2020-11-22 Christ the King Sunday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
We have arrived at the last Sunday in the Church year. It’s hard to believe that Advent and Christmas are right around the corner in this turbulent 2020, which is without question, the most bizarre year of our lives. Christ the King Sunday as it is known is at the same time scary as it is hope filled. It’s scary in that it calls to mind Judgment Day. A day when all of the dark deeds we have done will be brought to light as we stand before our Almighty King and Judge!
It kind of reminds me of Parent-Teacher interviews. Do you remember those?! I was always terrified of them as a kid. What was the teacher going to tell my mom?!? Will she bring up the time I had a hissy fit and wouldn’t share with my friends? Will she call to mind the time we glued Billy Larond to a chair? What about the “F” grade I got on that history essay that somehow never made it home?! Oh the agony! The sheer despair of it all! The most heinous anxiety! The stress! The sleepless nights! Woe to me, Oy vey!
Now, imagine if you will, a much more upscale event than said Parent-Teacher interview. Imagine that there was much more on the line to lose than playing video games after school. This situation is more serious than the white fangs of Judge Judy! This is where we stand before the Big Guy Himself, with His jury of Holy Angels and we will give an account of all that we have done. Eternity awaits. And maybe this is why so many people are afraid of death. We will all die. And we will all answer for what we have done and left undone. And this judgment is binary. There are only two categories. Ones and Zeroes. Or more specifically, Sheep and Goats. There is no rich or poor, black or white, German or Scottish, Jew or Gentile, no potluck or drive-thru, masked or un-masked, there is only sheep and goats. Righteous and unrighteous. Merciful and unmerciful. Forgiven and those who refuse to be.
There is much confusion surrounding this great and glorious Day of the Lord. As we hear the Gospel reading for today, it really does seem that it is a judgment based on works people do. The do-gooders vs. the do-baders! After all, the do-gooders were the ones who gave food to the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty and welcomed strangers and clothed the naked and visited the sick and those in prison. The do-baders did nothing of the kind! But look closer and pay attention.
These 2 binary categories are established BEFORE the judgment of the works people did. We instinctively think it’s the other way around. These people did good, therefore they are sheep. These people did bad, hence they do goat yoga at Cypress Hills! But the text doesn’t say that. The works (aka the good deeds) DON’T put us into one category or the other. Instead, this is a distinction based on faith. Faith. Trusting and believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who has shed His precious blood for us and our salvation on the cross to forgive us our sins and moreover who rose from the dead to defeat our enemy of death! Faith in Christ is the determining factor.
Back in the day there was a poor man who shattered his leg and couldn’t work on the family farm. And of course, back in the day, everyone had at least 10 kids each as did this poor farmer. 10 kids to feed and no work = dire situation! This poor man’s church decided to have a prayer meeting for him and his family. Tons of people from the country side all gathered together in the little country church. They ignored all the social distancing rules in the little church and they prayed fervently that God would help this poor family and feed them and give them other necessities they needed. Suddenly the prayer service was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. The Pastor opened it up and saw a young farm boy standing there. Everyone looked back over their shoulders to see him. The boy said “My pa couldn’t come to this here meetin’ so instead he just sent his prayers in this wagon.” The people piled outside to see a wagon full of potatoes, country hams, cuts of beef, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers and countless other amounts of food!
This, dear friends, is truly faith that works. This is the kind of living faith in the Gospel. It is faith that reaches out with God’s love to everyone in need. It reaches out to the “least of these” - unimportant people, derelicts, prostitutes, convicts, addicts and other scum of society - the people in life we would rather simply pass by. But it also applies to the mucky-mucks! Those dressed in fine clothes, the good smelling, important folk! Living faith sees the finger prints of God and the hidden face of the Savior in every person.
In this teaching from our Lord, He emphasizes the work that faith produces. And this order is critical to grasp. Faith produces good works of mercy that our neighbours need. These good works mirror the uncalculated mercy of God shown to us in Christ our Lord. Moreover, this living faith doesn’t even know it is doing it! “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (25:37-40).
It’s not some Las Vegas glitz and glam light show. It’s not another Synodical program. It’s not a spiritual check-list or ladder climbing exercise. It’s not something we splash all over Facebook and social media to draw attention to “how great I art!” Instead, this faith feeds the hungry. Gives drink to the thirsty. Welcomes strangers. Clothes the naked. Visits the sick and those in jail. These are really humble, simple things - but together they change the world. And, they all flow from a “sheepish” living faith in Jesus Christ.
In the 1800’s there was an ardent Atheist named Robert Ingersoll. He was lecturing against Jesus Christ and the Bible to a capacity crowd. One night he dramatically took out his watch and boldy said “I’ll give God a chance to prove He exists and is almighty! I challenge Him to strike me dead within five minutes!” At first there was silence. The people grew increasingly uneasy. Some couldn’t stand the stress of it and left the building. One woman even fainted! As the final second of the five minute interval expired he said “Aha! See! There is no god! I am still very much alive and only a fool would believe in an invisible sky wizard!” After the event, there was a young man who said “Ingersoll certainly proved one thing tonight! Even the most defiant sinner cannot exhaust the patience of the Lord in just five minutes!”
And so it is with God. He doesn’t wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This is the truth about our Almighty Lord and King. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He is merciful. He is not cruel or mean-spirited. In fact, even the eternal consequences of being a goat who rejects His grace is not intended for people. Matthew 25:41 says “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It’s prepared for Satan and the demons, not people. And yet people choose this torment through their coldness of heart. People choose to be goats, walking the sharp cliffs of sin and faithlessness. Yet it is God’s will that we would all be “the people of His pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Ps 95:7) - a people who repent of their sin and follow the Good Shepherd. For Jesus our Shepherd is also our King, Who was, Who is and Who is to come!
As we round this corner of the church year, we see Advent on our doorstep. As we prepare for the coming King Who gives life eternal to all His sheep, we are mindful that our soon-to-be newborn King is also our Judge. He will stare us in the eye, face to face, and peer into the most hidden corners of our hearts. He will see faith or He will not. He will judge our deeds regardless. Have we been merciful as He is merciful? Have we invested His gifts of grace wisely or have we blown them on material possessions that don’t matter? Have we drawn closer to our Lord or have we pushed Him away? Have we lived lives of faith that work for the betterment of others or lives consumed with self? The Lord will judge. The King is coming. May He see in us a sheepish faith that when it sees our neighbours, sees the face of God. Amen to our King of Kings and Lord of Lords!