Let us pray: Holy and loving God, we thank you that you are our savior who like a shepherd leads us. We thank you that like a shepherd you feed us and you prepare us to go out and lead others. You are our true shepherd, yet we are not merely sheep; we are the ones whom you have entrusted to shepherd others that they may no longer be fearful, dismayed, or missing. So, lead us Great shepherd that we might learn to lead to others. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you; for you are our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Five weeks from now as we celebrate the arrival of Christ, we will sing hymns like What Child is This in which we declare three times, “This, this is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the Son of Mary.” Despite the fact that radio stations and stores have been playing Christmas music since the first of November, our year in the Church officially comes to an end today, and a new year begins next week when we will be invited to Wake up and to be alert for the coming of the king to dwell among us. Today, though, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Today we celebrate the completion of creation as we look towards the coming of Christ’s reign.
There are those in the church who do not like to use the word king because it implies that there is a hierarchy and that there is not equanimity in the Church. One of my colleagues, not too long ago, wrote that she likes the word king because when we speak of the King in Church, we are not speaking of a royal, militaristic leader, but rather we are speaking of one who was anointed by God to turn the power structure of the earthly realms or kingdoms on their heads. No longer would the true King rule by money and might, but by compassion and empathy for all persons and especially for persons with no family lineage: the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
In our text today from the prophet Jeremiah, the kings of Judah’s history are described as shepherds who scattered God’s flock and drove them away. The LORD speaks to the sons of Josiah: Shallum and Jehoiakim and Jehoiakim’s son, Coniah. After warning Judah to execute leadership with justice and to set free from oppressors all who have been robbed, the LORD brings charges against Shallum, son of Josiah, saying, “they [that is the house of Judah and its ruler] abandoned the covenant with the LORD their God, and worshiped other gods and served them. [Therefore,] do not weep for him who is dead nor bemoan him weep rather for him that goes away for he shall return no more to see his native land.” Of Jehoiakim the LORD said, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages.” And because of the deeds of his father Jehoiakim, King Coniah is judged to be “a despised broken pot, a vessel no one wants,” which essentially renders King Jehoiakim both penniless and childless.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, we are given an expectation of a righteous king: a king who is present with the people, all of the people; a king who will raise up shepherds over God’s flock who have been gathered from all the lands to which they have been driven. Under the care of the king’s shepherds no one in God’s flock shall fear any longer, shall be dismayed, nor shall be missing.
At a time in which there are people who struggle with homelessness, food insecurity, lack of adequate healthcare, war, genocide, and famine, we have to ask ourselves as the church–as the body of Christ sent out in to the world on Christ’s behalf, as the shepherds whom God appoints, how are we doing at tending to our sheep? Beneath the symptoms of each of these issues lies a deeper problem. Beneath each person’s feeling of pain, worthlessness, guilt, or stress is a deeper problem. How do we use the agency given to us through God to work towards restoring all persons into the care of God’s kingdom? How do we work as God’s appointed shepherds rather than living only as the sheep of God’s kingdom?
Jeremiah defines the coming shepherd as “The Lord is our righteousness.” The question for us as the Church is how do we live righteous lives under this reign? As Christians who believe in and who look toward the coming reign of Christ, do we stand by and allow our leaders and policy makers legislate laws that cause greater harm or do we show up, stand up, and speak up until all persons are treated with righteousness and justice? Whatever issue are blocking the fruitfulness of God’s kingdom in our lives: our homes, our church, or our community, we are called to look beyond the presenting symptoms. We are called to address the underlying problems that play into our brokenness, our feelings of doubt, our feelings of worthlessness, our feelings of grief, anger, anxiety, or uncertainty.
Living under the reign of Christ, we are called to stand with those who model Christ’s example of love. We do this when we love God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to see the value God has bestowed on every person and work towards bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth for every person.
Last weekend, I served with a woman who works as an emergency response nurse for Samaritan’s purse. She was called to serve in Mosul when ISIS attacked Iraq and prevented people from accessing healthcare for their war wounds. In their make-shift medical compound, Samaritan’s purse treated both Iraqi citizens and ISIS. Assigned to the enemy combatant ward, my friend wondered how she might tangibly show Christ’s love to one of the world’s most dangerous enemies; she quickly gathered some cleaning supplies and a basin of warm water, and went to each patient in ward, gesturing and asking if she might clean their faces, their hands, their wounds. By the end of her time in Iraq, my friend had prayed with and for many ISIS members, some of whom converted to Christianity. At one point, an interpreter relayed to her that he overheard one ISIS member saying to another, “WHY are we fighting them?” It was not through war or militaristic rule that my friend built relationships with members of ISIS, but by seeing them for what they were: wounded persons in need of care.
God created us for relationship: relationship with God and with one another. As we navigate the relationships in our lives, we are called to look to the LORD who is our righteousness. We are called to bear witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as we constantly orient and re-orient our lives towards the justice and love of Christ our King. Amen.