Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King - Year A

Have you every felt alone? I mean REALLY alone? I'm not talking about mere loneliness, but abject Aloneness.

Have you ever felt like you couldn't connect with a single person on this planet? That no one really knew the deepest part of you, nor did you know the deepest part of anyone? That everywhere you turned you didn't just see strangers, but aliens. People so foreign to your own experience as to be from outside your solar system.

Maybe it was something that happened to you. Abuse, rejection, failure. And you were too ashamed to connect with others for fear it might happen again.

Or was it a loss that left you breathless, a loss so deep and raw that you couldn't really share with it anyone, because you weren't sure anyone else knew what it was like?

Perhaps you felt abandoned by everyone you know, everyone who you thought loved you. Maybe you even felt abandoned by God in the midst of great suffering.

If you have, you're in good company. I think God feels alone. All the time. I think aloneness – not just loneliness - is something God constantly feels.

If I can give away the punch line at the beginning of the sermon, that's what I think today's gospel reading is all about. I think this story of the sheep and the goats is about God's aloneness. And I think our friend Martin Luther is a help here to figure out how.

To understand our Lutheran theological tradition you have to understand that Martin Luther should have been on medication. Medical historians disagree as to what condition Luther lived with was, but from analyzing his writings and reading accounts of his behaviour, many historians believe that Luther was bi-polar. And his illness influenced how he saw God. How could it not?

Luther talked about the Revealed God and the Hidden God (Deus revelatus/Deus absconditus, to invoke the Latin). The revealed God is what God chose to show us. But Luther also seemed to think that God hides on us, and that act of hiding, is in itself, an act of showing God's self to us. Being hidden and bring revealed were two sides of the same penny. But it was the hidden God that haunted him.

Luther believed that we can't know God fully. That God purposely hides from us. That what we think we know about God is just a minute fraction of who God really is. And what we do know is what God chooses to show us. We can't know God on our own. God is too different from us. God is too alone.

Luther also believed that, sometimes, God hides from us altogether. And when we feel that God is not among us, when we don’t feel God's presence, but we feel God's absence, we could be right. God might not be among us.

Luther didn't explain why God hides from us. It's not our sin that God hides from because Jesus came to embrace and save sinners. Nor is it a form of punishment because Jesus took on our punishment on the cross.

God just hides.

But often God hides in plain sight, where we don't think to look. We don't recognize God because we don't really know what to look for, even when God eyes are staring into ours.

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison?”

Lord, were you hiding on us?

It's easy to miss God when you're looking in all the wrong places. But the scriptures are filled with examples of God's people missing what God is doing with and among them.

Through the prophet Amos, God railed against God's people who were more interested in sensual pleasures and elaborate worship than in helping the poor and needy, and called them back to a life of justice for the oppressed and compassion for the poor.

The prophet Micah preached that worshipping God without social justice was meaningless. Isaiah couldn't imagine God's people returning from exile without a strong sense of caring for the widows and orphans.

The prophets preached because the people had forgotten who God was and how God wanted them to live. They went looking for God in wealth and power, but God was found among the poor and forgotten. If you want to gaze into God's eyes, just gaze into the suffering eyes that surround you.

Luther knew how crazy all of this sounded. He said that the glory of God was hidden beneath its opposite. In other words, don’t look for God’s glory in the obvious places.

I often worry that we, too, forget this message. And why wouldn't we? It's easy to forget. It's easy to want to forget. Who wants to be around suffering people? Who wants to see God there?

Today is Christ the King Sunday and we like our kings on heavenly thrones, surrounded by splendor, adorned with power. We like our kings strong and wise. This is the Sunday that should end with a flourish, a triumphant song of victory, a hymn to the all-powerful God.

Instead we are asked to worship a king who hides among the poor, the lonely, the forgotten. We are asked to be servants of a suffering sovereign.

It's easy to turn this into a checklist, a salvation to-do list to cross off as each duty is completed. Gave money to a poor person? Check. Visited the sick? Check. Donated some clothes to the Salvation Army? Check.

But, of course, that's not what Jesus was talking about. It would almost be easier if it was, because Jesus is talking about something deeper than checking off items on a shopping list. Jesus was talking about a lifestyle of compassion and service. He was talking about simply living the life he lived.

If we're looking for a mandate, here it is. If we're trying to come up with a strategic plan, it's staring us in the face.

This doesn't mean it's easy. This life can be hard, messy, frustrating, and tiring. It costs. It takes a piece out of you.

But Jesus promised that if we want to meet our King, that's where we meet him. It's no wonder God feels alone. But it’s where God needs to be because that's where God is needed.

And I'm guessing that most of your know this. I'm guessing that you've caught God hiding behind a bowl at the soup kitchen on the last Thursday of each month.

I'm guessing you stole of glimpse of God when you looked into the hurting eyes of a care receiver on your Stephen Ministry caring visit.

And I'm guessing that you caught a hint of the divine king when you voted to put in an elevator, because you think that everyone should be included in the fellowship of the church, despite the cost.

You may not even know it was Christ our King you saw. But it was. And, one day you will ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hiding among the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the sick, or the naked?”

And our King will say, “What ever you did to the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of my kingdom.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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