us beyond anything we dare to imagine. And all that our king really wants in return is for us to share and extend that love with all.
One day the whole world will know this glorious truth, that Jesus is King. The kingdom will come, on earth as in heaven. Today, we give thanks that this kingdom has come to us in some small way, that we have been given the gift of faith, enabling us to receive Jesus as our shepherd king.
And we pray that we may have the courage to continue marching to our king’s drumbeat, even in a world that makes this difficult. So that one day, when our King returns, he will find us faithfully marching to his odd drumbeat, and will say to us:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.Matthew 25:34
Thanks be to God. Amen