Christ the King Sunday: The Love & Judgement of God

St Peter’s Lutheran Church Cochrane 
Christ the King  Sunday

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25:31-46
Psalm 95:1-7

Prayer – God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Today is Christ the King Sunday – I am not sure what Martin Luther would have made of this. This is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that!

Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to two issues he was facing. Firstly, the growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of WW1. The men had left for war and the didn’t come back; so the women had left the church and God. Secondly, Pope Pius was also dealing with issues in the Catholic church about what authority the Pope had in the civil matters (matters outside the Church) in Rome in the 1920’s.

This context led him to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:

‘If to Christ Jesus our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’

This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. There are two dimensions to Christ the King Sunday – the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. The second is pointing to the more immediate season of Advent.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden really embraced the final judgement dimension of today as they use to referred to it as the Sunday of Doom. Those cheerful Swedes have since amended their focus to the Return of Christ. Good choice I think – even if only from a PR perspective. Of course, the Norwegian Lutherans would never do this!

The second dimension of Christ the King Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – the season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. Advent also marks the start of the new Christian year.

We live in the in-between time – the first Advent and the second, the now and the not yet. The new born King has come and we wait for His return as the grown-up King.

I tend to see Christ the King Sunday as New Year’s Eve on the church calendar. New Year starts next week with the first Sunday of Advent. Forget January 1st – December 3rd is where it is at!

Looking back on the year that has just past – I know many people for whom 2017 has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. I know others who have had a great 2017 filled with many blessings and excitement. And others for whom 2017 has been a fair mix of peaks and valleys.

Wherever you find yourself this morning – God bless you! Know that you are loved.

It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings whatever season we are in. He is also the King of the Sheep as Ezekiel describes for us.

The sheep here are a metaphor to represent the people of Israel. They are God’s flock and they are a mix of strong and weak sheep. It is interesting that God uses sheep as a metaphor for people. Sheep are not the brightest animals in creation, they are not able to take care of themselves the way other animals can, you can’t teach them tricks, they need a lot of care and attention, they need to be guided – hence the need for shepherds.

God acts as the shepherd for his people – he will search and seek out the lost, the lonely and the oppressed. He brings back the strays, strengthens the weak, binds up the injured. He feed them, he will make them lie down – 23rd Psalm anyone?

This is a picture of a King who gets deeply involved with his mixed flock of strong and weak out of deep love and concern. This is not a King who is disinterested in his people!

Jesus never says to the sheep – ‘sort yourselves out and then drag your sorry tails back to me’ or ‘behave yourselves and then you will be good enough’ or ‘I only help those sheep who help themselves’. No – Jesus goes to them – where they are at and brings them home. We have a King who loves. This is Jesus the Shepherd King.

In this reading we also see a King who judges as there is inequality in the flock. There are both strong and weak sheep living together in his flock. We are told that the strong sheep are not looking after the weak sheep the way that they should.

Now that I have dropped the J word – we need to hold on to some important truths:

God does not judge the same way we do – I am very glad of that. God judges out of love – not hate or pride or envy. For this King love and judgement go together. Let’s remember that we will be judged by the same standards that we judge others.

There are people around – maybe you know some of them – who seem to think that God has outsourced the business of judgement to them. They seem to know what God hates which is almost always the same stuff or people that they hate. We all make judgments every day! I also know that the standards that I hold myself to are far less than the standards I hold other people to.

A trivial example of this – speeding tickets. Every speeding ticket I have ever received is justifiable because I had to get somewhere quickly because it was really very important. Every speeding ticket you have ever received is completely your fault, you bad driver and danger to society!

We do need a God of judgement though – otherwise He quickly becomes ineffectual and useless.

In the Ezekiel reading God is judging between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. The fat sheep are the ones who butted the weaker animals, took their food, tread down the pastures for their own gain. The fat took advantage of the lean by mistreating them and will be punished for this.

If God did not judge between the two – what is He saying? To the fat sheep – you can do whatever you like to serve yourself – there are no consequences. I don’t love you so I will ignore what you do. To the lean sheep – God is saying you are not worthy of help. I don’t love you enough to want to help you. You are on your own.

This is similar to the picture of judgment in Matthew’s Gospel – the separation of sheep and goats seems to emphasize that ultimately every person on earth will be called to account for the use of the opportunities to serve others.

It also suggests that there will be some surprises – people who did kind things for God only to find that what they did for the ‘insignificant people’ were kind things done to the Lord who was in them. Other people will be punished for failing to make use of opportunities to serve the lowly and thereby failing to serve God.

Our own justice system – although imperfect – is meant to work the same way. Penalize people for the wrong they do and protect those who cannot protect themselves. One person fails to serve another and is punished for it. How one person treats another is always the central issue.

The world does not operate as it should – it doesn’t take much imagination to work this out. We don’t treat people as we should – whether that is the people next door to us or the people on the other side of the world. The injustice in the world is rampant – socially, politically, economically. We have had the global examples of Zimbabwe and Egypt this past week.

It is not all bad news though.

It might be helpful to hold that this is not the full picture of judgement. This passage only deals with works – not grace or faith or the atoning work of Christ. Works are the evidence on which people will be judged here, not the cause of salvation or damnation. It is common to all of scripture that we are saved by grace and judged by works. The works we do are the evidence of either the grace of God at work in us or of our rejection of that grace.

Out of love God wants the fat sheep to care for the lean sheep – share food, protect them as he does. Love you neighbour as yourself! We will be judged on this.

We have a King of love and of judgment. Whatever season of life we are in – we have a King who loves us and will defend us. This will come to pass at the end of time.

We also look ahead to the more immediate future of the Advent season. In Advent we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who was born into the world as both God and man, died so that our sins may be forgiven and rose again so that we may live with him forever. We also look forward to his glorious return at the end of time. Advent helps us to remember that God is present in the world today.

The Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. We may live in dark times but the light of Christ will show us the way.

But we do have to wait. Wait with expectation and anticipation. We wait in the light of new hope.  There is always work in the wait – Pastor Paul in his sermon last week reminded us that God gives us challenges in this life and what we do matters. We have jobs to do in this life and the next and we will be rewarded for what we do. These jobs require some risk and there is always the possibility of failure but we are not to let fear and anxiety hold us back.

As a New Year is about to dawn – as Psalm 95 sings to us ‘let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ We live in uncertain times – globally and personally. What a relief it is to have the rock that is higher than I to cling to.

Verse 4: The whole world is in His hands. The mountains, the sea and the dry land are his for he made them. We are the sheep of His hand. We cannot escape him! We are safe in the safest hands possible as we wait.

The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. I think we need to know this – God is great and good and loving towards us. He is so worth listening for. He is so worth waiting for!