November 26 Christ the King Sunday sermon: Little Christs

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Christ the King Sunday


Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

feeding the hungry







Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

–Teresa of Avila


For the Gospel writer Matthew, there are a few important ideas that permeate the story of Jesus, namely these two: righteousness and the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God.


Knowing what’s right and doing what’s right are burning questions, perpetual puzzlings for walking in the ways of Jesus. Early in the gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to exceed them.  And he adds unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  I’d say this is ramping up expectations that are extremely hard to accomplish.


As for the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, in the same early chapters of Matthew Jesus names this place with God singularly when he says strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.


Doing right.  Striving for the kingdom.  Ethical and spiritual admonitions are Jesus’ top concerns from the beginning of the gospel to its very zenith.


Henri Nouwen wrote a little book about the spiritual life where he says that in light of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew, we are not asked to change what we do or who we do things with, but that we instead are to have a change of heart.


See if this makes sense to you:


What counts is where our hearts are. When we worry, we have our hearts in the wrong place. Jesus asks us to move our hearts to the center, where all other things fall into place.


What is this center? Jesus calls it the kingdom, the kingdom of his Father. For us [in this century] this may not have much meaning. Kings and kingdoms do not play an important role in our daily life. But only when we understand Jesus’ words as an urgent call to make the life of God’s Spirit our priority can we see better what is at stake. A heart set on the…kingdom is also a heart set on the spiritual life. To set our hearts on the kingdom therefore means to make the life of the Spirit within and among us the center of all we think, say, or do.

–from Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, © 1981), p.43


This life of the Spirit is not merely ethereal or otherworldly but closer to us than we may ever realize.  It comes as we realize what a gift our life with God and with others really is, when for reasons of distraction or pigheadedness we may not even see it.  The writer of the letter to the Ephesians, in today’s second reading says that “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power is for us who believe, according to the work of his great power.”


Have you heard about the speech that Mister Rogers gave to a room full of accomplished actors?  In 1997, when accepting a lifetime Emmy Achievement award, he invited those in the room to think of all who have supported them, contributed to how they became who they have become, and gave them ten seconds in silence to do it.  And then he said as he looked at his watch, “I’ll keep track of the time.”   And during those precious moments, you could see tears streaming down so many faces.  It’s as if Mr. Rogers opened the eyes of the heart in that moment, as he did throughout his life.


On this final Sunday of the church year, when we are immersing ourselves in God’s final judgment, and the ending of all things,  the fantastic and cataclysmic rubs together with the ordinary and every day.


Jesus in Matthew tells a memorable parable about the brightness of glory and the throne of glory, with all the angels around.  And in front of the Son of Humanity are all the nations, which in Matthew-speak are the Gentiles, the non-Jews, who are under scrutiny.  Here the fantastic is laid out, the promise of the reign of God prepared before the foundation of the world.  An epic gift for those not normally included in the circle.


But it is the rubbing together with the ordinary and everyday that begs the question from the unsuspecting in the story: “when was it?”  “When was it that we ministered to you, God, cared for you, God, saw you, God, and provided for you, God?”


And the king in the story answers that it is in the very ordinary encounters with those who are usually excluded from the circle, who are the most in need, those we meet are care for and provide for, it is in them that God is.


Martin Luther pointed out that in our loving relations we can be “little Christs” to each other, revealing grace and the holy in day to day human interaction.


It’s interesting that this compelling parable serves as the final story that Jesus tells before his passion—betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.


The Son of Humanity in the parable leads us to think of the Messiah on the cross, who was raised, who serves as one who judges and who forgives.


And interesting, too that in this story about the separating of the sheep from the goats does not mention a confession of faith but instead the very Matthean virtue of doing what’s right, no matter who is the one doing it.


It makes me think of the string of shelter meals Bethesda has prepared for people we do not know, the weekly invitation for all to eat the bread of life and the cup of salvation in the eucharist for all who hunger and thirst for God, how during one week in the cold winter shelters a dozen men for one week who are all strangers that become our guests, how students find a home here, how in this building throughout the week people find a place to belong, children, alcoholics, Korean Presbyterians, most of whom we will never meet.


I think of the mosque in Texas that opened its doors for Sunday morning worshippers after Hurricane Harvey.  I think of The Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital which provides expert cancer and kidney treatment to Palestinians from East Jerusalem and surrounding villages, and Gaza.  I think of the work of refugee resettlement agencies and those active in the sanctuary movement.


I think of all those who have contributed to my well-being and to the well-being of those I love without counting the cost or weighing its virtues.


And to think, in all this, through all this, that Christ lives and reigns, offering new life indiscriminately now, and tomorrow, and to the end of time.


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