"Inherit the Kingdom"
Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King)
November 23, 2014
St. Thomas, North Charleston
In the church calendar, we come to the end of the year today. The beginning of a new church year begins next week, with the season of Advent. But today we find ourselves at the conclusion of the current year. This Sunday often is called “Christ the King Sunday”, indicating that Christ will be king at the end of time, as we believe he also was king at the beginning. Thus, in today’s collect, we prayed, “Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule” (BCP, p 236).
It is an affirmation of faith that we believe Christ was king at birth. Indeed, kings from the nations of the world – the wise men – affirmed his kingship and presented the Christ child various kingly gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We also affirm that Christ continues to be our king today. Thus, we worship him in this time, and we acknowledge him as our Lord. Finally, we make the statement of faith today that Christ will be king at the end of time. When the whole creation is fulfilled, Christ will be known as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Therefore, the kingship of Christ represents an affirmation of our faith. And we believe that kingship is an eternal reality – at the beginning and the end of time, along with everything in between. But what is the content of Christ’s kingship? After all, not all kings are the same. There have been benevolent dictators, and there have been despots. What kind of king is Christ? Our readings today help us understand answers to that question, given our faith that Christ is indeed king of all creation.
The reading from Ezekiel offers the image of a shepherd who cares for his sheep. The prophet affirms that God chooses this image regarding his relationship with his people. We read this morning, “Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (34:11). The the image of caring, protecting, and providing is explained in subsequent verses. “I will rescue them”(34:12), God says. “I will feed them” (34:13). Then, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep” (34:15). “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed” (34:16). Finally, “I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (34:16).
According to Ezekiel, God perceives his role to be that of a shepherd caring for his sheep. Further, this then becomes the content of the kingship of God’s son, Jesus. As king, Jesus the Christ relates to his subjects as a good shepherd relates to his sheep.
Our psalm for today is Psalm 100 – the familiar “Jubilate Deo” – and in it, we hear a similar theme. “The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (100:2). And this selection from the Psalms concludes this way: “The Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age” (100:4). The shepherd image, which Jesus takes on from his Father, this image is one involving the care and protection of his sheep. Today’s psalm reminds us of that, once again.
As we turn to our New Testament readings, the person of Jesus has now come in the flesh. No longer is the idea of king as shepherd one only in theory. Now, rather, it has become incarnate, in the person of Jesus himself.
St. Paul reminds the church in Ephesus of the relationship that God chooses to have with his people – a relationship made personal in Jesus the Christ. As a result of this relationship, we receive care and protection – “the riches of his glorious inheritance” (1:18) and “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” (1:19). This personal relationship with Christ is eternal, for as St. Paul points out, it exists “not only in this age but also in the age to come” (1:21). Further, the authority of Christ in this relationship is that of a king. “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name” (1:20-21). Indeed, God “has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things” (1:22). It is none other than God the Father who has made Jesus king of creation.
Finally, the theme of the kingship of Christ continues in the Gospel reading. There, Jesus himself says, “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” (Matt 25:31). The image of sheep reappears here as well, but in this case, the sheep are in contrast to the goats. Once again, though, sheep are those who have a relationship with Jesus, who is their shepherd. Here, those who are the sheep – and have a relationship with their shepherd – do what the shepherd directs, following the example of the good shepherd. Therefore, those who follow the good shepherd feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, provide clothing to those in need, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner. They do so as if those in need were Jesus himself. And, as a result of maintaining the relationship, the people may anticipate care and protection from their shepherd, the king, in return. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:34).
From these readings, then, there are several things for us to recognize on this Christ the King Sunday. First, Christ is king of all creation – as he was at the beginning and as he will be at the end. Secondly, Christ’s kingship is like a good shepherd’s relationship with his sheep – marked by care and protection. And, finally, within this relationship, there do exist expectations for the sheep – expectations indicated by the shepherd himself.
In summary, then, Jesus is king and the good shepherd of his sheep. May we, who are his sheep, remember and fulfill our part in this relationship, so that we may expect to “inherit the kingdom” (25:34) which has been prepared for us. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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