Christ the King
A week ago Friday, I had a 2 1/2 hour interview with a church.
So, I spent that week
sketching out thoughts,
and imagining any potential question that could be asked and coming up with brilliant answers.
The emotional output, soul-searching, and vulnerability are a heavy load.
It feels as if our future destiny hangs in the balance during every interview.
Unfortunately, I am still in the job market because that church has already said they do not want to move forward with me.
Part of me wishes I could have a list of all the questions that the interview committee might ask or to be a fly on the wall to discover exactly what the search committee is looking for.
Can you relate to the frustration of being expected to meet an unstated standard but don’t know how?
On my worst days, I hear Satan telling me,
“Something must be wrong with you.” Or, “You’re just not good enough.”
Have you ever been there before?
Maybe you have a friend, neighbor, coworker, or even a spouse that seem impossible to please.
I don’t know if you noticed it, but in our Gospel reading, both those on the left and the right, are oblivious that they passed the test!
Not only that, but neither group was even aware that a test had even taken place.
That hardly seems like a fair way to determine eternal destinies!
Would you agree?
There’s no denominational check, no verification of their code of conduct, no statement of faith, or even assurance that one prayed the sinner’s prayer.
Here, as well as in the parable of the bridesmaids and talents, there is no explicit concern regarding belief.
Everything hinges on what someone does. Why is this?
The good news Wilmore Anglican is that the Kingdom of Heaven is being established now around the basic human needs of eating, drinking, welcoming the foreigner, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.
Only, that is not the list I was expecting to describe the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven.
What about you?
For the time remaining let us dive in and discover the good news that Jesus invites us into.
JUDGMENT = SEPARATION
JUDGMENT = SEPARATION
Let me start with the obvious: this the final judgment with all of the nations gathered before the Son of Man.
Jesus uses the common image of a shepherd separating sheep from goats who graze together at the end of the day.
That is to say, the kingdom of heaven is compared with the act of separation.
(Preaching the Lectionary, 212)
But based on what?
SEPARATION = WHAT WE DO
SEPARATION = WHAT WE DO
Contrary to the Dispensational interpretation that I grew up with, in Paul’s timeline that we heard read from 1 Cor 15, the rule of Messiah, or the Messianic kingdom, is happening now until all enemies are placed under Jesus’s feet.
We know this because Jesus assumes his rule at his ascension and as Paul says, Jesus hands over the Kingdom to the Father at “the End” when death, the last enemy, is destroyed.
In my Trinity Series homily, I noted that when Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, he draws attention to Daniel 7 where he receives the power to rule from the Ancient of Days.
And you’ll remember that there are two thrones.
So, notice in Matt 25:34 that the King calls those on his right hand,
“those blessed by my Father,”
indicating that the Father participates with the Son of Man in deciding our fate.
But there’s more.
In the parable of the bridesmaids, the parable of the talents, as well as here with the shepherd imagery, all of the people involved potentially “belong.“
There are no predetermined outsiders.
Half the bridesmaids, and one of slaves of the master exclude themselves from the Kingdom by what they do not do.
In the same way, those on the left hand of Jesus are called,
“those who are cursed”
also for what they do not do.
And don’t miss this, they are cast in to the lake of fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels.
Whereas the kingdom is prepared for those on the right hand, the lake of fire is not prepared for those on the left.
It is not God’s desire that they or we end up there, rather they choose to be.
C. S. Lewis agrees when he says in The Great Divorce,
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell.”
WHAT WE CHOOSE = THE MASTER WE SERVE
WHAT WE CHOOSE = THE MASTER WE SERVE
Judgment in the parables of the bridesmaids and talents, and in our text, is based on what people do or do not do.
And this action or inaction is directly influenced by their knowledge of Jesus.
The excluded bridesmaids are told,
“I do not know you” (Matt 25:12).
And the lazy slave is asked,
“If you knew me, why didn’t you at least invest my money with the bankers” (Matt 25:26-27)?
