Sunday, November 20, 2005

Christ the King Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 31-46

Oh come, let us sing unto Jehovah; Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.

I like to craft. I don't always have the time to work on this as I would like, but whenever I have some free time I find some sort of project to keep me busy and out of trouble. At times the projects are from patterns I have bought or received from friends. At other times, however, I want to do something new and different.

I tend to shop the clearance aisles at the craft stores, finding all sorts of interesting bits and pieces that were the materials for some long forgotten trend in crafting. These parts are usually on the sale aisle because the manufacturers are no longer making the pieces and some things necessary to do the original project are sold out and no longer available. Most of the items in the sale aisle are useless to me alphabets with only unusual letters, containers without tops, broken beads and miles of the ugliest ribbons. However, there are times when an item catches my eye. Though it might not be usable for its intended purpose, I see something else the possibility of something beautiful. As they say, one man's junk is another man's treasure.

In today's Gospel message, Jesus tells two groups of people, "You saw me hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison." He commended the first group the sheeps who had taken care of His needs. The second group the goats had ignored His needs and had not fared as well. Both groups were surprised to hear that they had seen Jesus.

I think just about everyone can share some example of having seen God in the world. Usually it is some spectacular moment at sunrise, in a rainbow or in the majesty of the mountains. Perhaps they have had some extraordinary experience when they were certain that God intervened like a healing or a 'God-incidence' that's what I call those coincidences that do not seem quite coincidental.

I think most of us look for God in the extraordinary, especially since He is an extraordinary God. It seems almost degrading to look for God in the ordinary, as if we are trying to make Him less than He is. The psalmist writes, "For Jehovah is a great God, And a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, and he made it; And his hands formed the dry land." This God who deserves our praise and thanksgiving is greater than anything of this world because He created it all. How can we possibly see the Creator in His fallen creation?

Yet, throughout the scriptures, we see God in the most ordinary places. In His parables, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to every day people. In those stories, God is represented by some character sometimes He is like a rich landowner or a king, but at other times He is seen as an old woman or a farmer scattering seed. He is like a rock, a lion, bread, water, a grapevine and a lamb. There are many examples comparing God to a shepherd.

Throughout history, the shepherd image has been used for kings or priests, leaders that guide their people in the ways of righteousness and truth. Shepherds were not men of power or authority. They were low class, uneducated, unworthy and unimportant. And yet, as we look at the work of a shepherd, it was the perfect description for a king or a priest as God intended them to live. The shepherd cares for the flock just as a king or a priest is expected to care for his people. The same image is given to God in many passages in the scriptures.

This image of God is found in today's Old Testament lesson. Unfortunately, the shepherds whom God had appointed over His people were not caring for them. Ezekiel writes, "Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto them: Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because ye thrust with side and with shoulder, and push all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep." The leaders had stepped on the sheep they were called to lead. God promised to guard His flock and take care of those who are weak even while He put out the sheep that had fattened themselves on the weakness of others.

The last few parables have been difficult for us to hear because we do not like to think about what happens to those who do not hear God's word of hope and respond with mercy. In today's passage from Matthew, Jesus says to the goats, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me." The goats saw the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and imprisoned, but did not see the face of God in their faces and did nothing to help.

The sheep also did not see the face of God, but they did something to ease the pain and suffering in this world. Notice that they did not do anything spectacular. There is no message of healing, no word of setting people free. They fed the hungry and gave water to the thirsty. The ministered to the needs of the world, not seeking reward but only sharing the blessings they'd been freely given.

As I was reading the Old Testament lesson, I wondered if it was possible to be a Christian businessman. It almost seems like a necessity for people going up in the world to positions of authority to step on those who are left behind. Many businessmen get to the top on the backs of others. But this is certainly not the way Christ would have us live. Instead of taking water for ourselves, He tells us to give water to the thirsty. Can a Christian do this in the world in which we live and still succeed? Unfortunately today there are those in power, even in the church, who do not live according to God's decrees. Church leaders are tempted by the same things that tempt people of every vocation. They are tempted by power, wealth and the recognition that comes with status.

It is possible to be a Christian in leadership in any sort of business. They key is remembering who is in charge. Ezekiel writes, "And I, Jehovah, will be their God, and my servant David prince among them; I, Jehovah, have spoken it." Ezekiel lived long after David, so this is in reference to someone in David's house. Though David and his seed were to be king over all Israel, this scripture calls him prince. There is another, greater King. This is what the shepherds forgot. They forgot God and went their own way. Wherever we end up in this world, whether it is as a follower or a leader, as a farmer or landowner or old widow, there is always someone greater the Lord our God.

In today's epistle lesson, Paul writes about life in community with Christ and His people. Christ is the head and we are all part of His body. We are called to live in hope of the inheritance that waits for each of us in heaven. We are among those that will be called to that throne of glory one day to face our Lord. We do not live in this world in fear of what could be the weeping and gnashing of teeth as was found in last week's message because we have not lived up to some standard required of us. We live in hope and walk in faith as Christ's body, freely sharing that which Christ has given to all we meet daily.

We don't always see Christ in the midst of our ordinary lives, but He is with us daily. Sometimes we realize later that we've had a divine appointment, when the revelation of God's mercy and grace is made apparent to us. However, most often our experiences in sharing God's love happen without our noticing, like when we speak a word of compassion to someone waiting in the grocery line or when we share a meal with a sick friend. We need not worry about whether or not we are a sheep or a goat, but rather we are called to share our lives with those we meet. It might just be a poor man who needs a meal today or it might be a CEO who needs to be fed the Word of God and know of His mercy and grace.

Christ longs to say to each of us, "Well done, good and faithful servant, join in my happiness." However, we should not forget that He has gathered us into a living body that is called to share His grace with the world. If we do not concern ourselves with all those whom we meet that need Christ, we might just miss the Christ whom we so greatly long to see. Then we are no more than those shepherds in Ezekiel's day that stepped on the sheep to get fat ignoring the God of their fathers for the sake of their own power, wealth and recognition. We need not spend our time trying to see God's face in the people we meet. We need only live in faith, trusting in our Great Shepherd's grace as we respond to His love by meeting the needs of this world. In this way we live in praise and thanksgiving, joining our Master in His happiness. Thanks be to God.

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