Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Where Is the King?”
(Matthew 25: 31-46)
November 26, 2017 (Christ the King Sunday)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park
A blessed Christ the King morning, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am the son and grandson and husband of realtors. That means, for a lifetime, I have been told that housing prices are directly linked to three critical factors: location, location, and location. You New Yorkers know this even if you don’t have realtors in the family: $1.5 million might get you 800 square feet if you are lucky. Yes indeed, location, location, location.
On this Christ the King Sunday location is critical as well—you know that, too. Last Sunday, at our adult forum, we discussed “All the Lutheran Questions I Am Afraid to Ask.” The most pressing question was the pesky one about sheep and goats. Put another way, who is ending up in heaven and who’s headed for hell?
Whether driven by fear or fascination, we can’t ponder the question enough: who will join Jesus as he sits on his throne of glory and who will graze with the goats in the eternal fires of Hades. We wonder about the destination of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, and, to be blunt, even of Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians.
We so want to end up on the right side! We have heard about the heavenly side for our entire lives, the side where the streets are lined with gold, the gates constructed of exquisite pearls, and angels will serenade us forever.
Oh yes, we wonder: who will end up in heaven and who will end up in hell?
I increasingly wonder if we might just be looking for heaven in all the wrong places. I am reminded of the charming children’s book, “Where’s Waldo.” We snuggle up together and search and search for Waldo and it seems, every time, Waldo pops up in the strangest places.
Might Jesus do the same thing? What if we get to heaven and it looks just like New York City? What if the entire heavenly welcoming committee is composed of people who keep us awake at night, cause us to clench our fists, and make our blood pressure skyrocket? What if the heavenly receiving line is composed of the same people who make us want to change jobs just to get away from them, move out of our apartments because they drive us nuts, and change churches because they seem so unchristian?
I wonder, what if we get to heaven and it is no different from right here, right now.
It’s curious that when Christ the King gives us instructions as to “Where’s Jesus,” this is almost precisely what he tells us: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Flabbergasting! We have been looking for Christ the King in such different places. Positively discombobulating! Where is Jesus?
The clues have nothing to do with pearly gates and golden-lined streets. And, if you look at the company this king keeps, Jesus is not to be found with the lords and the ladies, the well-heeled and the well-kempt, or even with the unspoiled and the goody two shoes. We don’t even see him hobnobbing with those who can expound precisely on Lutheran theology or wax eloquently about the quaint niceties of proper liturgy.
No, Christ the King is found with the hungry and outcast, the naked and sick, the slobs and scallywags.
This entire church year at Holy Trinity has been devised in such a way to equip us in discovering heavenly splendor in the mundane affairs of our daily living, in simple things like bread and wine and water, in run of the mill folks like you and me. We have been told that Jesus can be found with parents who aren’t quite sure if the baby Jesus is theirs or not; he is found not in palatial splendor but in a reeking barn out back; he never dines with powerful politicos except when they are after his neck; he is hounded persistently by the holy pious ones. More often than not, this most peculiar king is located with hookers and pimps, nincompoops and cheats, flimflam artists and also rans. And to cap it off, his enthronement is, of all places, on a nauseating cross in a Jerusalem trash heap. Who would think to look for Jesus in the ordinary occasions of life, in people that madden us, in locations that goad us to flee in dread and disgust?
I really am not certain about this sheep and goat stuff. I am even less certain about who will end up in heaven and who will be cast to the hellfires—that’s God’s business not mine or yours. What increasingly surprises me though—and actually gives me considerable hope—is that our king, more often than not, is found grazing with the goats, and goats that are the least heavenly breed of all.
Could it be, though, that we catch a peek of heaven this very moment? Of all places, we gaze into heaven right here at 65th and Central Park West as Christ the King gathers with us, misfits and malcontents, nervous nellies and the great unwashed. “Take and eat, this is my body given for you,” says Christ the King…“for you and you and you.”
Where is Christ the King? Let’s start looking right here, now, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.