Christ The King

This is the message I prepared for KSSM for Sunday 24th November 2019, the Sunday of Christ’s Kingship in Year C.  It was a communion service in both Kaniva and Serviceton in the Churches of Christ tradition, and I was presider

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Well, the kingship of Christ is one of those ideas that divides many in today’s church. The use of such powerful language to describe such a humble man has caused offence for some, and the taking offence by those in contradiction to a clear and Biblical teaching has caused offence in others. It seems to me that to call Christ “King” sparks the same angst as to call God “Father”; what you think of kings depends upon your experience of monarchical government and what you think of fathers depends upon the relationship you had with your own dad. I’m happy with the idea of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords; I think him being President of Presidents or perhaps Mayor of Mayors is a bit pathetic really, Creation is not a democracy and we are not worse off for living in the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s own realm.

So there’s your introduction: Jesus is King and that’s a good thing in my view.

But what do we actually mean by this statement: Jesus is King, or perhaps Jesus is Lord? Is this just metaphorical language, suggesting that as we acknowledge Christ’s authority in the world we see him as superior to ourselves? If we want to say that Jesus is somehow better than us or above us in rank then why not just call him “teacher” (Rabbi as his mates called him), or even “boss”? Why king? Why lord?

Why not shepherd? Okay that might be a metaphor that even fewer modern people would enjoy, the logic suggesting that all Christians are sheep, but there are shepherd stories in circulation. Indeed the Roman Catholic parish in my hometown, the actual town where I was a child, is called “Christ the Good Shepherd”. Why does Jesus have to be a monarch, why can’t he be something more pasture-pastoral? In he opening verses of Jeremiah 23 The LORD who speaks through the prophet suggests that that is a useful framework for thinking about how God governs the people. In Jeremiah 23:3,4 God says that I myself will gather…and I will bring them back…and they shall not fear any longer…nor shall any be missing. That sounds like a God-thing, it certainly echoes the Good Shepherd motifs of Jesus’ teachings; and if we read on in Jeremiah we find that Jesus is apparently foretold as the king who will come, a descendent of David and one who will rule with wisdom, justice, and righteousness. Jesus will be king, and the sort of king he will be is this sort, the shepherding sort. The sort of king that Jesus will not be is the sort the Judahites and Israelites have already seen; the extortionate tyrant, the poor manager, the disinterested lush, the cashed-up bogan. That might be the style of Israel and Judah’s past, it may even be the style of Europe’s mediaeval, pre-Modern, pre-Revolutionary Past in our thinking, but it is not the way of the Kingship of God.

In today’s reading from the gospel we find ourselves at the crucifixion as Luke records it, and specifically the execution of the one the Romans called “The King of the Jews”. You’ll find those words in Luke 23:37-38. The implications of Jesus’ death are best left for another time, we’ll hear more about that at Easter, because today I want us to focus on the idea that this man is “The King of the Jews” and what it means that this king is being crucified.

You don’t need to be much of a scholar to know that lots of kings throughout all of history have ended up dead at the hands of their enemies. I’m not sure whether Jesus was the only foreign king ever crucified, but Rome would often murder the captured, defeated rulers of the lands they conquered after displaying them in triumphal parades through the city. Such kings or chieftains were usually strangled in a place called the Carcer, which is why many did not allow themselves to be “incarcerated” and would suicide or at least go down fighting on the battle field. Think of Cleopatra. But the Romans didn’t actually consider Jesus a king, did they? No, he was not King of Judea or King of Israel, he was not defeated in battle and he was not taken to Rome as part of a conqueror’s triumph: he was considered a rabble-rouser, a partisan, a rebel, and he was brutally killed in full public view to serve as an example for other trouble makers. Jesus was garbage according to the Romans, and even if Pilate thought Jesus himself harmless, Jesus was not worth upsetting the Sanhedrin over and so he was expendable. The sign above Jesus head was a taunt, a taunt of him and also a taunt of the Jewish people. And yet, and yet it is a title that Christians have invested with prophetic meaning almost since the day of crucifixion itself. Jesus really is the King of the Jews, and that is why his resurrection 36 hours later is such a victory for God’s Chosen People.

