What kind of a King is he?

Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

 Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last day of the church year, the day we celebrate Christ’s reign over all the world.  We celebrate the coming kingdom, and we celebrate the one who will bring it in to us.  But kings and kingdoms are pretty far removed from our day-to-day lives; after all, we don’t have kings here in America.  About the only time we think about royalty is when the British royal family has a major event like a wedding or a new baby, or a scandal that makes tabloid headlines.  So what does it mean when we say Christ is King?  What does it mean when we say we are waiting for Christ’s kingdom to come?  What is a king supposed to be like, anyway?

In the ancient world, shepherds were a common metaphor for kings.  Shepherds took care of their flocks, kept them together, protected them from harm, and made sure that they got enough good food and water.  Kings were supposed to be like that: taking care of their people, uniting them, defending them from enemies and establishing civic order, and making sure that resources were fairly distributed.  Of course, there’s a huge difference between a human king and a shepherd: the shepherd is a lot smarter than a sheep, and knows what’s good for the sheep better than the sheep do.  A human king, however, isn’t necessarily any smarter than any of his subjects, and doesn’t know better than they do.  In fact, you can expand that to all political leaders.  Our presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, are not inherently any smarter, any morally better, than the average joe on the street.

We may not know much about kings and kingdoms, and most of us don’t know as much about shepherds as people in biblical days, but it’s not hard to understand God’s point in today’s first reading.  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.”  God is complaining that the kings and priests who are supposed to take care of and lead God’s people have failed.  Worse, they’ve done the opposite of what they were supposed to do.  They’ve scattered God’s people instead of gathering them in, they’ve driven them away instead of seeking out those who are lost.  They have abused the people they are supposed to be leading and protecting.  In other words, they’ve been bad leaders.

It should not take much thought to come up with modern leaders who have done the same.  How many have focused on short-term good rather than long-term good?  How many have chosen partisanship over cooperation and the greater good?  How many of them have chosen to spew slogans that appeal to a small core constituency and alienate everyone else, instead of finding common goals and working towards solutions most people can support?  How many have chosen comfortable lies over hard truths?  How many have chosen to benefit themselves instead of working for the good of those they’re supposed to lead?  How many have taken the loyalty they are given and used it for bad purposes?  Political leaders, religious leaders, social leaders—all have tended to fall prey to the same problems.  All have tended to focus on themselves to the detriment of the greater good.

It’s no wonder God gets upset.  It’s no wonder that God chooses to act.  In Jeremiah, he tells of a day when the bad shepherds—the bad kings and politicians and priests—of this world will no longer be in charge.  “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  That righteous branch is, of course, Christ Jesus our Lord, God’s son, whom he sent into the world.  And the reign of Christ will not be completed until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  But that reign will come.  The day will come when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  The day will come when true righteousness and true mercy are the rule rather than the exception.  And on that day we will know the joy of living in God’s kingdom.

It’s interesting to look at the Gospel reading for this day, when we celebrate the Christ’s Kingship.  What does it mean, that Christ is king?  What kind of a king is he?  Well, it turns out, Jesus is not much like the human kings and leaders that we’re familiar with.  Jesus Christ is a crucified king.  And that’s proof of how different a leader Jesus is.  Think about it: human kings and presidents have bodyguards, people whose entire job is to protect them, and, if necessary, to die for them.  Jesus is just the opposite.  Instead of asking that people die to save him, Jesus dies to save his people.  Human leaders have many reason for asking others to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the leader’s sake.  Surely, any of those reasons are infinitely more true of Jesus.  By any objective measurement, Jesus was more important and more worthy than any human being.  Yet he didn’t ask others to save him; he went willingly to his death to save everyone else.  He put our good over his own.  He died so that we might live.  He rescued us from the power of darkness so that we might be citizens of his kingdom.

And this great gift was not just for a chosen few.  Jesus sets aside his power and glory for the sake of all people: even the criminals beside him have only to ask to receive the gift of the kingdom.  And the people who have taken Jesus, put him on trial knowing he is innocent, and sentenced him to die—they, too, receive the gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  They don’t deserve forgiveness.  They are in the process of murdering an innocent man for their own benefit, to get him out of the way.  The criminals being crucified with Jesus?  They didn’t deserve forgiveness, either—at least one of them freely admits that his crimes deserve the death penalty.  Jesus doesn’t tell him, “no, really, it wasn’t that bad.”  And Jesus doesn’t tell the people who are putting him to death that “oh, it’s not that big a deal.”  These are real sins.  They are doing a deeply horrible thing.  Jesus doesn’t try and whitewash it or diminish it.  But he does forgive them.  He does tell the criminal that he will be with him in God’s kingdom.

