22, 2020 /Christ the King Sunday / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 / 2nd Reading Ephesians 1:15-23 / Gospel 25:31-46
Kingdom of Love
A faithful life is really not about just staying out of trouble. Instead, living a faithful life means continually going to the trouble of loving our neighbors – especially those who are in need. This fall in confirmation we have been studying the Ten Commandments. In his explanations to the commandments, Martin Luther teaches that these commandments have two aspects: a “don’t” and a “do” – a “shall not” and also a “shall”. He says this about the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill”: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way, but help him in all his physical needs.” Likewise, Luther’s explanations to the 7th and 8th commandments contain a twofold expectation:
#7 “We are to fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property, but help him to improve and protect his property and means of making a living.”
#8 “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander or lie about our neighbor but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.”
You get the message. God expects us to refrain from doing anything to harm our neighbors. That’s the minimum requirement – the “Don’t”. God also expects us to help our neighbors – to love them as we love ourselves: the “Do”.
Love often involves going out of our way, going an extra mile – going to the trouble of being a blessing to another. And, honestly, loving others is often no easy thing. It can include a fair amount of trouble – we all know this. But that’s no excuse. It’s our calling. It’s who we need to be – what we’re made for.
As followers of Jesus, we need to keep his story in mind. Jesus went to the trouble of actually becoming one of us – setting aside all divine privilege and invulnerability and taking on human flesh and blood. Inevitably, his coming led him to experience all kinds of trouble! He came as a stranger into this broken and distracted world – and suffered abuse and scorn and rejection and death. He did it all for love. Jesus went to the trouble of loving selfish, stubborn, willful people like us. Why?
To reveal the loving heart of God.
To show that God’s love isn’t only for some – it’s for all.
To make known that God doesn’t love us only when we’re good – that God loves us because God is good.
God loves because only love has the power to make any of us good.
We become worthy by loving the way God loves us.
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Jesus bothered some people because he chose to hang out with those they thought to be unworthy and undeserving. Jesus spent time with many who were not considered “good people”: tax collectors, Gentiles, children, the sick and disabled, prostitutes, Romans, outcasts. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician – but those who are sick.” And he added, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” That was his mission: to transform the lives of sinners by loving them, to bring hope to the sick by healing them, to lift up the brokenhearted by comforting them, to refresh the hungry by feeding them.
Then Jesus gave a commandment to those who were drawn to follow him: Love one another as I have loved you. Freely have you received, now freely give. What has happened to you can now happen for others through you.
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What is worth noting in the parable of the sheep and the goats is that the sheep did not show kindness to the hungry, the strangers, the sick and the prisoners because they recognized them as Jesus. Not at all. Just like the goats, they are incredulous, saying, “Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty, naked or sick or in prison?” Their motivation was not: “this is Jesus, I sure better do all I can to help him.” They did what they did because they had been with Jesus, had experienced the love of Jesus, and because they were called by Jesus to love others the way Jesus loved them. They weren’t trying to earn favor with Jesus, they weren’t looking to be rewarded for good behavior. They were responding to the love they had already received from Jesus.
Jesus had taught them that love for God and love for neighbor were two sides of the same coin. This logic is stated quite clearly in the First Letter of John: “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (I John 4:20)
You and I are called to love the ones we see with our own eyes – to not turn away, but to see them as Christ sees them, and treat them as Christ would. Dorothy Day dedicated her life to caring for the homeless, supporting the poor and feeding the hungry. She spoke truth about the nature of love: “I only love God as much as I love the person whom I love the least.” Think about who you love the least in this world: that’s the measure of how much you love God. It’s a sobering thought!
Consider the goats in today’s gospel parable. They are judged – not for what they did wrong – but for what they failed to do right. They didn’t violate the prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, lying or coveting. They failed at keeping the commandment to love as Christ loved them. That’s the crucial test. When all is said and done, that’s where Jesus sets the bar: How have you loved? Whom have you loved, besides yourself? This question isn’t reserved for the last judgment. Each day offers us an opportunity to get it right.
The love of God comes to us graciously and abundantly each new day. What shall we do with it?
Jesus Christ is the King of love. His Kingdom comes when we are both grateful recipients and willing instruments of his gracious love.
Heaven rejoices when the Christ in you reaches out to discover the Christ in others.
Thanks be to God.