I'm going to start us off this morning with a kind of test. I'm going to read off a list of experiences, traits, incidents from the life of a famous person and see if you can identify him...that's your first clue. Please don't shout out the answer but feel free to nudge the person next to you when you know who it is.
At the age of 7, his family was forced out of their home due to a legal technicality. He had to go to work to help support the family. At age 9, his mother died. When he was 22, he tried to go to law school, but his educational background was insufficient. At 23, he went into debt in order to form a partnership in a small store. Three years later his partner died, leaving him a huge debt which took years to repay. At 28 he was ready to settle down and asked the young woman whom he'd been dating for four years to marry him. She said no. He ran for congress and lost in both of his first two tries. He finally won election when he was 37 but lost his reelection bid two years later. He got married but then lost a son at 4 years of age. At 45 he ran for the Senate...and lost. Two years later he was nominated for Vice President. He lost. At 49 he ran for the Senate again... and lost again. But at the age of 51, he was elected the 16th President of the United States. His second term was cut short by an assassin's bullet. You may have guessed by now it is Abraham Lincoln of whom I speak.
I'm sure you all realize it is Jesus, but what I hope strikes us is the similarities and contrasts between these two beings. Their early lives gave absolutely no indication of the mark they would make on the world. But they did leave their marks. But as great a man and as great the contributions that Abraham Lincoln made...we acknowledge that he was simply a remarkable human being. But Jesus...that solitary life as witnessed by human eyes and ears was nondescript at best; an utter failure at worst. But Jesus...we celebrate today Christ the King Sunday. We acknowledge and proclaim that Jesus was much more than a human being. Jesus was and is God; Jesus is our Savior, Jesus will come again and reign in glory.
The letter to the Ephesians is one of my favorite books of the bible. In today's reading, we get a description of the power of God to glorify his Son, “ God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.” Jesus is head over all things, not just the church but over all earthly rulers and authority and power...all things are under his dominion. And so we set aside a specific day to recognize this kingship of God's son.
Our gospel lesson this morning, "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.” This Jesus will come and as King will sit on the throne of his glory. And he will judge all the nations. And upon what does he base his judgment? Matthew explains it is upon the basis of how we treated the least of these—the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. Those who treat the needy with care, called to sit at his right hand; those who failed to serve those in need--”these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
It is clear in scripture that there is a judgment coming. Will that judgment be based upon our actions, can we earn salvation by serving others? And the answer to that is no. For it is also clear in scripture that none of us is righteous based on our actions but are made righteous by the actions of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, died and rose again that we may have victory over death and over sin. We are judged righteous as we are forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ.
So then, what are we grace-forgiven Christian sons and daughters of the heavenly father to make of this judgment scene? This scripture shows us that our relationship to God in Christ is not complete unless we are living out the love Jesus shows us. In relationship with Jesus, his holiness draws us into lives of ever greater holiness, ever greater love and service. Not to earn God's favor but in loving response to his love. We could also say in obedience to his kingship. We declare Jesus is Lord, ruler in our lives. We are responsible to obey his call to feed, clothe, visit, love those in need. There are concrete ways to do this. In this community, there are hungry-we can give to the food shelf. (info) In this community, there are homeless, the Meeker Area Ministries have rented rooms for them to stay. We can contribute to that cause. Even closer to home, in this building there are people who live lives of loneliness; we can visit them. In your family, can you show more love and kindness and understanding? I find it is often easier to show kindness to the stranger to whom you give a gift than to the person who you see every day. By the power of Christ's presence, we can show more love, kindness, generosity, grace to one another. We are children of the king, servants, called to share our gifts and our love.
I've one more person to describe this morning. This man lives in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area. Each day he sells newspapers out on the sidewalk. This is his livelihood; sick, tired—rain or shine—he sells those newspapers. He has severe gout in both feet and has much difficulty walking. He rents a one-bedroom apartment by the day; each day's receipts go to pay for that room.
Recently he celebrated with a friend, Pastor Max, the fact that he'd bought a couch with his savings—it was ripped and torn and some stuffing was showing, but he'd bought it. He brought Pastor Max to see it. Max also noticed his TV, black and white with rabbit ears made of a coat hanger and an old recliner.
As he showed this apartment off with his new couch, he told Max “I have all I need now.” That was surprising enough but then he introduced Pastor Max to a street person staying with him. When asked why he'd invite someone to share that meager space, he told Pastor Max, “He needs a place to stay. Now that I have all I need, don't you think I should share?”
This is a quiet servant of the King, his name is Archie and in that judgment scene in the gospel, it seems clear which side our friend Archie would be on. He saw need and answered that need. How about us? We who are given so much—maybe not in relation to the 1%--but much in relation to Archie, can't we be about sharing with others in need. On this Christ the King Sunday, our question becomes, what king are we serving? The king of security and wealth and plans for retirement? The king of comfort and leisure and safety? Or the king of service and love and grace? Let us worship this king with our goods and our kind words and our forgiveness and our sharing and our grace. Not because we are such good people, but because we serve a king of love. Not because we need to earn our reward, but because our King came not to be served but to serve and so should we. We serve, not because we have to, but because we follow a King who is faithful to us, who has promised us new life and eternal life. Not because we must, but because we can.
God loves you so much that he sent his only begotten son to suffer and die that none of us need perish but may live life eternally. And we also realize that Jesus didn't come to make bad people good, but dead people alive. And so while we may not always fulfill the command to love in these ways, we can cling to the promises of God and we know—we know—that it is not our faithfulness that saves us, but God's faithfulness. Our hymn is Great is Thy Faithfulness. Let's sing of this King we serve, a king who is faithful and compassionate and merciful and forgiving and giving. Pg 282.