Monday, November 21, 2011

Christ The King Sermon

Today we conclude the liturgical year with the celebration of the feast of CHRIST THE KING. Over the recent Sundays we have heard, in our Gospel readings some of Jesus’ Kingdom Parables that inevitably began;

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like - - - -"

Now, if there is a kingdom there must be a king! We Christians claim that the King we follow is Jesus Christ. But what a strange king he is.

While the kings of the world gain and maintain their power and position with armies, laws, status and economics. They surround themselves with cronies whose loyalty they have purchased with titles, property and power.

Jesus came among us not with an army or a powerful family or any money. He wasn’t a royal prince. He owned no property and was not a General in any army. AND YET WE NOW ACCLAIM HIM AS KING!

What was it about Jesus that finds millions of people around the world acclaiming him as King today?

Our Old Testament reading from the prophet Ezekiel reports the words of God saying,

"I myself will ... tend my sheep. I will pasture my sheep,( I will give them rest, shelter and food). I will find the lost and bring them back. The injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal."

What is it about a God that would do this? A God who seeks the lost, gathers together those the world has divided and treats them with dignity and respect? This God came among us as Jesus to show us himself.

Pope, Benedict XVI, wrote about this God in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" in which He says that ‘Jesus is Love’, God is love.

The love that Jesus was and taught was of the type the Greeks identified as ‘Agape’, self giving love. Jesus gave himself away so that we might be free to love him in return.

Jesus talked a lot about freedom. What is it about love and freedom, that are at the very heart of the Good News that Jesus proclaims? Consider what you and I know about love, plain old human love.

We have all been in a social setting where we meet an interesting couple. Suppose their names are Mary and John. They have shared with you that they have been married for 20 years. Your curiosity is aroused so you ask the natural follow up questions.

"Mary how did you come to know John?
"John when did you really get to know Mary?"

If they are open in answering this query you likely forge ahead with this 'getting to know you' conversation.

"John, when did you first realize that you loved Mary?"
"Mary, when did you first know that you loved John?"

Sometime the response here is funny and interesting. If you sense they are comfortable in their relationship you boldly venture deeper.

"John, is it easy or hard serving as Mary’s lover?"
"Mary, is it fun or challenging to serve as John’s lover?"

After 20 years they might be surprised, maybe a little pleased, to be asked about being lovers. If they bite on this one you begin to sense you already know the answer to the next question but you ask it anyway.

"Would you say you have been happy together despite the hardships of life?"

If you get this far you likely have two new friends. At the very least you now know one more interesting life story.

Notice that you have asked them about knowledge, love, service and happiness. All topics apparently related to the subject of love.

Before the middle of the last century, in the United States, the text book for Catholic Sunday schools was called ‘The Baltimore Catechism’. It taught by a series of questions and answers. One of the first questions is this one:

Q. Why did God make me?
The answers were given in brief statements followed by several pages of explanation. We had to memorize the short answers. The short answer to this question was:
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
Isn’t it interesting, that the reason that God made us gives the very same list as you use in talking to Mary and John?

What happens if John loves Mary but Mary doesn’t love John?
     Can John make Mary love him?
     Can he buy her love with money?
     Can he get her love with threats?
     Can he steal her love? (Love can only be given, it cannot be taken!)

We all laugh about these ideas because we all know that whatever Mary decides about John can be love only if she herself freely chooses to love John.

Now that we have John and Mary loving each other what happens next? They want to do things together:
     Start a business together
     Write a book together
     Start a rock band together
     Study together (if they are students)
     Eat dinner together
     Take care of each other
     Even get married.

Ultimately they want to:
    Talk and listen to each other
    Touch and be touched
    Give themselves to each other.

Our idealism about romantic forms of love do not exhaust the subject of love but have helped us identify some important factors about the topic.

Think about these thing as we continue our Mass. We have just listened to God’s words and we will shortly respond to him with our petitions.

While we humans always desire that our love be returned it often is not. But if it is love, the lover always seeks ways to give of himself for the one(s) loved as Jesus did. Yet when our love is returned it brings a happiness as great a we may ever know in this world.

If God is love, as the Pope has written then he, in his very nature, must be a lover. Jesus came and told us that we are his beloved and invited us to return that love.
He wanted us to freely respond to his love. He dramatically demonstrated the self sacrificing nature of true love by dying for us on the cross.

How in the world can we return such a love? After all God exists beyond time and space. We can see how God cares for us. Ezekiel in our first reading and David in our responsorial psalm, used the image of a good shepherd to show this care for us.

Because we are human we want to be with our beloved. In addition to eating with our beloved we want to touch our beloved. We want to give ourselves to our beloved.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells us the wonderful secret of how to do this.

Remember a few Sundays ago we heard Jesus tell us about the two great commandments? Love God and Love your neighbor. He went on to say that all of God’s commands are based on these two.

Today he reveals how these two love requirements are related in a way that will make it possible to fulfill our deepest desire to return God’s love.

You heard the parable. It is a courtroom drama and the secret is revealed in the verdicts and the sentences.

"Whatever you did for the least of my beloved, you did for me." Enter, then, the eternal happiness of the kingdom.

"What you did not do for the least of my beloved, you did not do for me." Enter the eternal regret outside the kingdom.

What is different about us Christians? We treat our fellow human beings as though they were God himself.

Now you and I know the secret. Our God waits with open arm for our response.

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