Lectionary 34 – November 22, 2020
Faith Lutheran Church
Grace to you all and peace from God our creator, and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Today, you might have noticed that we have made another transition in the colors in the sanctuary. It is Christ the King Sunday. And we no longer have the green of ordinary time, the green which reminds us of creation, but we have white. Today in churches across the globe, we are celebrating that it is Jesus Christ to whom we owe our allegiance.
Now in contrast with many of the other major festivals in the life of the church, Christ the King is a pretty recent innovation. Unlike Christmas, or Easter, or Pentecost–festivals that have been part of the church for most of its existence–Christ the King was only established 95 years ago. And, it was established by Pope Pius XI.
If we think about what was happening in 1925, the world had just emerged from the great war (later to be named world war 1), the fascist dictator Mussolini had taken control of Italy, Joseph Stalin was rising as a dictator in Russia, and Hitler was beginning his rise to power in Germany. The world was beginning to get a glimpse of the power and danger of fascism.
So in response to this growing danger of nationalism and fascism, Pope Pius XI instituted this feast day as a reminder that while different governments and philosophies come and go, Christ reigns as king forever. A reminder we all need, today as much as any day before now.
In our gospel lesson for today, we encounter an image of judgement. The son-of-man, when he comes will sit on his throne and he will separate the sheep from the goats. As Jesus continues in the parable, he tells that those who feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the incarcerated- that they will inherit the kingdom.
Because as you did it to the least of these you did it unto me.
But for those who did not respond to the least of these, Jesus tells that they would go away into eternal punishment.
This judgement from Jesus can be challenging to hear. What makes it especially hard is that for both the righteous and unrighteous(the sheep and the goats), they were not aware which group they belonged to. And as people who live in an age when answers can be found easily, not having a firm answer or knowing who is “in” and who it “out” can lead to a lot of uncertainty. Because, while we journey by faith, we must acknowledge that we do not know the righteous or the unrighteous. No matter how righteous we feel.
Who are the sheep, and who are the goats? That is a pretty scary question if the answer results in one inheriting the kingdom of God and the others going to eternal punishment. Yet even in this parable, one that spoke such stark news to its original hearers, it still spoke a word of truth and good news.
Because as we know, the disciples and followers of Jesus were the poor, sick, suffering, and imprisoned. Thinking of the Apostle Paul when he wrote his letters to the early followers of Christ he was variously in prison, poor and suffering physical ailments. For any who proclaimed Jesus’ gospel, this would be the end result.
But with the end in mind, informed by this, the disciples and Jesus’ followers could be comforted by the knowledge that Jesus would be there among them. This parable, in which Jesus tells of his reign in heaven places him alongside all those who were bold enough to speak the truth of the gospel.
The good news for them wasn’t necessarily that they were sheep, rather than goats (though that certainly would have been good news), no, the good news was that Jesus was with them in their suffering and pain.
Their Christ does not reign as earthly rulers who distance themselves from the suffering of the people they’re called to serve, but Jesus suffers with those who call on his name. He suffers with all of creation.
For these earliest followers of Jesus, to follow a messiah that truly cared for them, and lived among them, and would eventually die among them was good news that God was with them.
In our world and in our lives, the reign of Christ can seem far off. The reality of suffering and pain is present in many of our lives in ways that it hasn’t been before. Especially in this season, nearing Thanksgiving, it can be overwhelming to be surrounded by so much fear and pain. And as we approach a holiday that is traditionally shared with loved ones, it may be hard to celebrate apart from them.
But dear people, in this time, when the world is experiencing a pandemic like never before, now is the time when more than even we can recognize Christ in our neighbor. Now is the time when we can recognize Christ among us and work alongside him to make his kingdom come.
Remembering the over 254,000 people who have died in our country because of COVID–a number greater than the American casualties in World War 1, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan combined–Christ’s reign is among us now in the kindness and love that we show to those people that some have deemed disposable–That some say isn’t really that many compared to the entire US population of 328 million.
Thanks be to God that it is Christ who we worship and adore. That the reign of Christ does not contain arbitrary boarders that imperial powers use to declare who is in and who is out. Rather, the citizens of the kingdom of Christ are recognized by the way that they show the Love of Christ to one another. As Ephesians tells us, these citizens are people of all nations, races and skin colors. And that the only savior in this commonwealth is The Savior, Jesus. Because Caesars, and dictators, and fascists and even presidents may come and go, but the reign of Christ is never-ending.
On this Christ the King Sunday, as we each reflect on the good news of Christ’s reign in our lives, I want to leave you with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who served in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s and 40s. Because of his vocal opposition and participation in the resistance against the nationalism and fascism of Hitler, he was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually executed in a concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend in 1944, “To be Christian does not mean to live in a specified religious way, based on a particular method by which one makes oneself into a particular kind of person (whether sinner, penitent, or saint), but it means to be human, not a particular human type; Christ creates true humanity in us. It is not religious acts that make one Christian but participation in the suffering of Christ in worldly life.”
Beloved of God, as we proclaim Christ as our King, may we, along with Bonhoeffer and all those who have resisted the principalities of the world, recognize Christ in the humanity and dignity of our fellow beings. May we work to realize the kingdom of God among us, even as we participate in the suffering of Christ in our lives. Amen.