Thursday, December 14, 2023

Christ the King

This is the sermon that was preached on Sunday, 11/26, Christ the King Sunday at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. It's a collaboration between parishioner Trish Pecuch and myself. The text was Matthew 25:31-46.  

Today is Christ the King Sunday! 

I have to admit, until Pastor Ivy mentioned it to me, I didn’t know really know anything about the occasion! 

Christ the King Sunday is a newer addition to the church’s liturgical calendar- marking the last Sunday of the church year- Next week, the first Sunday of Advent, begins a new church year. It was created in 1925- (when the world was in turmoil) in response to increased secularism and atheism. With WWI having just taken place,  and many world dictators in the picture throughout Europe, Russia, and Mexico- Christ the King Sunday was created to remind the church-  that it belongs to Jesus- not to the world or the authority of any other person, country, or force---that Jesus’ authority is the only one that should be considered and honored.  It stressed to people that Christ reigns as our King. While leaders and governments change, and come and go- Christ is our King forever- He does not change -He stays.  Jesus is forever.    It’s something that is comforting and good to know- today as well 

We can look to our Heavenly King and His kingdom instead of Earthly leaders, governments, issues, or events.   It is in essence, the basis of our faith- that no matter what, God is for us, with us, and here, now, to get us through and provide unchanging, unconditional grace, mercy and love to us. What a gift to have such a wonderful King. 

Thankfully, salvation is not based on how we act, or what we do, or don’t do.  It is by grace alone, not by works, that we are saved.  Yet today’s gospel describes how the sheep group get rewarded with eternal life in heaven because they did certain works or deeds.   What is Jesus really saying?

Today’s gospel describes the Final Judgment of the world and Jesus’ second coming.  He and his disciples are gathered away from the crowds on the Mount of Olives- and Jesus is answering and reassuring his disciples. They have many questions and fears about Jesus leaving them.  And Jesus tells this parable. Jesus tells them that on judgment day He will come again and separate the nations into sheep and goats.  The sheep will have eternal life in heaven while the goats- well, you know where they end up in the gospel.  Is this another of the terrible parables from Matthew where we hear that if we don’t do the right things and make the right choices we will end up being thrown into darkness, gnashing our teeth, and shut out from heaven?   Interesting enough is the timing of Jesus telling his disciples the parables we’ve heard over the last several Sundays –it is right before His Passion.  In just a few days Jesus will be led away, arrested, and crucified.  He has little time left on earth with his disciples, and this is what he chooses to tell them- how the Final judgment day will work.  This must be pretty important if this is what Jesus says right before his death.  Or rather- He must really love us to choose this as his final account.   

Matthew’s depiction of the last judgment is much like a wellness check. It is not to condemn or scare us, but to provide a snapshot of our overall health, development, learning, and growth. This should lead to new habits and ways of life. Just as our doctor wants us to flourish, so does our Creator, Redeemer, Judge, and King.

It always has bothered me, personally,  when I think about this parable.  I reassure myself that I must be a sheep.  Maybe we all do that to a certain extent- we can make neat lists of all the good things we do (we come to church, there’s the 5&2, food pantry, Honduras Mission,  serving on committees, fund raisers, and all the things we do in our personal lives as well, that make a difference and help others.)   But I worry that I have a little goat in me as well-                                                                

Remember: the goats are not saved because of what they Don’t Do.   I don’t always choose to be involved or take action when I could.  I drive past the guy on the street corner holding a sign saying he is hungry and homeless;  I often say “no thanks-not today” when the grocery store clerk asks me if I want to donate to whatever cause that store or business is supporting; and I have never even considered joining a prison ministry to visit inmates. And lately, I’ve been throwing- or recycling ,so much of the mail I get that is asking for donations. Does that  make me a goat? We certainly can’t say Yes to everything and everyone! 

 Perhaps we all are a little saint and sinner at the same time. I am pretty confident that these things are not what Jesus is describing.  And it’s not really the point of this parable.  Remember when He separates the nations- Jesus tells both groups that they did or( did not) feed, visit, help or clothe Him when they saw Him - and both the sheep and goats are surprised by this. They ask Jesus- “when did I do this for You- I didn’t see you, I never met you and gave you water or visited you”… and the goats ask the same thing- “When did we meet you and not help you?”      Jesus answers that when they chose or did not choose to help the least of His brethren , they did so unto Him.  They are surprised and don’t get it- neither the sheep or the goats KNEW their actions and deeds- or lack thereof, was actually done unto Jesus. It was their instinct-part of their nature- it was who or Who’s they were. The sheep didn’t keep track or do it for show.  As Christians we do things almost as a reflex-  it is inherit in us to want to help others, to care, to take time, to make a difference. Each and every one of us serve and help in some compacity and that is the same as if we are serving and doing it unto Jesus. We do it because as Christians- as Jesus’ sheep- it is our instinct and nature to serve and care and love those in need.  We don’t do it because it helps buy a ticket to heaven- we do it because as we are saved by grace alone- and because of that great love God has for us, it is part of our nature to reach out and do for others as Jesus has always done for us.  It is our response to salvation.  God’s Grace is the cause of our actions-  not the effect.  We don’t receive His great love and mercy because we earn it. His great love and compassion causes us to love and care in return. 

Today, and every day- Jesus reigns as King in our hearts. He is there no matter how often we forget to come before His throne and praise and thank Him.  He is always there- whenever or however we need or welcome him. He loves us- and His love is unconditional.  That, in my opinion, is the bottom line of today’s gospel.  Serving and living in love is our King’s greatest command.   It makes me feel excited, confident, and fulfilled to know I am chosen to be loved by Christ our King.   I hope you feel excited about that too. 



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