This weekend, here at St. James, alongside of Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other Protestant churches across the globe, we observe the Feast day of Christ the King.
It is the observance of the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the period of time in the Church calendar outside our major seasons, just before we enter into the season of Advent.
Historically, the Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to our liturgical calendar, being instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI (the 14th) in his encyclical letter Quas primas as a response to the increase of secularism around the world, hoping to renew a deeper understanding of what it means to confess Jesus Christ to be King of heaven and of earth.
With this, Pope Pius writes; “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
So today, on the Feast of Christ the King, we are left to answer the question for ourselves as individuals and as a gathering community rooted in faith in Christ, do we truly confess Jesus Christ as King above all things in heaven and on earth? Do we allow Him to reign in our minds, our wills, our hearts, and in our bodies and our members, that in all these things, we would be instruments of justice unto God?
Our Gospel reading for today, comes to us in the form of a parable in which Jesus describes His second coming and the final judgment of the world. Jesus’ description echoes the fulfillment of the vision from the book of Daniel, where the prophet describes
“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
So Jesus speaks, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.”
All the nations of the world will gather before the Son of Man, where they will be separated into two groups. As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, those at his right hand, the sheep, the blessed… those who inherit the Kingdom of God… those at his left hand, the goats, the cursed… those sent to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…
So, are we sheep? Or are we goats? Are we on the right or on the left? Are we the blessed, those who will inherit the Kingdom? Or are we those who are cursed, condemned to eternal damnation? What is it that determines who is who?
This past Sunday, after spending most of the weekend with Jess and almost 30 middle-school-ers, I returned to St. James for our annual meeting. After gathering downstairs for soup and bread, about 60 St. James members made their way up to this space to reflect on the past year and look to the year ahead.
While, along with just about every congregation’s annual meeting, ours can easily become about budget and numbers, at its’ core, it is really about mission… about how we as a family of faith confess Christ as King and seek to kneel at His throne… about how we seek to live our lives in his service through all that we do and with all that we have… about how we seek to serve the least of these (the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison, the vulnerable), with our minds, our wills, our hearts, and in our bodies and our members… that we would be instruments of justice unto God.
It seems to me, that this is what our parable for today is really all about… Jesus calls us to live our lives according to the faith that we claim to have… to serve the least among us, in whatever form they may take… not because we want to secure our place among the righteous when the final judgment comes, but because of our place already secured their through what God has already done for us… because of the birth of the babe in the manger for which we prepare in the month ahead, and the sacrifice of the cross for which that birth took place…
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;”
“For just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
While Christ proclaims that those who are blessed are to care for the least among them… he doesn’t proclaim that they are blessed because they do so, but rather doing so, is what those who are blessed simply do. That it isn’t the manner in which we live, what we do or fail to do, that marks us as blessed or cursed… but rather Christ alone and His cross that we are blessed, thus called to be a blessing to others. How we respond is up to us.
Will you give to those who have nothing? Will you offer food, and clothes to those who are in need? Will you judge a person for their current life situation with knowing nothing of their past? Will you invite someone who is alone to sit with you for a meal? Will you visit those who no one else will? How will you remind the least among us that they are members of Christ’s family, the body of Christ, and beloved children of God? Will you offer yourself and what you have to this community, that we would do the same?
Not easy questions to answer, and even more difficult to live out.
The good news is… we are not alone in any of the work that Jesus calls us to do as his disciples… in our baptisms we are given the promise that we are blessed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever…
This forever means at all times… That God promises to be with us, and gives us the ability to invite those who are hungry to the table… to serve the least among us… to give to those who have little… and to be a sign of Christ’s presence for those in times when he seems absent…
With this we go forth with all that we have and all that we are in allegiance to Christ the King trusting in Him and in His promise, faithfully serving him by serving others.
“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” Thanks be to God.
~Pastor Andrew Geib