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Sermon Sunday November 26, 2023 Reign of Christ/Christ the King

Lessons: Ezekiel 34:11-16, Psalm 95: 1-7a  Ephesians 1:15-23    Matthew 25:31-46

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the Reign of Christ, or in a perhaps more familiar terminology, Christ the King. This is actually the last Sunday of our liturgical calendar. Next week we begin a new year with the First Sunday of Advent. And yes, all the hullabaloo has already started about Christmas, but let’s take a look at that new beginning that today helps to mark. So, today marks an ending, but also a new beginning.

The term Reign of Christ has come into use more because, perhaps, of perceived negativity around the term King as being autocratic and dominating of others, often in a cruel way. The term reign, for me, however, immediately brings to mind the image of a King. So, I am not sure that the switch in terminology is any less controversial. Jesus is, after all, not a democratically elected leader, nor an oligarch, nor someone appointed by us to a leadership position. Perhaps what we need to take a look at is the new beginning that Jesus in His reign means to us. Perhaps what we need to take a look at is how we ourselves fit into the reign of Jesus.

Let’s take a look at the O.T. Lesson from Ezekiel first. When we look at today’s O.T. lesson, what images do we see of God?

Ask the folks to give some words or images that they see of God in the Ezekiel lesson—some of my own are: sheep, filled with rich pasture, God gathers the lost, the strays, takes care of those wo are injured and hurting, strengthens the weak, but also God will destroy the fat and the strong! Uh oh!

So, Ezekiel was a priest in the Jewish nation who accompanied the Jewish people into the Babylonian Exile. This is when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple. They took the Israelites to Babylon in captivity around 587 BCE. Ezekiel receives vision/messages from God for the Jewish people, so he is a prophet. God promises hope for the Jewish nation. God proclaims hope for Israel, for all the nations, and for all creation. God will give the Israelites (and us) new hearts, for a transformation, for a new beginning through the promise of a future Messianic King in order to live in a loving relationship with God and each other.

Ezekiel is written in an apocalyptic manner in many of its passages. Apocalypse is a Greek word that means to reveal. And it means to reveal what God’s divine plan is for us all, and not necessarily at the end of the world, which is what we may think of when we hear apocalyptic language. We can arguably say that today’s lesson from Ezekiel is God’s vision for us and how God cares for God’s people by binding their wounds, searching for the lost, and comforting the hurting. In other words, how our king acts towards us.

But what about destroying the fat (meaning those who have unjustly taken advantage of those who are weaker than they are) and the strong (meaning those who have bullied, pushed around, and dominated those who are weaker, or those they consider to be less than them).

Have you ever seen people that fit the description of those who have taken advantage of, bullied, and dominated others? While they may seem to be happy go lucky, having a great time, there is something that is eating at them, something that makes them incredibly unhappy. They are being judged, not just by others, but by their conscience that God has given them, whether they realize it or not, and whether they will admit it to themselves or not.

So, our lesson from Ezekiel gives us a vision of a loving God, our King, our shepherd who takes care of us. God is the One who wants this new beginning for us.

Now, let’s take a look at our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew. What image do you see in this passage? (Ask the folks to offer up their images.) Some of mine are: feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, not knowing that “we” have been doing this to “The Son of Man”, a term Jesus used to describe himself often in Matthew’s Gospel. We also do not know that “we” are doing these things to Jesus—the King. The opposite is also true, when we withhold these action from others, not knowing we are doing this to Jesus, the King.

Matthew has an apocalyptic theme running throughout his Gospel, God revealing his divine vision for us as human beings. So, in this passage, Jesus our King, is again reiterating His teaching of love God and love our neighbors by giving us specific instructions of what we are to do to bring to life the love our neighbor part of His teaching. He reveals the what we are to do in the Kingdom of God, where he reigns, the Kingdom of God which is already here and now, because Jesus already came, as we yet await its completion. Jesus is instilling in us or re-awakening in us that new beginning of living in His Kingdom, of how we are to act, of how we are to treat each other. And this says much about who our king is.

This lesson is commonly called The Sheep and the Goats, or rather, the separation of them. Sheep are not the fluffy, bright, beautiful animals that we see in the Serta mattress commercials. Sheep are rather dirty, smelly animals, but they do follow the voice of their shepherd. Goats, on the other hand, are seen not only as dirty, but eating garbage, and they are rebellious, despite all the cute baby goat videos that we can come across on YouTube these days!

So, again, the goats in this parable seem to have received a judgment on themselves, because they eat garbage. And worse yet, they don’t realize the harm they have done to others by eating that garbage which doesn’t allow them to act positively on behalf of others.

And have we ever thought about this, that the folks doing the actions are not looking to broadcast to the world what it is that they are doing? The folks doing the good are not looking for glory. They are treating others well because they know that is what they are to do. Goats, on the other hand, seem to be asking for a lot of attention, just like in the YouTube videos!

This parable also says a lot about the king, who radiates these same attitudes and actions as being important. So, what does this tell us about our King, about Jesus and His reign, his kingdom? (Ask for people to give their ideas.)

It might seem that there are a lot more goats than sheep these days in our world. But maybe it is just that the sheep aren’t looking for glory, but only to serve Jesus our King. We might ask ourselves this week how we can contribute to a new beginning in God’s Kingdom, of how we treat even the goats, that Jesus, our King, teaches us in this week’s Gospel.

Let us look to Jesus our king’s hopeful promises for all, for a new creation, a new beginning in God’s Kingdom. What will we do? What will you do? What will I do?  Visit the forgotten? Say a kind word to someone with whom I have had a rocky relationship? Pray for peace in Israel-Palestine, Ukraine-Russia, in our country, our communities, our lives? Let us take our king’s promise, our God’s promise of a new beginning in God’s Kingdom for us all, and let us liv into that in our daily lives. Amen.