Christ The King Sunday 2017
This is the Last Sunday of the Christian Year, Christ the King Sunday - the final word on just who Jesus is. We have four gospels and a collection of letters and an odd piece of Apocalyptic literature all offering a wide variety of answers to the question Jesus himself poses to all who would be a follower, a disciple, of his: Who do you say that I am?
Ezekiel, a prophet of Exile, writes: Thus, says the Lord God – I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out [Ezk 34:11]. Further on, he says, “…I will bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with Justice [v.16]. Seems they even had “fat cats” back then! It was bad and bloated leadership of Israel that had resulted in the Exile. Who are these “sheep” the Lord God seeks out? Psalms 23, 95 and 100 all declare, “We are his people, we are the sheep of his pasture.” Then comes the great vision of Matthew chapter 25. Following several parables warning us to be ready for the return of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, verses 31-46 offer a detailed and surprising account of just who Jesus is.
Take note of all the names by which he is identified in this vision: Son of Man, shepherd, one who separates sheep from goats, Lord, king, and finally a long list of who he is and where we can find him and serve him – those who are thirsty, hungry, in prison, strangers (resident aliens), and naked. He is The Lord God, The Shepherd, of whom Ezekiel speaks, and and at the same time, he is the least of those among us; he is shepherd and judge; he is Lord and King!
What an odd king we have, those of us who claim his name as our own. He had no army, but instead orders his followers to put down their weapons. He has no territory, no home, and yet he hosts people, all people, to share meals with him, no questions asked. He wrote no books, left no written record, nothing but a long series of odd stories. He had no money but depended upon the generosity of others. He wielded no political power, but instead spoke truth to power and was eventually the victim of state sponsored capital punishment, left to hang on a cross.
As a brochure notes in the Abbey Church in Bath, “What stood out to those who knew him, who saw him, who experienced what it is like to be in his presence was his teaching that we are all infinitely precious, children of one heavenly Father, and that we should therefore treat one another with love, respect and forgiveness. He lived out what he taught by caring for those he met; by healing the sick - a sign of God's love at work; and by forgiving those who put him to death. Above all, he pointed to his death as God's appointed means of bringing self-centered people back to God. Jesus also foretold that he would be raised to life again three days after his death. When, three days after he had died on the cross, his followers did indeed meet him alive again; frightened and defeated men became fearless and joyful messengers.
“Their message of the Good News about Jesus is the reason this Abbey Church exists. More importantly, it is the reason why all over the world there are Christians who know what it means to meet the living Jesus, and believe that He alone has the key to human life.” Not kings, not captains of industry, not the wealthy or politically powerful, but Jesus is the key.” As Matthew’s vision declares, this Jesus is served among “the least of these,” the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and the prisoner.
About six years ago I was invited to play drums in a monthly jam session at the late Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington D.C. I was there every month for about two and one-half years. My first time there I discovered that it was just two doors down from Christ House on Columbia Road, a shelter and health-care center for homeless men. My long-time mentor and friend in ministry, The Reverend N. Gordon Cosby of the Church of the Saviour in D.C. inspired the founding of Christ House, and when he retired from active ministry he and his wife Mary Cosby chose to live in Christ House with the homeless men who live there.
I would drag my drums into Chief Ike’s early so I could visit Gordon and Mary for a few minutes every month. Out in front of Christ House, right on the sidewalk, there is a small plaza with a statue of Jesus designed by sculptor Jimilu Mason. It is a life-sized bronze of Jesus on his knees with a wash basin looking up to wash the feet of any who willingly submit to his doing so. In fair weather and even foul, every evening when I was at Chief Ike’s, some of the men of Christ House would sit around this image of Christ – the very people Jesus lived to serve.
Each month I would sit with them for a half-hour or so and just talk. When I would say I was a friend of Gordon and Mary I was instantly made to feel at home, part of the Christ House family. They were always interested to know about my life in music and ministry. Gordon and Mary had dedicated their lives after WWII to serve those in greatest need in our nation’s capital. Here we were, washing one another’s feet, actively living out the vision of Matthew 25. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
I always got much more out of it than they did. Especially in the late spring of 2012 after the tragic shooting in my church office in Ellicott City that resulted in the death of my two closest colleagues in ministry. These men, along with Gordon and Mary, washed my feet, healed my wounds, held me up, and knew at an elemental dimension just what it was I was going through.
Note that in the vision in Matthew 25 the sorting out of sheep and goats is for all people of all nations, not just Christians and Jews. The criterion is not “belief in Jesus,” whatever that might mean. The criterion is not membership in the Church. The criterion is not discipleship as described in Matthew’s story of Jesus. The criterion is simply the treatment one gives to other human beings. That is who Jesus is, says the story: the people you serve, that is where God is to be found. And as I discovered, they are the people through whom Jesus loves you. Eternal life, it turns out, is in service to others. Especially the least of those whom Jesus loved.
A church, a society, a nation will be judged against this single criterion: the treatment of other human beings. How we care for those most vulnerable is what counts. The difference between the sheep and the goats in this vision is not a matter of seeking the face of Jesus, but rather of visiting people and taking care of them. You don’t even need to believe in or even know who Jesus is. We need to serve the least of these because in the end knowing them will heal us.
One can imagine those who first heard Jesus share his vision of God’s eternal life were shocked to find out what the criteria will be. It reminds me of a film about Mother Teresa in Mexico setting up a mission to serve the poor. A business man from the U.S. shows up with “his people” to give her a check for thousands of dollars. She is too busy to accept the check. He keeps trying to give it to here. She keeps serving the poor. He is totally perplexed. Finally, she tells him, “We really don’t need your money right now. What we need and what you need is to join us in helping these people here and now.” He wanders away with his people, all of them still perplexed.
“Jesu, Jesu: Kneels at the feet of his friends/silently washes their feet, master who acts as a slave to them.” What a funny king we have. A king like no other. He is ours, and we are his – the sheep of his pasture. if only we seek and serve those he seeks to be his own, our lives will never be the same again.