Christ the King Sunday
November 22, 2020
Christ the King
The Rev. George C. Roberts
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
This Sunday marks the end of the season after Pentecost and brings us to the Feast of Christ the King. Visions of kings usually conjures up men of old, wielding unending power in their realms maintained through violence, subjugation, and appeals to divine rights. So, “king” does not always bring good people to mind, even if, let’s say, the king of Sweden is still looked on with fondness. During Christ’s trial before Pilate in the Gospel of John, Pilate seizes on one of Christ’s words and asks/says, “So you are a king?!” Jesus replies, “You have said so….my kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus is not a king who cares for earthly power, lands, or anything else we associate with kings. Jesus is the Risen King of all creation, laid bare on the Cross; the One who sees the world through the eyes of God. Matthew has the Son of Man siting upon the throne of judgment, in the end times, separating the righteous symbolically as sheep on the one hand, and goats for the unrighteous on the other. We can get tangled up with judgment, as Matthew tries to make sense of his world. Jesus will go on to say, in Chapter 25, that we actually need to find a new way of seeing the sheep and the goats; who are the sheep, really, and who are the goats; and does it really matter?
Jesus teaches, and Paul reinforces, that we desperately need to find a new way of seeing the world and each other. Jesus does not use His power to control us or to judge us but through His power we can find a way of seeing the world as Christ would have us see it. We are called in this life to not only see the world differently but to actively engage Jesus in our lives and the world – be in relationship with God through Christ – if we desire the way we see, love, and connect with each other to be transformed.
Jesus tries to help us with this problem of seeing. He makes it very clear in Matthew 25 that He desires us to see the world with new eyes; with His eyes. He wants us to see the world in this way: to see the poor and hungry as people to be fed not people to be ignored. To see the naked as people to be clothed; to see the prisoner as having inherent dignity and humanity we should not only pay attention to but to visit and nourish and nurture. We are to see the stranger as our friend, as a person to love and welcome. I couldn’t help but relate to the stranger and believe that our problem of seeing is essentially a problem of not getting past each other’s strangeness.
What is a stranger? A person your parents told us we should fear, avoid, and never take things from. A stranger is someone who is, well, “strange,” someone we don’t know, a person who is as an alien to us. to be strange means to be different, to be other than. But God tells us throughout scripture how we are to see the stranger among us as a person we should welcome, show hospitality to, and take care of and love. We do this because, as God told His people, “you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.” We have all been the stranger at some point in our lives.
Yet we have become way too proficient at labeling folks as stranger. We have become far too capable in naming the other as outsider, alien, stranger-danger person to be avoided at all costs. Jesus, describing himself as the Son of Man, will come to judge the world and will separate people into sheep = good and goats = bad. The sheep are part of the flock, the accepted group and the goats are cast aside. We, overwhelmingly these days, put people in our sheep bins and goats in their bins, dismissing whole swaths of people as undesirable, untenable, unusable. We are the sheep and the other, the stranger, is a goat, a Republican or Democrat, a prisoner, homeless, a Muslim, a Jew, black, white, opponent in some other way. We sort folks out as friends and enemies based on all kinds of theories and realities that have very little if nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And this is why Paul’s glorious passage from Ephesians is so important, so timely, and remarkable in addition to being simply beautiful. Let me read again what Paul says to the Ephesians:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe, according the working of His great power.
There is a lot going on in this beautiful passage. Paul is actually talking about seeing the world after we have come to know the gracious power and glory of God in Christ. I fully believe, and I’ve said this before and I will surely say it again, but the only true path to seeing the world as God would have us see it is to see the world and each other as if through Jesus’ loving, patient, grace-filled eyes. Through Jesus we see not strangers but brothers and sisters whom we are called to know and love. Growing in wisdom and opening ourselves up to the revealed will of God only happens with practice. Paul encourages the faithful to know Jesus so that God may give us strength, wisdom, to the end that we might understand the hope that God desires us, implores us to know. People of hope are people of possibility, those who see the hungry and thirsty and feed them; see the naked and give them something to put on, not just to cover their nakedness but to make them warm; see the prisoner, seek him or her out and visit them, let them know they are not disposable, and to welcome all who we recognize no longer as strangers but fellow travelers in life, others known and loved by God. Until we are willing to work to allow God access to us, we will never share in the peace that all of us, all, really crave. Some can only find peace when everyone sees the world as they do.
Christ the king comes to shatter the barriers between us. When we become actively involved in the work of knowing Christ, we will become open the power of belief, the power of faith, the power of God which is a vast, mysterious power. Not a power to take over or one to lord ideas other another but the power to persevere and love even when the world is struggling to return that love. Paul tells us that with the mind and spirit open to God in Christ, we can then know hope, a hope that we are called to know and, through our new found power in God, we can transmit and share love and hope. The power of Christ “for those who believe” is not a power to vanquish or take advantage of or overwhelm. The power of Christ for those who believe and are bold enough to open their hearts to the movement of God’s spirit, brings the power to see the world as God sees is: full of His children who are beloved, sacred beings. There is a light that shines from the spirit of Jesus that if we are willing and disciplined, quite frankly enough, to pursue and to know, there is no telling what we can do or become as God’s people who, finally, see as Christ sees.