Fred Craddock tells about a family that was taking a lovely Sunday afternoon drive, when suddenly the children began shouting, “Stop the car! There’s a kitten by the road!”
The father kept on driving, but his children wouldn’t quiet down. He tried to reason with them. The kitten was probably someone’s pet. It might be sick. The family already had too many pets.
But it did no good. The children insisted that a loving father would stop for a stray cat. So finally, the father drove back to the spot and reached for the scraggly kitten. The ungrateful little thing scratched him! Fighting an instinct to throw it out the window, the father packed it into the car and took it home.
Once at home, the children created a bed for the kitten out of their softest blankets. They fed the kitten little droppers of milk. They petted and fussed over the kitten. Soon the kitten was purring and rubbing on family members, especially the disgruntled father, as is he was its best friend.
The father looked at the scars on his hand left by the frightened and ungrateful kitten. Then he looked at the comfortable, well-fed kitten rubbing against his leg. Had it suddenly become worthy of love? No, His intentions toward the cat had always been to do it good, not harm. Something had happened to the kitten that made it feel secure, loved, accepted.
How often does God try to bless us? And how often do we respond by scratching God’s hand? (As told by Will Healy, http:// www.emmauschurch.org/wor-sermons.htm. This little story, in a way, explains why we need a savior, someone to rescue us from our lost ness and weakness.
This Sunday in the church is called the Celebration of Christ the King. In the liturgical calendar, the calendar of the church today is known a Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Church year. This week, as I sat with my colleagues as we studied the scripture passages for today, I asked them, “How come we are reading about the crucifixion right before Advent?” It’s ironic, don’t you think, that the Sunday before we begin our celebration of Advent, we are confronted in our lesson from the gospel with the image of Jesus dying on the cross. We’re decorating for Christmas and the Bible passage is about Good Friday. We are only a week from the beginning of Advent and yet the church takes us back to Good Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross. On either side is a thief. Soldiers gamble for his clothing. They mock him, crying out, “if you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” A sign is nailed on above his head: “This is the King of the Jews.” Even one of the thieves scoffs at Jesus: “So you’re the Messiah, are you”. Prove it by saving yourself – and us too, while you are at it!” The other thief rebukes his fellow criminal and asks Jesus to remember him when he goes into his Kingdom. And Jesus instantly praises him by saying “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
And yet the two are inseparable. Christmas and the cross. It is impossible to appreciate the events of Bethlehem except in the light of Golgotha. My friend, deacon Warren, explained it to me, the idea of Christ the King Sunday was declared by Pope Pius the XI in 1925 because the pope was concerned about rising secularization in the church. Sound familiar? And so even in Protestant churches today is the day we sum up what Christ means to humankind by using the image of a good, kind king. Christ came to provide salvation. Jesus didn’t come into the world to found an institution which we call the church, though we are grateful for the church. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Jesus came to tell us that God loves us. That is where we must begin in understanding the connection between the manger and the cross.
I think the pope used the image of a king because we that is what we humans understand. Kings have been around for all time, some good, some bad, some a combination. All through the Old and New Testament we read stories of kings and how they treated their subjects. In history, there are many stories of flawed
kings who proved to be all too human in their dealings with their subjects. But the desire for a king continues. We read stories about King Arthur and we watch Downton Abby. We want good leaders and yet they all come up short, somehow, sometimes very short. They all are limited by their humanity.
Jesus had one purpose for coming into our world, salvation. Salvation for you, salvation for me, salvation for every person ever born into this world. So, What does this say about our lives? This Jesus is a different kind of King, a king who values both benevolence and justice.
An old folk legend has it that, scattered throughout the earth, there are twenty-eight people on whom the future of the world depends. Those 28 people do not know who they are, you could be one. But their actions like those of a king or queen determine the course of history.
Well suppose the future of the world did depend on your actions. Would that fill you with hope or dread? Or even just suppose the future destiny of your family, your friends, all the people you know depended on you, their values, their happiness, their eternal well-being. Would you give up if you got scratched, if you were hurt by those you were trying to help?
Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Then he returned to heaven. But before he did, he gathered around him a special group of men and women to carry on his work. There was nothing special about these people. In fact, all of them were flawed, they were all imperfect. Yet there was one thing that made then unique, they had received the spirit of Jesus. And when Christ left this earth, he charged them to reach out and touch others with his love until the day comes when every person on earth knows themselves to be a child of God. That is what our job is, to lead people to salvation, to give them hope, that is why we are a church.
It is critical that we understand what the church is about. It is not a just a building or a group of people. We are the body of Christ, called to be here in Claverack and everywhere in the world, healing the hurting, lifting the fallen, calling the world to faith and repentance, seeking and saving the lost, which includes ourselves. What a ginormous task!
We long and need to touch the inner person, and so we teach them about Jesus, maybe with our words, maybe with our attitude, maybe with our actions. St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words.” And so, we are to use our lives, our resources, to teach people about Jesus. There is a spiritual side to life that many do not see. When we touch that spiritual need, we have helped people know who they are and what life can be for them.
And so on this Christ the King Sunday as we prepare to begin a new church year. We need to be reminded of who Christ is and what Christ has done. And we need to be reminded of who we are and what Christ has called us to do. We are not our own. We are representatives of Christ to a fallen world, a world that needs not just a king, but a Savior.
Please pray with me that we may truly follow the teachings of our King Jesus.