Jesus is not the sort of king who gets assassinated after a public rebellion, like Louis XVI of France or Charles I of Great Britain were. He’s never been overthrown and exiled as were Victor Emmanuel III of Italy or Alfonso XIII of Spain. After Jesus was killed Jesus returned; and Jesus was never de-throned. Look at how Jesus acts from the cross, he still has authority in his power to ask God to forgive sins (Luke 23:34) and to promise salvation to a repentant sinner (Luke 23:43); Jesus is King on the cross, not an ex-king or a deposed king, Jesus never relinquishes his kingship and it is never lost to him, even as he dies and is buried. And look at the people, in Luke 23:35 they stand watching at a distance while the Jewish leaders come close to mock Jesus’ kingship, the people are not following the leaders, which makes me wonder who has lost whose prestige at this point. Here’s a hint, you can’t call yourself a leader if you don’t have any followers.

When Paul speaks through his writing to Colossae about the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son I think this is the Son that Paul has in mind. Not just that Jesus is the Son of God, but that Jesus the Son is this crucified and raised King of the Jews. Look at Colossians 1:11-12 where Paul prays may you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father. Our strength, God’s power, our preparation to endure with patience are gifts of God which Jesus lived out as an example on the cross. I’m not certain how Jesus felt in the moment, but if he knew that his work was for the salvation of the world (and he did) then he knew that it would bring delight to God, and that would have buoyed him I think. The same is true of us, who are followers of Jesus and as disciples are literally his students, and as Paul adds in Colossians 1:13 as citizens of the Kingdom of the Son. Our followship of Jesus, our community of discipleship, is founded on the nature and example of the king who endured the cross and displayed God’s power throughout all things (time, space, language) by rising again. That is the story of a king; to call Jesus “boss” or “mayor” is kinda pathetic really.

Paul goes on in his next paragraph, which our Bibles bookend as Colossians 1:15-20, in much the same way. The New Revised Standard Version subtitles this section “The Supremacy of Christ” which I think is a good take on it, even as I don’t really like subtitles. The one who is king, this saviour who saved through his own death and resurrection, the king of The Kingdom of God, is supreme. You’d better believe he’s supreme, he’s the image of God (well aren’t we all?) but he’s the prize of creation for whom all things were created, and he sits over every creature and every form of power and influence. Christ is king above every other king then, king of kings for sure. But more than above all things in rank he is amongst all things in shape, he’s between the sub-atomic spaces and he drives every bond and force of Physics and Chemistry. Christ is valency, Christ is gravity, Christ is inertia and magnetism. Christ is osmosis and reduction. Christ is the top, and in Christ is the whole made whole. Christ is source, Christ is purpose, Christ is fullness and Christ is incarnation through whom God in all God’s Godfulness acts in and on and with the created order. So, more than a president eh: so much more than a president, so much.

Jesus is pretty important then. Immense. But also close. Look at the last words of our Christian tradition reading today: through Christ God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things in all dimensions by making shalom through the blood of Jesus’ cross. That’s Colossians 1:20. And think about it, Selah, pause and consider the blood of his cross. Did the cross bleed? Did the cross bleed? No. The blood of his cross is the blood of himself. There is no artificial miracle here of a cross bleeding true blood, there is no falsehood whereby sap was oozing and the illiterate peasants got all sweaty-faced about the magic. We all know what was going on here, Jesus, (Christ, the Supreme One, King of kings and all other things…) bled and died and through that God reconciled all things on Heaven and Earth and made peace. No king has ever done that before. Sure there have been abdications in world history, some rulers have surrendered immediately at the gates in the face of an overwhelming invasion force rather than have his (or her) city besieged and pillaged. But no king has ever died in such a way, at the hand of his own people, so as to bring about God’s completion. The greatest king died the most humble death, the least glorious death, nailed up naked and in public to a tree beside the main highway, having been thrashed to a pulp first, all on the twin crimes of treason and blasphemy, pronounced by a puppet governor and a selfish priesthood.

This is the king we have. Even if he were not king of kings and lord of lords (and he is, let’s not diminish that), but even if he wasn’t, even if there were a number of kings and Jesus-land was but one of a number of nations with constitutional monarchs in whose country we might live, wouldn’t you chose it anyway? I mean I like Elizabeth, Australia’s queen, but given a choice between the UK and the KOG I know where I’d be brexiting to…and it wouldn’t take me three years to make up my mind either.

The Kingship of Jesus seems to be to be the heart of the gospel. Even more than the lamb of God who was slain, even more than the great high priest who knows our every weakness, even more than the friend (what a friend) we have in Jesus, of most central importance to the good news of God is that God is King in the Kingdom of The Son, and that the king is the image of the invisible God. If God is king, and if God is like Jesus, and if Jesus is like this King of the Jews, then the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of the most wonderful, most adorable, most loving and most welcoming king; a king who is all of that and strong, and authoritative, and commanding, and redeeming.

