A sermon for Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
If you children are old enough you might remember Fraggle Rock, one of Jim Henson’s many creations. My kids loved it. One of their favorites, and one of mine, is a short little book titled If I Were King of the Universe (Abelson) it tells the tale, of Junior Gorg, whose mom and dad are the Queen and King of the Universe. However, since they are the only Gorgs, Junior gets to all the chores; he polishes the armor, fetches the crowned jewels, stands guard, serves as jester, unless of course he is washing windows and sweeping floors. But is favorite chore is gardening, and chasing the Fraggles who steal the radishes.
Of course Junior dreams of being King, and how the Fraggles would work for him; how he’d eat breakfast in bed, or tickle his toes in the sun, and stay up late. But in the end, he realizes how much he likes doing his chores especially chasing Fraggles. So he’ll just keep on being Junior Gorg, “After all, being Prince of the Universe isn’t all that bad!”
I expect all of us dream of being King or Queen of the Universe, or some such auspicious status. To be honest if I woke up one morning and discovered I was King of the Universe I’d follow Junior’s advice, especially if today’s bible readings were a part of the coronation.
Ezekiel was written in the mid to late 500 BCE when Israel is living in captivity. (Ellingsen) At one level it reads like a divine rescue mission. (Epperly) On the other hand, Ezekiel lays bare the truth that “The disparity between the wealthy, poor, and middle class, destroys the nation, [and] undermines justice …” (Epperly) Margaret Odell points out that the biblical shepherd metaphor is always a political one. (Odell) She reminds us that the oldest recorded legal code Hammurabi’s and notes his belief that “he was appointed by the gods ‘to promote the welfare of the people, to cause justice to prevail’” (Odell) Ezekiel reminds us God’s kingdom is different than kingdoms of our making. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner)
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ apocalyptic tale of separating sheep and goats includes an uncomfortable judging story. I’m always uncomfortable of judgment stories, I like to believe I’m among the blessed sheep; but am ever so aware of my own goat-ness.
Like you I’ve helped to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and visited a prisoner or two. I’m also keenly aware of the times I could not, and the times I did not, help the divine image bearer right in front of me. But Kingdom life is not a balance the scales kind of thing. It’s James Liggett’s observation that sets me on edge. He notes that the goats do not know when they failed to help the Jesus in front of them, and we know that. What’s startling is that he points out that the sheep, the righteous ones invited into the Kingdom, did not know when they had helped the Jesus in front of them. (Liggett) They were just as oblivious to the presence of God, in the least of these, as those who walked on by. Like Ezekiel, Matthew also invites us to recognize the Kingdom of God is different. Moreover, we are also invited to take a peek, because of the Kingdom of God is, in part, already here. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner)
Truth be known, Matthew is doing more than inviting us to take a peek, he, as Jesus does, is inviting us to participate in Kingdom life right here, right now. Karoline Lewis writes “I absolutely … believe that God needs us for the kingdom to be more that it could be without us.” (Lewis) In short, we are invited to make a difference, not only in helping those who are in need or oppressed but in eliminating the roots causes of injustice and unrighteous disparity. (Lewis) We won’t easily admit it, but there is such an opportunity blistering across the news media today.
If Jesus were to have told this parable today he would likely include a line that’s something like:
I was an illegal immigrant and you welcomed me;
and I was an illegal immigrant and you scorned, or took advantage of, or rebuked me.
But then again Jesus has already said it. Throughout Old Testament Law, beginning with the Tenth Commandment (Ex 20:10) the law applied to everyone in the household including the gēr or the alien, the foreigner. (Strong’s) In so much that Ezekiel reminds us that the shepherd is all about politics; and that the oldest legal code we have is established for the welfare of the people and for justice to prevail; and that by Jesus’ parable when we welcome the stranger, the alien, we welcome Jesus; the answer to our immigration problem is a political one that provides biblical justice for all, and prevents the powerful from exploiting the vulnerable.
I invite you to join me in my daily prayer discipline and pray, by name, for all our elected officials.
A closing observation or two. It’s important to remember that though we’ve our part to play in the Kingdom’s presence, we cannot speed up nor impede its arrival. Secondly, judgment is not so much about punishment, as it is about bringing into the light the reality that’s already present; the one Paul tells the Ephesians about, the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Jesus, as hungry, or thirsty, as naked, ill, in prison, or ~ as an alien in a strange land.
Junior Gorg got it half right, being King of the Universe is best left to the one so designated from first light. The other half, however; is that we can, by the power of the spirit of wisdom and revelation, bring divine justice to all, and glean a bit more of life in the Reign of Christ our King.
Abelson, Danny. If I Were King of the Universe. New York: Henry Holt Co., 1984.
Carey, Greg. “Working Preacher.” 23 11 2014. Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46.
Ellingsen, Mark. Christ the King (Proper 29), Cycle A. 23 11 2014. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Fever, Kyle. Commentary on Ephesians 1:15-23. 23 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.
Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 2 11 2014.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 23 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.
Liggett, Rev. James. Sermons that Work. 23 11 2014.
Odell, Margaret. Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. 23 11 2014.
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.