Today is essentially the “New Year’s Eve” of the Church year. This is the last Sunday in the church calendar. Next Sunday, we begin a new church calendar year as we enter the season of Advent, watching for the light of Christ. Today is historically known at Christ the King Sunday, when we’re reminded thoroughly of who rules.
Christ for the World we sing. But, as it is in our world today where rulers, leaders and those in power are so often questionable, we may want to look deeper at what it means to celebrate Christ the King Sunday. We worship the king, all glorious above, and gratefully sing his power and his love; our maker, defender, redeemer and friend. On this final Sunday of the Church calendar, we learn of God in Christ as a God of justice.
As faithful disciples; as followers of Jesus Christ, we honor a Lord who calls us to serve justice. Plato defines justice as “giving every person his due.” Justice is often symbolized by the image of balanced scales. When the scales are impaired or unbalanced, a force mightier than the injustice must prevail to restore, to bring change, to heal. Ancient prophets will say justice is not simply a theory or a norm. Justice is the bursting forth of the powerful, prevailing omnipresence of God.
While humans surely share in the responsibility of justice; the boldness of right justice lays claim with God. Why does God show such concern for the justice of humankind? Because our God is a God of love, compassion and mercy for God’s creation. Ancient prophets tell of our God as a God who passionately desires for us to be in a right relationship with God and with one another. Right relationships are about living out God’s utter goodness and concern for the world. The prophet Ezekiel, prophesies, when we are lost, straying, injured and scattered, keep our focus, not on our self-pitying selves, but on God, the one who rescues, gathers, leads, and brings us home, where we will be tended to with justice.
We want justice. Whether we claim to be religious or not. Whether we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ: Christians, or not. As human beings, we carry a natural human behavioral trait. We want justice.
What is justice? One scholar defines justice as “an ideal relationship or static condition or set of perceptual standards.” (E.N. Cahn, The Sense of Injustice). Justice stems from the Hebrew word: tsadaq which means: the ability to discern between good and evil. Tsadaq, or justice in the Hebrew text, is the outward expression of equity and prosperity toward the common good. But, there is more. In justice is God, expressing God’s self as sovereign and mighty and more importantly, in justice, is the righteousness and mercy of God.
In today’s reading from Ezekiel, the prophet paints a picture of God as shepherd in search of his sheep. Scattered, wandering into places of darkness, God’s people suffering from exile with the fall of Jerusalem, are now returning to the mountains of Israel, back to good pasture where God will be their God. The accommodation of foreign powers while in exile is not just. Now God re-establishes God’s rule. God will save the flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged. Re-establishing a Davidic king will restore God’s kingdom people to what is just.
Leap forward to the gospel of Matthew who writes of our God as Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of the Davidic prophecy. Jesus, echoing the prophet Ezekiel, paints for us a picture of what it means to establish the kingdom of God, now, today, through justice.
Where is justice today? Charlottesville, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Cairo, Harvey Weinstein, Racism, Discrimination, Ageism, Homophobia, oppression, social evils, political insensitivities, the list of injustices continues to mount. So often these days we seek justice as a result of righteous anger and self-pity. We steam and boil and wonder how we can overcome these huge mountains of injustice that loom before us. How often I wonder if our efforts will make any difference at all. But, with Christ, it seems we don’t have an option. Seeking justice is what we do as Christ’s own. Seeking justice is how Christ calls us to go, whether sheep or goats, not keeping score, not out of revenge but fully trusting, not in ourselves, but in God. One clever wordsmith writes, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
With the start of the New Year before us, often we make claims, we resolve to do things differently. As the church, Matthew’s writer reminds his congregation of the classic Judaic works of mercy and sets the course for justice: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. In other words, Matthew writes, this is not unfamiliar. Traditionally, as God’s own, and now in Christ, this is what we do. Sheep and goats alike; we feed, give drink to, welcome, clothe, and visit. And, in doing these things to the least among us, we are doing so to Christ himself, king of kings, Lord of Lords.
This past week, The Washington Post published an article entitled “Finding Sanctuary in the Church.” Featured in the article is St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in DuPont Circle. St. Margaret’s, along with other churches across the country, including Epiphany, are showing an increase in attendance. Folks hunger and thirst for authentic relationships, goodness and equity, grounded in God in Christ. May we, together, as the church, as a tiny speck of God’s kingdom here on this corner, may we be a community who seeks justice. May we “do” justice; that all will come to inherit the kingdom of God.
Can we do justice? Yes. And, there is strength in numbers. Our numbers tell a story of justice. Together, as Epiphany and friends of Epiphany, throughout the past year, we fed the hungry, providing food for nearly 25,000 people through the Food Pantry, Food4Thought, and Hot Meals. With our friends we packed up another 14,000 meals for those in need across the globe through the annual Packathon. Each year we welcome and visit the stranger through our Christmas week Hypothermia Shelter; being held this year for as many as 74 guests. Are we “doing” justice in this tiny kingdom corner for God? Yes, and in when we serve for one of these least, we are serving Christ.
These days, with acts of terror raising their ugly head almost daily. With mass shootings practically a weekly occurrence. With the construction of walls and the blocking of freedom seekers. With floodgates exposing harassment and misconduct at every turn. With our health care system doing its best to separate the sheep from the goats. We have our work cut out for us as just citizens of the kingdom of God. Justice is the work of goodness, kindness, compassion and mercy that unites all individuals as God’s kingdom dwellers. The work of justice is the work of the church.
Beginning next week with the new church year, what resolutions for justice will we make as the church? First, (do justice) may we not lapse into indifference because the task of bringing in God’s just goodness and mercy is so great. Every effort matters. Justice is not someone else’s job. It’s ours. Second, (do justice now) kingdom living is now, not in the distance. Every little step toward reigning in the kingdom of God is one step closer to knowing Christ and to Christ being made known. Third, (do the best we can do) will God in Christ judge us according to our works of justice? We say so in our baptismal promise each week. Jesus Christ, will come again to judge the living and the dead.
My guess is, God in Christ doesn’t come and give his life for us so he can measure whether or not we make the cut into eternal life. He comes that we will know the never ending, abundant love God has for us that will fill us with passion and desire to love as Christ loves, to speak out, to march, to stand firm for what is true; to care for those on the edge, the troubled and broken. Because, when we seek and serve justice to restore others to value, we are then living the life God intends for us to live. God’s judgment is God’s desire for us to strive, day in and day out to be Christ like.
This Advent season, as we watch for the light of Christ to be born within us once again, may our watching boldly take on the action of justice.