This, this is the God we adore; this, this is the God we serve.

Amen.

The Reign of God (Christ the King)

This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry for Sunday 25th November 2018, the Sunday of Christ the King in Year B.

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Good morning Church.

About a month ago I asked the members and leaders of Kaniva Youth Group who were gathered at Serviceton what they thought the world would be like if God was its boss.  We talked about how the world would be different if Jesus was in charge and President Trump, Prime Minister Morrison, Premier Marshall of South Australia and then-Premier Andrews of Victoria were not.  This is a particularly relevant question for today, the first day of the final week in the Christian year, the Sunday of Christ the King.

In 2 Samuel 23 we read the dying words of David and what we read is a psalm and a set of proverbs about kingship and about David’s experience of being a king.  In his last words the king praises how God spoke through him to the nation of Israel, a nation for whom God remains steadfast and secure as Israel’s hope.  According to 2 Samuel 23:2-3 the good king is not just a governor; he is also an oracle, prophet, and intercessor.  God says that the good king is like the dawn of daylight in a bright sky.  Like the psalms and proverbs of later Hebrew writing we see the common theme that the good men are blessed and succeed for generations and the evil men are cursed and die quickly.  So, is this what David sees as he looks back over his reign, his life, on his last day?  I wonder whether this is how the nation will remember David, was he like a bright sun on a dewy morning?  Is this how they speak of him already?  Is this how he was thought of back in the day, not with the damp eyes of hindsight and eulogising but in the cut and thrust of palace life, battle ground, and village life far from Hebron or Jerusalem three decades previous?  David says in 2 Samuel 23:5 that he does have such a reputation, and he is confident that his house, which is to say his dynasty, will have the same relationship with God and with the nation.  Sadly the history of the family of David will not be so great, and the stories we read in the books of Kings and 2 Chronicles sadden us when we recall who David was and the covenant that God made with him.  Indeed those kings seem to fit better inside 2 Samuel 23:6-7.  Jesus, a descendant of David was perhaps a good king.  I say “perhaps” because on earth Jesus did not have the power of governance; but he certainly was a prophet and intercessor, and God prospered Jesus in his work.

So, a faithful king is God’s blessing to the people, and God’s faithfulness is a blessing to the king.  Today’s psalm provides an example of this where David promises to establish a permanent home for the Ark in Jerusalem, and God promises to establish a permanent kingship in Israel through one of David’s sons.  One of the commentators I read this week suggests that Psalm 132 might have been a celebration psalm, sung as part of a ceremony of remembrance and thanksgiving to God for David and for David’s capture of Jerusalem and his bringing the ark into the capital city.  A good king is to be cherished and celebrated.

John in his letter to the seven churches calls Jesus the ruler of the kings of the earth; you can see that in Revelation 1:5.  As I said a few weeks ago when we heard about Christians who suffer extreme persecution in our day Revelation was likely written at a time when Christians were being murdered for their faith under the emperor Domitian.  For the writer to claim that Jesus is ruler of all the kings is a big and dangerous claim in a world with a Caesar.  It’s a big and dangerous claim in a North Korea with a Kim and in a China with a Communist Party.  It was a big and dangerous claim in the Soviet Union with Stalin, Germany with Hitler, Uganda with Idi Amin, and Cambodia with Pol Pot.  It was and is, and always will be a threatening idea anywhere where there is a tyrannical president, a local drug boss, or a warlord.  This is why it is good to remember that Revelation actually is a letter written to seven specific cities in the Roman province of Asia at the turn of the first century.  It is a personal note of encouragement from a friend of Jesus to a group of specific, unique, neighbouring congregations.  This is not purely doctrine; it is not just theory it is application and pastoral care; and the whole thing was to be read to each congregation in the place where it met.  In other words the news that Jesus is the king of kings is not something to be filed away as a Christian belief; it is supposed to be an encouraging word in the moment.  In this verse, and the next one, so Revelation 1:5-6 we see Jesus described as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, him who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, him who made us to be a kingdom, him who made us to be priests serving his God and Father, the one to whom be glory and dominion forever and ever.  So, Christians of Asia, do you remember him? Yeah him, well that’s the him who is on our side.  So, what were you saying about Caesar and/or the local procurator?  This is not to say that persecution isn’t painful, or that martyrdom is pleasant, there is no sugar-coating of the world against us here; but it does ask us to lift our eyes and to remember the one to whom we belong and the one whom we serve.

