For Christ the King Sunday I was invited to preach at the West Galway Presbyterian Church. A beautiful historic church building, and a warm and welcoming congregation! The scripture reading was from Matthew 25: 31-46 and Psalm 100.
It was a beautiful Sunday to be with them and share in worship!
So, today is the last Sunday before the Advent Season, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. This week we mark the holiday of Thanksgiving, a time to remember the blessings in our lives, gather at table with others and give thanks for the traditions that are around us.
I’d like today to think through with you the question of Christ as our King. What does it mean for Jesus to be our King? What difference does Jesus being a King make in our lives? In the life of our world? In this congregation, or any congregation?
In our world, a king is an absolute monarch. Kings are born into their title and power. They come from families of monarchs, and the power and prestige they have is absolute. Think of the royal family in England, even as it exists with diminished power today. Even in the United States, we still watch the “royals” with fascination. I will admit that I watched Henry and Kate get married a few years ago. When I was in college and lived in Scotland for six months, I went to visit Windsor Castle with friends who lived in London. I spent hours checking out the rooms, the décor. It is mesmerizing. Two years ago we did the same thing while in Spain visiting family, we went to see a bunch of castles and by the end of the trip our daughter, Sofia, who was 9 at the time had the castle-bug. She wandered through room after room, wondering what it would be like to be a princess. She noticed how scary the moat was around the castle, and she made sure to buy the little replica sword that was sold at each castle we visited, learning why different knights and kings had different kinds of swords and what it all meant. There is a lot of tourism to be had in castles. There is something alluring, mesmerizing about royalty. Maybe it is because we don’t really have that in the United States in the way it is portrayed in Europe. But we still have tours of the White House which is the closest thing to a castle in our country, unless of course you count the castles in Disneyland and Disneyworld. Culturally, we are still a bit obsessed with kings, queens, princesses and princes. Children find them interesting. Adults like the gossip. And there is a part of us, a very human part that is interested in the power, the story, the mystique. Didn’t you have that moment as a child where you played dress up and pretended you were a king or a queen, a prince or a princess—and wondered what life would be like if that was you?
There are of course, large deficits to the life of a king or queen and their reign over a group of people. They have total control over people’s lives. When kings and queens really did rule whole countries or geographic regions, they were the religion, they were the economy and they were the absolute power. It is part of the history of our country that this is one of the reasons why many of our ancestors first emigrated here from Europe—they wanted to have a life that was free of those trappings and start all over again.
So what does it mean for us as Christians when we talk about Jesus as our King?
Is Jesus a king sitting on a throne?
Is heaven his castle?
How should we relate to Jesus if he is our King?
What should we make of him, how should we follow him?
Matthew’s Gospel begins the story:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him…..
Matthew gives us the impression of Jesus a King of the whole creation. Matthew’s Jesus has a throne, and invites everyone to gather around it o that he can offer his wisdom and his judgment.
But then Jesus says something interesting and different than most kings would say:
….for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and your gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
Those gathered around the throne are confused:
We never saw you like that King-Jesus! We never saw you hungry, thirsty, in the eyes of a stranger! We never saw you when you were naked or when you were sick, we never saw you in prison! We are confused! What are you talking about!
You can imagine that people are confused because they never thought to look for Jesus there. They wanted the Jesus who was like a king, who made sense to them because he would treat them the way the kings of their time did.
A king has a throne, right? A king has power right?
Jesus banishes those who cannot see him in the eyes of someone who is suffering. Those who can, he brings closer to him.
Jesus as King.
A King who is hungry.
A king who is thirsty.
A king who is a stranger.
A king who is naked.
A king who is sick.
A king who is in prison.
What Jesus is really saying is that, I am one of you.
Some of us perhaps have been hungry.
Or some of us have gone to minister and help someone who is hungry.
Some of us perhaps have been thirsty.
Or some of us have gone to minister and help someone who is thirsty.
Some of us perhaps at one time in life have been a stranger.
Or maybe you were that person who welcomed a stranger into your home, your community, your family.
I can remember the first time when I saw someone literally walking down a street naked because they had no clothes, that’s how poor of a community I was in during a mission trip. I had never seen such a thing before in my life. I was shocked and I wanted to turn my eyes away. I began to wonder to myself if I was in a place where I was safe. And then I thought to myself about this passage and Jesus….I was naked…and you offered me clothes….
We have all been sick at one moment or other in our lives, or known and loved someone who has been very ill. What does it mean to visit the sick and to care for them? This is probably the one spot where we most easily can find ourselves fitting into this passage….if we develop the right skills of visiting those who are hungry, then how can we use those skills in other areas….
And one of the harder ones…I was in prison and you visited me. Years ago I young woman, a child of some members of the church I served, ended up in jail. She was addicted to drugs and had had several run-ins with the law. Her family could not afford the lawyer to keep her out of jail and so there she sat. She was about 20 years old, young, confused, lonely. It was an intimidating prison and I would go and visit her. The first time I went to the jail it was such a scary experience for me. But we sat and talked, through the Plexiglas window. We shared tears. And at the end we each put our hands up to the glass so that we could pray together. It is hard to go visit a jail—isn’t it? I know I was terrified. And yet that is where Jesus finds himself.
Matthew’s Gospel begins with telling us the lineage of Jesus. Just like an early king, we have to make sure we know that Jesus is from “good stock” or the “right family.” Biblical scholars think that Matthew did that because the audience he was trying to reach and evangelize were those who were in the priestly Jewish ruling class, people who needed to hear about Jesus as a king in order for him to make sense to their lives. But Matthew in today’s passage is offering a different story about Jesus as King. He is making Jesus into the homeless man on the street. The mother with a hungry child. The stranger who is new to the community or maybe even the immigrant who does not even speak the language. The person who is so destitute they do not have clothes. The person who is in prison and most of us forget about. Matthew is challenging the ideas of his day about kings and queens, princes and princesses and introducing a new kind of king to the people around him. And 2000 years later the writer of Matthew’s Gospel is inviting the same questions for us, that are hard, difficult, haunting questions for us as people of faith to think about. I know I am much more comfortable with Jesus as king with power, than someone who I do not know. I know that this is a spiritual struggle for me. It is a spiritual struggle for all of us.
Next Sunday we begin the season of Advent, four weeks of preparation for Christmas. We will prepare to worship Jesus once again.
The baby Jesus.
Born to parents who did not have a home.
Born to parents who were strangers in a community.
Born to parents who were hungry and thirsty, cold…
That baby Jesus.
Who is our King.
And who offers us salvation, hope and love.