Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Kingdom of God in Christ and the Inner Person

Christ the King + 2014                                The Reverend  Robert RM Bagwell+

Proper 29 + Year A                                                              23 November 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24                                                                                                    Psalm 100

Ephesians 1:15-23                                                                                                Matthew 25:31-46


In 1981, comedian actor Mel Brooks released his film "The history of the World, Part one" While playing his character, Louie the King of France he repeated over and over this phrase: "it's good to be the king". In the film he used his 'title' to exploit others around him by repeatedly dipping into impropriety in outrageous fashion.  Although satire, this has all too often been the impression left upon the governed by earthly monarchs of world history. That power and authority in earthly monarchs both fascinates and at time repels us.  This is true to the point that some in our day call for our ceasing to use the term "king" with God and Christ, as inappropriate and even a false portrayal of their respective Divine character. But are we really comparing Jesus and God the Father to Earthly monarchs of whatever description?  Not at all, rather we compare these earthly figures with the character of God in Christ!  It is that same character we are called to imitate and emulate in our earthly walk.  Perhaps if we thought of our pilgrim way as walking in the way of Royalty and the character of God, it might make this earthly journey easier to bear.


But Kingship is something that belongs to "another time".  Like "Lordship" it is something that is more difficult to relate to in our personal experience.  When we think of these terms we may be tempted to think of "tyrants" like George the Third who motivated the founding of our country or titled Lords who look down upon the little people or commoners of the past.  But these are not the accurate images of either Kingship or Lordship.  They are rather an earthly imitation of these designations.  There is only one King: King Jesus.  There is only one Lord: the Lord God. 


Why do I say this?  Because the Creator, the Lord, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is the one who rules in the hearts of his own.  His reign is one of Love and Compassion. He is the King who took the form of a servant, entered our world, was born of a virgin woman, lived among us, healed, taught, loved and gave.  He is the one others who would be king in earthly power, wielding power by force, exploitation, deceit, coercion and manipulation, command and demand  could not tolerate..  They still cannot. Many of them rule or reign as though there were no God to whom they will ever answer.  Their "god" is power.  Their "god" is wealth.  Their "god" is themselves. 


What are our images of Jesus Christ, I mean in our minds and emotions? The children of Israel in Jesus' day were awaiting their Messiah, their Anointed of God to be their deliverer. They had a preconceived view based on Tradition, imagination, longing and desire. Were their imaginations inaccurate?  No more than any other imaginations of the human imagination.  If we look to the hymn writers of our tradition we find titles like: "The King of Love my Shepherd is", "O Worship the King all Glorious Above," "King of Glory, King of Peace," and "O Worship the King all Glorious Above."  These are only a few of the character traits associated with Jesus, the Christ or Anointed One.  Jesus is anything but that kind of God: King, Lord.  He now reigns in our hearts, calls us to love, calls us to be Christ's emissary and messenger to the "neighbors: other human beings" whose paths we cross. Jesus defines Kingship.  This Lord rather than dominating his subjects allowed them to exercise tyranny over him during his earthly ministry.  He laid down his life for his enemies!  Such a character in our human realm brings the title of hero.  We call him King and Lord.  However, he was not the one that the powers of His day sought.  He brought change from the heart to the actions of humanity rather than the brute force and arrogance of the human will.

In 1956, CS Lewis wrote a book called: "Surprised by Joy" which was largely a spiritual biography of his Christian walk and journey as a former atheist who passed to a ardent Christian whose experiences served to many as a defense of the Christian faith.   It deals almost exclusively with his adolescent search for "joy" and those events leading up to and just subsequent to his conversion at age thirty-one. It comprises what Lewis himself would refer to as "spiritual autobiography," but not in the genre of "Confessions" like those of St. Augustine or Rousseau. Lewis views himself in Surprised by Joy as no more or less a sinner than anyone else, but it is chiefly his intellectual journey that needs charting; his is not a grand repentance from fleshly indulgence but a recovery of a child-like wonderment at the world and its mysteries.  When we see this image of the Last Judgment in the gospel today, we are challenged to see this as a new beginning of what the collect calls: " his most gracious rule."  Something to notice about this scene of judgment is something that should bring our attention like a laser beam to a great surprise! Both those identified as sheep and those named goats are surprised by what Jesus says. “Lord, when did we…” and “when didn’t we…” both capture the shock each group expresses when Jesus praises or condemns their behavior.  "Lord: when, when did we?????"  One group acted in a "rightly related to God manner" by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned or, on the other hand, in an unrighteous way by neglecting to do the same?  These individuals did what they could to bring healing and love to a hurting world or ignored the brokenness in humanity that our collect called "the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin,"   We live in the "already but not yet".  Redemption has begun in the human heart.  We are both redeemed and being redeemed.  Jesus has begun his reign in the human heart that the Great Judgment will complete.  This text is the only vision of the Last Judgment in the New Testament.  We share in that human redemption.  We do not come to our gathers simply to get but to be fueled to give as we leave this place.  We are a part of the mission of Jesus to our spheres of influence.  Jesus promises to be always with and for those who are in greatest need. If we want to experience God’s presence fully, deeply, and truly, we will look for God in the needs of those around us and, indeed, in our own need as well.  Surprise! God came to identify with us by being born in lowly Bethlehem in the form of a vulnerable infant. And God didn’t come to conquer the world with military or political might, but instead – surprise! – in the scandal, shame, and pain of the cross. So also God continues to come where we least expect God to be: in the plight of the homeless, on the side of the poor, in the face of the needy, and in the company of the imprisoned. Surprise!  God comes to those who need Him most from the hearts of those who know and love him in their own brokenness.  We call those people "Church".  The collect informs us that it is God's will : "to restore all things in 'his' well beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords".   God's purpose is worked out in us and through us to the brokenness of our world.  As we give thanks this week and enter a season of anticipation the next, may we walk as sheep of God's pasture let us be aware as the Lord Jesus guides us as we share in that kingdom walk wherever the Spirit may lead us to each surprise along God's way..

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