November 26, 2017: Christ the King (Sacred)
Scriptures Used: Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 1:15-23
(To intro the sermon, I showed pictures of various “kings” – Michael Jackson, James Brown, Elvis, then Charlemagne, Ghengis Khan – to show the various natures of what makes someone an authority to others)
We have many ways of understanding what makes a ‘king,’ or more broadly, an authority.
Authority is a strange concept. In the narratives of history, authority is ascribed to world leaders of nations and factions, military commanders, persons with great influence or command of a resource whether people or goods. Authority is the power to cause change. We have seen multiple examples of changes enacted by authorities – both good and evil – that have pushed us to think more deeply about what speaks to people: those who wield authority as commanders, or those with influence to get us to do what they want willingly because we like them. George Washington was commander-in-chief of the colonial army because he was given that power from the American Congress, but he also had a charisma that garnered respect from his peers. They would fight for him because of who he was.
We obsess over authority and leadership. What makes a good leader? What makes a bad leader? Think of the current news of famous men being outed for sexual harassment. We struggle to determine what kinds of behaviors or actions disqualify a person to be a leader or even whether they deserve to be an entertainer due to the power of influence. We really want to know who we can like or dislike, who to follow and who to avoid. Many leaders in history and today have power and authority yet are known to have major flaws, but we still listen to them and even do what they want. Why?
Whether or not we like it, politics and church often look and act similarly because both are reliant on authority. People stick with a leader’s presence and authority because the community values their message. And the message matters for both politics and church. In last year’s election, we heard the same message by folks on both sides that resonated with many people: “If we change the leadership, our lives get better.” The church’s message differs only slightly but significantly: “If we change what leads us, our lives get better.”
Now, here’s the difference: In politics, the judge of what qualifies as “better” is the person or group of people with the most power to influence. Government and society interpret “good” and “bad” by their shared opinions. There is a margin of error we live with in describing how well we are doing overall as a society. In church, we are bound by God’s interpretation of our actions.
In today’s passage from Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that there is a definitive “good” and “bad” way of being. Those who follow God’s commands to care for those in need, the hungry, thirsty, strangers, the poorly clothed, prisoners, and/or sick, are put on God’s right side. They are safe. Those who do not are deemed wild, untamed goats who deserve the fires of torment.
That’s quite the blow to our sensibilities! Aren’t we allowed grace and to be individuals and exercise free will? Yes! But there is still a law, and we are held to it. “How do we know,” they ask, “if we are in the correct group following the correct authority?” He tells them, if you really follow me, you’ll already be doing it. That’s real authority – to trust that those who get your message will follow it with all they have to the point that it is second nature.
For those who see the authority of Christ, the judgment should not be scary. God knows what a good heart looks like. Not only is God the One who made everything, God also joined us through the life of Christ to know what it is like to be human – indecisive, tempted by other things, to have cravings, to feel – and even died a human death so that our whole experience was fully embraced. But God wasn’t finished, and raised Jesus from the dead so that we could also claim resurrection as part of our experience, too.
It is through this connection of absolute power in divinity and absolute powerlessness in humanity that God truly has authority over us in the final chapter of our lives. There is no place we can say, “God, you don’t get it.” God does. Those of us who believe will be willing to follow God’s word, because we know that God truly has the best for us at heart. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul puts it this way:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.
Those who understand Christ have no issue submitting to his authority as judge, nor will they fear caring for the needy or fear for their lives to help strangers, because that’s just what Christians do. Our king is both the king of heaven and the Great Shepherd who cares for his flock.
We all have other kinds of kings in our lives that claim authority over our time, our money, our attention and cause us to wander. I’m guilty too. Sometimes, Christ isn’t my king. Instead, it’s making sure things get done, or that I keep as many people in my personal life and in the church as happy as possible. Some days my king is financial security, or getting something I want. Or having a good time. I can still do those things with Christ as my king, and I would likely do them better because I wouldn’t be stressed out over whether or not I succeed. I am thankful he continues to come after me, and sometimes even carries me, back to the fold.
For those who are concerned about the state of the world today, I know many want to say we should invest in authorities that are more present to us: political agendas, securing financial gains, doing what makes us happy and ignoring what does not. Some feel we should put our hope in the unifying tenants symbolized in the flag. You can do those things, and to some degree all are effective at helping shape a better world, but let me offer another way. Look to Christ first in everything you say and do. Prepare your heart to give of all you have in service to God. To rephrase Paul: only the greatest authority would give up all power, live as a normal person, insist on giving everything away to embody modesty, and die without a fight to know what it was like to be one of us and cause no harm, then break the darkness of sin and death and add to our existence a resurrection we do not deserve nor could we do ourselves.
Today ends the worship series Sacred, which was designed to remind us all that we have a lot of work to do if we want to claim that the Church has something to say to people today. We have to go back to what made us “not of the world but in the world” as first residents of the kingdom of heaven. We cannot do that if we do not truly accept Christ’s authority over our lives and all that we have. We cannot be followers when we feel like it and expect others to fall in line. It is only through our love and loyalty to God that people will come to know the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The world needs a savior; we can offer him to those in need every day through our attention, our time, our gifts, and our prayers.
In the name of Christ our Lord, Amen.
 John 17:14-15