A Homily for
November 23, 2014
from MATTHEW 25:31-46
Revised from a Homily
November 20, 2011,
This morning we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and the Gospel Lectionary Reading for today reflects this important emphasis.
We have little trouble getting our heads around the idea that Jesus is the LORD of the church (Colossians 1:18), after all he is her founder (Hebrews 12:2) and her foundation (1Corinthians 3:11), but we struggle with the idea that the risen Christ is the King of the world (Matthew 28:18 & Acts 1:9).
Or, said differently, as a traditional believer in the Christ we can quite easily espouse the affirmation that Jesus is King of our hearts, but it is more difficult for us to affirm with conviction that Jesus is LORD and King of the universe. This is true, first, because we understand that people hold differing views of the world and therefore such a statement is steeply politically incorrect, and second, we see a world dominated by monstrous evil and we are reluctant to see Christ’s Kingship involving such gruesome brutality.
Still, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than this: the primary confession of the New Testament is the simple statement that Jesus is LORD, LORD not just of the church and of our hearts, but LORD of the world (Philippians 2:5-11) — listen to Jesus’ own words:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him."
I submit that it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than this is the King at work in the world.
But, one might well ask how the Son of Man becomes the King of the world. Is this Kingship won through violence and the brutality of empire, and all the usual worldly accoutrements of power? To which we answer a resounding,"NO!"
Instead, this King establishes this present and future Kingdom through sacrifice, through reconciliation, through the overthrow of the powers of darkness that always menace behind the imperium of empire.
But, of course, the Kingship of the Christ, although in some ways both affirmed and experienced by the church, has not as yet been fully felt in the world. There is a now-not-yet quality to this Kingship that continues to trouble and challenges us.
Flowing from the now-not-yet Kingship of Christ, then, I want us to think-through three affirmations that will help us unpack Christ's Kingship in the present:
WE LIVE UNDER THE KINGSHIP OF JESUS, NOW
WE LIVE WITH THE RIPPLES OF OUR ACTIONS, NOW
WE LIVE IN THE LIGHT OF FINAL JUSTICE, NOW
For the one who has claimed allegiance to the living, risen Christ, we are also therefore called to live under his LORDSHIP now, in this present moment. This is what it means to follow the Christ.
Clearly, the calling experienced by the disciple of the Christ is the sacrificial sharing of life with others -- both those like us and those not like us. This means we must search out the pressure points where selfishness lives within our hearts and within our churches, seeking with diligence to shift, moment by moment, from the self-life to the ministry of sacrificial reconciliation, which is here described so vividly by the King:
I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me,ill and you cared for me,in prison and you visited me --
This sacrificial reconciliation is Jesus' understanding of his Messianic calling -- a messiah-as-suffering-servant, and it is his great and final offering to us, to his new community — as a guide to true humanity. That is, sacrificial reconciliation is the ultimate description of what it means to be a human being in this world of want and woe.
Jesus comes to his people in deadly seriousness, seeing GOD's good creation marred and broken and vulnerable to the powers of evil and empire and darkness. He sees the light of revelation given to the chosen people by the Father as hidden under a basket. And thus, with the world at stake, Jesus claims his calling as King, as Messiah, and with his words and his works he offers the world new life and a new way to live. In this new creation (e.g. as seen from St. Paul — 2 Corinthians 5:17) he involves us in a new way to be in the world. Apart from this seminal understanding -- that of sacrificial reconciliation -- the words and the works of Jesus make no sense.
WE LIVE WITH THE RIPPLES OF OUR ACTIONS, NOW
This leads to the clear understanding that our actions — the actions we take as follow-up to the Christ — truly matter in the world, sending out ripples that never cease. That is, the actions and the behaviors we now practice affect time -- what happens around us, and eternity -- how we are viewed in the end. Empowered by the Spirit to live the Jesus-way, we live out the day by day reality of the LORD's sacrificial reconciliation as the path to a true humanness.
For now, therefore, as our discipleship follows the way of messiah-as-suffering-servant, we touch the lives of those around us in ways we cannot understand. When we willingly forgive, when we willingly offer the other cheek to those who strike us with their words and their fists, we take on the calling of sacrificial reconciliation. When we absorb the grief and the sorrow of the wounded souls beside us, we fulfill the calling of sacrificial reconciliation. When we love our enemies and those with whom we vehemently disagree we fulfill the calling of sacrificial reconciliation. When we offer food and clothing and take our stance beside the poor and the forgotten, we embrace the calling of sacrificial reconciliation. And when we do this we display to the watching world, and to the powers of darkness behind empire, that they are defeated, that truly their days are numbered.
It is not just in the present time where this way of life has impact, but also in the future. Perhaps the most encouraging teaching I have ever heard in regard to how our present actions now touch the future comes from N.T. Wright who reminds us of the import of 1 Corinthians 15:58:
"Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
Dr. Wright offers these thoughts about this important verse:
"...because of the future resurrection, get on with your work in the present. Paul believes that with the resurrection of the Messiah the new world has already begun; that the Spirit comes from that future into the present, to shape, prepare and enable people and churches for that future; and the work done in the power of the Spirit in the present will therefore last into the future." (The Resurrection of the Son of God, pg.285)
Somehow, the Spirit takes the stammering and the stumbling of the meager sacrificial reconciliation offered by disciples and the churches, preserves them and uses them in the building of the Kingdom of the Christ. How or why the Spirit should so choose to use this impure work is a mystery, so hounded are we by avarice and the self-life, but this is the clear understanding of scripture.
WE LIVE IN THE LIGHT OF FINAL JUSTICE, NOW
All of which reminds us that there is looming before us the day of justice, and we therefore must live in the light of final judgment.
I have often said, if there is no final judgement, then I could not be a theist. If GOD were to wink at the evil that men do -- both mine and theirs -- then I cannot believe in that GOD.
Take for example all the little children exploited and abused, not only around the world, but in our own community. These are the weakest and the most vulnerable. These are the ones with no voice. Who will speak for them? In the present if we know then we must. Truly, this is the way of the Christ. But in the end, GOD through the Christ will do so, asking the abusers and the hideous deviants to give an account for their actions. The silent shrieks of the little ones will finally be heard and then there will be separation:
“And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
I am often asked about the reality of hell, with the impetus behind such an important question being: "How could a good GOD send anyone there?!"
My standard response is simple: If one were to be separated from GOD forever, it will be because this one chose that way to be. They will have chosen it by the thousands of little choices they made each day. So that, in the end, they have no desire whatsoever to be with the LORD or under his LORDSHIP. Those condemned will have, through the final annihilation of any semblance of the made-in-the-image-of-God humanity, condemned themselves.