The soldiers mocked him as he forgave them.  “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” they said.  They couldn’t imagine a king who would act like Jesus.  They couldn’t imagine a king who would value his people more than his own life.  They couldn’t imagine a king who would endure humiliation and pain for the greater good.  The leaders who had trumped up the charges that led to Jesus’ arrest mocked him too.  They had felt threatened by Jesus, because he was different.  He didn’t fit into their nice neat categories; he didn’t follow their lead; he taught with authority and spent time with tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t act like they thought a Messiah should.  They couldn’t imagine that God would choose to humble himself for the sake of his people.  They couldn’t imagine that God would allow his chosen one to die.  They couldn’t imagine the kingdom of God beginning with the death of the one who came to bring it.  They watched the greatest act of love imaginable, and saw only failure.  Their king was right there in front of their eyes, and they could not see him.

Can we?  Or do we take Jesus for granted?  Jesus Christ is Lord of All, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace.  We say the words, but do we mean them?  Are we willing to give our allegiance and loyalty to Christ who died for our sake, or do we give him lip service while following our own whims?  Are we willing to admit our sin and guilt and accept his forgiveness and the Kingdom that Christ brings, or would we rather scoff because God’s kingdom doesn’t look like the kingdoms of this world?

God loves us, every one of us.  And he knows our strengths and weaknesses, our needs and wants and fears, even those we don’t know ourselves.  Unlike the leaders of this world, God has far more wisdom and understanding than we do, and more compassion as well.  While the leaders of this world fall prey to their own flaws, God heals us and makes us whole.  While the leaders of this world scatter and divide people, God brings us together and reconciles our differences.  While the leaders of this world are willing to sacrifice others for their own good, God sacrifices himself for us, so that we may have peace bought through the blood shed on the cross.  That is what makes Jesus Christ the King of Kings, the Lord of All, the Prince of Peace.

Amen.

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Christ the King: the Feast to Come

Christ the King Sunday, Year B, Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-38a

Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Salem, OR

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having just been through an election year, I had a hard time getting enthusiastic about celebrating Christ the King Sunday today.  It seems every time we turn around these days, we see examples of leaders doing terrible things.  Lying, cheating, betraying their principles, doing stupid things, more concerned with getting or maintaining power than they are with using that power wisely for the benefit of their people.  Mouthing pious platitudes while backstabbing others, and then throwing mud at their competitors to make themselves look better.  Pontius Pilate would fit in perfectly.  Indeed, his question to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson—What is truth?—would fit perfectly in the mouth of a modern-day politician.

As if the examples of our leaders weren’t bad enough, there’s the term “king” itself.  Kings are people out of story books, at best, and at worst—well, any student of history can point out that most kings have been at least as bad as our modern politicians, if not worse.  So why devote a whole Sunday to proclaiming Christ’s kingship?  It sounds so old-fashioned, so irrelevant, so naïve.  Yet the metaphor of Christ as king—the metaphor of God’s “kingdom”—is woven throughout Christian understanding.

What is truth?  What is kingship?  What is God’s kingdom, and what are we saying when we pray “your kingdom come”?  So often when we think of these questions and things like them, we start with what we know—the leaders and kingdoms around us—and project those onto God.  Instead, I think we should look at God and use that as our measuring stick.

In the Gospel lesson, we have two examples of leadership before us: Pilate, and Jesus.  Pilate is a typical ruler of his day.  Jesus … is not.  Pilate is concerned for his reputation.  Pilate is concerned with maintaining his power, not an easy thing in a place as turbulent as Judea was.  Pilate wanted to be in control, and he wanted everything to fit into his own ideas of how things ought to be.  Pilate evidently liked using dramatics to appease the crowds and portray himself as a good leader.  We know from history that Pilate and the priests and elders of Judea often clashed, and that not long after Jesus’ death Pilate would be removed from his post.  History also tells us that Pilate could be both cruel and capricious.  There he is, his hold on power crumbling, and his enemies bring him someone they want him to execute.  He dithers about what to do, going back and forth to try to figure out what the heck is going on.  In the end, he concludes that Jesus is probably innocent of the charges against him, but that it would be politically inconvenient to drop the charges and let him go.  So, instead, Pilate executes a man he knows is innocent in order to keep himself in good standing with the crowds.