In John 18:33-37 we read where Jesus is speaking to Pilate immediately before the crucifixion.  Do you see in John 18:35 that Pilate asks Jesus what crimes he is guilty of, “what have you done?” Pilate asks because it seems that Jesus’ accusers cannot get even that straight.  In view of the confused accusation the two speak about kingship and Jesus says that his kingdom is not from this world but that if it were then his loyal armies would have prevented their king from being handed over to the Jews.  Interesting that, so is the kingdom of Jesus is not a Jewish kingdom either?  Is Jesus claiming that he is not King of The Jews, and that he is innocent of the accusation of promoting insurrection?  Or was this story written by an anti-Semitic man who wanted to distance the Christian saviour from the rabid mob of circumcised blasphemers at Pilate’s door?  Regardless, Jesus’ kingdom is not from here he says in John 18:36.  Jesus’ power comes from God, not from conquering armies nor cabinet-room shuffles.  Jesus’ kingship is theological, so his kingdom is too: Jesus’ authority is his power to speak and define truth.

So that’s how the Bible reads, but what do we think; what is “the Kingdom of God”?  In our twenty-first century world where absolute monarchy is seen as a bad thing, and most first world nations are parliamentary democracies with elected heads of government and heads of state, it can be challenging to speak of a kingdom.  Perhaps we’d prefer to use words like “realm” or “sovereignty”; maybe “zone of governance”, “area of authority” or even “arena of control”.  God’s kingdom is not about there being a place with demarcated border walls to keep the foreigners out and the citizens in, so much as it is the experience of God’s control.  When Pilate asked Jesus whether he was a king Jesus’ responded yes and no; yes I have authority to reign, no my kingdom is not a place on earth and I don’t have an army.  Jesus refutes the militaristic claim to be King of The Judean people.  Jesus does not offer an earthly challenge to the Herod family or the Roman Empire occupying and colonising the land; nonetheless his cross is adorned with the famous “INRI” sign as an accusation, Jesus from Nazareth who is King of the Jews.

Like Pilate we must acknowledge who Jesus is when we speak of the Kingdom of God.  We cannot speak of God’s influence without speaking about Jesus, there is no kingdom without a king and the king of God’s kingdom is Jesus.  Our conversation is not about power for its own sake, but about the power of Jesus: the miracles of Jesus are the display of his power, pointing toward God’s expectation of what the Lifestyle of God-followers looks like.  Where John the Baptiser proclaimed that the Kingdom was coming Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom had begun to arrive.  And that tense is important, “begun to arrive” is what we see.  The Kingdom is among us in present and future tense, the reign of God is underway but it is not yet complete for fulfilled.  The power of God, the influence and equipping of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and each disciple was “inaugurated in the incarnation”, in other words it started when Jesus was born as a human child, but it continues through the Church as we get amongst the work of faithful ministry carrying the authority, the blessing, and the equipping of Emmanuel.

So the concept of a Kingdom of God, and of Christ as King, need not be a scary nor outdated idea.  We are not mediaevalists for thinking and speaking in these terms, and we don’t do ourselves or anyone else any favours by updating God’s identity as “President of Presidents”.  Instead we can use these phrases to enhance our excitement at what is underway, God came to earth and lived amongst us, sharing divine secrets and authority with all of Creation.  God likes us and wants to be near us; God has no intention of “watching us from a distance” and does not sit on a lofty throne.  King Jesus is not Louis XIV, Henry VIII, or Ivan the Terrible.

The question therefore is not what our ideas of monarchy and democracy are, but what we think God is like.  When I asked Kaniva Youth Group what the world would be like if God was the boss they responded with words and ideas about God.  “The world would be more kind,” was one response, presumably because the girl who said it thought that Jesus was kind or is kind.  Her thinking was that with Jesus in charge kindness would become the way things are done.  What do you think?  What do you think the people of the West Wimmera and The Tatiara think?  If the world under God’s authority would be like God, then what if God is like the Christians we heard about from the Royal Commission?  What if God is like some people’s Old Testament ideas of God?  What if God is like some people’s New Testament ideas of God?  I wonder whether when we talk about a Kingdom of God people think not so much about a world operating under the broadly beneficial ideas of The Sermon on The Mount, but a world of Trump’s Evangelical America, or the modern State of Israel, or something like Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or North Korea, with the pope in charge.  Is that what they think?

