Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Here we are again. It’s another glorious Sunday at Trinity Cathedral. Here we are in this magnificent neo-gothic building, that looks like a piece of heaven (when I gave someone a tour recently, they looked around and said: “wow, this is, like, legit!” I figure Bishop Clarkson, who had the original vision for a cathedral in Omaha, enjoyed that response). It’s another Sunday of beautiful music, made all the more so by the presence of a world-class vocal ensemble. Here I am, once again dressed up in this fancy costume that has been adapted from what important muckety-mucks wore in ancient Rome.

It seems like an appropriate backdrop for the picture Jesus paints at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” The scene is regal, majestic, ornamented by angelic beauty and singing. The king proceeds to do what kings do: he doles out reward and punishment; separates the good from the bad. But then there’s a surprise twist. The basis of judgment isn’t whether the laws were obeyed, whether folks were loyal patriots or plotting traitors. The basis of judgment is how the king himself was treated, not in the present royal setting, but in the hungry, the sick, the prisoners, the ones who would seem most out of place in that glorious setting.

The sheep are as surprised by their righteousness as the goats are by their judgment. Both the sheep and the goats are surprised that they already knew the king, and even more, by where the king chooses to hang out.

It’s a remarkable little story that makes the incredible claim that we meet God most fully in need, we see God’s strength most clearly in weakness, and we know God’s comfort most intensely in suffering. It’s not just that the king is mindful of the poor, that he’s a nice guy with liberal social policies, it’s that the king is the poor, the king is hungry, the lonely, the person in the orange prison jumpsuit.

Today is the feast of Christ the King, and we are called to be mindful of two things on this day: 1) our primary citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom, our primary allegiance is to God’s rule of love, and 2) this kingdom we belong to is the opposite of all the other kingdoms and nations out there. In Jesus, God doesn’t come into the world with guns blazing. In Jesus, God doesn’t rule the world by controlling the most wealth, or by inspiring fear in his enemies. In Jesus, God enters the world in a cold barn. In Jesus, God saves the world by being executed by the state.

Here’s why I stick with the Way of Jesus: because it promises that we don’t just meet God in the beautiful and the majestic, in peaceful contemplation or in the richness of our prayers. We meet God in the dirty, in the broken, in the unfixable, in the mess of our world and our lives. We meet God in the struggles in our families, in the chaos of the workday, in the heartache of loss. We meet God in need and in weakness, both others’ and our own.

We act out the subversive irony of today’s gospel lesson each and every week. A lot of people work really hard every week to create worship in beauty and splendor in here, but we do it so that we can make the same beauty through love and mercy and justice out there. We create a space to meet God in here so that we can recognize and care for God out there.

I’m so proud of how we’re playing that out here at Trinity. Today is evidence that we’ve certainly got the beauty thing down. But more and more, we’re also spinning out to color the world around us with God’s justice and love. We do this by sharing food in this same space with homeless who come for lunch each month. We do this through providing friendship, or education, or clothing for the refugees at the Yates Center, who are fleeing trauma we can’t even imagine. We do this through our newest initiative—the Suitcase Project—to provide critical care and clothing and supplies to the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We do these things because that’s where Jesus is to be found and known. That’s where God is. How would it change you to look at every suffering person who you know or who you come across as if they were Jesus?

I’ll end with a quote from Bishop Frank Weston, who in 1923 offered a great statement of what I think we’re really striving to live out here at Trinity. He said, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. . .And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.”[1] As we have been made citizens of Christ’s kingdom, pray that we might use our lives to join God as he continues to raid the world with love, justice, and peace. Amen.

[1] “Our Present Duty.” Concludig Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923

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