It seems like the triumph of this broken, earthly kingdom over God’s kingdom.  It seems like Jesus’ kingship—whatever that may be—is at an end.  It seems like the raw power and corruption of this world wins out over justice and righteousness.  And yet, in that very act, God’s kingdom begins to break in.

It’s no accident that in the hours before Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus and Pilate trade barbs about kingship and the nature of power.  It’s no accident John tells us this story of what passed between the two as Pilate was deciding whether or not to have Jesus killed.  Because Pilate may be the one on the judge’s bench, here, but he’s the one on trial.  Him, and every other ruler of this world.  And in this wrongful death, Jesus shows us what it truly means to be a king.

Jesus, you see, is not in this for power, or riches, or to have crowds screaming his name.  If he were, as Jesus points out, he wouldn’t have let himself be captured without a fight.  He would have taken the crowds that have followed him throughout his years of teaching and tried to turn them into an army to defend himself, to overthrow the Roman ruler and his corrupt government and install Jesus in his place.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  Jesus handed himself over, knowing that he was going to his death.  Why did he do that?  Because Jesus knew that it was only through his selfless act of love that he could break the power of sin and death.  Jesus loved the world—that power-mad, sinful, broken, messed-up world—so much that he was willing to die for it.  Jesus loves each and every person who has ever lived and ever will live—as sinful and broken as we all are—so much that he was willing to die in pain, and agony, alone on the cross.  For Jesus, kingship doesn’t mean arrogance or self-aggrandizement or selfishness.  For Jesus, kingship means putting the needs of his people—all his people—before his own well-being.

So if that’s what kingship means, where is Jesus’ kingdom?  In Greek, the word “kingdom” can also be translated “rule” or “reign.”  Jesus’ kingdom is the place where Jesus reigns, where God’s will is done.  Jesus’ kingdom is a place where no one goes hungry.  Jesus’ kingdom is the place where no one is sick, or hurt, or grieving, and every tear has been wiped away.  Jesus’ kingdom is the place where all people are filled with joy.  Jesus’ kingdom is the place where no one is abused or bullied, where swords have been beaten into plowshares.  Jesus’ kingdom is the place where love wins.  Jesus’ kingdom is the place where truth and integrity are the norm, where justice and mercy go hand in hand.  Jesus’ kingdom is like a party, a banquet, where all are invited and there is enough for everyone.  Jesus’ kingdom is what God intended the world to be from the very beginning, and Jesus’ kingdom is what the world will be at the end, when Jesus Christ comes again.

Jesus’ kingdom, obviously, is not the world we live in.  And Jesus’ kingdom is obviously a better place than anywhere we could build ourselves.  For the fullness of God’s kingdom, we will have to wait until Christ comes again.

And yet.  And yet, we are not just citizens of this world, we are also citizens of Jesus’ kingdom.  We live caught between the two, acknowledging the reality of the world around us and yet yearning for the coming of the kingdom.  We live knowing the spiritual hunger of this world and yet anticipating the feast to come.  We can’t create Jesus’ kingdom and we can’t hurry it’s coming, but we can live in the reality we know is coming.  In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we get a glimpse of what it will be like.  But we also see other glimpses of it.  Remember, Jesus constantly said that God’s kingdom was close at hand, if we only had eyes to see it and ears to hear it.  Every time someone chooses love over hate, we have a foretaste of the feast to come.  Every time someone chooses to do the right thing instead of the easy thing, we have a foretaste of the feast to come.

As followers of Christ, we are called and invited to join in the work of the kingdom.  We are called to spread love and mercy and forgiveness, to act with integrity and justice.  We live in this broken, sinful world, and we are sinners ourselves, yet we have tasted a little bit of the feast to come.  We have seen glimpses of Christ’s kingdom.  May we learn to live in the light of the coming kingdom.

Amen.

