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Today is Christ the King Sunday. Admittedly, it is not a big Sunday in the church year. Nobody ever asks me about it. The Worship committee and the staff did not spend anytime discussing how to celebrate Christ the King. We could have decorated the sanctuary with the color purple… the color of kings… we could have handed out crowns to all the kids… but none of that today.. because frankly, we’ve been planning for Advent and Christmas.
But here it is on the liturgical calendar.. Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last Sunday in the Christian year… before we begin the whole year again. It’s the Sunday when we are asked to remember that when all is said and done… Christ will reign as King. King of Creation… King of the world…ruler over all of life. Christ the King will one day be (as the Hallelujah Chorus says) "the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And he will reign forever and ever and ever… Hallelujah…"
It’s something we don’t think about too much, do we? I suspect we don’t even think of Christ in that way too much. Jesus is our friend, our savior, our teacher… but our King?
We Americans aren’t much into kings. We have a bad history with Kings… so maybe that is why we find it hard to think of Jesus this way. Were the gospel written in our time, we might say that Jesus is our President… and will be the final president…. The one who will preside over creation, the world and life. No term limits either.
But the passage we read today, however, speaks of a King. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory… he will sit on the throne… and the king will say…"This is a judgment scene." This is the scene where we are told what the king cares about… I mean really cares about.
And when you read what this king cares about, many are surprised. Most kings in the kingdoms I know in this world… are most concerned about governing in a way that will protect their own power. These kings have a love of power. But the King that Matthew describes is far less concerned about the love of power… and far more concerned about the power of love… especially as it reaches to the poor, the immigrant, the sick, the imprisoned…When this king judges, it will be on the basis of how well you loved and treated the poor. The King says, remember-when you did it to one of the least of my children… you were doing it to me. When you helped the person at the soup kitchen… when you saw the homeless person… when you met the out of work person… you were dealing with me. And how you treated them will be the basis on how I will be judging you? Does that surprise you?
It’s not the way I thought God was going to judge us for many years. Not from what I heard growing up. Where I grew up in the south, I was told by many of my Christian brothers and sisters, that my eternal fate hung on what I believed… and believing the right things was essential. I was told that my eternal fate even depended on what church I attended.
Today, I still operate as if I think that when I stand before the Lord, there are other questions the Lord will ask me: "Did your church grow?… Did your budget increase? … Did you keep the peace? Did you manage the church well? How well did you design your worship services? Did you keep the traditional folks and the contemporary folks happy? Were you a good Presbyterian?…" Isn’t that on God’s final evaluation?
Rarely does it enter my mind that the main criteria for entering into eternal bliss has to do with how we treated the poor among us. Never do we report to you or even in our Session meetings how we treated the poor this month. I have never seen a statistical report in any church using that as a measure of success or faithfulness. Seldom do we use that as a measure of our faithfulness.
I don’t know how I could miss it. It is so plain in the Bible. It’s there in black and white and red.-from the God who saves his poor children from oppression… to the prophets who warned the Jews about their treatment of the poor and the widows…
to Mary singing a song of praise to God because the child born to her is an answer to the prayer of so many who are poor: "My soul magnifies the Lord… he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty"…
Jesus was very clear about his mission in the world as he uses Isaiah as the text for his first sermon: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor."
I don’t know how I could have ever missed it. Do you?
I sometimes wonder if Jesus ever gets frustrated with us… It sort of reminds me of final exams. I have heard Sharon talk about giving final exams to students. Sometimes after a final exam, Sharon will be frustrated because her math students did poorly. After all of her teaching… all of her effort… they still don’t get it. And if you really want to frustrate Sharon… let it be one of those tests where the teacher basically told you what would be on the exam before she gave it. I mean… it’s practically handed to you on a silver platter. Still, they don’t get it.
I wonder, does Christ our King… feel that way with us? Maybe. Christ has been clear with us all along.
But this Christ will keep on trying to teach us… which is why Jesus tells this parable of the last judgment… as if to say, "If I’ve been too subtle about my lessons… let me be very clear with you what I really care about."
Sometimes Christ sends prophets to us to remind us. Tony Campolo has been one of those prophets for me. Tony reminds us: "The fact is, there are 2000 verses of scripture about caring for the poor. I don’t care what else you are into… If you ignore what the bible is really about-helping poor and oppressed people, you have missed the message of Jesus. Bono has said to be a Christian is to commit to the poor and the oppressed. The only description Jesus gives about judgment day is how we treated the poor. On that day he is not going to ask you theological questions (It’s not going to be – virgin birth- strongly agree, disagree…) here is what it is going to be: 25th Chapter of Matthew:
I was hungry and you fed me
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
I was a stranger or an alien and you welcomed me- offered hospitality
I was naked and you gave me clothing
Because I am not up in the sky somewhere, I am waiting to be loved in people who hurt and as you relate to people who hurt, you are relating to me."
Lord knows, if Jesus is present among the poor, the opportunity is there to relate to Jesus in this world. Lord knows, there are plenty of opportunities out there for us.
