Christ the King Sunday
November 26, 2017
Nathan Michael Black
Good morning! It’s a joy to be with you all on this weekend of gratitude, feasting, and spending time with loved ones. I hope this holiday time has been good for each of you. And I know the holidays can be difficult times for many of us. Please know that we hold each of you in our hearts and if you need anything during this season, please call the church to speak with us.
Let us go to God in prayer:
Dear God, as we prepare our hearts for the message this morning, we are mindful of our many blessings, our families, and all the ways you have provided for us. And we remember those who don’t share in those blessings, those who are lonely, those who don’t have enough to eat, those who are mourning the loss of loved ones. And as we’ve observed the Transgender Day of remembrance, we remember the more than 200 members of the transgender community who have lost their lives to violence here and around the world in the past 12 months. In honor of World AIDS Day, we remember those here and world who have been infected with the HIV virus, who are living with HIV/AIDS, and who have lost their lives to this disease. And just two days ago, our hearts were broken as 230 worshippers were killed in a mosque in Egypt. We have many blessings and many heart aches, oh God. Let the message today remind us of your love, your nearness, and that we can do all you are calling us to do so we can create Heaven on Earth. Amen.
The sheep and the goats…
I remember loving this parable as a teenager growing up in a fundamentalist church. My church was primarily focused on saving people, having people convert to Christianity by repenting of their sins and asking Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. Every service we would offer an altar call and anyone who wasn’t saved would have a chance then to pray the sinners prayer and get saved. And, from my perspective, if we did any charity or act of kindness it was soley with the intention of having people get saved. Nothing else mattered. And that didn’t sit well with me. It felt like charity or kindness with an agenda. It felt disingenuous or even corrupt. “We’ll dangle this carrot of kindness or acceptance if you do these things and pray this prayer.”
But this Jesus, the one talking in Matthew 25, was a different kind of Jesus. The kind of compassion, generosity, and kindness this Jesus was demanding was different than what I had experienced in my church. It was different because it was authentic, it was real, it’s the kind of kindness that couldn’t be manufactured. It was compassion that couldn’t be stuffed down and suppressed. It was who these people, these “sheep,” were. They couldn’t help but be that way. It was a new way of being human.
That was what I wanted.
Now, in my experience, the emphasis usually being placed on this scripture is eschatological. That’s a big word I learned in seminary that categorizes the aspects of the study of God and faith that focus on death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul. That was definitely the primary focus for the church I grew up in, we were trained to ask, “where would you go if you were to die tonight?” While our understanding of salvation is important and eschatological inquiries are valuable, I don’t believe that this is the emphasis for this text. Rather, I believe this text is more about how we are to live now, in this life.
Our text in Matthew is situated between the time that Jesus was teaching in the temple and upsetting the religious leaders and the beginning of his preparation for the crucifixion. The parable of the sheep and the goats is the last of three parables in Matthew 25 before the journey to the cross begins in the next chapter.
These were, according to the author of the Gospel of Matthew, some of the last important conversations Jesus would have with his disciples. I believe he wanted to give them the bottom line, the summary, the cliff notes, of what it is to be one of his followers. He wanted to give them clear and vivid pictures about how they were to be in the world.
Today is Christ the King Sunday as observed in our liturgical calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 in response to the rising secularism that Italy was experiencing in hopes that people would remember Jesus’ unity with God. He wrote “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds… He must reign in our wills… He must reign in our hearts… He must reign in our bodies and in our members…”
If Jesus really is one with God, our King, then we should let him rule in our hearts, our minds, our actions, and our bodies. We should surrender, we must. We should allow ourselves to be transformed, to be new kinds of human beings.
But the way of Jesus isn’t about demanding, guilting, and forcing people to transform. The way of Jesus is an invitation to be willing to be transformed.
Are you willing?
I look at this group of people here today and I see people who are willing to be transformed. I see people who live this new way of living. I see generous, kind, wise, and compassionate people. I see people here that would be shocked when Jesus said that they had fed him, clothed him, welcomed him, nursed him to health, visited him when he was in prison or was homebound. You would be shocked because you’re just going about your life and loving people. Because that is who you are. Maybe not all the time and in every situation, but you do have many moments of ministering love to the least of these.
And I also know, that we often struggle to be fully transformed in every area of our lives. I know that sometimes we look in the mirror and we are disappointed with ourselves, with our lack of courage, with our unkind behavior, with our fear and uncertainty. We are fairly certain of God’s love for us and our inclusion in the family of God, but we maybe sometimes feel like we’re eternally on God’s “honey do list”… like someday God’s going to get around to finally fixing us, healing our weaknesses, strengthening our character, or giving us the faith we need.
What then should we do? It all comes back to the willingness to be transformed.
Are you willing to be transformed today, in this moment, and the next, and the next?
Are you willing to change and become like a humble child?
Are you willing to be born again?
Are you willing to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself?
Are you willing to go into the streets and invite everyone you find to this wedding feast?
Are you willing to be the servant of all, to become the least of these?
Are you willing to be willing to see those whom society says are “the least of these” as being worthy of being your partners in ministry in the family of God?
Are you willing to work hard, become successful, and give your money to the poor?
Are you willing to forgive relentlessly?
Are you willing to have faith, even if it is as small as a mustard seed?
Are you willing to be courageous?
Are you willing to deny your ordinary self, take up your cross-which is your commitment to being transformed and dealing with what hasn’t transformed yet, and follow Jesus?
Are you willing to allow God to work miracles around you and through you?
Are you willing to step out onto the water with Jesus?
Are you willing to feed those who are hungry?
Are you willing to visit those who are sick or in prison?
Are you willing to clothe those who need clothes?
Are you willing to shelter those who need shelter?
Are you willing to be an accomplice with those whom are fighting the fight for racial justice, for immigration justice, and for economic justice?
Are you willing to stop and honor the child of God who is homeless on the street and offer comfort, food or money?
When we say “YES, God, I am willing” we are transformed in that moment. Heaven on Earth happens in that moment.
We might have hurriedly walked past the homeless teenage girl begging for money for food, but we stop and say “YES, God, I am willing” and go back minister love and hope to that young woman, feeding her body and spirit.
And the next moment we will hear God asking us again, and we respond with “YES, God, I am willing” and then we are transformed in that moment. And then Heaven on Earth happens in that moment.
As a community, we are beginning to hear God asking if we are willing. If we are willing to do things differently. If we are willing to have our worship space look differently. If we are willing to worship in different ways, with different people, with different music. If we are willing for our church to be a place where lives are changed and miracles happen. If we are willing for God to do a new thing in us and through us.
May we have continually have the courage to say, “YES, God, I am willing, WE are willing” and may we continue to have more and more of heaven on Earth here and now.