First United Methodist Church
November 26th, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Shepherd of the Saints
How do you determine whether a King is a good King or a bad King? In the United States we don’t think about this very much because our founding fathers didn’t want that form of leadership for us. In the Old Testament, however, we are told which Kings are good or bad with the descriptor, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” or “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” This was generally determined by their worship of idols. One King would cleanse the country of them, and the next King would bring them back. By the time we reach the Middle Age years, unless you were a Lord or part of the ruling class, a new king or queen really didn’t change the daily lives of the average person. Battles were fought in remote and sparsely populated areas, and only those involved in the fighting were affected. Since land and wealth was doled out to those who supported the winner of these conflicts, it made no sense to destroy homes and property. When Lords made decisions about who they might support, they often asked the question, “What kind of king or queen will this be?” But for the average person, whose livelihood depended on those with power, it made since to be loyal to the monarchy regardless of who held the crown.
Today we are celebrating a different kind of king; for today is the day in the church when we celebrate the reign of Christ. Christ’s reign is very different from these medieval kings – his reign was not established through military victory, he has no property to dole out, and his rule affects the daily life of the ordinary person, regardless of whether we are wealthy, middle class, or poor, whether we are famous or unknown, or whether we are talented or not. Therefore, it seems appropriate for us to ask the question, “What kind of king is Jesus?” Scripture shows us that Jesus is a shepherd king, but unlike his ancestor David, who was a shepherd before he became king, Jesus reigns as a shepherd would when caring for his flock.
In our Old Testament text, Ezekiel reports that God himself will search for his sheep and seek them out. It is interesting that God must seek out his sheep because they have been scattered “on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Sheep, at the best of times, have very poor eyesight. On a foggy day, they have little chance of finding their way without some guidance. In a lot of ways, we are just like these sheep. We, too, have a tendency to be very shortsighted when it comes to staying on the path we should follow. Sometimes, even with our good intentions, we get scattered. Because Jesus is a shepherd king, he seeks us out, wherever we may have wandered, and brings us back to where we can be safe under his watch and protection.
So now that we know what kind of king Jesus is, what are we doing to allow this king to rule us personally? When medieval monarchs claimed their crowns, the general population was informed who was now their king. The Lords supported the monarchs they thought they could manipulate for their own purposes and they tended to switch allegiance whenever they could negotiate a better deal. When a Lord returned home after a battle, it was because he supported the winning side. The peasants who lived on the land could either swear fealty to the current king or be evicted. Most people switched loyalties whenever they were told to, and they knew very little about their King other than his name and whether or not he treated them fairly.
As the world becomes more secular, many people don’t really know the Christ we claim to follow either, because getting to know the real Jesus is sometimes a little stressful and confusing. Jesus challenges us to alter our priorities, values, and occasionally even the direction of our lives. When Jesus began his ministry and started preaching his message about the Kingdom of God, he shattered all preconceptions of who the Messiah was supposed to be. But even today, almost 2000 years later, we still don’t always see what Jesus wants us to see.
In order to claim Christ as King, we first have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus was a real person. This fact alone requires radical thinking. God decided to deliver the Jews from their latest captivity by being incarnate in the person of a middle class Jew. This wasn’t exactly an ideal role for God. Disease was prevalent in the 1st Century. Babies often died in infancy. Food wasn’t readily available. Middle class Jews were frequently tortured for their atheistic religious beliefs. In addition, a human God removes our idealistic understanding of who God is.
You see, God is much easier to live with as an unseen spirit than when God becomes flesh and is made man. As long as God is an unseen spirit I can make Jesus anything I want Jesus to be. If I am a politician, I can make Jesus represent my political values. If I only want to be generous to people who have jobs, then I can restrict Jesus’ love to only reach out to those who work, but can’t quite make ends meet. If I only want God to bless those who have it all together, I can do that and blame people for the problems they are dealing with rather than offering compassion. Do you see how easy it is to create Jesus into my own image? Just like the English Lords, I can manipulate my understanding of Jesus to suit my own purposes. Mother Teresa said it best. She said many of us are guilty of believing in a Jesus of our imagination and not the real Jesus, the true Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and the Lord of the Universe. This is what happens when we recreate Jesus into the God we want him to be.
In order to know Jesus, we have allow Jesus to be Jesus, or Christ the King, and as King, Jesus will lead us according to the gospel that he preached. The more I read the Bible, the more I realize that I can’t have the gospel on my own willful terms.
And so, as we celebrate Christ the King today, let’s go back to our original question: What kind of King will this be? Our gospel passage removes the shepherd image and instead Jesus talks of a King who sorts the nations according to the way they treated one another. Those who have butted their way through life without regard to the people being pushed away by their actions are chastised. The sheep, those loyal followers of the king, have followed the king’s lead without even realizing that that is what they were doing. Their love for the one who cares for them has led them to imitation. Thus, they ask, “Lord, when did we feed you or give you something to drink? When did we ever visit you in the hospital or in jail? When did we provide a home or clothes for you?” The king answers, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The shepherd king leads by example.
Just as Jesus spent his time on earth with those society looked down upon, with those who most needed him, Jesus expects his sheep to do the same. Jesus walks along that path and waits for them to follow. This shepherd is not content for his sheep to simply be like other sheep. They have more potential, and so part of his feeding them involves leading them to a truer understanding of who they are and to whom they belong. Only those sheep who truly know their shepherd’s nature are rewarded; only those citizens who honor the king by loving other people will inherit the kingdom God has prepared for them.
Jesus is a king who will seek us out where we are, a king who provides for our every need, a king who corrects us and guides us along the path we must follow. Jesus is a shepherd king who seeks us, feeds us, and leads us so that we can prosper. What is it that Jesus gives us? Peace. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. We have peace because Jesus Christ resides in us. We have claimed his identity – and his identity is peace.
This is the Shepherd of the saints. This is Christ the King, and this is the way his kingdom works in the world. Do we still have a responsibility? Yes. Every day we have to make the decision to follow Christ – our shepherd. When we do this, when we remain focused on Christ, no matter what we are going through – pain, anger, jealousy, uncertainty, all the temptations of the flesh – we find peace. Christ brings us peace. We have been given the gift of choice, and it is up to us to decide what kind of sheep—what kind of citizens of God’s kingdom—we will be. Let us pray…
Loving Shepherd, we long to be people of compassion. When we see a hungry child, help us to see your face. When we see a woman in rags, help us to see your dirty hands and feet. When we see a man sick or imprisoned, help us to see your need. When we hear your people cry, help us see your tears. When we perceive mourning and loneliness, help us perceive your presence, that our eyes may be enlightened, and our hearts may become open. Help us to see others with the eyes of our shepherd, that we might be your loving presence in the world. Amen.
Invitation to Discipleship
As you go out into the community this week, share God’s justice through the grace of Christ’s mercy. Go with God.