Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, Year A
Based on Matt. 25: 31-46
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
In our gospel today, once again we run squarely into just whom this Jesus is, sitting on his throne and judging all the nations. Also, by virtue of who King Jesus is, we run squarely into just who the people of God's kingdom are.
Once again, the irony and paradox of Jesus and his realm is emphasized. The picture of Christ as king is one who does not delight in all of the trappings of worldly royalty ~ such as the pride in one's own glory, fame power and prestige. Rather, Christ the king is one who loves and serves those who are in the greatest human need. A king of the poor, destitute and oppressed peoples of the world. It is, according to King Jesus, such as these and the ones who care for their needs who belong to God's realm.
We don't belong to God's realm on account of our own personal glory, fame, power, riches, or prestige. Rather, we belong to God's realm on the basis of help that we've given to people in need, without our even realizing it at the time that we gave it. Whenever we feed the hungry, provide a drink for the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome strangers, care for the sick, visit prisoners ~ it's as if we meet King Jesus himself while we participate in these activities.
One important way that we can do these things is through our Canadian Lutheran World Relief (or other benevolent organizations of your choice). Some people make the remark that they don't want to contribute to CLWR and other organizations like it because they can't see what exactly their money is doing to help the needy. If we take our gospel passage seriously, then such a remark is not valid, since it tells us that it's the people who do not keep a record of who they helped out who belong to God's realm.
By giving to CLWR, we trust that the staff who are operating it will use our money to provide help for those who need it. In this way, we are helping people around the world to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and so on, without our always needing to know all of the intricate details. In loving response to a world full of needs, we trust that our CLWR personnel represent us and are faithful stewards in their distribution of our generous gifts. However, it is not enough for us to think that we've done all we can by giving to CLWR or other benevolent organizations. Christ our King invites our personal involvement in deeds of loving-kindness.
There are two beautiful stories that, I believe, demonstrate very well, the truth of this parable. The first story, I heard many years ago, from my seminary professor, the Rev. Dr. Walter Freitag, and it goes like this: "Once there were two monks, each living in their own little homes a few miles apart, right along a busy road. Both monks delighted in welcoming the stranger-travellers on that road."
"They would invite them into their humble homes, give the strangers their best food, and provide them with their best bed. Indeed, they welcomed these strangers as if they were Jesus himself."
"One day, one of the monks became very sick in bed. When the other monk came over to visit, he found this sick monk crying. The monk was curious about the other's tears, so he asked the sick monk: 'Why are you crying?' The sic monk replied: 'I am crying because I can no longer welcome strangers as if they were Jesus himself.' "
This monk realized the importance of what Jesus is saying in our parable today and he lived by it in all sincerity.
The second story comes from another, less-known saint from Calcutta, India. Almost everyone has heard, by now, of the Nobel prize-winner, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But how many of you have heard of Major Gardiner? He too works in that bustling city. He retired from the army after 36 years of service. Then, he looked around for some way of helping and serving others.
For well over 20 years now, he has provided the poor and destitute citizen of Calcutta one square meal every day. Thousands come to his efficiently run Feeding Centre for lunch. In the evening, he searches the darkest slums for those who would otherwise starve to death. Major Gardiner cheerfully carries out this loving work seven days a week. Most of us think of retirement as a time to sit back and enjoy a well-earned rest. Not so for this remarkable soldier.
The major Gardiners are those who belong to God's realm. They never ask: "What's in this for me?" They help other folks in need without taking any credit or personal glory or gain from it. They don't set out to make a name for themselves or have their name engraved in gold or silver or whatever in some public place for all to see. They're much happier and content to remain anonymous.
It is such people as these who give us inspiration and vision to follow their example. Our apathy, our indifference, our feeling of being overwhelmed with the world's problems can be overcome if we involve ourselves in even the simplest things of life ~ such as giving food and drink to the hungry and thirsty; welcoming the strangers in our midst; clothing the naked; visiting the sick and imprisoned.
Christ our King is made known in the world through such people and such deeds of loving kindness. May we continue to lovingly respond to King Jesus by helping him bring his realm into completion with our deeds of loving kindness. Then, we can look forward to that day ~ not with fear and dread, but with hope and trust ~ when he will say: 'as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'
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