Thursday, 17 November 2011

What kind of King?

A sermon for Christ the King Sunday by Rev Peter Lockhart

May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of our hearts
Be acceptable in your sight O Lord
Our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

On the day that we celebrate the Reign of Christ the King the gospel of Matthew gives to us a clear indication of who Jesus is as king and how we are to serve and follow him.

In the vision of the coming of the Son of Man having separate the sheep from the goats, Jesus acknowledges the righteous ones saying, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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.’

Jesus kingship is defined by his presence in and among the poor, Jesus kingship is defined by his place alongside the oppressed, Jesus kingship by his companionship with the stranger and the sick and the prisoner.

In this Jesus kingship alters our world view. It redefines notions of power and authority and sets a marker for those who are number among his followers, the righteous one.

What I find most surprising in the passage is that those who are numbered among the righteous and among those who are accursed is that neither group is aware of their state of being blessed or cursed.

This mystery of salvation indicates to me that it is God’s grace that invigorates and transforms people as his servants rather than their choice to go and serve the poor or the needy or the oppressed that means that they are counted among God’s chosen ones.

This may seem a little arbitrary but what I believe is being indicated in this passage is that our relationship with God and the coming kingdom is not determined by what we do but rather our works are signs or markers of the gift of grace we have received, even unknowingly.

I want to share the story of two of my friends who I believe reflect such markers in the conduct of their lives and their service and following of Jesus.

One is my friend Jason who I first met as Youth Worker student in college. Over the last couple of years Jason has devoted himself to a self funded project called “Street Dreams”. Jason has spent time in the Philippines making a documentary to raise awareness of the plight of girls and women who work in the sex industry in that country and beyond. At great personal expense and at some risk to himself Jason has worked with his team to bring this project to its final stages.

Surely, Jason has met Jesus, the coming king, in those oppressed and abused women. Christ the King alive in the poor and oppressed.

A second is my friend Greg whom I have known for over twenty years. Greg and his wife have spent most their time since graduating from university working among poor and outcaste in India. Both are highly trained professionals but have forgone the possibilities of highly lucrative careers in Australia in preference for serving the poor in India. Once again, I have little doubt that the have seen Christ the King in the impoverished people among whom they have worked.

It is my view that it is not their choice to do these good works that brings them into a relationship with God but it because God has come in into both of their lives in a real and personal way that they have been inspired to share in Christ ministry and so possibility without knowing meet Christ in those whom they have served.

These views of Christ as King and defining Christ as King in this way, as being present among the broken and oppressed, certainly challenges any false regal notions that we might have as people about Jesus.

Now whilst I do not believe we can go and serve the poor to save ourselves maybe in the realisation of how God’s grace is poured out we will be personally challenged by what it means for us to celebrate the love that has been shown to us, not by simply building a respectable and bland experience of faith, but following Jesus even into places where we would rather not necessarily go, but places where Christ indeed calls us to follow and to meet him.

A few months back a congregation member approached me with information about Abolitionist Sunday, which coincides today with Christ the King. It seems appropriate then to weave into this sermon a comment about Jesus who we will meet in the prisoner.

For most of us the notion that there are slaves in the world or that the illegal trafficking of people occurs or that children are exploited on a daily basis in a variety of industries seems somehow a fanciful dream. Yet even the Australian Government has recognised that the trafficking of people into Australia is occurring and is a real issue.

For many of us, me included, these issues seem to big and too unreal for us to handle yet as people who follow Jesus there should be an awareness that not only does God care and love these people but in fact it is in helping and serving these people that we may in fact meet Christ amongst us.

I want to share a video made for abolition Sunday to raise awareness of the issues associated with slavery and to promote a more just way of living as Christian people...

The grace of God and mystery of our salvation at one level remains hidden from our view. The sheep and the goats were not aware of which group they were in until they had been divided. Yet the story reminds us that not only is Christ the King a king in a way which remains somewhat perplexing as he is identified in the poor and the oppressed of this world but that as people if we are seek out and meet the one who has shown us grace and mercy he is to be found among those whom we might consider to be the least likely candidates.

37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘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.’

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