Sunday, November 22, 2015

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Executive orders…

I’m sure we all have our own ideas about the plans
the president announced on Thursday night.
And what we think of what he said will depend largely
on our thoughts about immigration reform.

But whatever our opinions on those issues,
there’s another question of executive privilege before us today,
also connected to thoughts on reform.

I’m talking about the executive privilege God enjoys over all of us
and the executive orders he issues about reform in our lives.

The full title of today’s feast is:
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
King of the Universe: you just can’t get more executive than that!
Nobody has authority higher, greater
or beyond the King of the Universe
and that’s how we honor Christ today.

Several questions follow from this:
- What authority over my life do I acknowledge and follow
above and beyond my own personal authority?
- How freely do I surrender my personal authority to Christ,
accepting his word and law as the norm
for reforming my life and my ways?
- In particular: do I accept Christ’s executive power over my life
when I’m uncomfortable with the reforms I believe
he’s calling me to make?

A feast like Christ the King challenges a culture like our own
which exalts the self as the ultimate authority, above all others,
and this day challenges us believers, followers of Jesus, to ask:
to whom do I pledge my allegiance?
to whom do I bend my heart?
to whom do I subject my will?

To whose rule do I turn when reviewing my need for reforming
my integrity? my honesty? my purity? my generosity? my charity?
my humility? my loyalty? my morality? my sincerity? my piety?
my decency? my fidelity?

It’s one thing to declare that Jesus the King of the Universe
but the harder question is this: is Jesus the King of my heart?
Does he rule over the choices I make?
Does he govern my desires?
Does he reign over my relationships?
Is he sovereign over my ethics?
Is he the crowned head of my family?

One way, a good way to know if Jesus is King of my heart
is to take a look around me
and see if I’m surrounded by sheep – or by goats.
In the gospel today Jesus took the time to list
not once, not twice, not three times - but FOUR times –
those signs by which I might know that I’m in with the sheep.

So bear with me
and listen a fifth time to the standards King Jesus sets
for reforming my life according to his heart:
feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger,
giving clothing to those who have none,
caring for the sick and for those who are in prison.

Whatever might be the implications of this scripture
for a nation’s immigration policies – and certainly there are some –
we need to remind ourselves that Jesus told this parable
not to crowds on a mountainside or by the shore,
but in a private conversation with his disciples, his closest followers.
He addressed it first to them
– and this morning to us, his followers today.

With regard to this scripture and today’s politics, two things are sure.
While Jesus is not proposing here a structure for immigration reform
(much less endorsing one plan over another)
it’s inescapably true that he’s handing over responsibility
for the care of the stranger, the poor, the sick and the incarcerated
into our laps, our checkbooks, our choices, our politics.
Jesus is less concerned with how we serve the least among us
and much more concerned that they be served
and not turned away – by you and me.

I cannot claim allegiance to Jesus as the sovereign of my heart
if I fail to find and serve him in the neediest of people,
wherever, however they come into our lives.

There are so many ways each of us can respond
to the very people King Jesus presents to us in the gospel --
right at our church doors this weekend.

There are the Giving Trees
and you can be sure that those gifts will go
in every case to the poor
and in many cases to newcomers, strangers in our land.

And the Prison Gift Bag Project will reach through the bars into cells
at MCI Concord to men who will be among the loneliest of all
on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Our parish is not unique in these efforts
and I know that many of us are being generous in other venues, too.
But this!
Let none of us be among the goats who, the day after Christmas,
might have to ask,
“But, Lord! When did we see you hungry or thirsty
or naked or a stranger or ill or in prison and not serve your needs?”
Rather, let all of us be counted among the sheep who recognize
and reach out to Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,
in the neediest and most marginalized of all God’s people.

Let us pray for a spirit of generosity among us
who so often have so much more than we need.

The King of the Universe invites us now to his table,
to feed our hungry hearts and slake our thirsty souls
serving us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

May we who recognize and receive our King
in the Bread and Cup of the altar,
recognize and warmly receive and serve him
in the lives of the stranger, the poor, the sick and the imprisoned.