Bearing Christ’s Name

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ezekiel 36:22-32

Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In today’s reading, God tells Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel that they have “profaned God’s holy name among the nations.”  “Profane” is a very old-fashioned word; it means the opposite of holy.  Similar words include pollute, defile, desecrate.  Basically, it means that they have dragged God’s name through the mud.  They may not have literally cursed God’s name, but they who were supposed to be God’s people acted in ways that made a mockery of God’s will.  They didn’t behave like the people of God should behave.  And in so doing, they profaned the name of the God they represented.

We represent God even more directly than the people of Israel did.  Our very name—Christian—means people of Christ.  So how well do we do in honoring that holy name?  Unfortunately, all too often, the answer is “not well at all.”  How many times have I heard this, or something similar, when I ask people why they don’t like Christians: They’re such hypocrites.  Being prone to humor, my response is “Yes, but there’s always room for one more.”  There is a certain truth to both statements: Christians often preach to others that they should keep standards we can’t keep ourselves, and some Christians do things in the name of our God and our faith that aren’t very Christian.  We talk the talk, but we don’t always walk the walk.  We assume God wants the same things we do, and too often we read the Bible only to find passages that agree with us.  When combined with a proud and self-righteous attitude, it’s a deadly combination.  That kind of hypocrisy profanes the name of God.  But even without pride and self-righteousness and a holier-than-thou attitude, there will always be a disconnect between the grace and love that God commands us to live out, and the reality of our sinful lives.

And yet, even when we fail badly, we are still our Father’s beloved children, and he still claims us as his own, just as God still claimed the house of Israel.  In our baptism, God washes us in clean water and gives us a new heart and his Holy Spirit.  We are tied to Christ’s death and resurrection, and forgiven our sins.  We stand at the foot of the cross, knowing that we are sinners who have been saved through no effort or merit of our own, but only through God’s love and grace.  We stand beneath the cross knowing that Jesus pays the price for all of our sin, and that he loves us and calls us to him still, promising abundant life and freedom.  We stand beneath the cross knowing that we have nothing to boast about, no special goodness or holiness, except through Christ’s love and forgiveness.

If we try to say that Christians are better or sin less than other people, we’re fooling ourselves.  Until Christ comes again, we will always be caught between our own sinfulness and the reality of Christ’s saving grace.  But the good news is, no matter how many times we go astray, our Lord and Savior calls us back to him, forgives us, washes away our sins in the waters of our baptism, gives us a new heart and frees us from the chains that bind us.  Jesus promises to always be with us, no matter what we do or how far astray we go.  And when our way seems too hard, or too dark, when we know just how badly we’ve messed up, when we know we can’t fix the brokenness in us and in the world around us, when the cares of life threaten to overwhelm us, Jesus is there with us to give us rest and comfort, and to lead us out of the wilderness of our sin.  Jesus calls to us to lay down our burdens upon his shoulders, drink of his life-giving water, and walk in his light.

We don’t bear the name of Christ because we are better than other people, or because we have earned it.  We are still sinners who fall short of God’s glory.  We bear our Lord’s name because he has claimed us as his own.  We are Christians because we heed Christ’s call to come to the cross.  We are Christians because we trust God to keep the promises he made to us, to lead us and forgive us and give us new life in him.

Amen.

Sermon: Christ the King

Sorry for posting this a week late, but I was a bit busy with Thanksgiving last week.

Christ the King

Sunday, November 23 2008

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm 95
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Preached by Vicar Anna C. Haugen

First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Greensburg, PA

MP3 of SermonBulletin.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today is the last Sunday of the church year; next week is the first Sunday of Advent, when we begin preparations for the coming of our Lord.  Today, we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is our King, ruler of heaven and earth.  We are citizens of two worlds, of this world we live in now and of the world to come, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  Jesus Christ is the king of both heaven and earth.  It’s easy to imagine Christ as King of heaven, where he reigns in glory with angels and pearly gates and all that.  It’s a lot harder to imagine Christ as king of this world we live in today.

