November 22, 2020
Christ the King
Sermon - Reverend Bob Phelps
We’re Still Here: Serving Christ in All!
Apparently, I’m one of a very few people in the world who wish we could leave the British Royals alone and let them live their lives however they choose. For a country that staged a Revolution to be out from under control by a monarch, we seem to be unusually fascinated by all things Royal. Don’t misunderstand. I am not opposed to the Crown. The Queen is entitled to all the respect we can muster, and I wish there were some way I could program my Google News feed to stop predicting when she might abdicate. She’s the Queen. She has been for a long time, and it appears she will be until she says differently. The young princes and their brides have all but upstaged their stodgy dad, and rarely a day goes by that we don’t hear something about them. We went to a lot of trouble to get out of that environment, but we have an unnatural fascination with what goes on it. Some of is our overall fascination with celebrities. Add royalty to celebrity, and I guess it’s just too much to resist for a lot of people.
We don’t have royalty in this country, regardless of what some at every level of it may think of themselves. But we still think we understand what royalty is all about. Little girls dress up like princesses and I guess little boys who don’t want to be quarterbacks or point guards might aspire to be princes. Our older son, Blake was named the Strawberry Prince at his elementary school in first grade. I was a seminary student in those days, so when we found out what it was going to cost for him to be his school’s representative at the Strawberry Festival in the big city of Humboldt, Tennessee, we convinced him to abdicate his throne and let somebody else be Prince. I don’t think it scarred him for life. Whenever the subject of kings comes up in Scripture, we think we know something about it, even though, for most of us, King Friday on Mr. Rodgers is as close as we’ve come. If we set out to find the King, we think we’d know where to look. In a palace somewhere, right? Being in charge, right? Telling everyone else what to do, right? That’s what kings do isn’t it?
But then we come to this day in the Church Year, the last year of our calendar for marking Sundays, the Sunday we call Christ the King, or if we want to be inclusive about it, the Reign of Christ. We began this year the same way we will begin a new one next Sunday. Way back before we knew that Covid was lurking around in a lab in China somewhere, ready to wreak havoc on our lives, we started this year the way we start every year—with Advent, the call to prepare for the coming of this King we celebrate today. Trouble is, when we gathered here on Christmas Eve, as we hope we get to do again in a few weeks, it turned out to be a different kind of King we were welcoming. Born in a stable, born to parents living under Roman occupation, not sovereign power and authority. And we have followed that king through the strangest year any of us have ever experienced, and this King we call Christ turns out not to act particularly regally. He may not have stooped to some of the shenanigans we saw from William and Harry in their younger days, but he didn’t turn out to be the King that many expected. The religious authorities didn’t know what to do with him, and they had been looking for his coming for generations. The politicians went way beyond demanding recounts when he burst on the scene, and eventually thought they’d done away with him. And the people like you and me, who had been taught all their lives to plant their hopes and aspirations on the King God would send them couldn’t figure him out either. And on this day we call Christ the King, we come to yet another story that sets our ideas of who and what are important on their heels.
If we go looking for a King, we think we ought to head to the palace or to the seat of government or to some place where important things happen. But when Christ the King tells his own story in his own words, he says that if we want to see him in all his glory, we need to look among the poor, that if we want to be where he is, we must be where there is need. So what kind of King have we found?
He does sound somewhat kingly to most of us when he starts talking about dividing the sheep from the goats and deciding who will experience blessing and who will be cast out into everlasting torment. That’s the part of this story that most of us remember, and, I suspect, that’s why we don’t turn to this story as we do to others when we’re trying to figure out the important issues in our lives. But what if this story is not really about division and punishment and all the things it appears to be? What if it’s really about what Jesus says it is. What if this King we say we’ll serve when we take our place in the Church really can be found in need instead of in power?
The people to whom Jesus first told this story didn’t hold many positions of power. All that came much later. Initially, the Church was people who depended on one another because they couldn’t depend on the people who were supposed to take care of them. The Temple had its power structure. The government had one, too. The people who followed Jesus were not seeking power. They were looking for peace that none of those other institutions had provided. And in him, they found what they had not found anywhere else. They found hope and meaning and purpose for their lives. Things made sense when they heard Jesus say them. And after all these years, we find ourselves still looking for the same things they were, something in which we can ground our lives that won’t be taken away from us or wind up not satisfying. And what this King of Kings seems to be saying is that we mostly look in the wrong places. If we want to ground our lives in something that matters, then we need to commit our lives to real people with real needs that we can help meet. If we want to see Jesus, we will find him wherever there is need. And we will encounter his people trying to respond to that need.
