Sermons That Work

The Message for Today, Christ the King (A) – 2002

November 24, 2002

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

The message for today is the Kingdom of Heaven, as it was for the two weeks prior to this Sunday. At the heart of the message is separation — separating the sheep from the goats, one from another. On the right are those who heeded God’s Word and on the left those who heard, but did not heed the Word.

First, there was the separation of the wise bridesmaids who brought extra oil for their lamps, from the foolish bridesmaids who forgot to bring extra oil and were unprepared when the bridegroom arrived. Then there was the separation of the good stewards who multiplied the talents given them, from the lazy steward who buried his talent.

Today’s parable speaks of placing at the right hand of God those who offered hospitality to the stranger and attended to the needy, and placing at the left those who were unwelcoming and ignored the needs of others. “Then the Lord will say to those on the right come you that are blessed inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

In any number of circumstances some people take one side or the other, (see things in terms of black or white), some profess to be rooted in the gray area somewhere in-between the two extremes, some vacillate back and forth, and still others are of the “both/and” variety.

When one considers the Kingdom of God however, there is no gray area, no room for vacillating back and forth, no having your cake and eating it too. When it comes to the Kingdom of God the response is an either /or proposition. The response is either “yes” or “no” to the call to follow the commandments of God and to seek to do the will of God.

And on the basis of the answer, the question then becomes, “is the world ready to stand before the Son of Man and his angels and be separated either on the right hand of God or the left, based on their beliefs, their lives, and their actions?” The answer to this question is ponderous for Christians today. In various parts of the world Christians are persecuted, and lose their lives because of their faith, a faith that they are not willing to deny.

In the United States where there is freedom of religion, the Christian faith is subject to much challenge in society today. For instance, to pray in the name of Jesus in mixed religious company is considered exclusionary. The words In God We Trust on the currency used for legal tender, have now become offensive to some, and the posting of the Ten Commandments right or wrong, have generated much debate in the public sector.

In similar situations, Christians are politely stepping aside to make way for everyone else’s belief, while the Christian faith is subject to everyone else’s scrutiny. All this is well and good so long as Christians do not feel that they have to neutralize their beliefs and become fearful of proclaiming the Gospel.

The believers of the Gospel have a responsibility to speak and act the faith they affirm when they pray the Nicene Creed. Yet, the temptation might well be to compromise the right to express the Christian faith in public, so as to fit in with the dictates of the popular culture. Contrary to the secular message to Christians, the mission of the church is still to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

And it is the people who are to carry out that mission as they pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel and promote justice, peace, and love in the world. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans encouraged them in their new faith, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

While the message of the Gospel is astutely being forced to remain within the confines of the church building, the work of the Christian continues to be the call to reach beyond the walls of the physical structure. The purpose of the prayer, praise, worship, and fellowship that Christians enjoy together is in preparation for the challenges that come outside of the community of believers. That is where the rubber meets the road!

Another look at today’s Gospel shows that Jesus has an interest in the response to those in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and those in prison. Because at the end, the division will take place between those who heeded the word, and those who heard, but failed to do what God commanded. Acceptance or rejection of the message will determine whether one is invited to stand at the right hand of God or be relegated to the left, the side of destruction.

Whether one is accepted or rejected is not the basis upon which the decision is made to share the message of the Gospel. In a world that is fraught with violence, wars, terrorism, abductions, shootings, murders, and more, the good news of the Gospel must have its place.

Hopefully, people of faith whose lives are influenced by Christ’s love can bring a voice of reason to an otherwise chaotic world. But that voice could well be diminished or even lost if Christians allow the message to be compromised.

An unknown author wrote the following statement to explain the Christian faith to a serious enquirer: the soul is to the body as Christians are to the world. The soul is spread through all parts of the body and Christians through all parts of the world. The soul is in the body, but is not of the body; Christians are in the world but not of the world.

Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Nothing we do can repay that love or earn us a place on the right hand of God, but we can show our love for God when we respond to the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

Christians are to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison. For the love of Christ believers can cause good things to happen. They can speak out against the injustices and inequities that plague society. They can work to ensure that the message of God’s love is not subsumed by the much louder, more forceful noises of the secular world. This is done out of love for God, and out of the spiritual center that develops from spending time with God through regular prayer and worship, study and reflection of the Word.

God is ruler of all the world and the psalmist extends an invitation to sing to the Lord, to make a joyful noise and to come before the presence of the Lord with thanksgiving and songs of praise. For the Lord is a great God. To sing the Lord’s song is to strive to follow in the footsteps of Christ to show love and obedience to God in our lives. And this we can only do through the Christ whose power working within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of Jesus the Christ.

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Christopher Sikkema