Christ the King
Christ the King
Almost all of us in
this room have had the experience at one time or another of going
incognito. That is, we have pretended that we are someone else. Now,
the first time that we did this was a long time ago when we dressed
up for Halloween. Do you remember those old days when we dressed up
as witches, pirates, pumpkins, and skeletons? We may have simply
pulled an old paper sack over our heads and went to the neighbor’s
house and said, “tricks or treats.” The neighbor then played the
game and responded, “Whose little kid are you?” Do you remember
those days? Those were some of the first times that we went
Time passed; we
became adults; and someone invited us to a masquerade party. Did you
ever go to masquerade parties? I did. Once or twice. We had a
masquerade party years ago when we first came to this church, and my
wife and I came dressed up as Adam and Eve. We dyed long underwear a
pink color and put large green leaves over sensitive spots of our
bodies. We came looking like Adam and Eve. I saw a dated and faded
picture of this event recently, and we certainly looked young and
foolish. … I remember another costume party, and a hairy gorilla
arrived on the scene. This hairy gorilla was snorting around at
everyone and would only snort in such a way that we didn’t know
who it was underneath this costume.
Gradually, we figured out that this gorilla snorted like
Pastor Petersen, our first female pastor, waddled like Pastor
Petersen and even acted much like Pastor Petersen. Maybe it was
Going to a
masquerade party and dressing up incognito is also an honorable
occupation. We have had a few policemen through the years that had
to cover up who they really were. A number of years ago, it was Jack
Firestone in our church and he used to be an under-cover cop for
King County. Jack worked on the waterfront. At that time on the
waterfront, certain people were stealing Honda bikes, by the
truckload or by the container load. So Jack began to grow his beard
and hair. He soon had long, shaggy hair and a long shaggy beard and
would saddle up to a bar with a big belly going incognito. He was
wearing a natural mask. His true identity was covered up. If they
had known his true identity, a cop, the folks would have treated him
differently, both at the bar and on the waterfront.
There was only once, perhaps twice, that I really went incognito,
and it wasn’t at a masquerade party. I was a junior in college and
full of pranks. I had finished working as a canoe guide up in
northern Minnesota; and after the summer, my beard and hair were
long and bushy. I put on dark glasses, old crummy clothes and looked
very much like a 1960s hippy. I knew my older sister Beverly was
flying into Minneapolis airport, and I decided to surprise her at
the airport. I had the long hair, the long beard, the old clothes,
the sunglasses, and the posture that could fool her. She came off
the airplane and I approached her saying, “Lady, you got a dime
for a cool cat like me?” I persisted. She ran. I persisted more,
grabbed her arm, and sharply said her name, “Beverly.” It was
then she first recognized me and exclaimed, “You brat.” My point
is, she would have treated me differently if she would have known my
Knowing that I had
a good thing going, I decided to try this “new look” out on my
aunt and uncle on the farm, Aunt Gudrun and Uncle Clarence. I drove
to their farmhouse, parked my car down the road so they wouldn’t
see it, approached their door and knocked. Aunt Gudrun opened the
door. I asked, “Do you have a meal for a hungry person like
myself? Lady, I am desperate for food.” She looked at me and said,
“Just as minute. Clarence? Clarence?” she called, as she closed
the door and went into the house. I waited for what seemed like an
eternity. I walked around the house and looked up into the
neighboring field and there was my Aunt Gudrun running for life. She
had climbed two fences and was running as fast as she could away
from the farmhouse. She was mad when she found out who I really was.
She also has told this story often. The point is: Aunt Gudrun would
have treated me differently if she knew who I really was, if she had
known my true identity.
It is with this
theme of going incognito and wearing a mask; it is with this theme
that you would treat me differently if you knew my true identity;
that we approach the gospel lesson for today. The parable today is
about the sheep and the goats. Now, this is one of the most famous
parables of Jesus, but is not one of the all time favorites. That
is, we love the parable of the Good Samaritan and we enjoy the
parable of the Prodigal Son, but this parable about the sheep and
the goats is more acidic, painful and stinging. This parable makes
us feel more uncomfortable.