Especially in these strange days that seem to have no clear end in sight, in these times of isolation and division and unrest and constant wondering how we’re going to get through them and what will come after them—in this very real world where we’re living these days, we have the promise of Jesus that even these days are not without meaning and that we have not been left alone to do the best we can in the midst of them. Instead of choosing up sides and making sure our side is the right one, what if we found ways to respond to the real needs we see around us? That’s where Jesus says he will be, and if we want to be with him, then it seems we need to find ways to join him there. As we look beyond our own perception of need and begin to respond to the needs we see around us, we find the very things we’ve always sought from God, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
There’s not much glamor in that kind of living, but glamor usually turns out to be a pretty fleeting thing. If we are looking for something that lasts, something that we can plant our faith and hope in, then we need to look beyond glamor and reach out to those we know to be struggling. That’s why we ask you to bring groceries with you when you come worship some Sundays. Because people here in our community can’t keep food on the table, and we can do something about that. We may never know those people or we may live down the street from them. But we can help the people at the food pantry at MICA help them. Few, if any of us, worry about such things, but we don’t have to look very far to find some who do. Most of us turn on the tap and get water we need to drink and cook and bathe and do laundry. But in places all over the world, that wasn’t possible until someone like Living Waters for the World showed up with some PVC pipe and some other things that I don’t understand and built water treatment machines that serve whole communities. Phil Terrell and I were working on putting a crew together to go to Oxford to train on how to do that when his work called him to Little Rock. That possibility still exists alongside many others that find needs and meet them. The coffee we’ve bought from Mark Adams’ ministry along the Arizona-Mexico border and the money we send to support their work doesn’t reflect our political persuasion; it responds to the needs of people who have far less than we do and who look to us to help them. All of our Mission Partners depend on our help and the help of people in churches like our all across our denomination. Our call is not to tell them how to do their ministry. Our call is to find need and help meet it. And in that finding and helping, we meet Jesus face to face.
When the Christ who lives in each of us finds the Christ who lives among people in need, we discover that we are the same people, with the same needs and that what unites us is not our politics or our religion or our family ties, but Christ who lives in us. As we learn to serve the needs of people, we discover that we are responding to our own deepest needs, the need to be about God’s business, not the business of dividing, but the business of uniting in response to the call of Jesus.
I don’t know any of the people who ate the meal we served this past Tuesday. I suspect some of them are regulars and will be there again this week when the Episcopalians serve. Some of them will be there to eat what we bring next month. I’m sure those folks who depend on those meals are missing the community that is usually a part of that ministry since we’re only dong drive through and pick up meals this winter. But the important thing is that the downtown churches recognize that there is need among us and find ways to meet it. And in meeting that need, we meet Jesus in ways beyond how we meet him here and how others meet him in their churches every week. We don’t need to worry about whether we’re the sheep and the Methodists are the goats or whether the Christian Church does its part and the Catholics get off light. Our concern is for meeting the need we see and when we do we meet Jesus and find our lives changed. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayers of the People
Gracious God, teach us not to worry so much about who are the sheep and who are the goats and to commit ourselves to seeing you even in place we hadn’t expected to find you. We don’t often think of your being among the least among us, but you seem to call us to find you there. Give us faithful eyes to follow wherever you go and faithful hands and feet to be about your business wherever that is. Forgive us when we are blind to your image in places and in people where we don’t expect it to be. Remind us that some might not be able to see you clearly in the lives we live before them, either. We find ourselves in a time of more turmoil and more pain that many of us have ever seen before. We pray today for many we know and many we do not who are suffering, yearning to be cared for and loved. We know that many live far away from you and haven’t been able to find their way home. Help us to remember how far some of us have come and to journey out to meet them and bring them along our way. We pray today for those who face medical uncertainty. The virus continues to escalate, but there is much sickness of other kinds among us as well. Send healing, even the kinds of healing that we can offer by our presence and our caring. We know that in many places people who had ventured back out to worship in recent weeks are not able to gather again this morning. We give thanks for those here and in other places who know how to bring worship into people’s homes and enable them to find your presence on a phone or a computer screen. We thank you for broadening our understanding of community to encompass people and things we didn’t know not long ago. We pray that you would continue to show us need among and around us and remind us of how you have and will continue to equip us to meet it.
As we gather whether in the regular ways we are accustomed to or in ways we are forced to to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, remind us of all we have to be thankful for, especially this year. If our celebrations are smaller and safer, help our thanks to be even greater.
We pray for all who grieve in the midst of our celebrations. We pray for those who will be hungry this week and for those who will be alone. We pray to love the world as you do, and we ask for both wisdom and courage as we find ways to show that love to those who need to know it. Help us not to neglect to give thanks for both the little ways we experience your presence and for the great and mighty ways you show yourself to us. Make us thankful for the love of friends and family, for the joy of time spent in worship and in praise. Help us to look beyond the needs of our own lives and find those with greater needs we can help to meet. Remind us that there is nowhere we can go that you will not be with us and that there is no corner of this world that you did not make and that you do not love. Remind us until we believe that there is no one, including us, beyond the reach of your redemptive love. In this assurance, help us to live our lives and to invite others to join us on our journey toward your peace. We pray this and all things in the name of Jesus, our Savior, who taught us all to pray together when he said: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Pastor, J J White Memorial Presbyterian Church
110 Third Street McComb, MS 39648
church phone 601.684.4189