What’s a king?

Christ the King Sunday
November 22nd, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here to find these readings.

        One of the ways to think about the Bible is that it’s a series of questions with – not answers – but stories. This is how Jesus talks, right? People come up to Jesus and they’re all like, “My neighbor is being a jerk, what do I do?” or “How do I make good with God?” or “What’s the Kingdom of Heaven like?” and Jesus’ response is often, “Well, let me tell you a story about that.”

        And we might say, “Yes, Jesus, stories are very nice, but I’ve got a really pressing issue right now and I need a clear answer.” And Jesus says, “Let me tell you a story about needing clear answers.”

        But it’s not just Jesus who talks like this; it’s the whole Bible. Pretty early on, we get a very harrowing question: “What is a brother?” We can broaden this to “What is a sister or a sibling”, but whatever the case, we hear this question in the story of Cain and Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And we don’t get an answer to this question; instead, we get stories about siblings, of Joseph and his brothers, both when they’re young and when they’re old; we hear about David’s children; and we hear about this strange, fascinating, new relationship that we can have with God through our siblinghood with Jesus Christ, who is also God. What is a brother? Well, read the Bible, then let’s discuss it.

        We get a bunch of other questions, too. What is land? Or, more broadly, what is Creation and what is our relationship with Creation? Then we get stories about the Promised Land, a bunch of the Psalms, and the New Creation we hear Isaiah talking about and Jesus leading us into. These aren’t answers. They’re stories, they’re discussions, their on-ramps to the great highway of Christian thought and discipleship.

        And here’s another one: what is a king? And if we look to the Bible, we find a lot of stories. We hear about when the leaders of Israel ask for a king in 1 Samuel, and Samuel who tells them that this really isn’t a good idea, just so you know (but they want one anyway). Then there’s David, who is a great, awesome king until he gets Uriah killed so her can marry Bathsheba; then everything goes down really quickly. We hear about good kings and awful kings, kings who could have been good but, well, sin you know, and bad kings who are given so many chances to make things better but who don’t, and well, look at what happens.

        And this question – what is a king – is the question of the day. This Sunday is the last day in Ordinary time, that huge, long season of green that began way, way back in May on the day of Pentecost. This is the end of our church year: next week it’ll be Advent. We’ll start wearing purple or blue and we’ll move from reading St. Matthew’s gospel and pick up St. Mark’s again. And it is on this day that the Church asks the question, “What does it mean to talk about Jesus as a king?” and the subsequent question, “Why do we talk about a KINGdom at all?”

        And we might rightly ask this question. Samuel certainly asked this question. I wonder if Uriah and Bathsheba asked it as well. Folks in the thirteen colonies asked it of their own king. And looking at Jesus, who was given a purple mantle and a crown of thorns after being beaten, Jesus, who hung out with prostitutes and tax-collectors, who dared to touch lepers, and washed people’s stinky feet – we might rightly ask, “What does Jesus have to do with kings?”

        And the Bible asks us, “What is a king?” But the Bible doesn’t answer the question; instead it gives us a conversation – stories! – about what a king should be. What a leader of a people should be.

        Our readings this morning give us two parts of that conversation that don’t just describe what kings do but point to how they should be. The first is from Ezekiel and describes that Great Should: how God acts towards us. Ezekiel writes: Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out, I will feed them. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.

        That’s how Ezekiel talks about God, anyway. Here’s leadership: I will come and search for you, rescue you, lead you, feed you. I will give and give and give.

        Okay, that’s great for Ezekiel, but what does Jesus say? Jesus, our redeemer and our salvation? “Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” And, the clincher, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

        Jesus’ kingship is about rescue, because the Kingdom of God is about rescue. It’s about searching out for the lost sheep, for going to those who are sick and hungry and in need and tending to those needs. And, after, to nurturing those souls to God, so that not just stomachs but hearts and minds and spirits are filled as well.

        And one of the reasons we talk about Jesus as a king is because this isn’t just some suggestion that we’re being given. God didn’t come to us as Jesus Christ to say, hey, if you feel like being a good person, you know, feeding the hungry and all, cool, but if not, that’s fine. And that whole inner transformation of the self thing? I mean, you can if it you want to, it’s really up to you. As Christians, we are called upon to follow Jesus in his ministries of healing and reconciliation, and we are called on to transform and to be transformed in God’s Holy Spirit. This isn’t just a suggestion; it’s the very Breath of Life, the Hope and the Life that undergirds all of Creation. This is the call from your very soul that, whether you answer it or not, challenges all that you are, all that you have been, and all that you ever will be.

        And when we look to how to answer that call, we have only to look to our king. For the model of leadership is Jesus on the cross. It is the image of a man who was God nailed upon a tree, and whose love was enough to save everything. And that model – that life – is what we go to in our prayers. It’s what we find in confession and absolution. It’s what we experience in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It’s that living presence that is with us in our mission and our doubt, in our love and what calls us away from our hate. When we want to know how to act, live, pray, be, we’ve got one place to look: Jesus Christ.

        So let us follow where he leads. Wherever it is he’s leading us, let us go; for we know that to follow Jesus is to not just know the meaning of love but to be love.

 

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