Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
The Rev. Drew Brislin
The season of Christmas movies has kicked into full gear. They seem to be starting them earlier and earlier, even broadcasting new ones during Christmas in July campaigns. While the story lines vary there are inevitably at least one or two if not more that involve some kind of royal character whether it’s a prince or princess who is looking to be treated like a regular person and so they embark on some adventure that leads them to hide their identity. You know how it ends too, they meet someone, a commoner, and end up falling in love and live happily ever after. These royals were seeking common relationships very much in the same way that God sought relationship with us. God sought to be in relationship with us too and to that end he accommodates us by humbling himself and taking on human form in Jesus. Over the centuries there have been a lot of debates and arguments over how God does this, and I think it is safe to say that it’s just a mystery. We are not to figure out how God does what he does but we are to simply just take comfort in his love for us and appreciate the mystery. Today, the church celebrates Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday as it is called in other denominations. It is the day in which we celebrate the kingly nature of Jesus. This is a relatively new feast day within the church that is not quite a hundred years old yet, having been established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. As people began to turn to charismatic leaders like Hitler and Mussolini, the pope sought to turn people’s attention back to Jesus and so looked to turn attention back to Christ by focusing on his kingly nature. As we look to bring this season of Pentecost to an end and enter into the season Advent and the season of incarnation, it seems right that we should focus on this aspect or nature of Christ. As we all know though, Jesus is a different kind of king, and we learn this in our Gospel reading this morning.
This very familiar reading places us at the end of Jesus’ farewell discourse just before the Passion begins. Like a teacher preparing to retire, Jesus wants to make sure that his students have the tools necessary to carry on in his absence. When engaged in a certain way though I think this reading can be very difficult. I think it can be easy to read this passage and miss the Gospel. So often this part of Matthew sounds like a rule book or a guide for how to get to Heaven as if what we do affects that decision. That getting into Heaven is something we earn, and some people are in, and some people are out. I think though that salvation is not so much something we achieve, but rather something we discover when we least expect it. Jesus was not trying to tell us how to get to heaven but rather where heaven can be found. In his instruction to feed and give water and visit, Jesus is looking for love from us that is overflowing, not calculated efforts. Jesus is in effect giving us a wellness check and so maybe we are challenged to see the separation of the sheep and the goats as some people are in and some are out but rather maybe as those actions that draw us away from God and those that draw us closer. Kind of like a doctor telling us which foods are good for us and which are not as good for us and how to stay healthy. What if we see the goats as those things that get in the way of our relationships with each other and with God and the sheep as those things that help us to draw closer to one another and with God. On this Christ the King Sunday we are called to focus on our relationships with each other and this in turn draws our attention to our relationship with Jesus.
While our Gospel reading this morning comes near the end of the book, the authors of Matthew’s Gospel begin their work with the phrase “An account of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In our beloved King James Version of the Bible, we often refer to this as the begot section. You know the Abraham begot Isaac and Isaac begot Jacob and so forth and so on through King David until we come to Joseph and then Jesus. It is Matthew’s argument for why Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. These early passages draw us to Jesus’ royal lineage from his birth, however, in a few short months this kingly nature from birth will be juxtaposed with his kingly nature at death on Good Friday as he is nailed to a cross, and sign is placed above his head proclaiming him King to the objection of those in authority who saw him as a threat. Christ is the King that draws us into a new relationship because of the unearned grace that we now enjoy because of what he endured for us on the cross. Because grace is undeserved and unearned, I think we are called to engage our Gospel this morning with that same spirit of generosity. I think this is the heart of those Christmas movies. They seek to erase the lines of who is in and who is out. The royal seeks the commoner because the relationship is genuine. They are stories that draw us into places of inclusion. We learn that those called to positions of leadership are called to positions of service. When we feed, give drink, visit, welcome, and cloth the stranger we do this to Jesus because we are all created in our beloved maker’s image and so are created with his light and life in us. While we all are a little bit goat and we all are a little bit sheep, I think Jesus is calling us this morning to be his sheep in the world as we seek to spread his love in a world full of goats.