The setting of this
parable was this: the disciples had asked Jesus, “What is it going
to be like at the end of the world?” Jesus replied, “I will tell
you a story. It will be like this. There will be a king up in heaven
and all the people of the earth will gather around him, and this
king will divide the people into the sheep and the goats.” Now, if
you were a disciple in those days, you understood this metaphor
immediately. At night, when the shepherds came down from the hills
into the valleys, they would divide the sheep for the sheep pen and
the goats for the goat pen. The disciples understood this metaphor
and it was familiar to them. Jesus continued, “The sheep will be
on my right, and the king will say to them, ‘Come into my party. I
was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me
drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you
clothed me. I was in prison and you visited me.” They said,
‘When did we ever do these things for you?’ The king replied,
‘Whenever you did these things for the littlest people, you did it
for me?’ Then the king addressed the goats on the left. ‘Depart
from me into eternal damnation. I was starving and you gave me no
food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and
you did not welcome me. I was lacking clothing and you did not cloth
me. I was in prison and you did not visit me.’ They said, ‘Lord,
if we only would have known it was you, we would have treated you
differently. If we only had known your true identity, it would have
made all the difference. If we had only known it was your face
behind the face of the refugees; if we had only known it was your
body in the infirmary; if we had only known it was your body
starving in Africa; if we had only known it was you, it would have
made all the difference.’ The Lord said, Depart from me into
It was Mark Twain
who said it first. “It is not those parts of the Bible that I do
not understand that bother me. It is the parts of the Bible that I do
understand that bother me the most.”
When Jesus finished
that parable, they liked the story of The Prodigal Son and they
loved the story of the Good Samaritan, but they weren’t so sure
that they liked this story of the sheep and the goats.
One of the first
lessons that grows out of this parable is the awareness that our
God, the true God, the one God, who created the universe, the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from
the dead; that our true God is a hidden God who hides himself. God
goes incognito. God wears a mask.
Our God hides
himself most completely in the faces and places of suffering. The
awareness that our God is a hidden God who hides himself in
suffering is a stark contrast to other religions of the world. In
all the other religions of the world, they talk about their god who
reveals himself in the beauty of the sunset, the birth of babies,
and in the bounty of nature. But our God is the only God in the
whole wide world who hides himself under the faces and places of
suffering. Let me explain.
A number of years
ago when our children were young and small, we used to play a game
almost every night for a while. My car would come down the driveway
and they would hear the car and go and hide. Joel would hide
underneath the kitchen table. Anne would hide behind the door in our
bedroom. I would come in the front door and shout, “Where are the
children?” Then I would look underneath the sofa, the dining room
table, the curtains, and all around, still calling out, “Where are
the children?” Anne and Joel would make noise, I would find them,
they would shout, “boo”. The point is: the children would hide
in obvious places. But
every once in a while, they would seriously hide and go down into
the basemen, way down into the utility room, into the storage room,
back behind the water tank, back there and they would hide. I would
come and I couldn’t find them. I couldn’t find them at all.
By analogy, in all
the religions of the world, their gods hide themselves in the
obvious places. Underneath the kitchen table. Underneath the bed.
Behind the back door. These gods hide themselves in the beauty of
the sunsets, the birth of babies, the bounty of nature. But our God,
the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God does down
into the basement. Our God goes down into the basement and hides
himself in a place that people don’t know where he is hiding. God
hides himself in the midst of suffering. The place that our God
hides is in the water and wine and wafer, but the primary place is
in the cross. No other God in the whole wide world gets himself
crucified. When our God is crucified, our God is the most hidden.
When our God is being crucified today, he is the most hidden. So, a
primary understanding of this Bible passage for me is that our God
is a hidden God.
But the real point
is not the theological lesson that our God is primary a hidden God.
The real lesson of this parable today is an invitation for you and
me to seek God. To seek God when God is found. Not in the beauty of
the sunsets or the birth of babies or the bounty of nature. Not to
find God in the obvious places such as the beauty of Mt. Rainier or
Puget Sound and conclude that there is a God. The real lesson of
this parable is to seek God where God is to be found and God is to
be found hiding behind the faces and places of suffering people.
