Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
If we take Jesus’s words seriously, and we certainly must, then it would seem from today’s gospel that there are going to be a lot of surprised people come the Judgement Day. In this morning’s gospel, when our Lord separates the sheep from the goats, there are people on both sides of the throne that don’t understand how they got there.
The people on the right hand certainly didn’t expect to find themselves to be inheritors of the kingdom. They probably didn’t think that their lives were anything special. These are humble people. They probably didn’t think of themselves as all that brilliant; they probably didn’t think of themselves as all that religious. Heaven wasn’t something they felt entitled to. These people were not listed among the famous saints of the church: they hadn’t left everything behind to worship God in poverty like Saint Francis or minister to the sick like Saint Damien or Saint Teresa. These were average, everyday folks living lives that were not all that remarkable.
And when the Lord proclaims that they are blessed, and invites them into his eternal kingdom, in their surprise and wonder they ask: “why Lord?” What have I done that was so great that I deserve this honor? Why should I be rewarded in this way? When was it that I served you? You are so glorious and beyond my grasp that I can’t even contemplate you, much less imagine how in my little life I could serve you. When Lord, when did I serve you?
And the Lord responds to his sheep: it was in the little things. It was in the small acts of charity and kindness that you did without thinking of what was in it for you. It was in the food that you offered to the hungry, the water you gave to the thirsty, the clothing you gave to the naked. It isn’t the big, grand and heroic gestures that you might have done once or twice, it is in the small, simple acts of love, kindness and compassion that you did all the time. That is how I know your character, that is how I know that you are one of my sheep: not what you did when you thought I was watching, but in how you acted when you didn’t realize that I was there.
And then the Lord looks to his left, to people that are equally surprised at where they have found themselves. They always thought of themselves as sheep, as part of the flock, but alas now they are being weeded out with the goats. What do you mean accursed? How can you lump me together with these people? They always just assumed that heaven was their destiny. After all, they had studied religion enough to have the right answers, they thought of themselves as clever and well informed, they could even point to some grand accomplishments of theirs, why should they be gathered with the goats? And they learn, like the sheep before them, that salvation is to be found in the small things in life.
In their case it was the little things that they didn’t do that led to their downfall. It was in the lives that they overlooked, the hands they didn’t hold, the mouths they didn’t feed, the stranger they didn’t help, the kindness they didn’t show, the time they didn’t take and the love they didn’t share. Maybe the goats had done some lovely things when they thought the Lord, or at least someone else, was watching, but their true character was revealed in how they treated others that had nothing to offer them in return. They were focused on the big things, but in the end they discover that it is the little things that really matter.
Last night we celebrated two baptisms here. Through an ancient ritual of water and prayer, we invited two souls into Christ’s eternal kingdom. Next Sunday at our Children’s prayer breakfast, I am going to talk to the kids about the font, and how it stands at the door as a reminder that it is through baptism that we are able to enter the church. At baptism, the Lord Jesus becomes our ultimate king and sovereign and we voluntarily pledge our allegiance to him and become subjects of his kingdom. This is a kingdom, the Church, but a kingdom unlike any other. It has no geographical boundaries, no official language, it isn’t represented by any one state or political party. It exists in the world, but isn’t of it. Our values will at times be necessarily at odds with the values of the world. There are times when our allegiance will call us to do things differently than our neighbors. Like any kingdom, we have our heroes: individuals that have done amazing things for God. But kingdoms are not populated by knights alone; there is always need of the loyal subject.
That is our primary call as Christians, as individuals who have proclaimed Christ as our King. We are called, first and foremost to be obedient in the small, mundane things in life. We are called to be Christians when no one is looking. We are called to show compassion and kindness to people who can never repay us. We are called to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.
Yes, baptism is a big decision and a big moment in our life of faith. If you were baptized as a child, then your confirmation will be your moment of personal decision to follow Christ. Affirming that you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, recognizing that we are sinners in need of redemption, and committing yourself to be a loyal subject of his is a big decision. It is an important decision, and yes, I believe it is the right decision.
But, your character as a Christian, that I think is determined more by the small decisions you make than the big ones. It is the small habits of your daily life that will demonstrate your loyalty to Christ, more than the great moments of public witness. Many of you are here because you recognize that we have a strong Christian Formation program. The religious lives of our children is a priority for this church, which is why we are starting next week with a children’s prayer breakfast. But parents you need to know that your child’s faith is going to be shaped more by what they see you doing at home, than by what they see you doing here.
Do you pray regularly, even when you don’t seem to have the right words? Do you seek to consistently show love and kindness to people that don’t deserve it and cannot repay you? Are you able to acknowledge your own sins and repent of them? Do you seek to have a closer walk with God and a deeper knowledge of him even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty?
Nothing you do for God is insignificant. In fact, what we learn in the Gospel today, is that it is the small things, done with consistency, that have the greatest power to determine what kind of subject we are and what side of the throne we end up on when Christ returns to sort us out.