Sermon for Christ the King Sunday
November 20, 2011
Where are the true kings of today?
Where are the kings of blessing and order?
And because this isn’t really about gender:
Where are the queenly rulers who make sure
those who have fallen into great need
find great mercy?
Where are the selfless leaders who put the common good
ahead of their own gain?
As we talk of Christ the king today,
about Jesus, the one who rules
with blessing and order and great mercy,
it immediately makes us critique
those who are our leaders, our kings and queens,
whether in politics, or business, or religion, or culture.
Where are the true queens and kings of today?
You know we have plenty of false kings.
Kings who rule over us as tyrants
and take all they want for their own power and grandiosity
and do nothing to help those in need
and don’t have a larger vision.
We know kings who are weak and afraid to act
and do nothing to change the course of society
and move it closer to fairness and mercy for everyone.
We know these false leaders, male and female
who embody the negative aspects of power
who are either tyrants who fear losing power
or weaklings afraid of their calling.
In 1925, the rise of fascism and desperate hopes put into false kings
led to the creation of a new holy day.
Pope Piux XI saw how people were misguided in trusting the false kings
and called people back to the true king, Jesus the crucified Lord.
He instituted the Feast of Christ the King
as a call back to true kingship.
Now, whatever his mixed motives may have been,
and partly it was about making sure the church stayed in power,
and even held on to all of its own false kingly, misguided power ways,
he did remind us of how much we long for,
and deeply need someone to bring order, blessing,
and care for all the people.
When a society doesn’t know and have true kingship
it will give itself over to false kingship.
In Matthew 25,
Jesus presents the image of how he reigns as God’s appointed king.
He doesn’t say what we often think he says.
He isn’t merely saying:
I identify with the hungry and naked and stranger,
so go take care of them.
This text comes after a long section,
and a whole Gospel story,
where Jesus teaches and empowers his followers
to go into a difficult world
and tell good news about God
and live God’s righteousness.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are called
his brothers and sisters, his family,
and sometimes, the least and the little ones.
And throughout, you hear and understand,
especially by the end,
that after Jesus’ death and resurrection,
his presence is known in the world through his followers.
So when we hear the story about a judgment of the nations,
this is a judgment of all those in the world
and how they receive Jesus’ emissaries.
You see, the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, and sick and imprisoned ones
are the church being faithful to its calling,
and living out the hard disciple way.
They are the ones through whom Jesus is present in the world.
Jesus is known through his church,
and his church is a vulnerable community
that has given all for the mission.
This isn’t a general call to care for those in need,
though that is at the heart of knowing God and all over Scripture.
This text is a word of encouragement and promise to the weakling church:
Christ reigns through you! Do the hard mission of living it out!
When the world accepts or rejects you, it accepts or rejects Christ.
This text says
that the church is the community living so committed to its joyful calling,
that it risks all to bring good news, even to a world that rejects it.
The least of these are actually followers of Jesus.
They believe those blessings spoken back on a mountaintop
that the meek, and the poor,
and the persecuted are the ones blessed.
They know they really are the presence, the body, the living witness,
the reign of Christ, cross and all,
not in spite of their weakness and struggles,
but because of them.
Back in Matthew 24, leading up to this passage,
there are stories of struggles and survival.
It says of the struggling followers:
The love of many will grow cold.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
The one who endures is the one who has nothing left but love,
and that love does not grow cold.
Now what is so strange about these texts for our times
is that the church was ever thought of or assumed to be
so vulnerable and needy and living on the edge!
Yet, this is nearly the definition of the church in those early years:
A community that suffered for the sake of the good news
that God reigns the world in vulnerable love.
A community that had nothing left but love,
love as Jesus embodied it,
love as it had received,
love as it had to give.
We would not often look upon people who
vulnerable, poor, and needy
and say: That must be the church.
We in the privileged world, the privileged church
simply don’t know that way of being church.
Yet, Jesus is known through that very vulnerability,
that very willingness to suffer for the greater good,
that very costly discipleship that leads to the cross
in all the ways the cross shows itself in the world.
So here’s the thing:
We aren’t that church.
But that church does exist today,
and it is all over the world,
living in poverty, and singing Kyrie
living in oppression, and singing Gloria
living in unemployment, and singing Alleluia
living in addiction recovery, and saying I Believe,
living without health insurance,
and praying for others’ healing,
living in war, and being peace,
living as refugees, and singing Holy, Holy, Holy,
living in protest, and praying your kingdom come.
living with rejection because of their sexual orientation,
and singing Lamb of God.
The church living in vulnerability, in great need, in hunger and estrangement,
has much to teach us about what it means to be church.
It is the part of the church where true kingship is embodied.
It is the part of the church that Jesus most identifies himself with,
it is the part of the church that has nothing left to give
We are part of that church
and we can welcome those fellow disciples
and share with them in their costly witness.
We can more intently foster relationships with Christians
who fit the bill of Matthew 25,
who live in vulnerability and weakness,
yet with great faith and with great love,
who embody Christ the king.
There is a group of Christians in Juarez, Mexico
doing true kingly things.
Juarez is now the murder capital of the world,
mostly due to the overtaking of society by drug lords
while rule with false kingly power: violence, fear,
creating chaos, taking away from others for themselves.
Some teenage Christians in a small, poor evangelical church
on a dirt road there
have decided they have had enough
of the reign of fear and terror in their city.
So they started doing something unbelievable.
They started dressing up as angels,
feathery wings and flowing gowns,
and standing on street corners holding up signs:
Then they started showing up at
the murder sites themselves,
angels with signs speaking directly to those who rule with violent power:
Then they started showing up at
prosecutor’s offices, and police stations,
and the police chief’s office.
They confronted the whole corrupt system of false kingly power
calling them to repent
calling them to let go of fear and selfish ways
calling them to see the reign of Christ in their gentle angel wings
and their bold and fearless witness.
These are the things that happen
when people who have nothing left to lose
but trust in the reign of God in Christ.
They have nothing left to lose,
and nothing left to give,
except love, costly love,
challenging love, transforming love.
There is much we can do,
as the privileged, wealthy, powerful church
to help those in need, to feed, clothe, and heal.
But there is much more we can learn from the church
that lives in such need and has found its true power
in following Jesus, the crucified and risen King.
There is much we have to do
to let some of our own false king ways go,
to trust that when we have nothing left to give but love
Jesus is reigning through us with true kingly power.
Beautiful. Probably the best sermon I've ever heard (or read, in this case) on Matthew 25. You have captured (or rather, liberated), the correct understanding of this text in the total context of Matthew's theology, and done it in a way that sings. God has indeed gifted you. -- I too was touched by the bold angel-witness of the young Christians of Juarez, as I read it in yesterday's NY TIMES.ReplyDelete