Sermon - Christ-the-King
In the Name...
A clergyman was teaching a Sunday school class, and asked the kids, “If you call me Pastor John, why would people call me Christian?” One small child answered, “Because they don’t know you as well as we do.”
Some years ago there was a good man. His parents had raised him to respect the dignity of every human being and to seek and serve Christ in everyone he met, and, as an adult, he lived that in all he said and did. He made today's Gospel the creed of his life and sought every opportunity to reach out to those whom Our Lord called "the least of these." For the hungry he provided food; for the homeless, shelter; for the sick, medical care; and, as much as possible, he did these things anonymously, seeking no personal reward.
He was also a man of some wealth and influence and he used his wealth and influence to do good. He promoted international efforts to bring peace to war-torn areas; he provided grants for medical research and scholarships for the underprivileged. Such was his stature that he was asked to serve in the cabinet of a President of the United States, but, such was his humility he declined for fear it would restrict his activities.
He was to all intents and purposes a good man. And one night, this good man had a dream.
He dreamt that he was in the midst of this morning's Gospel scene, in a crowd of countless millions of every race and background standing before the throne where Jesus sat crowned with gold wearing dazzling white robes. He felt a thrill of excitement and prepared to step forward to meet the Lord when his way was blocked by an angel who said, "You are not ready. You have done much evil."
As the good man wondered at these harsh words, the angel pushed him back and he felt himself falling, as people do in dreams, until he found himself in a very different place - a dank, dark dungeon of the kind one sees in horror films. Flaming torches along the stone walls; heavy locked wooden doors on the cells; rats scurrying along the filthy, straw covered floor.
As he took in the scene, he noted that one of the cell doors was open. Taking a torch, he approached the cell and gagged at a foul smell, as if of something left to rot. Peering in, he saw a small cage containing some hideous creature. He approached closer and saw that it was a small human deformed almost beyond recognition with long matted hair and nails more like claws. Suddenly, the creature growled and glared at him and the hatred flashing in those eyes so shocked him that he dropped the torch, the straw on the floor ignited around him in a blaze of fire and - he woke up, sweating and shivering.
He didn't sleep the rest of the night, nor well for many nights after. The strange dream so unnerved him that it preoccupied his waking moments. What evil had he done and what was the creature? He ransacked his memory for an incident. Nothing in the past came to mind. Maybe it was something he had neglected to do. Perhaps the creature represented poverty, or famine, or war. So he threw himself into his work with renewed effort. As the days passed, at last, he began to feel more at ease and able to enjoy a good night's sleep. And then the dream came again.
Once more, he was in the royal presence, once more he stepped forward only to be stopped by an angel who accused him, even more harshly this time, of having done tremendous evil to the least of God's children and once more he found himself falling into that foul dungeon at the door of the putrid cell.
Taking a torch, he fought off the nausea from the stench and walked up to the cage. The creature shrank from him and the light. Overwhelmed with compassion, he reached in the cage to touch the misshapen thing cowering in the corner with the outstretched hand of friendship and comfort. But, without warning, the creature sprang at him and sank its sharp teeth deeply into his extended arm. Crying out in pain, he dropped the torch, the straw ignited, he was surrounded by flame and - he awoke again, shaking uncontrollably, bathed in sweat.
Needless to say, he went through the next days in a foul mood. He found fault with everybody - his family, friends and staff. He lost his temper over trivial things. He drank heavily and complained about how unfair he felt treated. And the worst part was that he himself hated what he was becoming. So he isolated himself, cancelled appointments, and busied himself with paperwork as his anger increased.
And, one night, the dream came again. This time, however, he didn't wait for the angel to reprimand him; he let himself fall into the dungeon where he entered the cell in a defiant mood. This time he boldly went up to the cage and, holding the torch, carefully examined the creature from its light. And then, as it snarled and glared, he recognized it. The twisted face beneath the unkempt hair was his own. And then he understood.
The monster was everything about himself that he refused to admit existed. It was his anger, his pride, his sloth, lust, greed, envy, and gluttony; his prejudice, intolerance, and bitterness. These he had locked away in prison and never visited them. These he had deprived of food and clothing, and he had never acknowledged them, in his eagerness to appear good to the world, as a part of himself needing healing and forgiveness. All of it, however, had, despite his efforts, survived, to surface and confront him. He had indeed done evil, much evil, - to himself.
The man now knew what he must do. He opened the door of the cage and the beast leapt out upon him howling, clawing, biting. But, instead of fighting back, he clung to it as it tore at him and ripped him to pieces. Weeping tears of remorse, he felt his strength slipping under the savage onslaught of his own sins. The torch fell from his hand, the straw ignited. Again, he was engulfed in searing flame, but, this time, through the flames, he saw a figure approaching - Christ the King - not crowned in gold and robed in white as he had been on the throne in heaven, but, crowned with thorns, naked and bleeding, as he had been on the Cross on earth.
Through the flames he came and with outstretched arms embraced them both. And the good man awoke. Not sweating or trembling, but, strangely calm and with a sense of peace he had never known before.
Who is "the least of these"? Where do we go to find him and how well do we know him? Perhaps he's not so much the stranger at the gate as the stranger within. Let's not be afraid to recognize him, to visit him, and even bring him to Jesus. After all, he's the one Jesus came for.
In the Name...