This indicates that the slave did not know the master.
Are you seeing that judgment is based on our relationship with Jesus?
That it is based upon our knowing him, his desires, his will, and acting on them?
WHO DO WE SERVE?
WHO DO WE SERVE?
This helps us clear up the puzzle of this text, the identity of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned.
For, Jesus says, in as much as you have done it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me.
So, who are the least of these brothers of mine and why does Jesus identify so closely with them?
Well, in Matthew, both “my brothers” and “the least” refers to his disciples, such as in Matt 11:11; 18:3-6, 10-14; 12:50; or 28:10.
These are not the poor and needy generally speaking, rather these are the followers of Jesus who live their lives in the face of the hospitality or hostility shown them as they bring the kingdom to this world.
In as much as people receive and show them hospitality, they demonstrate their acceptance of Jesus and his kingdom.
As Jesus says earlier in Matthew,
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.” (Matt 10:40-42)
You might also remember what Jesus says to Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:4,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
In as much as people ignore them, they demonstrate their rejection of Jesus and his kingdom.
As one commentator notes, the goats are guilty of the sin of omission, or what is not done.
(Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:431)
Friends, Jesus and his kingdom comes to this world through us.
We are sent out in His name to bring the good news of his Kingdom, to proclaim that he rules.
And at “the End,” at least as Jesus describes it here, everyone is judged based on their acceptance or rejection of us who proclaim the kingdom.
Epiphanius the Latin, writing in the 5th century says it so well:
“For the Lord hungers not in his own nature but in his saints; the Lord thirsts not in his own nature but in his poor. The Lord who clothes everyone is not naked in his own nature but in his servants. The Lord who is able to heal all sicknesses and has already destroyed death itself is not diseased in his own nature but in his servants. Our Lord, the one who can liberate every person, is not in prison in his own nature but in his saints. Therefore, you see, my most beloved, that the saints are not alone. They suffer all these things because of the Lord. In the same way, because of the saints the Lord suffers all these things with them.”
(Interpretation of the Gospels 38.26)
The good news Wilmore Anglican, is that Jesus experiences all the joy and suffering with us that we experience on account of his name.
Most, if not all of us, don’t experience anything like what Jesus imagines here, that is, us being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or imprisoned because of our proclaiming the Gospel.
But whatever suffering we do experience for his kingdom, Jesus suffers with us, literally.
What does it look like for the Kingdom to come in the midst of basic human needs such as food, drink, clothing, healthcare, and visits?
Many of you know that my neighbor Luke is in very bad health.
In fact, he went back to the hospital yesterday, so please pray for him.
And I want you to know that I’m sharing this snippet of our relationship with his permission.
I’ve spent hours with him sitting on his porch drinking tea and coffee, and chatting.
He has led a hard life and has told me on a couple of occasions that he’s been hard on the “big 10.”
He means the 10 commandments.
But in his physical humiliation through the rapid decline of his health, he has responded with a humble and contrite spirit.
When we first became friends, I was just walking by and noticed him sitting on the porch.
Wanting to be a good neighbor, I chatted with him.
As we developed our friendship, he learned a bombshell secret about me… I was a priest.
He told me that had he known I was a priest, he would have never sat down with me and I just laughed with joy.
He added, that there had been several events like that which have happened “out of order” and that “someone had to have their fingers in it.”
The Kingdom has come to Luke in part because he has opened his porch to me.
It is a privilege to walk with him on his journey to Jesus, but it is a privilege I could only have because he invited me in.
As I close, I want to let you in on a little secret.
There is a deep irony in our Gospel reading.
Jesus gives us the answers to the final exam!
You see, the genre of this text is “apocalyptic revelation.”
That is, Jesus, is revealing what will happen at the end, just as he’s done all throughout Matthew 24-25, so let us be faithful in bringing the Kingdom to those around us.
We don’t need fancy programs, impressive degrees, or even comprehensive strategies.
The Kingdom of Heaven is comes in the meeting of our basic human needs.