What does it mean that Christ is King?  What kind of a King is he?  When I think of kings in this world, I think of grand castles and historic wars and riches and crown jewels locked safely behind glass.  Most kings in the world today are ceremonial figureheads, like Queen Elizabeth of England.  She comes out, she waves at crowds, she makes speeches, she travels the world, but in the end the country she rules is actually governed by elected officials in Parliament.  Then there are all the kings in history, who actually did rule their people.  Some were good, some were bad, but all had flaws when you take a close look at them.  They favored the rights of the rich and powerful and ignored the needs of the poor, they played favorites, they started stupid and tragic wars, they lived in lavish palaces while the majority of their people lived in squalor and filth, they had so much power and wealth and used it to get more power and wealth.  Even David and Solomon, the two greatest kings in the Bible, had significant problems.  David’s adultery and poor parenting skills caused a vicious civil war, and his son Solomon the Wise raised taxes and forced labor levies so high to pay for his building projects that on his death the kingdom of Israel-God’s chosen people-were permanently split in two.  That split never healed because a few centuries of rule by bad kings later, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria and taken off as captives and was never heard from again.  If that’s the legacy of a good king, well, I can see why our forefathers rebelled and threw out the English king in favor of a democratic government.  It’s hard to imagine a king being a good thing, hard to think of Christ as a king, when you think of all the bad things kings have done.

Except our democratically-elected political leaders don’t have that great a track record, either.  Washington, Jefferson, and the rest of the founding fathers owned slaves and left in place a system of slavery that was horribly unjust and cruel and caused a massive civil war for their children and grandchildren to fight.  Lincoln had no plans for the future besides winning the Civil War, and his lack of planning led to problems with Reconstruction after his death.  Our presidents have a better track run over the long term than the kings and queens of many other nations, but that’s not saying much.  All leaders of nations, whatever they call themselves and however they came to power, have fallen short of their promises and caused problems for their people.  Yet they keep making new promises about what they’re going to accomplish as leaders, each promise more lavish than the rest.  And we follow them, hoping they’ll fix all the things that are wrong with the world, all the mistakes their predecessors made.  We hope they’ll make things better for us, make a better world, fix the wrongs and injustices that affect our daily lives and prevent new ones from occurring.

On November 5, the day after the recent election, I visited a few shut-ins, and the conversation naturally turned to politics.  The Obama supporters spoke as if Obama was a savior who would right all the wrongs in America and in the world.  The McCain supporters spoke as if America was doomed and would crumble and fall within the next four years.  Now, politics is a touchy and dangerous subject for any pastor to discuss with parishioners, and I’m not quite comfortable yet with where the boundaries are.  But one thing I know for sure is that no matter which political party won this or any election, no matter which candidate is installed in office, the world is in God’s hands and will always be in God’s hands, difficult as that can be to remember at times.  And so we come back to the question: what does it mean that Christ is King of this world as well as the next?

In the first lesson, the leaders of the world-particularly the kings of Israel and Judah-have failed at their task as leaders and shepherds of their people.  The people are scattered and divided, the rich have gotten greedy and the poor have gotten trampled.  There is no justice anywhere.  The ones with God-given gifts to take care of and protect others have used those gifts to make themselves even richer and stronger at the expense of the ones they’re supposed to be protecting.  It’s not their riches God objects to-it’s the way they’ve used those riches to do the exact opposite of what they should be doing.  The result?  Everyone has suffered.  The nation has been conquered by foreigners and everyone-rich and poor alike-has been carried off into exile.  God sent the prophet Ezekiel to bring comfort: exile is not permanent.  The injustices that plague Israel will be redressed, and a new shepherd, a new king, will be given to lead them.  This king, however, will not be like their old leaders who brought them to this low point.  This new David will be a true shepherd-he will take care of the people with justice, and both rich and poor will be fed and protected and cared for.  This new David is Christ, the Messiah, king of heaven and earth.  What does it mean that Christ is King?  Christ is not just a ceremonial king, there to be brought out for rituals and holidays and ignored the rest of the time.  He has true power of both judgment and protection.  Christ’s kingship means that the old way of doing things, the way of life in which value is calculated by riches and power, will come to an end.  In its place will come a world in which all people are valued, in which everyone gets a fair chance and all will be cared for.  Christ’s kingship means that justice isn’t about who’s got the biggest army or the most money, and it means that no matter how bad things seem to be now, this world is not the end.

But justice can’t happen without judgment, and that means that injustices can’t be swept away under the rug or excused as simply the way things are.  People need to be held accountable for the things they’ve done, good and bad.  God’s justice can’t be bribed, or swayed by politics, or biased in any way.  God knows what is in our hearts and minds, God knows what we’ve done even better than we do, and God will judge everyone with greater justice than any human court could ever hope to do.  Let me repeat that: God will judge.  Not us, God.

