On this, the final Sunday in our church year we celebrate Christ The King Sunday and finish our reading of Matthew’s Gospel.
This feast day was established by Pope Pius XI almost one hundred years ago, not like most feast days which are centuries old. Tensions in Europe were deep and broad following the horrors WWI. Life had been shattered, altered, and scarred. A sense of hopelessness, anger and frustration allowed for new divisive political leadership to develop. People were losing sight of faith in their lives. Pope Pius X1 felt that this feast day would help people to remember, with intention, to keep their faith in God; that people needed to hold onto the reign of Christ - our King, the Lord of Lords - in their hearts despite the dark distractions around them. Do you sense a familiar theme today? Life continues to be filled with deep tensions and gloom. Sadly, hope is being lost.
Next week, as we move into Advent we will move to the Gospel of Mark. This year we have been reading Matthew and in this, the season after Pentecost, the longest season of our church year, we’ve finished reading the parables. We’ve learned from these what is expected of us as followers of Christ. Today’s reading tells us about what to expect when Jesus comes in His glory. Jesus is described as King.
Christ as King? Would Jesus choose to be king? Kings, as with all monarchy, male & female, are set apart from the common person. They aren’t ‘regular’ people. Kings are elevated, on thrones, all dressed up as royalty. They have people doing everything for them. This is not how I see Jesus. This is not the Jesus that we follow. This is not the picture of someone who cares for every human being.
Remember in the Hebrew Scripture when the people wanted a king? God kept telling them it wasn’t a good idea, but He finally relented and gave them kings. If you’ll remember that didn’t work out all that well for them. They ended up as slaves.
They, and we, look for powerful kings to fight against powerful kings! We give up our power when we look to others to rule us. The only one we need to give power to is God.
Jesus knew about the oppressive nature of secular kings, and unlike kings of his time his role was as teacher and servant to all. He asked his followers to serve others as well. When Christ comes to judge us, we will be judged based on how we have lived according to what He taught. Have we worked for love, mercy, peace, and justice? When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating an oppressive ruler, but the one who died on the cross for us. Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him.
We heard in Mathew this morning that when God comes he will separate the sheep from the goats.
Notice in the reading that the goats and sheep ask almost the same question. When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, in prison, welcomed you? The goats ask when didn’t we do these things? The sheep ask when did we.
I’m a city girl. Truth be told it wasn’t until I was at a farm with my grandkids about a year ago when I saw goats & sheep up close enough to touch for the first time. You know what? Sheep smell! And another thing…they are not soft and fluffy. My granddaughter Nora laughed at me. How could I not know what sheep were like? Growing up in the city didn’t put me in close proximity with sheep & goats.
I knew though from growing up in the church, that sheep were good, goats bad. There are so many stories about the Good Shepherd and then there’s the 23rd psalm as well as the psalm from this morning.
What makes sheep better than goats? Is it the notion that sheep are compliant, and goats are combative? Is this true? Is it because we hear so much about Jesus as the Good Shephard?
Not knowing much about sheep and goats I did some research and here is what I learned, much of it from writing of Heather Disher:
“In North America, we can easily tell a sheep from a goat but that isn’t true worldwide. In parts of Asia and Africa, sheep and goats are almost identical, and only a shepherd can easily tell them apart. Sheep have always been dependent on a shepherd and goats are independent and lead their goatherds around.”
If we are going to be sheep, we must realize our dependence on God. Only God can really tell the difference because it is God who sees into our hearts. If we allow ourselves to be sensitive to God’s Spirit, and follow Jesus’ path we chose to be sheep. If we choose to ignore the whisper from the Holy Spirit and go our own way we choose to be goats. When God looks at each of us the truth of our life will be known.
Knowing this I realize that there are days when I am more goat than sheep. I know however that I can change, I can choose to follow Jesus rather than do things my way.
Our reading this morning told us 4 times in 10 versus what we need to do. There is nothing there that is outside the realm of possibility for us.
Giving food to the hungry.
Giving water to the thirsty.
Welcoming the stranger.
Clothing the naked.
Caring for the sick.
Visiting those in prison.
We have, right here through the cathedral, opportunities for each of these. If you want to be involved sign up for one of our ministries and, if you have questions just ask.
We can learn to recognize our Shepherd’s voice, Our King’s voice, trust it and serve our neighbors. We just need to hear the voice of our true King. AMEN