Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Christ the King: Shepherd of the Saints" from "A Season of Saints" - Sermon, November 26, 2017

In some ways, I feel like I’m still quite full from Thanksgiving dinner, although I think it’s my soul that has been overflowing with thanks this past week.  It is full of thanks for being able to serve and live in a wonderful town like ours, surrounded by so much beauty; full of thanks for the Holy Spirit at work in our congregation with the new growth we’ve experienced this Fall (with people sick and traveling, this morning might not indicate it); and full of thanks for family and friends.  I hope that all of your souls are also filled with thanks in one way or another as well.  In addition, I do have to say that I’m thankful that today is not the first Sunday of Advent, which typically happens quite often the Sunday right after Thanksgiving.  I’m sure Alice and Charlotte can concur too, as that is among the music directors’ worst nightmare. 
            Today, we conclude our series, “A Season of Saints” while we also close out the liturgical year with Christ the King Sunday.  The liturgical year is divided up into the Christmas Cycle, which are the seasons Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), Christmas Eve and the Sunday after, and Epiphany (January 6).  Then in the Spring, there’s the Easter Cycle, which is the season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) and Easter (Easter Sunday and the 50 days after).  Following the day of Pentecost (when Holy Spirit made itself known among the people and the church was born) is ordinary time.  Kind of an abridged lesson on the church year, which is also why you see the colors on our altar change and if you want to know even more, that’s always a good topic at the ‘Coffice’ on Thursdays.  The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent and ends with Christ the King Sunday, so next Sunday, it’ll be a new year!! 
Now, Christ the King Sunday is relatively new to us in the Mainline Protestant church.  When I was doing some of my research earlier this week for this morning’s message, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville gives the following short history of Christ the King Sunday:
[Christ the King Sunday] was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.” After Vatican II, Rome moved the observance of this day from October to the final Sunday of the Christian Year, and many Protestants, including United Methodists, who adopted the Revised Common Lectionary and its calendar have followed suit.[i]

Some interesting little tidbits there, although sounds a little like the ‘give to Caesar or give to God’ question that came up in an earlier chapter in Matthew’s Gospel.  As we think about what we just read in Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew this morning, I’m not so sure that I necessarily feel all that uplifted when I hear both, as there is a little bit of a message of judgment there; although both passages are ultimately trying to get all of us to take a long, hard look in the mirror at some of the negative aspects of our lives, and ultimately points us towards our true shepherd and king, Jesus Christ.  Prophetic writing will often do that too, as I know there are times I’m not always comfortable with what I read.  It’s kind of like getting a dose of ‘tough love.’ 
Amidst the judgmental tone we may hear, we do have this message of hope that is in there, as this message is of a God who WILL seek us out, a God who WILL care for us and shepherd us, offering us protection from our fears and our uncertainties.  We also get this image of Christ the King, the shepherd of the saints, almost a full circle from what we saw a few weeks ago when the multitude was gathered around the lamb of God, although now this lamb has simultaneously becomes shepherd as well.  
            In Ezekiel, God is seeking out the people who have been displaced as a result of the Babylonian Exile, but now Jerusalem has fallen and it’s time for the exiles to return home to their land.  As Old Testament scholar, Charles Aaron Jr. explains,
God now promises to act as a shepherd.  God will seek out the exiles and bring them back.  God will not wait for them to return, but will search out the exiles.  God will feed and nurture them, and will heal them.  God will provide justice for them by confronting those who have failed them.  For experiencing displacement, God will bring them back.  For their misery, God will nurture and feed them.  For their hurt, God will heal them.  For their neglect and mistreatment, God will vindicate them.  Within the world of the text of Ezekiel, the words of comfort come right on the heels of the fall of Jerusalem.[ii]

            After all this judgment that is a common theme until this point in the Book of Ezekiel, God shows the people who the true king will be, not so much the earthly kings, or rulers, or even politicians of today.  Instead, “the true King, the King God wants to see, the King that Jesus was and is, is like Israel’s second king [David] started to be: a Shepherd,” except that “this is a shepherd whose flock has been scattered by the actions of typical kings and rulers, religious and otherwise.”[iii] Like God as shepherd in Ezekiel will do, Christ the King, Shepherd of the Saints will also seek out the lost, the hurt, the sick, the poor, the outcast, etc..  Another instance where we come full circle with the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ that we talked about in January and February this year, particularly “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers” among a few…
            Things get a little bit more interesting in our Gospel lesson toward the end of the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus Christ as shepherd of the saints talks of the separation of the sheep and goats, similar to the word of judgment we hear in Ezekiel.  Vs. 35-36 are oftentimes quoted and can be an effective guilt-trip, yet Jesus definitely takes the side of marginalized, the sick, the hurt, and the poor, as that’s who he ministered with and cared for during his ministry on earth.  And especially with Christmas and winter both on the horizon, today’s lesson is a good way to think of the ways we can care for the poor, the outcast, the hurt, the lonely, the least; not just this time of year, but all year around.  Some of the judgment in both passages is mainly about how we use our resources and how we can live a life of generosity and compassion, which I know that even I will feel convicted about at a time or two.  Regardless of where we are at in our life or where we are on the journey of faith, Christ the King, Shepherd of the Saints is still our shepherd because “if we are his, we acknowledge who we are and what we’ve done” throughout our lives.[iv] If we can name it and own it in what we’ve done in our lives, we can also accept the gift of grace that is there.  And then, we can take up the invitation to allow Christ the King, the Shepherd of the Saints to lead us and guide us.  The ones who are part of that multitude dressed in white, “the ones whose story is one of ultimate salvation, the ones whose whole lives are marked by thanksgiving – the saints” are the ones who Jesus closely identifies with and is shepherd of and we too can be part of that multitude and the ones to keep working towards bringing God’s kingdom to earth today.[v]
            I don’t think I need to offer any more concrete examples of ways we help care for the poor and the marginalized than I already have in past sermons, although be on the lookout for some local mission opportunities in the coming weeks.  We do a pretty good job already of being the hands and feet of Christ in our community and in our world, as we already give a lot of ourselves and of our time.  As the shepherd of the saints, Christ will continue showing us how to reach out to the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the hurting and like Christ the King, Shepherd of the Saints, maybe that is the next step we can take, even if we may not be sure what that step may look like, although will require listening to the Holy Spirit and paying attention to those little nudges that may be coming from God.  Nevertheless, we can still invite others to experience how Christ the King, Shepherd of the saints can offer healing, eternal love, inviting others to let our savior who is like a shepherd lead us on the journey of faith.  No matter what, kingdoms and rulers of today will not be around forever, yet God’s kingdom and Christ our King will last forever.  Let’s keep striving towards that goal!!   
 I invite you to turn to hymn ___ in The United Methodist Hymnal as we sing together “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”
(After Hymn)
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Let the Church Say Amen. 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Christ The King Sunday 2017 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed November 21 2017.
[ii]  "Commentary On Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 By Charles L. Aaron, Jr.". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed November 26 2017.
[iii] Ministries, Discipleship.  2017.
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid.  

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