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Home » Blog » Sunday Worship, November 26, 2023

Sunday Worship, November 26, 2023

Here is an outline of Pastor Josh’s sermon. The Gospel reading and sermon start at 36 minutes into the worship. (The outline does not contain everything Pastor Josh may have said.)

To day is Christ the King or the Reign of Christ. What pops into our minds the moment we hear this King or Reign, we may think of a glorious, splendid crown, like the Crown Jewels of England. We may imagine a monarch sitting atop a throne. For 70 years, we’ve may imagine Queen Elizabeth. Or we’ve imagined a Medieval King, making life-and-death decisions, sending men to fight on his behalf to conquer more lands. Glorious battles! 

We might even think of the vast majority of people living in poverty, serving the king and being taxed to kingdom come! And knights who enforce it. 
Christ’s kingdom is different. He does not sit a top of a throne but is like a shepherd. 

Let’s look at Ezekiel 34, the chapter begins with God condemning
The Old Testament often refers to God as a shepherd. This is similar to how the kings of Israel viewed themselves. They picture themselves as shepherd kings. They lead the people like sheep. 

Ezekiel 34 begins with God denouncing the abuses of these shepherd kings. 
They abuse and exploit their people. God says of them, “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness of you have ruled them.”
 
God offers that God is like a shepherd, a good shepherd.  Ezekiel 34: God says, I will bring them into their own land. I will feed with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good pasture; there they shall lie down in grazing land,  
 
God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strays, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”

That very last part of this passage is troublesome. I take it to mean that God takes seriously the concerns of the people. God offers a stark warning to those who exploit and do not support those who need support, those who ignore the lost. 
 
The Gospel according to Matthew includes one of my favorite passages. 
For me, Matthew 25 is one of the most meaningful passages in all of the Bible.
It answers where can I find God, where can I experience God,
and it answers what am I supposed to do as a follower of Christ.
Echoing Ezekiel, Matthew 25 frames Jesus as the Shepherd King. 
 
Jesus says, 
“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
 
I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me. I have been thinking about that phrase:
I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me. 
 
In Greek, the word stranger is xenos. Add a phobia after xenos and we spell xenophobia. 
Xenophobia is the fear or strong dislike of another person who we think of as foreign or as strange. 
Welcome the foreigner; welcome the strange. 
 
Today ends, Christian liturgical year. We call it a liturgical calendar.
At the end of the liturgical calendar, today, we celebrate Reign of Christ.
Next week, the new liturgical year. Begins with Advent.
 
Reign of Christ Sunday, or known as Christ the King Sunday, is relatively new in the life of Christianity. 
 
Pope Pius 11th established Christ the King Sunday in 1925 to counter what he regarded as the destructive forces of the modern world:
secularism in the west and the rise of communism in Russia and fascism in Italy and Spain,
harbingers of the Nazism soon to seize Germany.
Other denominations adopted the celebration day. 
Movements like fascism and Nazism feed on people’s objections to anything strange,
anything different than them. 
These movements place a strong man at the top who rules ruthlessly.
The ruler uses the gifts of their charisma to ostracize enormous amounts of people.
To weaponize their differences against them.  
Christ opposes these kinds of rulers who ostracize strangers,
who throw them aside because they are different than us,
do not speak like us,
do not look like us. 
Welcoming strangers is not us over here and strangers over there.
We can find ourselves to be strangers quite quickly.
When the GPS and phone battery die, need help finding directions at a gas station,
getting lost on public transportation, car trouble,
homeless, attending a church you’ve never been to.
To anyone we have not met before we are strangers to them. 
You have been strangers and you will be strangers again. 
 
Jesus associates strangers with his own self.
He views himself as a stranger.
He calls people to be like Abraham who welcomed strangers with open arms,
treated them well, gave them rest, from his kindness they offered him a blessing.
When we welcome a stranger,
we welcome Jesus,
we welcome God in Christ. 
Welcoming the stranger goes beyond mere nice pleasantries,
it is providing support to the stranger. 
When I was in high school, in algebra class, I sat next to a German foreign exchange student, Karina. 
I was a senior and she was a junior. At the time,  I was out. 
She didn’t have a date for junior prom. I had went the year before and I wasn’t planning on attending that year, 
but one day, We were talking. And I found out that she didn’t have a date for prom. I’m not even sure she was planning on attending. 
I told her you don’t want to miss out on going to prom. It has to be part of your American high school experience. 
I’ll take you. She was, are you sure? Of course. I’ll take you out to dinner beforehand. 
I rented a tux. And we had a delightful time. 
To welcome a stranger is to be in the presence of God. 
The image I have been pondering this week is the throne Jesus sits on. 
I’m sure in popular imagination, like we think of earthly rulers,
Jesus is high up in the sky 
or if down here, still above all people. 
But I have been imagining instead of Jesus sitting on a throne above,
I have been imagining Jesus, sitting on a throne at the same level of humanity. He has a shepherd’s hook. 
He is among the people, holding, supporting, and caring for us.
By his support, he draws us closer to other people.  
He draws us closer to strangers.
 
He shows us that. 
In welcoming strangers, we find ourselves. And when we welcome them, we are with God. 

Amen.