The sermon title comes from a hymn based on Psalm 23 which we will sing in a little bit. The first stanza is, “The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.”
That’s the good news I’d like for us to bask in this morning as we welcome our confirmands into full membership and as we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The final stanza of the hymn proclaims, “And so through all the length of days thy goodness faileth never; Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house forever.”
Today is the last Sunday of the church year, which is celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. That word, “King,” carries a lot of baggage with it. Crowns, thrones, power, empire, armies, and wealth are a few things that come to mind. This is precisely why so many in Israel did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Messiah means “anointed one,” like a king, and they had come to expect a true king like David and even from the line of David, who would restore the nation and rule over it as king.
But as Jesus famously told Pilate when he asked him if he was indeed king of the Jews, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And after the feeding of the 5,000, when Jesus could tell the people were about to take him and proclaim him king whether he wanted it or not, he made himself scarce.
So we need to be careful when we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, lest we fall into thinking that Jesus calls us to follow him with guns blazing to take the world by force. Jesus leads as a good shepherd leads, as the king of love and compassion who gives his life for others rather than taking the lives of others.
Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. And the King of love is Jesus. His marching orders to his army? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” And he leads the way by his example.
So when we stand to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are pledging our lives to the King of love, the one who knows us through and through and who loves us more fully than anyone ever has or ever will. That’s a commitment we can make joyfully and gratefully.
And we come to the Lord’s Table we come to receive with gratitude the ultimate gift – the gift of forgiveness and eternal life that is available only as a free gift from Jesus. “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.” We come to the table not because we have earned it and are worthy. We come because we know we are unworthy, we do not deserve it, and yet God through Christ loves us so much that we are invited and welcomed anyway. It is amazing grace, offered by the King of love. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, this should be at the very top of the list of things for which we are thankful.
John was in exile on the island of Patmos when he wrote down the revelation he had. He was a bishop over churches in what is now Turkey and was arrested by the Roman Empire and exiled because of his faith. Christians were being persecuted by the Empire, tortured and put to death in some cases. The church had no earthly power and Rome had tons of it.
John wrote his letter to give his friends hope and encouragement that Rome was not the ultimate authority and would not have the final say. He shows his readers his vision of a throne in heaven which outranks the throne in Rome, and in the midst of that heavenly throne is a Lamb, standing as though it had been slain – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who has conquered by his death.
In the passage we read this morning John is introducing this king to his readers. He is the one who is and who was and who is to come. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. And right at the heart of it, he is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father. To him be glory and dominion for a short while, as will empire after empire. Jesus will have it forever.
John’s friends had to trust that by faith. There was no evidence in the world of Jesus’ presence or power. I can imagine this being true today for any Christians left in Syria and that region. I hope John’s revelation has given hope and courage to them as it must have the original recipients of the letter.
The one who stands at the end of history is the King of Love. His Lordship is not always obvious, so it must be accepted by faith. We affirm with the early church that Jesus is Lord. He has been Lord from the beginning. He will be Lord at the end. Even now, even here, he is Lord. Let us with grateful obedience follow where he leads.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey
November 22, 2015
Central Presbyterian Church