Christ the King, 2011
I don’t have visions of dancing sugar plums (whatever those are) in my head, but we’ve already entered what is known as “The Holidays”. While I’m not ready for Christmas yet (heh in the church we haven’t even started the four weeks of Advent), I am so ready for Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, cranberries, egg nog, green bean casserole, fruit salad, filling, turkey, pumpkin pie, oyster pie. Yeah, I said it. Oyster pie. My family added oyster pie to our holiday feasts as a way to include my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, oh and did I mention I really don’t like turkey. And that’s what we want, choices. Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for a bounty of foods, in my case so much food that I can skip what I don’t like.
That’s how we like to live our lives with plenty of choices, of options so that we can skip over what we don’t like, and enjoy what we do. Just go to the mall, or maybe stay away at least this coming Friday. We have the choice of looks, do we want to be skater, urban, hipster, conservative, flirty, power suits, and then within those categories there are options galore.
Options, that’s what our political system is based on, our desire to have a choice of leaders. We don’t want to be stuck with a dud. I think that’s also at least one of the messages of what the Occupy Wall Street protests are about—we have options—we don’t need to have banks that are too big to fail, we don’t need to have a stock market and credit agencies determine the present and future, we don’t need to have some 20,000 or so more millionaires pay no/ 0 federal income taxes if the capital gains tax is ended.
We want options. And, if we’re being terribly and faithfully honest we want to choose our spirituality and our religious traditions. Several years ago a new label came into fashion among church leaders—church shopping. It’s when folks visit several different congregations (denomination unimportant) looking for the right fit, or looking for their needs to be met. Along those lines, if honesty is the policy of the day we need to admit that we even pick and choose in regards to our scripture. We value certain passages and stories over others. Mark Twain put it this way, “It is not those parts of the Bible that I do not understand that bother me. It is the parts of the Bible that I do understand that bother me the most.”
Take Jesus’ words in our gospel reading. In Matthew’s gospel, these words come as Jesus is wrapping up his time with his disciples, his enemies are plotting to get rid of him, to get rid of this inconvenient rabble rouser. And, I can see why. His words have as we like to say, comforted the afficted and afflicted the comfortable. He was always turning the tables. This morning it’s no different. We, especially us Lutherans with our Reformation faith, with our belief that God loves us and saves us through sola fidei (faith alone), this passage couldn’t have been on the Reformers (Martin Luther and others top ten). Here Jesus gives us a completely different picture–one where it’s not our faith, not our creed, but our actions that matter. It’s what we do for and with those who are the most vulnerable among us. It is being with the thirsty, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and oppressed.
The other thing about this is that these are actions that are done unaware, almost unconsciously, not out of religious devotion, not out of any desire to please God, but simply out of the goodness, or out of the pure need of the other.
Jesus redefines what and who is holy. It isn’t worship attendance; bible reading; it isn’t creed confessing; it isn’t check writing, committee serving, but pure compassion for the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the stranger, the exile, the immigrant.
And it doesn’t seem all that optional either.
Today, in many churches, not all is Christ the King Sunday. Unlike so many other feasts and festivals that are long on history and tradition. The designation of this day as Christ the King isn’t even 100 years old. It was created in 1925 by the Pope – Pope Pius the XI (11th). As he observed the world he was living in, a post World War I, a world on the verge of a Great Depression, a world becoming more secular (or in our terms – a world becoming more worldly) and with Fascists (ultra-nationalistic dictators) becoming more and more powerful. The Pope thought it was about time declare Christ as King—not Mussolini, not Roosevelt, not Obama, or Reagan, or Grover Norquist, or Walker, or democrats, republicans, not even capitalism. As Christians we are seriously limiting our choice. Christ is our King—means our ruler, our guide, our savior.
The choice we have is to admit it and live it. We don’t have the option of letting the Salvation Army be the only ones doing the most good. If Christ is really our king, Matthew’s words tell us what that looks like. There’s no avoiding it. Jesus just says if you say you follow me, this is what it looks like, this is what eternal life looks like. Jesus says, if you choose to call me Lord, this is what you and your life look like. For us there is no other option, in a world of so many, sometimes even too many choices– it’s that simple. Amen.