Pastor Michael Frye:
I remember as a young boy playing the game, “King of the Hill” with my friends.
King of the Hill was an aggressive game, the object of which was to get to the top of a hilly area (of course, none of the hills were that steep); one person stood at the top of the hill and dared those below to bring him down from the top and take his place as the new king.
Thankfully, no bones were broken, but there were a few bruises and bumped heads along the way.
It always felt both exhilarating and scary to be the king at the top of the hill, because you knew you weren’t going to be there very long before someone, usually one of my brothers, delighted in pulling you down from your throne.
Our world has a long history of monarchies, most of which were very flawed and often corrupt.
That is why George Washington refused the offer from the Continental Congress to make him king of our newly formed nation.
He wanted to avoid the pitfalls of monarchy and chose, instead, to limit his own term as President of the United States, a position subject to election by the citizens of the country.
Today is Christ the King Sunday.
On this last Sunday of the Church year, we celebrate the reign of Christ and his victory over sin and death.
At the same time we await his coming again in glory.
Christ the King Sunday was originally established Pope Pius the eleventh in 1925.
It has been retained by most Protestant churches, as well.
You may remember that upon Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the people sought him out to make him their king, but he refused, knowing that he was to be a new kind of king crowned by his Father in Heaven.
The people wanted to go back in history to the time when they were ruled by powerful monarchs, such as Saul, David, and Solomon.
They remembered those to be the good ole days, but they also forgot that all of the monarchs of Israel had proven to be flawed individuals who, although they accomplished some great things, often created problems which eventually led to the fall of the monarchy and of Israel as a great nation.
There is a legend regarding King Wenceslas of Bohemia from the 10th century, which is depicted in the Christmas Carol by that name.
This king was supposedly wise and benevolent to his subjects.
In the carol, he and his page come across a poor man gathering sticks for his fire.
King Wenceslas had compassion on him and urged his page to accompany him to the man’s village to bring the peasants food and wine and fuel for the winter.
The last verse says:
“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”
This is the kind of King Christians have long seen in Jesus.
Israel’s kings were known to be shepherds of their subjects; and Christ has long been acknowledged as our Shepherd King who watches over his flock and has even sacrificed his own life for us.
But today’s Gospel reading reminds us that when Christ does return again, he will expect that his flock has followed in his footsteps and tended to the rest of the flock with compassion, love, care, respect and concern.
The judgement of the sheep and the goats often leaves us squirming in the pews as we try to determine whether or not we have earned a place on the right or will be relegated to the outer darkness on the left.
But that isn’t the point of this story.
Lutherans have been taught scripturally that works righteousness is not the way into the Kingdom of God; but neither is cheap grace through which we believe we must only accept God’s grace and all will be well.
Jesus reminds us through this parable that we human beings are really bad at judging one another; we are also bad at judging ourselves.
Neither sheep nor goats really realize which they are, just like the people in Christ’s parable.
None of them knew until Jesus spelled it out for them.
So, the best thing for us to do is to get out of the judging game and follow Christ’s advice.
Brian Hiortdahl suggests that we leave judgement to our Father in heaven so we are freed up to work mercy in our world without measuring whether it is enough. Christ frees us to serve and love our neighbor.
He is leading us away from our unhealthy preoccupation with judgement toward bold engagement in compassion and mercy.
Rather than focusing on the future judgement, let us focus on our neighbors’ need right here and right now.
Even at his most critical moments on the cross, Jesus never lost sight of why he was there and for whom he was there.
Should that not be the case for us, as well?
We follow Christ because we believe him to be the Son of God.
That means that we seek always to do God’s will.
God wills us to be good neighbors to one another – to show that we really care about one another’s welfare and
That requires a behavior that signals that we are serious about sharing the love and compassion of our Lord – even to those whom we may know little about or whom we may not even care about initially.
Christ’s call to us this morning is not to dwell on how to please him or how to keep from being the goats on the left; rather, how can we best follow in Christ’s footsteps to continue doing God’s work in the world while we wait for his return.
As we see Christ in the hungry and thirsty, in the stranger, in those who are in need of adequate clothing and shelter, in those who are ill or imprisoned, we will have no fear of a day of judgement.
Instead, we look forward to the day when we hear Christ’s call: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
In Christ’s name, and for his sake.