Sorry it’s been a while since the last post. Here’s your chance to catch up! The 26th is here at the top, and Gayle Janzen’s sermon from 11/19 is below!
I’ve never been a King. I mean, any kind of king. I was never prom king or homecoming king or anything. I was never voted king at a county fair or anything like that. I was never even one of those honorary “king” titles that they give out at some jobs: “sales king for the month of August.” Nothing.
So, at first blush, the whole idea of kings is a silly one, and (for me, at least) not a very relatable one. But, of course, one of the things about kings is that our idea of them is super weird compared to most of the history of the world. We think of “king” as an honor, rather than a right. We even elect the king of most things that have a “king.”
But, of course, for most of the history of the world, kings weren’t chosen, they were born. And most kings weren’t “right” or “wrong” based on the quality of their ideas; they were automatically right, by virtue of being king. That is, to us, a completely backwards way of thinking about understanding a person, a role, or an idea – it is because it is. There’s nothing more frustrating for a kid than when your parents say, “Because I said so;” yet, that’s how everything works for a king. That doesn’t sound too good to Americans raised in this day and age. We know about tyranny, and we believe that all of us should have a voice – even if that voice is wrong.
So that brings us to today in church. Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s kind of a goofy little day in the life of the church: the final Sunday before Advent begins and we ramp up to Christmas. It’s important for a couple of reasons, though. This is the first one: during Advent, which is the lead-up to Christmas, we tend to focus on the “baby” part of Jesus. That’s great, because it helps us to remember that he came as a lowly person, just like us.
What can be lost when we do that, though, is remembering the power of Jesus. He wasn’t just a baby. He was the baby who would grow up to be king. Not just king of a small province, either, or even a country; especially not prom king or used car king or something like that. Jesus is king of the whole world.
Now, I spoke a little bit ago about how the idea of kings can sometimes rub us the wrong way a little bit as Americans. The difference about this king is that earthly kings don’t always measure up to our standards, right? Earthly kings can be unjust; they can be just as sinful as the rest of us, because, end of the day, they’re still just human, whatever they might want you to believe.
Jesus, though, is a righteous king; in fact, the only righteous king. He’s the only one who can guarantee that his rule is just. And that’s very important, because if we have a king, the only kind we would want is a just king. Jesus is that; he is someone we can rely on, because he is the only person to have ever walked the face of this earth to have also been divine; he’s the only one who has goodness at the core of his being. The rest of us would do well to remember that we should be happy about the fact that our heavenly king rules over his earthly realm fairly.
And in fact, in today’s reading, we get a little glimpse of how Jesus rules over his earthly kingdom. Now, briefly, I would like to talk about the general Christian conceptions of heaven and hell. Chiefly, I don’t think that’s what this passage is about; yet, they’re mentioned here, so I think it needs to be addressed.
Now, I’m not one of those preachers who wants to go on about heaven and hell all the time. Partly, this is because I’ve done a lot of study of the Bible in my life, and I think some of the ideas are a lot more ambiguous than most of us likely suspect. I also think that our job in church here is to talk about Jesus, and, frankly, he doesn’t spend that much time talking about it.
In fact, as I was researching this sermon, I looked. Outside of Matthew’s Gospel (from which we read today), Jesus only makes three mentions of hell at all (and they’re probably not what we’d expect), and mentions heaven only very rarely. Yet, today’s passage is from the book of Matthew, so it would do us well to mention this briefly. Obviously, there’s a concept here that people are separated and set apart from one another, some to one destination and some to the other.
What I think is most important here is how our King makes this judgment. See, what’s important in this passage isn’t wealth or fame or money or influence. It isn’t political beliefs or intelligence or looks or popularity. It isn’t church attendance or Bible verses memorized or number of friends. The things that are emphasized are acts of love. Not romantic love or friendship love, but love for all of humanity.
Jesus here tells people that what they’re rewarded for feeding him when he was hungry, giving drink to him when he was thirsty, welcoming him when he was the stranger, clothing him when he was naked, caring for him when he was sick, and visiting him when he was imprisoned. The people he tells don’t remember doing these things for Jesus, but he tells them that, when they did it for others, they did it for him.
I love this passage because it’s a way of reminding us of a different bit of Scripture, the part called “the greatest commandment.” That’s when Jesus summarizes our whole faith by telling us that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that there’s a second command just like it: to love our neighbors as ourselves. In other words, we show love of God by loving others; we grow in love of others by following God. These two things are linked; it’s impossible to be living a Christian life in which we don’t help others, because we can’t love God if we’re not loving other people. Similarly, our love of other people brings us closer to God, improves our relationship, and drives our faith. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
In short, what matters most is living like our King. Our King was unique in his life, because he showed us what a true ruler should be like. Our good King gave up his own life for the lives of his subjects. He was willing to die to show us that we are loved. He was willing to take on pain and sin that he didn’t deserve so that we could be made free through him. Our good King made himself a servant to all of us, so that we would see how to live. The goal wasn’t to show us how to be doormats, but to show us how we can become examples of service to others, and thereby live more like him. We become our own, smaller version of Jesus whenever we’re able to make ourselves the servants of others.
Therefore, we’re supposed to engage in the same cycles of Jesus’ life. I don’t know how much you’ve ever thought about the patterns of Jesus’ life, but he has a pretty specific pattern of what he does in his life. He withdraws to pray, often. Even though he himself was God, that didn’t mean he was supposed to stop engaging. He also regularly attended services of worship. Most of the time, he was the one doing the teaching; but not all of the time. Once he was spiritually fed, he went out and served. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. He told people about his faith. He was welcoming to children, women, ethnic minorities, immigrants – all the people that would be easy to look down on in his culture (and most cultures in history, in fact); yet, he treated them with the same dignity and respect that anyone else deserved.
So when we try to figure out how to be good subjects of our King, we do so by emulating him. We take his actions and wear them in our own lives. We need to serve when we are called. That means helping others, particularly those in need. When we care for someone needy, particularly someone whom society considers to be “less than” we are, we are acting out the life of Jesus. We are supposed to use the church – this place, these people – as our grounds where we are fed. We are supposed to collect ourselves here, just as Jesus did, to get energy to serve.
Therefore, I encourage you to engage, just as Jesus did; to build up your own faith so you can serve; serve so you can deepen your faith. Become part of the great cycle of faith, wherein our relationship with God gets deeper, and our lives become more about living like Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, we will never live exactly like Jesus. We are not divine; we will make mistakes and mess up. We will let other people down. But we know that our righteous King also taught us about second chances and about grace. We have a King whose Law is absolute; yet his law is love, forgiveness, and peace. So, brothers and sisters, let us go out and live the Law of our King, acting just as he would, and living out his call on our lives. Amen.