The Shepherd King

The readings for Christ the King Sunday (RCL)

Last week, I mentioned that we have a tendency to project our own images of authority, as flawed and as fallen as we know them be, on to God; and then today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.

Of course, the king in this parable is seated on the throne of judgement, and we read all kinds of our own prejudices, pride, and self-righteousness into that role. But show me a king who acts like a shepherd, who gets in amongst the livestock, who knows his sheep from his goats – this is not a king who depends upon our pomp and ceremony to find his authority. Show me a king who identifies most closely with those whose station in life is most humble – the “least of these” – not for political purposes nor to bolster his popular image, but out of empathy, compassion, love.

That is the king described by Jesus, by his words, by his actions, and by his very life among us.

The judgement that he describes is the same judgement as the prophet Ezekiel promises to the people of God, the sheep of God’s hand. “I will feed them with justice,” says the Lord.

And what is the justice with which they are fed?

“I will seek the lost. I will bring back the strayed. I will bind up the injured. I will strengthen the weak.” All of these things come first. The justice of God is grounded and founded and finished in compassion. And woe to those who forget that the love of God and the love of our neighbours is the root of all justice, and the end to which God’s will bends.

“I will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep,” says the Lord, or between the sheep and the goats, says the king of the parable, “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder and butted at the weak animals with your horns.”

Because you fed yourselves first, and because the bleating of the hungry lambs fell on deaf ears, so now you will go hungry, and wait your turn while they are blessed, and fed, and restored to good health and good spirits, because such is the justice of God: that those who have the most need of grace and mercy get it first, and in great abundance.

This is not an argument for buying one’s way into heaven with good works. It is a reminder to live as though the commandments were true: that to love God and to love one’s neighbour is the best way to bring heaven on earth; that those who have the most among us have the greatest obligation to find their way down from the pedestals upon which power and influence, wealth and worldly success are enthroned by our current and enduring culture.

The message for the church – for our church as we enter a new season, waiting expectantly for the Advent of Christ; a new season as we celebrate 90 years in this city and community – the message for the church is that our call is first to love. Our call is first to bring that good news of the love of God to those who need it the most – the lost, the lonely, the hungry, the neglected. That is the call of the church. The meal that we celebrate together at Christ’s table is a morsel of the feast that we are called to share with the world.

We serve a king who gets down and dirty in the sheep pen, who sets out himself to find the lost lambs, and who feeds his own flock with justice.

This is a king who doesn’t seek praises in the highest heaven but who scrambles on the earth to rescue the lamb from the lion, and to free the ram from the thicket.

We can do no better than to love him. To love Christ is not only to praise him in the highest but to serve him in the lowliest and most humble fashion we can find.

And then there is the good news for the lost and lonely lambs themselves.

Then there is the compassion from which God begins, and on which the gospel is founded and grounded, the love of God that seeks out the separated and the ashamed, the poor in spirit and the mournful, the meek and those who are troubled of heart and heavy of soul.

This is the God, this is the shepherd and the king who takes off his crown, puts aside his royal robes, closes the door to his throne room and sets out into the wilderness to find precisely those who need him the most; who hears the faintest bleating and follows it to the source; who gathers up the sick, the dying, the hungry, the faint-hearted, the foolish, the bereft, and carries them home in his own loving arms, and feeds them with love, which is the source of his justice, and mercy, which is the sweetness of his grace.

This is Christ, who set aside the trappings of heaven, the clothing of the kingdom of God, and who became as one born with nothing but the image of God which every child of God bears, so that we might know God seeking among us to restore the fallen, the frail, and the fearful to God’s good and perfect peace.

This is the king whom we serve, who renders just judgements, who separates the sheep from the goats so that they might find no further harm, but be fed with justice, each according to her need; a justice that is founded and grounded in compassion, and weighted towards mercy.

This is the king whom we serve, who shed his royal robes and was clothed with flesh to seek and serve us, his sheep, with the love and devotion of a down-in-the-dirt shepherd.

This is the king who was, and is, and will come again; and anticipating his Advent, we pray Amen: Come, Lord Jesus.

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