November 22, 2020 “What Kind of King”
“What Kind of King”
Ezekiel 34 and Matthew 25:31-46
It seems that a large Texan school district has recently approved and received a new set of textbooks. But along the way, a group of concerned parents decided to conduct their own review of these textbooks because…that’s what parents do. In the process, they found 231 errors, including the following: Napoleon winning the battle of Waterloo, President Truman dropping the atom bomb on Korea, and General Douglas MacArthur leading the anti-communist campaign in the 1950’s (it was actually Senator Joe McCarthy). When called to account for these mistakes, the school Bureaucrats got to studying themselves and found even more mistakes than the parents found. The parents, not to be outdone, then found even more. The tally now stood at 5,200 mistakes in these brand new textbooks that the district was about to purchase for a sizeable amount of the tax payer’s money.
So as you would expect, they reached out to the publisher. And here’s the good part, because how do you suppose the publisher reacted to this mess? The way the story goes, a spokesperson for this highly respected publisher of quality textbooks for schools today argued – yes, argued – that “except for the errors” everyone agreed that these were the finest textbooks they had ever seen. “Except for the errors? Except for the mistakes?” Except for the errors, he would never have had a criminal record. Except for the mistakes, she wouldn’t be a pregnant teenager contemplating abortion.
“Except for the errors.” This cracks me up. Except for his drinking problem, he’s a pretty good guy. Except for her drug problem, she is a pretty good mother. Except for his sticky fingers, everyone agrees that he is one of the finest bankers they have ever seen. I’ve got to say, this story about the textbooks opened up a real can of worms for me. I mean, when it comes down to it, who are we kidding except ourselves? We make exceptions – all the time. We make excuses. We hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. We overlook when we need to be looking over, and when that happens we get kind of lost. After all, for those of you who know me well, you know that except for my flaws I’m pert near perfect.
Which brings us to our gospel message for today, on this the Sunday we celebrate as Christ the King Sunday. This final passage from Matthew 25 is about judgement – there’s no other way to put it, really. This image of God separating the sheep from the goats has been burned into my brain since before I can remember. And my reaction has been the same since before I can remember: “O no, O darn, I’ve got to get busy. I’ve got to get out there and do something!” This is usually followed by a clumsy sort of soul searching which is usually followed by a contribution to some sort of charity, or an offer to do some sort of good deed. Unfortunately, this is usually followed by a slow slide back into . . . well, back into where I was before; back to where “except for the errors” I’m in pretty good shape. But that’s the thing about judgement theology – about judgement scriptures. We come to God with our best foot forward in our best clothes and a hand full of good deeds only to be haunted by the notion that somehow it won’t be enough.
So what kind of king is Jesus? What does his rule look like and feel like? We sing glorious songs of praise, we offer prayers of thanksgiving, we build huge cathedrals that are….fit for a king. Once again, the opening lines of our Gospel today which reads, (vs 31) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Sounds good, doesn’t it? “When the king comes in all his glory…then he will sit on his glorious throne.” But before we go any further, it helps to have a look at the passage from Ezekiel that pairs so well with Jesus’ words to his disciples. (Ezekiel 34:20) 20 Therefore the Lord God says: “I will surely judge between these fat shepherds and their scrawny sheep. 21 For these shepherds push and butt and crowd my sick and hungry flock until they’re scattered far away. 22 So I myself will save my flock; no more will they be picked on and destroyed. And I will notice which is plump and which is thin, and why! 23 “And I will set one Shepherd over all my people, even my Servant David. He shall feed them and be a Shepherd to them. “My servant David” here is an open reference to Christ, but he question remains: What kind of king is Jesus?
What kind of king allows himself to become vulnerable the way that Jesus does? The son of man who comes in all his glory should never have put up with all the nonsense that he did – yet he did. And I have to believe that is how we are to make peace with this judgement scripture that Matthew relates. One of my favorite writers Debie Thomas puts it this way, saying, “It’s not that we earn our way to Majestic King Jesus by caring for the vulnerable. It is that Majestic King Jesus, by his own choice and volition, has stooped and surrendered in such a way that he IS the vulnerable. There’s no other way to get to him. Period.”
What kind of king asks that I find him in the vulnerable of this world? The outcasts, the marginalized, the “less than” of our societies? What kind of king demands that when a person of color cries to be heard that I listen – really listen. It’s interesting that in this reading that describes the final judgement of all humanity, there is no mention of belief. Think about that. Matthew 25 depicts a scene from the heavenly throne room. It’s a scene where all nations will gather before Christ, and Christ will separate his people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. But here’s the kicker: notice the criteria that will be used for this separation. Is it our confessions of faith? Our doctrines and institutions? Our “personal relationship” with Christ? It is none of these, and that’s a little upsetting. If I read this right, we will be judged by our compassion and our compassion alone.
So, what kind of king is our King Jesus? He is glorious and majestic in ways we can never comprehend. At the same time, he can be found where he’s always been: in the hungry, the thirsty, the sick. He can be found in those who have been poked and prodded, pushed out and scattered. “Except for our errors” – no, I take that back – “In spite of our errors” we are still the children of God, and we rejoice that ours is a King who is faithful, who is merciful, and who is eternal.
Amen & Shalom
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