God said to David that the good king is like the dawn of daylight in a bright sky – is that how we see Jesus?  Is that how our neighbours see Jesus?  Is that how strangers to us living in the district see Jesus?  Are the Kanivans and the Servicetonians as stoked at the idea of Jesus as the Ephesians and the Philadelphians?  Would they be prepared to swap ScoMo for Jesus?  Okay maybe ScoMo, but what about Elizabeth?  QEII or JC, place your bets.

The last Sunday before Advent is a good time to rethink our ideas of Jesus.  In five Sundays’ time we’ll be welcoming “Christ the newborn king” – so it’s good in this time before we get tinsellated to ask what sort of king we think he is.  Is a king who is like God in character and power truly welcome?  First century Christians might have said that anyone is a better option than Domitian; we might think the same of Trump, Putin, or Kim.  But if King Jesus is really a compromise candidate, or the lesser of two evils, is Christmas really worth celebrating?  Really?

O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Amen.

He is the King

This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Morwell Uniting Church for Sunday 26th November 2017, the Festival of Christ the King in Year A.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-44

When Ezekiel wrote and spoke of shepherds the readers of his day would have known immediately that he was not addressing the local jackaroos, shearers and roustabouts. In the language of metaphor shepherds represented the kings of Israel: those who lead but also had care for the nation were its shepherds.  The kings in Ezekiel’s day were poor shepherds and evil kings, hence the strength of his words.  They were reaping all the benefits of royalty in terms of luxury and wealth, power and glory, but they weren’t actually governing or holding up the people as a godly leader should, especially a godly leader of God’s own people.  The same might have been said of the priests and elders of the time, too busy being honoured as clergy rather than working defiantly against the wicked regime as advocates of the people of God in the face of the injustices of misplaced majesty.

What was read from Ezekiel 34 this morning is the spoken intent of God to step in as the true shepherd, the true king, the righteous and honourable ruler.  God as King will seek those people who like lost sheep have been allowed to wander astray, and will bring them back into the safety of the flock. Continuing with his metaphor Ezekiel declares that the sheepy Israelites will no longer be prey to ravenous carnivores; no longer will they be exposed to the scorching or freezing elements; no longer will they be endangered by jagged rocks, deep holes, muddy bogs, or clifftops; and no longer will they bleat in desperation in cloudbanks of thick fog or darkness.  The LORD, the good shepherd will seek and will find those whom the poor shepherds have allowed to stray because of their royal indifference and/or ineptitude. The big message, the one you need to write down if you’re taking notes, is that in a world of false shepherds God is the true shepherd of the sheep.

Of course, metaphor can only go so far, and we have always known that God is speaking directly of women and men who have entered exile.  So, through Ezekiel’s narrative God declares righteous intent to restore the populations of Israel and Judah to the God’s own land and the God’s own care under God’s rule.  Like sheep fed on good pasture and near flowing, clean streams so shall the people of The LORD live in their own land, the land assured to them by God’s promise to their ancestors.  The LORD Godself shall be their shepherd, The LORD Godself shall keep them safe while they rest, and The LORD Godself shall keep vigilant lest they wander away again.  And if any wander away, or are hurt in the course of their sheepy lives, The LORD Godself shall find them and bandage them.

But Ezekiel goes further, and I am somewhat astonished by what comes next, because according to the prophet God will neither seek nor save fat sheep; the ones who took their estate into their own hands.  Those sheep, the kings and princes and aristocrats who became fat on the excess stolen from the mob will be left to their own devices by God.  Ezekiel suggests that this will come about because they brought that upon themselves, they don’t deserve saving.  That messes with my idea of grace, which is seen in God’s saving effort for the undeserving.  But the second part of what Ezekiel says does make sense, and that is that fat sheep do not seek assistance from their shepherd.  Feeling themselves to be self-sufficient and clever enough in their wisdom they don’t listen anyway, so God will leave them be, focussing divine attention upon those who seek God and not wasting time and resource on those who will throw it away.  I’d rather face the full wrath of God I think, than have God’s hands washed of me, but that is what Ezekiel suggests.

Connected with Jesus’ story of sheep and goats Ezekiel speaks of fat sheep and lean sheep.  Those alpha rams, who trample the pasture and foul the grass and the clean water with their big boofy feet, will be pulled out of the flock for the benefit of the smaller sheep.  A Davidic shepherd will be set over the new flock, the flock of newly rescued sheep.  He will shepherd the people as God shepherded them.  The Davidic shepherd is like God, a figure of justice, a restorer of the covenant, and a builder up of right relationships between the people and between God and the People.