Sometimes I forget this. It’s easy to forget or ignore those who Jesus says are the poorest amongst us.
One of the most troubling parts of this passage is when those who are about to be sent to eternal punishment ask the King, "When did we see you hungry, naked and in prison and did not feed you?" We didn’t notice Lord. We didn’t know it was you out there suffering? If we had, you know Lord, we would have been there for you?" We didn’t notice Lord. But ignorance is no excuse here. The opportunities are there for us to see.
The facts are there in black and white. Facts that have a way of waking me up. Rob Bell (of the Nooma videos that some of you have used in small groups) woke me up with some hard facts in a book he wrote. He said: "One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, while the average American uses 400-600 liters of water a day. Every seven seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age 5 dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14% of the food we purchase.
Nearly 1 billion people in the world live on less than 1 American dollar a day. Nearly 1.6 billion people in the world cannot read or sign their name. Nearly one hundred million children are denied basic education.One in seven children worldwide has to go to work every day just to survive. Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half the world does on all goods. (Rob then says) Now, when many people get a glimpse of how the world really is, whether it is through travel or study or reading statistics like the ones just cited, it can quickly lead to guilt. We have so much, while others have so little. Guilt is not helpful. Honesty is helpful. Awareness is helpful. Knowledge is helpful. Guilt isn’t. Human history has never witnessed the abundance that we consider normal. America is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. We have more resources than any group of people anywhere at any time has ever had. Ever. God bless America? God has. And we should be very, very grateful." 1.
As we come to our thanksgiving tables this week, we will have plenty to say grace over… let’s remember to give thanks that even in our worst times in America, we are far more blessed than most of the world.
And let us not be paralyzed by guilt. Rob was right, Guilt is not helpful. But I tell you what is. Faith. Faith is very helpful. Faith gives us the resources we need to confess, repent and seek to live the life Jesus taught us to live.
That’s why I get excited when the Kirk becomes involved in efforts like the Stop Hunger now event on December 6th. 200 of you have signed up to prepare 60,000 meals. Think about that 60,000 meals. Think about the people who will open a baggie in some other part of the world…people who thought they were long forgotten… and that meager meal will be like a thanksgiving feast for them. 60,000 will be fed. Those meals will go to people who are dying of hunger. Not missing a meal but dying of hunger. I can’t wait to see us pack those meals at the Kirk. It will be a great day. We will be doing exactly what Jesus has been asking us to do all along. It’s not that complicated. It’s simple when you think about it.
"When you did it to the least… you did it to me."
I read the story of a man from a church who ran for mayor back in the 1960s. He decided to run because he thought he could make a difference. He was elected. On his first payday as mayor, the garbage men were all standing outside his office waiting for him when he came out at the end of the day. They informed him that for years on Friday afternoons they handed over their checks to the former mayor who promptly gave them a portion in cash. The mayor kept the rest of himself.
When the new mayor told the garbage men those days were over, they ran home in joy. Justice… the kind Jesus talked about and the kind this King in our story was looking for, had arrived. There was faith lived as Jesus wanted it to be lived…
"When you did it to the least… you did it to me…"
A staff member in a friends’ church, Bill Wallof taught me what this looks like. Bill is a sort of parish associate with a seminary degree but without ordination. Bill seeks to live out a life of integrity… I met Bill years ago when we were doing some Bible study for sermons down in Florida. We were talking about the problem of helping the poor and getting the money to them. And he shared an idea that has changed my dining experience. He said he realized that one of the most direct ways to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder was very simple. When you eat in a restaurant-tip well. It goes directly to those who often work for the bare minimum and are trying to get by. Tip well…
"When you did it to the least… you did it to me"
Fred Craddock learned this message from his mother during the depression. He says, I lived near a railroad track as a boy, and I remember the number of mornings getting awake, getting up, and going to the kitchen to get some breakfast, and there’d be a strange, ugly looking, poorly dressed man at the table eating-just eating away, eating away. I was scared of him. And when he left, I would say, "Mom, who was that?" She’d say, "Well, his name was Henry, and he said he was hungry." Well, where did he come from?"He came down the railroad tracks." People called them hobos. They walked the tracks begging, maybe stealing getting what they could to stay alive. They’d stop by our house, and there, sitting in the kitchen eating what we had to eat, just eating it like they’d never have another meal. And I’d say, "Mama, weren’t you scared?"She said, "He’s hungry."
"Well, I was scared of him!""Well, he was hungry." 2.
Hungry, homeless… she welcomed him and fed him…"When you did it to the least… you did it to me"
Our King would want us to know… that when it comes time to take the final exam… it will be simple… just that simple… as simple as giving a meal to a hobo… or as simple as packing a meal… or as simple as treating people in your business with justice… as simple as tipping a waitress… faith, in the end is actually very simple:
that as we did it to the least, the last, the unlucky and the lost among us… we did it… or did not do it… unto him. Amen.
1. From p 122-123 Jesus wants to Save Christians
2. The Jesus Creed, by Scot McKnight p 144