Christ the King Sunday A (11/23/2008)

 Following a Crucified King

Lessons:      Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24      Psalm 95:1-7a      Ephesians 1:15-23      Saint Matthew 25:31-46      Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm           Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24           Psalm 100

Prayer of the Day:     O God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service, and in him we inherit the riches of your grace. Give us the wisdom to know what is right and the strength to serve the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

[Jesus said] 25.31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 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; 35 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, 36 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.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

St. Matthew 25:31-46, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

What does it mean to call Christ our king? It seems that king is a hard metaphor for us to get our brains around these days. We've never had a king here in the United States. And the few kings that we know about seem to be either brutal dictators or insignificant figureheads. Yet on this Sunday, we call Christ our king, and contemplate what it might mean to live in his kingdom.

The classic image of a king brings to mind a ruler with power and might. The king ruled over the entire kingdom, and all of its subjects. Those who considered themselves citizens of that kingdom dedicated themselves to serving their king. When he gave a command, all loyal subjects responded. Whether it was serving in the military, paying taxes, obeying laws, or observing customs... the loyal citizen obeyed without a second thought.

In the Gospel lesson this weekend, we too are called to serve our king. But the kind of service into which we are invited is a service much different from that of earthly kingdoms. Our king is one who rules with grace and love, not with military might or political coercion. Our king is one who is concerned for the needs of the most vulnerable members of society. Our king is one who is willing to die for his subjects. And in this Gospel lesson, he informs us of a remarkable reality: whenever we reach out to meet their needs, we have reached out to him.

In the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus describes what lies at the heart of the community of faith. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart..." We read these words together just a couple weeks ago. Now, towards the close of his earthy life, Jesus describes what that will look like. The community of faith is one that gives food to the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, welcomes the stranger, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and visits the imprisoned. And what is most remarkable: when we do so, we do so to him.

One aspect of this parable has always intrigued me. It is interesting how neither the righteous nor the unrighteous were aware of having served or having neglected Jesus. They didn't set out to minister to him or to neglect him. Instead, the very character of their lives was such that it led them to minister to him or to ignore him. This reminds us that God doesn't want us to set aside time now and again to serve poor, hungry, thirsty, naked and sick prisoners. God wants a servant's attitude to be woven through the entire fabric of our whole lives. We, like those individuals in Jesus' great Judgment Parable, are called to be so deeply rooted in the Gospel, and so profoundly committed to lives of service, that we instinctively reach out to the needs of the community that surrounds us. Not because by doing so we hope to please God, but because that's the kind of people we have become.

Let us seek the guidance of God's Spirit, as we discern the ways in which we hope to make a difference in the world around us. Let us take advantage of the opportunities God has provided for us to care for the needy ones of our world: through the time and finances we give to our home congregations, through the support we offer to other organizations that are busy doing God's work, and through the time and energy we give directly to the communities in which we live. And may we, like those righteous ones in Jesus' parable, live in such a way that we become God's blessing to all those who find themselves in time of need.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • What does this parable of judgment say about the life of faith?
  • Why does Jesus claim that his followers minister to him when they minister to the needy?
  • Why are some surprised to be included... and some to be excluded?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • What place does community service play in the life of my congregation?
  • What have I done to meet the needs of those who live in my community?
  • What gifts has God given me that I could use to benefit others