This is the word of God to God’s people in exile, a People being taught to expect the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel under God’s own reign.  There will be a restoration says Ezekiel, God has promised it.  However, the restoration of the nation will require a transformation of the people, and of the land, so that when The LORD is returned as King and God the situation will be ready.  The exiled people do not know it yet, but the Jewish monarchy will never be restored; there will not be a new royal palace for a son of David ruling in his own authority in Jerusalem, (in fact there will never be such a building because there will never be such a man), but there will be a temple.

Six hundred years later Paul prayed for the Christians at Ephesus at the commencement of his writing to them.  First, he commends them on their Christlikeness in love and justice, this is a church displaying the early hallmarks of the transformed life spoken of by God in Ezekiel’s oracle.  Paul prays that this may continue, and that the Ephesians may go deeper into the nature and character of God in Christ.  Second, Paul commends this exploration of the nature God to them, so that they may discover the core purpose of God’s mission which is revealed in the coming of Christ and his ministry of proclamation, restoration, and liberation.  The Ephesians are both recipients of and purveyors of this indescribably good grace of God.  It first came to them and it ultimately comes through them to the world currently in the dark about this.  Their saviour, Christ, is King above all other authorities and realms, he has all the power and to him belongs all the adoration and respect of all created things, in eternity as well as in this epoch.  Paul teaches that the way that Jesus exercises his rule is through us, who are both his church and his body.

In the stories of Joshua and Deborah which you have heard in the last two weeks, we are reminded of what Israel was like before the kings, and in today’s reading we are reminded of what the same people were up to six hundred years later and where monarchy had brought them.  Conclusion: monarchy does not work unless it operates within the authority of God.  With God as sovereign it really doesn’t matter who sits on the posh chair at Hebron, Jerusalem, or Buckingham Palace.  Without God as sovereign the same is true.  And this is true also for other human structures of governance.  Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-Un, Robert Mugabe, Peter Cosgrove: we can debate who is the better man (or woman), and who is doing the better job.  We might argue which is the better system. But without God in the ascendency in the heart and the mind of the one whose bum is enthroned does it really matter?  The question is not whether in the twenty-first century we would prefer Jesus to be Governor-of-Governors, President-of-Presidents, Chairperson-of-Chairpersons, or something else less monarchical and mediaeval.  The point is that God has favour for us and God is watching to see how well we are governed and loved.

The light of this has caused me to wonder; of all the gospel readings to go with this festival day, why on earth are we reading about the sheep and the goats?  Yes, we most certainly do see Jesus speaking about his upcoming Last Things role when as King of Kings he makes an ultimate and eternal judgment between the faithful and the unfaithful in the ministries of hospitality, as if care for prisoners matters more to him in Eternity than personal repentance from sin.  (Which is a confusing message in itself for Evangelicals.)  But I see that there is something more, and something which connects with what Ezekiel and Paul say about kingship.

The message of the sheep and the goats is not about how well the Christians and Jews look after the poor.  Undoubtedly there is that meaning, and the good news makes it clear that Christians should be doing that: you here in this body this morning are meant to visit the alone, comfort the distressed, meet the physical and emotional needs of the needy where you find them, and go looking for any of the above so as to find them in the first place.  All of that is true, and necessary, within discipleship.  But that’s not all that there is to this story; and you will not lose your salvation as a Christian in the Latrobe Valley just because you never paid a social visit to Fulham or Kilmany.

Jesus’ message of the sheep and the goats is also a warning to the world not to treat the flock of Jesus with disdain.  Like Ezekiel speaking of the evil kings who did not care for the people, other than as a source of slaves and taxes, Jesus is speaking against the systems of the day (his and ours) which cause even one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters to be imprisoned, abandoned, destitute, starving, terminally ill, or sad.  “He’s mine” as my great grandmother was quoted to say when other people spoke derisively of a particularly naughty great uncle of mine, her son.  Don’t you dare mess with the person of the family of God, says the God of Israel, says God the Son.

Today we speak of Christ as King.  We do so in the context of many sermons and comments about the Reign of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.  We know that God is king, we sing about it, learn about it, pray about it.  What we are to be mindful of this morning is that God in Christ is our King, and our king is a good king who governs and cares for us as God’s own.

Amen.