Lord give us a heart for your word and a word for our hearts. Amen
Over the last year in this country we have been discovering what life is like living with a new King. Of course over the last 70 years people have speculated endlessly about the type of King Charles would make wondering if he had the ability to do as well as his mother, surely one of the better monarchs our sceptred isle has had. Would he live up to his mothers legacy? To be fair, over the last year he seems to have done pretty well hasn’t he? He seems to have quietly got on with being King and there hasn’t been any massive issues it seems to me anyway. When we look at history, so far we have probably been pretty lucky with the queen and now the king? Some of our previous rulers have left quite a lot to be desired.
Imagine living in the reign of one of the early English kings Ethelred the Unready which could hardly have been a good time or what about living in the reign of King John, baddie to Robin Hood? What about civil war causing Charles I or Mad King George III? Further afield life couldn’t have been very good in Portugal under King Philip the Oppressor or Ivan the Terrible in Russia. There is even someone whom history has remembered as Wilfred the Hairy a king of Barcelona about the same time Ethelred the Unready was being incompetent in England, who was reportedly according to an early Spanish chronicle ‘hairy in places no man has any business being hairy’. For all the awful ones there were plenty of queens and kings that have been remembered for being good rulers over their people and we often name periods of time after good monarchs, like the Elizabethan era or the Victorian era. Also have you noticed that the good rulers tend to be queens? The thing is that we never really know what someone is going to be like, how they will rule until the rubber hits the road, as we have found with Charles. Today, as we celebrate Christ the King, acknowledging the kingship of Christ over His church and therefore over us, a good question to ask is what kind of King is Jesus? We are very used to hearing that Jesus is king, we are very used to hearing about the Kingdom of God, but have we really taken a step back and thought about what kind of king God is, and what that means for us, His citizens bought to His Kingdom by His blood?
Todays readings can tell us something about the reign of Christ the King. In the gospel reading we have that endlessly interesting parable about the sheep and the goats. Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes in His glory, meaning when Jesus comes again, alongside His angels He will sit on His throne of glory before gathering all the nations before him. Immediately we can see something of the glory and majesty of the royalty of God of which our pageants and ceremonies are but a cold shadow on a dark day in comparison. The other difference of course is that the glory of Christ is entirely deserved.
Once all the nations are gathered to Christ the King, he will separate the sheep from the goats. What’s really important to remember, is that if I had a sheep and a goat from the middle east here today, it is unlikely that you would be able to tell them apart. For reference you can tell middle eastern sheep from goats as goats tails tend to point up, while sheep tend to point down. Here Jesus is using this image to show us He judges people as either a sheep or a goat not based on what we see on the surface, but something that only He can really judge as the good shepherd. One of the things that we need to remember, particularly today and particularly if we are serious about what Jesus said, is that one of the roles of Kingship is to sit in judgement. Jesus isn’t a constitutional monarch whose duty it is to look pretty and I don’t know, open up a sports centre and nor is He a despot. He is a king of righteous judgement. Jesus is coming to rule as a King and that will include separating the sheep and the goats. Jesus is a king who brings judgement.
What I say that it is important to also remember that he is a king full of mercy. As we heard in the first reading from Ezekiel God said ‘: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness’. We hear that same searching longing for and deep love for all His flock. We hear that from Jesus’ mouth when He speaks about being the good shepherd. God’s absolute and fair judgement does not negate that pursual in love for the lost sheep. Christ the King sits in judgement but that judgement doesn’t sit above or negate that mercy, that way the Lord pursues us fallen humans even to a cross. His mercy and compassion and grace are central to Him as King.
What is the difference between the sheep and the goats? Well one group feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, welcomes the stranger, clothes the naked, takes care of the sick and visits those in prison. The other group does not. The first group are rewarded the second are punished. More than that, Jesus doesn’t stand aloof as king. Rather He says every time you did this for the least you did it for me. Jesus the King is a King full of justice who identifies not as a King but as a servant as the least. His justice is perfect and identifies the people who are wronged so often as the ones who are often the least and the lowliest in society. Jesus the King is just.
What kind of King will Jesus be? In this reading we can see that He is a King full of glory, that He is a King who will bring judgement, that He is a King full of mercy and He is a King who is just. In short, in any king, queen, president, prime minister or ruler, if they are identified as good it is likely because they share some of the characteristics of our heavenly king, and even then they will not match up to our eternal king Jesus. Where Jesus is unlike earthly kings is in His humility and in his loving pursuit of wayward humanity. That humility and pursuit that found its ultimate expression being born in Bethlehem, living a normal life and dying on a cross. He is the king who is also the good shepherd, He is the king who is also the servant, He is the king who pursues us and saves us despite every way we abandon and betray Him. Christ is the perfect King and we long for and look for that era of Christs reign on earth to truly begin on that glorious day when with a quickening dawn He comes again. One of the best descriptions of Jesus’ Kingdom comes in the second verse of I vow to thee my country which says:
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago
most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
we may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
and soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
and her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
May her ways of gentleness and peace come quickly to our war torn and sinful world.