In the second lesson, Jesus talks about the judgment that will happen when he comes again.  The story is simple: everyone will be judged and sorted into two groups.  The ones who are righteous-the sheep-will go into the Kingdom of heaven, and those who are not righteous-the goats-will be sent away to eternal punishment.  This parable is pretty well known.  It’s a common subject of sermons and Bible study classes.  It’s an excellent way to show what God’s justice looks like: when we see someone in trouble, and we have the power to help, we should do it.  We see the face of God not in the kings and rulers and powerful and wealthy of this world, but in those who are the most vulnerable.  We see the face of God in people who are hungry, thirsty, alone, naked, sick, imprisoned.  We have been given many gifts, not just of money but of time and talents as well, and we should use them to take care of those who honestly cannot take care of themselves.  This is what Christ our King commands.  This is the standard against which he will judge us.

And again I point out: the standard against which Christ will judge us, not the standard we will use to judge others.  Here’s what most people miss when they read this parable: the sheep don’t think they’re sheep and the goats don’t think they’re goats.  The sheep are honestly surprised to hear that they’ve been serving Christ in their daily lives, and the goats honestly can’t think of a time when they haven’t served.  The problem is that the goats were serving the wrong things-and didn’t know it.  They got so caught up in what they thought needed to be done, they forgot to ask what God thought needed to be done, and how God wanted them to go about doing it.

It’s kind of like when I was a kid and I would take care of my younger brother on Saturdays while Mom and Dad were at work.  We had a list of chores to accomplish, and it was my responsibility to see to it the chores got done and that we both did our fair share.  Now, I was a fairly bossy girl, and my brother has always been laid back, and so normally he’d just go along with whatever I told him to do, and normally I tried to divide things relatively equally.  But sometimes I’d get so caught up in the fact that I was in charge that I would try to make my brother do a lot more than his fair share-and then try and micromanage how he did it.  Well, I never got away with it for very long-eventually, even my laid-back brother would call Mom and Dad to complain, and I would get in trouble.  Even if the chores got done like Mom and Dad wanted, they didn’t get done how Mom and Dad wanted when I made my brother do most of the work, and they got done in ways that harmed the relationship between myself and my brother.  Just as it was easy for me to think I was doing what my parents wanted by bossing my brother around and making him do most of the work, it’s easy for us to arrange things the way we want them and justify it by thinking we’re doing what God wants.  It’s easy to fall back into the habits of power-seeking, of seeing things through the eyes of this world instead of through the eyes of Christ, and not even realize we’re doing it.

That’s a scary thought.  If it’s that easy to forget about the true justice of Christ, if we can honestly think we’re serving God when we really aren’t, what’s to stop us from being goats?  How can we make sure we’re headed for eternal life rather than eternal punishment?  We do our best, but what if that isn’t enough?  Well, the bad news is, our best isn’t enough and there’s no way we can make sure we’re sheep and not goats.  We can’t judge anyone, not ourselves, not others.  The power of judgment belongs exclusively to Christ our King, who isn’t blinded by power and money and all the things we use to decide status.  But the good news is that Christ exercises that judgment along with mercy, in grace and love.  Christ uses his kingship for protection and care.  As sinners, we stand condemned before the throne.  But Christ loves us still.  And that is where we place our trust and our hope of salvation, not in our deeds that often go wrong, but in the grace of God.

Jesus Christ is our king both in this world and the next.  Doing good things isn’t just about salvation.  We do good works because our God and King desires justice in this world, and mercy, and he wants to work through us to accomplish it.  We do good works because our God cares just as much about the weak as he does the strong.  Christ can be seen in the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, the sick, the dying.  The world may have forgotten them, but God hasn’t.  And neither should we.

Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  The rulers of this world have the power of laws and armies and bureaucracy in their control, but Christ is still the one in ultimate control.  Things may seem grim or depressing when we see all that’s wrong with the world, all the things that we as human beings have done wrong.  But Christ doesn’t exercise that power through a show of riches and might.  He rules by bringing justice and grace to the world, to those who need it the most.  He rules by gathering up the lost and forsaken, by being a good shepherd to his people.  Thanks be to God.