November 26, 2017 Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 Ephesians 1:15-23 Matthew 25:31-46
Christ the King Sunday is the newest day in the liturgical year. Did you know that it was added to the calendar by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925, in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide? But it was most particularly in response to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that people should only have allegiance to their government, and that the church shouldn’t have any allegiance in their lives. The Church in Mexico pushed back, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental interference) with people marching and chanting, “Christ is King!” That declaration inspired Pope Pius XI to declare a new holy day, Christ the King Sunday. Originally it was celebrated in October but after Vatican II, Rome officially declared its observance would be on the final Sunday of the Christian Year. When Protestants adopted the Revised Common Lectionary and its calendar, we also adopted this Sunday as an observance.
It seems logical that we should acknowledge at the end of the Christian year the place that Christ occupies in our heart, because all through the year, as we examine the aspects of Christ’s life we try to become more like Christ. In this democratic society, some people might be put off by the title of “King,” but if you think about it you realize that by making Christ the ruler of our lives we are holding ourselves to a high ideal to be as Christ-like as we can.
Think of what an ideal king or ruler is. First of all, they dedicate themselves to the welfare of their people. They want to make sure that people are fed, clothed, and housed properly – that they have their basic needs met. That means that they create a kingdom where everyone can be productive and work for what they need.
Christ as the ideal king dedicated himself to our welfare. It’s true that except for the miraculous loaves and fish, he didn’t really provide food, clothing, and shelter, but he reminds us that all that we have ultimately comes from God and that we need to live in an attitude of gratitude for our blessings. He also continually told his disciples to share what they had with those who had less than they did. And we do know that the first disciples created a society among themselves that was dedicated to caring and providing for each other’s needs, and in which everyone could be productive and help each other.
Ideally in a perfect kingdom there would be no poor or sick people. Even if a person might fall on hard times and not be able to work, the king would make sure that the society would be structured to help them get back on their feet. I don’t think we’re going to eliminate disease in our world of bacteria and virus, but the king would make sure that treatment is available to everyone. Christ dedicated himself to healing others, both in body and in mind, and taught his disciples how to do the same.
Another aspect of a perfect king would be the equal respect that he would have for all of his people. A person with lesser means is not going to be treated differently under the law from someone who has money. The king, as final arbitrator, would enforce justice equally to everyone.
Christ treated everyone with equal respect, even those people who were his enemies. I am always struck at how respectful his discourse is, even with people who are trying to entrap him into saying something that would get him into trouble. One event that comes to my mind is when he rebukes the Pharisee who is treating the woman who washes his feet with contempt. He corrects the Pharisee with the truth, but also with a measure of respect, and then shows the woman respect by valuing the gift that she has given him. To Christ, everyone was equal, and what sets us apart from each other is not our economic or social power, but how fairly we treat each other as human beings.
Finally a king must be willing to defend his people. He must be willing to go out and battle the world when his kingdom is threatened. Christ was not a military leader, but he took on the biggest battle that we face everyday: The battle with ourselves, our abilities and the choices that we need to make. We go out everyday into the world and try to do the right thing and very often find ourselves doing the wrong thing. We make mistakes in the name of battling the evils of injustice, poverty, ignorance, power, and greed. We get caught up in temptations and distractions that wound ourselves and others. But we have a defense against all those evils in Christ. Christ was born in this world to be us, and battled all the evil that we battle. Then he died defending us against evil by giving us the assurance that if we keep Christ in our hearts that we will be forgiven, because God will see our true selves, and we will have a place with Him now and forever.
So as the just-king is the ideal ruler, Christ is our ideal role model for our own lives. We need to try to dedicate ourselves to our own and the welfare of others. We need to be grateful for what is in our lives and keep helping others become productive citizens who can provide for their needs. We need to help heal others in body, mind, and spirit. We need to treat others with equality, dignity, and respect. And we must be willing to engage in the battle against evil – the forces that create negativity and harm – rather than the force of goodness that creates renewing actions of compassion.
Think for a moment of the opposite of the ideal king – the evil forces that are epitomized in the tyrant. The tyrant doesn’t dedicate himself to enriching his people, only to enriching himself. He doesn’t care about their health or wellbeing, only about his own and maybe a close circle of friends who keep him in power. He doesn’t treat others with equality or respect; the value of a person is based on what they can do for the tyrant, not on the value of simply being a human being. And he is not interested in defending anyone else’s property or interest, unless it is related to the safety of his own. The tyrant’s actions lead only to him, not to his fellow humans, and not to God.
Underneath the tyrant and the ideal-king are their motivating emotions. The tyrant loves only himself, possibly others who can benefit him, and hates those who don’t benefit him. The ideal king however is motivated by love. Yes, he has a love for himself but it is connected to the love and compassion that he shows for all his fellow humans, because he sees that whatever positive action they do, is going to help everyone around them.
God’s motivation is Love. Love for us is why he was willing to come to earth to be with us. By being incarnated as one of us he showed us that he was willing to live and work along side us to allow us to see that He understands us. Love is why Christ sacrificed himself on the cross for us, so that we would be free of the burden that sin weighs on our minds when we think that we can never undo or be free of the mistakes or even the evil that we have done. Love is why the Holy Spirit was given to us – to guide us through life when things become uncertain. Love is why we feel the presence of God when life is both good and bad.
If we want to be like Christ, our ideal king, our motivating emotion should be love. We don’t feed the hungry, heal the sick, do justice, and respect people just because we should. We do it because we love humanity, recognize the value of all people, and we want to show that love with action. And yes, humans can be annoying, and frustrating, and dim-witted at times but underneath that we are worthy of being loved, even when we don’t feel we’re worthy. We can all love – we just have to practice loving others. And if you find it particularly difficult to love someone don’t you worry about loving them – just give them to Christ to love first and he’ll take care of it while you practice and work on catching up.
Christ our ideal King begins with love. It’s something that we should remember as we start down into this crazy season of shopping, parties, families and friends. If we can practice living and being with love in our hearts – then Christ will truly become our king.