Let me give you an
example from church history. It is the story of St. Francis of
Assisi, a man who was riding high in life. As a friend would say
about him, he was a high type of person, with a high type life
style, and he was riding high on his horse one day like a knight in
shining armor. St. Francis was feeling very good and very cocky and
very confident, but underneath it all, he was also feeling very
empty. As he was riding along on his horse one day, he stopped and
there was a beggar at his feet. Francis looked down at the beggar
and the beggar had leprosy. His body was filled with open sores and
wounds from the leprosy. Francis looked down, got down from his
horse, bent down and picked up the man and looked into the man’s
face. He then did something unusual. Francis put his arms around the
beggar, put his face against the open wounds, and hugged the man.
Francis embraced him, and then pulled his head away, and he looked
into the face of Jesus. Francis then became St. Francis. A
revolutionary change had occurred in his life. This story is an
invitation for us to reach out and to hug, embrace, pull close into
us, those who are hurting in the world.
This story is an
invitation for us to embrace a suffering humanity, just as St.
Francis did, just as Jesus did.
In contrast to all
of this were the Pharisees, the self-righteous Pharisees. The
Pharisees were willing to look for God in the most obvious places.
In the beauty of the sunset on Puget Sound, in the face of a
beautiful baby, in the bounty and fullness of nature. The Pharisees
saw God in the obvious places. They went to church, tithed, enjoyed
their sacraments of circumcision and the Passover. They searched for
God in the obvious places, upstairs. The Pharisees never searched
for God downstairs. They were unwilling to go into the bowels of
the earth, and find Christ wearing a mask and going incognito. I can
hear those Pharisees, right now. “Let the pastor do it. That is
what we pay him or her for. Besides, all I do is work all day. I am
at work at seven in the morning and get home at seven at night. I am
so exhausted. I go to church on Sunday morning, meetings at church
at night, Bible study, choir, and altar guild. I am so busy with
church activities. Besides all those poor people, if they showed
some initiative, they would be all right. They have to pull
themselves up by the bootstraps and solve their own economic and
social problems.” For
a whole variety of reasons, the Pharisees never did go downstairs.
Never. Jesus said, “Take a turn and go into damnation.”
What does this mean
for us? What does it mean to embrace a suffering world?
First, it means to
have the love of Christ inside of you. You cannot be this kind of
loving person unless the love of Christ is living in you. It is not
you. It is not me. It is the love of God living inside of us. You
can’t embrace hurting people unless the love of God lives in you.
It begins at home,
in the unconscious acts of generosity to your husband, wife, family.
You don’t even realize you are doing it. I can give you hundreds
of examples, but I will only give you a few. Gary and Carolynn Spies
were down at the hospital for weeks, taking care of their sick
child, as were many other parents caring for their child in similar
circumstances. You say to these parents, “You are loving your son
in a special way.” They reply, “What is wrong with you. We are
doing what any loving parent would do.” They don’t even realize
the good that they are doing. The same is true as Dorothy Smith
cares for her mother at the nursing home, as do Doug and Joan
Anderson with their mother and so many of you doing the same. You
think nothing of it, except that it is a lot of work and the way
that love works. Neil Bender has taken care of his wife, Eva, for
decades as she is home as an invalid. He just lovingly does it. Neil
didn’t have to go to Bangladesh to find a ministry; he went no
further than his own bedroom and kitchen table. If you suggest to
him he is a good and loving person, he would laugh and then cry. So
would Bill Bentzen as he cares for his wife, Hulda, with
Alzheimer’s. What I
am suggesting is that this quality of love begins at home with these
unconscious acts of generosity.
addressed the sheep about going to heaven, the sheep didn’t even
realize that they had been generous. They were not even aware. That
is the way it is with love, the true love of God. You yourself
forget yourself in loving and caring for another person.
This quality of
love then spreads from your home. To the neighbor down the street
and the man had a stroke. To a person who had a car accident and is
all crippled up and for some reason, you become involved.
This love spreads.
You begin to realize that your brothers and sisters in Africa or
Asia or Latin America or in our ghettos are hungry and starving.
This quality of love cannot help but reach out to them. Of course I
reach out to them. Why? I don’t know. My brother is starving. My
sister is starving. Of course, I reach out to help. We are family.
The love of God living inside of us begins to reach out to all kinds
of people and we don’t even know it.
You see, the truth
about the gospel is that our God is a hidden God. And more than
that, we are invited to seek God where God is to be found. I like
the story about Jack Firestone going incognito as an undercover cop.
That story tells me a lot about our God. Amen.